Chicago Has Food (and Lots of It!)

So, a couple of weeks ago we went to Chicago.  The marathon was obviously the whole point, but seeing as how neither Aaron or I had ever been there, we decided make a vacation out of it and do some exploring.

Vacations include testing out the regional flavor.

For Chicago, this means deep dish pizza and loaded hot dogs.

Don’t mind if I do!

In the days before the race Aaron was really keeping to a gluten free diet, but after the race, when stomach issues wouldn’t ruin mile splits, his inner garbage disposal came out and the Chicago style gorging began.

I will say this though.  Chicago is lacking in the local microbrew department.  We did find PBR at every restaurant (like, even the really snazzy ones) but since we can get that here for 75 cents on college night, we refrained.  Even though 75 cent PBR was the first drink Aaron bought for me before asking me out.  Big spender even bought a round for the whole table. Ah, memories.

Also to be noted that in addition to the 38,000 + people in town for the marathon (and their loved ones), a big football game between Miami and Notre Dame was held on Saturday, so the city was PACKED with runners and football fans.

Amy and Aaron’s Adventures in Chicago Eating

I forget the name of the restaurant where we got these martinis, but it was some sort of chop house a few blocks from our hotel.  It was an “Amy” type of place as evidenced by the the photos of my best friends on the bathroom wall.  They had a cool martini menu.  I’m usually a dirty martini type of girl, but who can resist a martini with chocolate swirls?

An added bonus was witnessing a lady trying to get a very drunk man she met at the bar to ask her out. I mean, he couldn’t figure even out how to spell Julie in his phone. How romantic.

On Saturday we stopped by The Berghoff which was down the street from our hotel.  Turns out it was a German themed microbrewery and the building has been there since the late 1800’s.  The beers were actually pretty good, and the Reuben sandwich was perfect.   

So happy to be at Berghoff’s!

Our carb loading on Saturday took us to Elephant Castle, another pub across from our hotel.  I wish Albuquerque had more pubby type places because I enjoy a good black and tan surrounded by British memorabilia.  It proved to be a great “pre-race” choice because of their special marathon menu.

We ran into a very drunk man who said as long as he stopped drinking by 10, he’d be ok for the marathon the next morning.  I wonder how that worked out for him.

The official beer sponsor of the marathon was Goose Island which is a Chicago microbrewery and it seems like the pride and joy of Chicago beer.  Aside from PBR.  Apparently they have a tasting room in Chicago that we didn’t get to.  The 312 Wheat Ale was pretty good as was the Matilda.  Aaron tried out the Bourbon County Stout at a restaurant which was AMAZING.

Our post marathon dinner on Sunday was at the infamous Lou Malnati’s (sounds suspiciously like Illuminati…I kept thinking we were in a Dan Brown novel).  Thanks Allison for this suggestion! This place did not disappoint (and with an hour long wait, we weren’t the only ones vying for some pizza goodness).   Fantastic deep dish pizza, and some great people watching.

A bunch of former frat boys in town for the Notre Dame game (who still were acting like idiotic 21 year olds despite being about 30) kept trying to pick up a pair of British marathon runners. Very unsuccessfully.  Made me a bit embarrassed to be American. Luckily the pizza made me happy again.  And seriously, even though it was good…I still prefer thin crust. Sorry. 

Monday evening we stopped by Paddy Long’s (I think it was in the area by Wrigley Field).  This was the bacon and beer bar.  They had an ok beer selection, but the bacon board was heavenly.  It was also the first place we went to that wasn’t crawling with people.

This place was also really cool because if felt “local.” So many of the other places we went to were overridden with tourists.  I felt like a Chicagoan! On Monday for lunch we headed to Portillo’s (thanks Hyedi for that suggestion) for their famous hot dogs and chocolate cake.  The place was a bit overwhelming and set up kind of like a food court (it took us a few minutes to figure out where to stand in line), but there were a lot of fun pieces of Chicago memorabilia.  And it was CHEAP. And tasty.

Aaron, staring dreamily at the hot dogs.

Monday night, on the recommendation of our Paddy Long’s bartender who understood our plight to find good beer that wasn’t IPA (way harder than it sounds), we headed to Clark Street Ale House.  I think Dominick, may have also recommended it, but I can’t find evidence of that conversation.

The beer selection was big, but most of the stuff we found was stuff we could buy in Albuquerque. The place was really empty too.  Apparently people in Chicago are too responsible to go out partying on a Monday night? We still made friends though. 

These dudes were like, “take a picture of us!”  I would kind of be surprised if homeboy actually knew what Livestrong was.  The other guy actually had a job similar to Aaron’s  and had lived in a similar part of Phoenix (and he was relatively sober), so they were able to talk for a bit.

“Seriously?” Or, “Bitch, please.”

NOT PICTURED: We had a post marathon breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s which was a cute mid-century diner.  I was seriously too sick to enjoy the meal (or take pictures), but it was a really cute place that has apparently been in a lot of movies that I’ve never seen.

IPO was the hotel restaurant.  REALLY trendy interior but the food was TOO trendy.  Oh, and pork belly is just pure fat. I didn’t realize that.  I was hoping for a bacon sandwich.  BLECH. The hotel (The W City Center) also had a really swanky bar/lobby, but it was pricey.

