Chicago: Al’s, A goat, and a Pig

If ever anything good came of the depression, it’s the Italian Beef…mother of invention and all. Of course, the meat missile’s origins are in dispute, with multiple locales claiming firsts, though one fact is clear; Stockyard laborers (Italians, of course) birthed the beef, taking a heap of cheap, thinly sliced, heavily seasoned meat, putting it on a soft, porous roll, topping it with giardiniera, dousing it in jus, and gracing it with its simple, though efficiently descriptive, moniker.


We took the path of least resistance, sourcing our sandwich from nearby Al’s Beef,  a renowned Chicago chain with claims to the IB’s origin story.

Catfood-like in taste and texture (a compliment, in this case)


The beef, most asuredly not the best the city has to offer after decades of tasty riffs, and I’m sure the most touristy order of IB we could have had, delivered the caloric payload our cold bodies needed, successfully sustaining us through the extremely short stroll over to the Billy Goat Tavern.

A Chicago institution with a storied past, one that does, literally involve a beer guzzling Billy Goat and his human sidekick of the same name, (William “Billy Goat” Sianis, a man who appropriately sported a Goatee on the nether regions of his face) the Billy Goat Tavern is one of the Windy City’s most famed drinking establishments, crossing the line from local dive to tourist attraction long ago. Satellite locations have popped up (yes, even one at the airport) but the proper move, the only move, is a visit to the original subterranean locale, which still manages to maintain a certain lowbrow charm


Chicago’s downtown is a multilayered maze plunging two levels below the surface; (an excellent way to shelter from the cold, during walks-head underground) After days of conjecture, we discovered the true meaning of it all (provided by our incredible arch tour guide), a way for deliveries to make their way into the cramped downtown quarters without blocking traffic.


Opening the door to the BG conjured feelings of the holidays; a warm blast of air enveloping us in its comforting arms, the scene of people drinking cheap booze and getting on, a greasy spoon grill with a marquee sign offering cheezeborgers; (an SNL reference) double is the standard, though single and triple are also options. It’s just a cozy, comforting place, full of meaty smells, macrobrews, and baseball.


Turns out, this would be the first of four visits on our short trip; partly of desire and partly of necessity (more on that later).


I was pretty damn thrilled when that first burger arrived, a frozen, corn-fed patty, completely unadorned…placed unceremoniouy between a thick, dry, potato bun. It sounds bad, I know. But, a trip to the condiment bar, where a simple arrangement of  crinkle cut dill pickle chips, raw onion, ketchup, yellow mustard, and s&p awaited, and, that shitty burger was all any of us needed it to be.

IMG_7397We took a trip to the opposite end of the food and atmosphere spectrum then, with a visit to Eataly, a slick emporium made up of all things Italian.


There was some odd line to get in that we simply bypassed with no protest. My guess, a food/walking tour *shudder.*


Inside, a three story smorgesborg of gelatos, imported candies, olive oils, wines, cheeses, oysters, a butchery, kitchenware, cookbooks, spices, espresso, etc. The first floor is mostly devoted to the sweet stuff and kitchenware


whereas the second features maybe five or six open kitchens, each with a different theme (misto, raw bar, pasta, cheese, grilled fish), a bookshop, a wine store, a café, a “farmers market” of sorts, and on and on and on. We fumbled about, trying to figure out which counter served what, finally opting to belly up to the oyster bar, where we were told all of the counters serve the same menu, so no need to fret. It appears, however (on the website) that there are actually four different restaurants/menu’s available and the one we were offered was the “Piazza.” Clearly, it’s a bit confusing, but the takeaway is that no matter where you end up, you are going to eat extremely well.

Before we settled on a spot, however, fearing a crisis of hunger and heeding the swan song of gluten, I ordered a sopressatta, tomato & fontina flat bread from the walk-up bread counter


Absolutely, magnificently, crisp and chewey, full of flavor and taste bud tingles…a harbinger of delectable things to come.


Oysters, of course, are oysters (unless they are spawning oysters, a taste forever burned into the memory of anyone who’s ever had the unfortunate experience)


And burrata that will haunt me until the day I die


A fat, pillowy, cheese-present, bathed in grassy olive oil and tied with a sweet bow; when broken into, a creamy waterfall emerged. My hands to heaven.


Just, W.T.F.

And of course, if Eataly is going to churn out an arancini, it’s going to be absolutely perfect; in this case, the ragu, filled with saffron risotto, Bolognese, and green peas.


Eataly is precious, and a little uptight, and, I don’t care, I wish we had one in San Francisco though I’m pretty sure that would cause some sort of nuclear self righteous explosion and queue the apocalypse.

For dinner, we scooped up some buddies from Waterloo Iowa who had just made the drive in and headed over to Logan Square for a trip to the Radler,  a German spot with all of the proper hallmarks of a good time; picnic tables, liters, Underberg, and heavy plates of meat


First, a stop at the Owl to recover the $50 worth of Fat Rice hot sauce we left there the previous night, and, a $12 cocktail which came as a shock to the Iowans. San Franciscans don’t bat an eyelash at a $20 cocktail with fruit loop foam, whereas in Waterloo, the word “cocktail” means jack and coke and is purchasable with pocket change. I’m not really sure which is worse.

Our friends, a less adventurous sort culinarily, were surprisingly game for ordering a pigs head at the Radler, so cheers to that



A pig’s head is a decadent thing, basically a layer of soft, creamy fat, covered in a thick, salty, skin. There was meat to be found, but mostly, it was more like eating bone marrow and cracklin’s (hence the grilled pieces of toast). With it, an absolutely atrocious amount of “sides” in the form of fried chicken, roast carrots smothered in brisket, corn and peas, mashed potatoes, and roast potatoes.


Yes. It was a bridge too far. Then, a round of Underberg in the pathetic hopes that it would aid digestion


Gute Nacht.

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