Chicago: A Trip Report

:: travel, tripreport, chicago, food, people

I recently came to Chicago for Tomorrow Never Knows. The acts I came to see where Lady Lamb, The Go Team!, and Julien Baker, in descending order of psychedness. While I came for the music (and secretly to eat huitlacoche), there was a lot more going on that what I’d anticipated so here’s my trip report! Check out my Instagram for pictures from the Museum of Science and Industry and other odds and ends.

Musically:

  • Wednesday: Grounders, American Wrestlers, Lady Lamb
    • Grounders. So I specifically didn’t listen to any of the openers that I didn’t already know. From Canada, rocked my socks off. Their vocals were a bit low but they really put on a fuckin’ show.
    • American Wrestlers. The lead singer did a funny bit that I’m sure some people caught. ‘Fat little man, silly little man’. They were much tigher than Grounders but not totally my groove. Very good stuff and he had one song Kelly which is pretty poppy but had be dancin’ around.
    • Lady Lamb. Truly the only act I came for. She is so good. A poet, shreds on guitar, and puts on such a good show. Her banter was self admittedly weak, but that made for a really organic time between the audience and her. At one point she took solo requests (why won’t she play Heretic?!) and forgot where to put her capo. ‘Does anyone know if I play this on the fifth fret?’ “It’s the seventh!” A guy in the front row yelled. She closed the set by singing a new song that is just her voice. The lights went black and she fucking killed it. It couldn’t have ended better.
  • Thursday: Abstract Science, Shigedo
    • Abstract Science. This set of Chicago DJs started the night at Smart Bar. Much more of a night club than a venue, the scene was different than Lincoln Hall. These two guys put on a hell of a set and they even switched back and forth between song seemlessly while playing their own styles. A+ Check them out
    • Shigedo: This guy didn’t really impress me when I’ve listened to his records, but his set was tight and really rappy. Definitely gonna give his other stuff a listen.
  • Friday: Julien Baker, Palehounds
    • Julien Baker. Friday I came just for her. Torres was headlining but I really only came to see Julien. I ended up seeing her and got star struck so I didn’t say hi. She played a great set and her guitar work is really good and her voice is amazing. <3
    • Palehounds. I’d listened to these guys before and personally I liked their record a bit more. A little on the raw side and a bit repetitive. They perform well though.
  • Saturday: Jude Shuma, Javelin, The Go Team!
    • Jude Shuma. More dancy music. The bass pierced the fucking sky. Going to give their album a listen to see what they’re really about.
    • Javelin. Didn’t care for these guys much at all. The vocals were weak, the bass was too loud, but some of their instrumentation was really interesting.
    • The Go Team! I’ve been listening to these guys for a long time and was really psyched to see them. They put on a good show, if not a bit chaotic. It’s cool to see them all switch instruments. There was a lot of crowd interaction with the songs which was really fun.

Food:

