Monday, December 6, 2010

14 Things I Learned About Midwestern Dude Food (Chicago and St. Louis)

The only proper way to follow up a gluttonous East Coast trip is to go to the Midwest a month later and eat even more. And that's exactly what I did in both St. Louis and, even more so, in Chicago. I would like to think I covered the entire dude food pyramid: pizza, steak, beer, dessert and a crazy abundance of sandwiches... All accompanied by a little Thanksgiving appetizer to start things off right.

Here are the 14 things I learned about Midwestern Dude Food...

14. There are wineries in Missouri. Real wineries serving real wine from real grapes. Apparently this vast region actually serves as the U.S.' first real wine country. Who knew? The wine isn't bad, either. The best part is the lack of pretense involved. No tasting fees, kids welcomed, local bands playing out in the back patio overlooking the valley. Most of them also have attached cafes that serve food -- exactly what one needs to rebound for the drive home.

13. If America truly runs on Dunkin' Donuts -- as the slogan proudly states -- we're fucked. Dunkin' Donuts sucks. I mean, really, really sucks. The coffee sucks. The donuts suck. The egg sandwiches are not as good as they were in their heyday. The above iced coffee drink I got at the St. Louis airport was fecal-colored and tasted not much better. My "pumpkin" muffin had very little pumpkin taste and crumbled to pieces within seconds of finger contact. Los Angelenos often complain about the lack of DDs out here; I must ask: "Have you ever been there???" If so, were you not high and/or hungover? I don't think so.
12. The Chicago Sprinkles is just as good as the anchor Beverly Hills location. Is it a tad crazy I went out of my way to test this theory? Absolutely. But, in my defense, part of me really wanted to be able to say, "Yeah, you have a Sprinkles, cool, but it's not as good as the original." I cannot say that. Both the cake and frosting were equally as awesome. Likewise, the Chicago Sprinkles, like its predecessor, is better than Magnolia Bakery.

11. Oprah knew what the hell she was doing when she recently gave away Garrett popcorn as part on her annual "Favorite Things" episode. I'm not even a popcorn guy persay; but Garrett makes a special "Chicago Blend" of half caramel popcorn and half cheddar cheese popcorn that is pure, unadulterated crack. It was all I could think about. When my Mom snuck some in to a "Love and Other Drugs" screening, I couldn't even concentrate on Anne Hathaway's beautiful naked body. For me, it was all about the Garrett.

10. The Lincoln Park Whole Foods is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It's the Louvre of supermarkets. I'm pretty sure the bread section is bigger than the whole Whole Foods on Montana. And the food court options! Holy crap, the food court options. They've got everything. Including an incredibly charming, seemingly movie set-like diner right in the middle.

9. The best deal in all of the Midwest is the prix fixe brunch at Sweet & Savories on Fullerton in Chicago. For only $14, you get two courses, coffee or tea and a basket of homemade sweet buns, muffins and pastries. Order the Brunch Risotto (pictured above) -- a creamy and heavy, yet delicious bacon and egg risotto. Note: they also offer a similarly delicious 3-course for $29 prix fixe dinner menu nightly.

8. Potbelly is the best sandwich chain in the country. By far.

7. Chicago Bagel Authority in Lincoln Park makes the best bagel sandwich I've ever had. By far. And trust me, bagel sandwich excellence is much more difficult to accomplish than it sounds.

6. Leave it to a back country Washington, Missouri brewery to serve up the best dark beer pint all year. That's exactly what I got at Augusta Brewing Company with their Hyde Park Stout, the 2010 Great American Beer Festival Gold Medal winner. A great beer for sure. But even better when it comes from a brewery located on a friggin' "trail."

5. Chicago burgers are good, but not as good as ours. Let it be known: this is from a very small sample. Well, one sample to be exact. Upon arriving in Chicago, I did exhaustive research (10 minutes of Googling) to locate "Chicago's Best Burger." All signs pointed to DMK Burger, the brainchild of famed Chicago chef Michael Kornick (MK) and Arnie Morton's son, David Morton (DM). While my burger -- the Patty Melt with smoked bacon, burnt onions, remoulade and smoked Swiss -- was definitely solid, in LA it might not crack any Top Ten lists.

4. The fries are better than the famous Italian beef sandwich at Al's Italian Beef. This is more because the fries were perfect and less due to a dissatisfaction with the roast beef sandwich. Yet, I would say for all the hype surrounding Al's, I found the sandwich less satisfying than either of its cousins, a solid Philly cheesesteak or French Dip.

3. Pi Pizza of St. Louis is one of the only pizzerias in the country that does two completely different types of pie extremely well. Many joints (ahem, Santa Monica's NY&C) try to master the art of multiple pizza styles, but rarely do they succeed like Pi. At Pi they make their signature Chicago deep dish and also a thin (but too cracker thin) crust 'za. I recommend you order a pie of each.

2. After finishing off your pizza duo at Pi, get in your car and drive to Chicago and go to Art of Pizza. Like Pi, they do two types: deep dish and stuffed. Both are amazing. Very family-friendly, nothing like the name may suggest. Hell, it's BYOB and they don't even have a website. (NOTE: Picture at top of post. When viewing, try best not to salivate... like I'm doing right now.)

1. Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab serves the best steak in the country. The original Joe's in Miami may be known for the stone crab, but the Chicago location is all about the meat. And like all great steakhouses, at Joe's everything is good. The Lyonnaise potatoes are amazing and the signature Joe's Grilled Tomatoes (grilled tomatoes topped with creamed spinach and melted cheddar cheese) sometimes outshine the steak.


  1. I love that you went to Whole Foods mecca!! I could spend an entire weekend wandering and noshing in that store :) Garretts is definitely an institution, and spread that Potbelly love. I'm not a vegetarian, but their vegetarian sandwich is one hot gooey mess.

    Other Chicago places I can't live without: Melrose diner, a 24-hour dive that I used to study at...not only do they make the best omelets in the world, but they will refill your coffee cup hours on end with nary a complaint. And, of course, Intelligensia coffee. Did you seriously come all the way out here and not try Intelligensia? I will have to bring some to you at Summit. :)

  2. There is nothing like renting a bike in Defiance, MO, riding it 7 miles to the Augusta Brewing Company, having a couple beers, then riding 7 miles back to Defiance. Good thing they have snacks, too.

  3. You're nuts for claiming LA has the better burger without going to Kuma's Corner. I question your Googling skills!

  4. Definitely checking out Melrose Diner and Kuma's next time I'm there. Luckily, we have a few Intelligentsia's here in LA. Thanks for taking the time to read the blog. I appreciate it.

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