  • Tuesday : XOCO, Quesadilla
    • XOCO by Rick Bayless. I’ve loved his shows on PBS and his recipes are the Mexican ones I default too since they are lively with vegetables (but mostly because they are in English). I ordered the Sikil Pak, essentially a jabanhero and roasted pumpkin seed hummus. It was a great level of spiciness (could’ve been hotter, but for most people it was great). The thing that struck me most about this dish wasn’t that it was paired with cucumber and jicama, and excellent choice to combat the kick; it was the tortilla chips. They were the best chips I’ve ever had. Of any kind. A perfect crunch that doesn’t hurt your mouth, a slight give in each bite, well salted and flavored. Sometimes it’s the small things that stand out. My main was the wild mushroom torta, one of the only vegetarian entrees. The bread was a good baguette, or at least I couldn’t tell the difference. It was a bit small for 10$ and really besides the mushrooms didn’t have much going on. A margarita might’ve helped me enjoy the sandwich more, but overall it was a 8/10. And here I am at OHare eating more of his chips with an amazing guacamole from his fast food style Frontera. Prickly pear juice to pair, its a good end to the food trip.
    • Quesadilla La Reina Del Sur. This was recommended by my AirBnB host as one of the vegetarian places to hit up, it was also really close and I was very tired. I’d planned on using my last day in Chicago to go to the New Maxwell Street Market, it turned out to be closed on my last day so it was good I went here the first night! Quesadilla is a vegetarian Mexican joint. So Mexican in fact, that one of the cashiers was learning to make change in USD. They served me chips, a red and a green salsa once I was seated. The red salsa was a great heat with the seeds left in the sauce. Green salsa nothing to write home about and the chips… I wouldn’t said something already. For dinner I got a soy chicken (seitan) tamale which, while a little dry, gave me something to use the rest of the green salsa. The main was a huarache, which seems to be an open faced quesadilla without cheese. My topping of choice was huitlacoche. Called ‘corn truffle’ on the menu, more commonly referred to as ‘corn smut’. It’s a fungus that infects corn and makes for a mushroomish veg that honestly I had no idea what to expect. It was cooked mostly like a mushroom and was great. Tender and moist, it had a unique flavor that was basically inbetween sweet corn and an earthy mushroom. 9/10 would eat again.
  • Wednesday: My π, Ipsento Coffee, Pick Me Up Cafe
    • My π. The last time I was in Chicago I had Giordino’s deep dish and it was a lot of food. Opting for something a bit lighter I looked on seriouseats.com for their pizza recommendations in Chicago. The pan style seemed to be what I was looking for and My π had a great slice. It was 10$ for a decent sized piece and a togo salad. Their salad bar was surprisingly well sourced and had great dressings and more exotic nuts as toppings. This compares more favorably to me than Pequod’s which I tried the next day, but pizza is so personal it’s like recommending music.
    • Ipsento Coffee. Another recommendation from my AirBnB host, this was great coffee. They had the atmosphere, the snoddy attitudes, and the nonstop chatter about what is better. I had their medium roast (why don’t these places have light roasts?!) and their espresso. The espresso was well pulled and served with gas water and half a chocolate covered coffee bean. The coffee was exellent and only 2.50$ for a large cup. A couple days later I ended up having a croissant from here, but I waited to long for a train and it ended up being almost frozen by the time I ate it ><.
    • Pick Me Up Cafe. I ventured to a couple comic and game stores before dinner and chatted with some guys at the retro game store about where to go. Both former vegetarians said Pick Me Up Cafe and Chicago Diner were the places to try. Pick Me Up was closer to the train so I opted for there. Iced coffee with a shot of kahlua, seitan chorizo, home fries, a bagel with cream cheese, some rye toast and 2 poached eggs. Yeah. It was a lot of food. Classic diner fair made with the obviously vegetarian twist. I was really surprised at the quality of the seitan. Store made seitan usually falls way short of homemade and their’s really impressed me. The rest was standard nothing much to say.
  • Thursday: Pequod’s, Nada, Chicago Diner
    • Pequod’s. This was the one of the least fancy places I went to. Pretty much a bar that serves good deep dish. Killer lunch deal at 5.51$ (tax included) for a personal deep dish and a soda. Ginger ale and a cheese pizza. One of the claims to fame of this place is the crispy cheese which lines the upper edge of the crust. Crispy cheese, awesome. Good pizza, a little heavy for my taste, but good deep dish.
    • Nada Tea House. Fantastic hole in the wall tea place. Run by a super nice Japanese lady who will talk tea if you want. I ordered the bowl of the green tea made in traditional ceremony. Picture I ended up working here for a couple hours and got another tea because it was very good. This is my recommendation for when you go to Chicago.
    • Chicago Diner. Working in the tea house for 3 hours made my experience at the diner a bit overwhelming. It was so cacophonous that I ended up eating my whole dinner in <20 minutes from seating to leaving. Nothing really stood out to me on the menu, but I love reubens so I ordered that with waffle fries. Good sandwich, but the seitan they used was really boring and could’ve been much better. If you haven’t figured out by now, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so I don’t really look at those portions of the menu that often.
  • Friday: Cumin, Lincoln Hall
    • Cumin. Woke up late so decided to find a buffet :P Cumin is Indian and Nepalese food, which I’d never had before. I think I paid 15$ with tax and tip. The Indian dishes weren’t the best, and a surprising lack of vegetarian fare. The Spinach Paneer was fantastic with a nice kick, the pakora was undercooked and I’m not a fan of jasmine rice. The naan however had enough butter to make it amazing. The Nepalese dishes were a string bean dish and a mushroom (ragout pretty much). Both vegan and very flavorful. Had the quality of ingredients been better these would’ve been two of the best things I’d eaten.
    • Lincoln Hall. The venue for 3 out of the 4 shows I went to, pretty standard concert food. Got a margarita flatbread which was better than expected but not amazing. I did enjoy the weak coffee they had since I could have 3 cups to sip and keep me warm before dancing.
  • Saturday: Zaleski and Horvath, La Colombe, Little Goat
    • Zaleski and Horvath. A little bistroish place on the U Chicago campus. It must be a main stay of students because they stock good things. French butter, organic yogurt, high quality cheese, this place is for the foodie students. The Marty is an eggplant panini which ain’t so bad. The gouda roasted red pepper soup was excellent though. Paired well with the lightly cheesed sandwich for dipping.
    • La Colombe. Found some random higher quality coffee joint. Great coffee. Seriously high quality brewing and excellent taste. Ended up meeting a math undergrad at UChicago. I noticed he was reading Dummit and Foote and then we chatted about math and chicago and other stuff for a good 2 hours.
    • Little Goat. Frank and his friend recommended Little Goat since it was really close, though I might have to wait a while to get a table. I sat at the car and had a crappy cup of coffee which I looked at the seperate vegan menu. Maybe I was burned out on diner food, but nothing stood out to me. I got the veggie burger since it was made in house and it was in house tomato relish and spicy mustard to go with it. It was decent tasting but fell apart as I ate it. Also, shoe strings fries are awful and an affront to God.
  • Sunday: Ipsento, Frontera
    • Ipsento. Grabbed a coffee and croissant before I got on the train to go to the Museum of Science and Industry. Coffee was great, croissant see *
    • Frontera. I just wanted their chips again. There are still a couple sitting in my bag.
  • Notes
    • Subway. Chicago seems to obsessed with Subway. Every other block has one!
    • Smoothies and Juice Bars. Not only were there a ton of smooties places, it seemed most places had smoothies or fancy juices on their menus. Now I’m generally not a fan of either of these things, but it more so confused me about how popular they are.

Transit: Ventra is a great idea but their NFC is awful. I routinely have to scan my card 3+ times in order to get it to clear. Buying a card from Ohare is really easy, but there is no information about what PACE is. Turns out that it’s the suburb bus system (also Metra trains are not included in CTA system). So I paid 5$ extra because I was confused, oh well. It’s very easy to get between two points in the city with less than 15 minutes of total walking, neat!

The trains are amazing. A combination of missing riding trains, liking long commutes, and an appreciation for good public transit are what makes me say so. Getting from Ohare to most of Chicago is trivial since you can ride the Blue line so far. Changing to buses or another traing is quite easy as well. I was mostly on the east side where the trains can put you within a couple blocks of where you want to be is great.

Another note which I debated writing about, but sitting on the plane with an hour left, might as well. While visiting the U Chicago area I noticed a couple things that I thought worth mentioning. First a story. While asking a Lyft driver where his favorite place to eat was, he paused for a minute, looked at me, looked forward, and said ‘Yeah, you can probably go to Southside.’ So fuck it, I went to the South side and didn’t get shot. I did joke that I would wait as long as possible just to maximize my trip in case I did die.

Riding the train to south was interesting, there was a distinct gradiation when white people started leaving the train. About 4 stops before I was getting off I noticed that I was the only non-black person in the train car. Honestly I think this was the first time that had happened to me. As you travel south and leave the city, you notice first the quality of architecture dropping. Then you notice the increased graffitti (this is also common in the city as it’s used as decoration for various businesses and peppered through different buildings). Finally you start to notice more bars on windows, more sparse land, more derelict buildings, and eventually mass housing. This didn’t really surprise me as I knew that Chicago had projects. But it did surprise me as I didn’t realize this divide between the city and U Chicago.

Getting off the train I decided to walk as there was a park in between the train station and the campus. The only white people I saw on the walk were a pair of tourists and a person filling gas. Getting to campus meant I saw a more diverse racial profile of people. I decided on eating at Zaleski and Horvath (see note above about food). The staff there was exclusively black. And this is the point that I’ve been thinking about. It seems that a lot of the service workers around U Chicago are the same people that are living in this poorer part of town. It’s not bad, but it’s interesting to see how even something like academically can accidentally bring in these socio-economic problems.

Overall it was a great trip, and beside it being –7° C and having to buy some vegan boots as soon as I got off the train, it was nice. Chicago you are a great city and I can’t wait to visit again.