Chicago isn’t a cheap place to eat/drink.  We were really surprised every time we got the bill.  But people watching was better here than it has been anywhere else we’ve gone.  And I did love the feel of being in places that had been there since the turn of the century.

Thank you, Chicago, for feeding these very hungry and thirsty runners!

The W Lobby/Bar.  They had giant lamps.

Another Weekend Comes to Pass

Even though the Lavenders all had a rather long and mediocre Monday (Aaron got so frustrated that he went out and bought 2 Powerball tickets), in our minds we are still basking in the gloriously (and dangerously) sunny weekend.  Not that I’m complaining about the amazing sunshine, but we could use a lot of rain.

This was the last weekend before our half marathon training begins.  Even though I know the first few weeks of training won’t be too much different from the mileage we put in on the weekends now (we did  5. 75 on Saturday and a little over 3 yesterday), knowing that next weekend I will have to start a dedicated regimen of weights, core work, distance running, yoga, and track workouts makes me feel sleepy and sad.

BUT, that is in the future.  For this weekend, I got away with eating bad food, drinking cheap wine, and running 3 miles at an average of 9:30 a mile (which is even bad by my standards).  Stupid Garmin and its stupid reminders at how slow I run…

Saturday was my mom’s birthday, so it was spent doing mom birthday things like shopping for presents and trying to get the wait staff at Trombinos to do a loud obnoxious birthday song for her (that mission failed miserably).

After a rather tasty, rich, creamy Italian feast that won’t as possible starting next Saturday, Aaron and I decided it was time to try out our new Houdini!

A couple of weeks ago in a moment of epic Friday night failure, Aaron broke the cork screw.  Luckily it was broken in the process of getting the cork out so we were still able to have our wine.  The next day we headed over to William Sonoma to pick out our new cork screw only to realize that we are not yet so pretentious that we are willing to spend $95 on (a super fancy amazingly beautiful) cork screw.  So, we got the slightly cheaper cousin at Target: The Houdini.

I’ve heard a lot of good about the pricey Rabbit cork screw, but I’m not quite sure what the rabbit does that the Houdini doesn’t. I haven’t been more impressed with a household knickknack… maybe ever.

Step 1: cut the foil in one fast, neat swirl.

Step 2: Place the Houdini over the cork, and push the lever (which screws into the cork without much effort on your part!).

Step 3: Retract the lever to painlessly pull out the cork.  No broken cork parts in your wine, no wasted time trying to get the stupid cork out.  Just pure cork extraction perfection.

Step 4: Get nice husband to get the cork out of the Houdini while you enjoy the wine.

Now, we are Casa Rondena members so we get 2 bottles of good wine a month,  not to mention we have a  wine rack full of impressive bottles.  However, sometimes Saturday nights call for buying a Costco sized bottle of Barefoot.

On Sunday morning, after our 3 mile run (and after Crazy Aaron got back from his 26 mile bike ride following our 3 mile run), I figured he deserved some Mimosa, and I thought I would join in because no one should have to drink Mimosa alone.  Luckily, we had a bottle of St. Clair mimosa waiting in the refrigerator for the occasion.  I figure since we will have to be eating for fitness very soon, a celebratory Mimosa was more than necessary.

Sunday afternoon found us at Hallenbrick Brewery, which is one of those little dive pubs in the middle of the Industrial District behind Jefferson.

Hallenbrick usually has 2 or 3 of their microbrews (I love the Adobe Stout) and a limited selection of other local favorites.  We like going there because it is hardly ever crowded,  it is pajamas casual, AND Giuseppe is more than welcome.  Plus, the bar seems to attract friendly people.  Definitely the type of place where you stay longer than you anticipate because you’re having such good conversation with strangers.  This was the case yesterday.

What lovely taps

Not only did we chance upon ANOTHER Westie, but we also met a group of people who have a running/socialization group (“a drinking club with a running problem”) and they even talked us into joining their Red Dress Run Fundraiser on August 20th.  Basically, I will have an excuse to buy a new red dress (I think Aaron is even planning on squeezing into one!), and the total run is only 5 miles but you stop at 4 different breweries along the way.  Seeing as how 4 of the 5 people who were part of this group were guys, I think this has the potential to be a very interesting event.  We were even invited to join one of their runs, though from the sound of it, there is more socializing than actual running so we may have to participate sparingly now that we will be doing our”serious” training.

Giuseppe and his new friend (or mortal enemy) Oso

We ended the night and weekend with a viewing of The Goonies, which reinforced my belief that Oregon is cool, and that I have a chance of one day stumbling upon a pirate ship.

And then it was Monday again.

Friends in Low Places

I’ve heard the argument that with a culture of music videos, YouTube and music artists who are computer generated, the live music scene is losing its relevance.  I’m not sure what the stats are as far as concert ticket sales or the number of live music performances now compared to 10 years ago, but Rebecca Black has nothing on sitting in a small venue and listening to an unknown talent work his way through 4 hours of music.

We accidentally stumbled upon Ryan McGarvey about a year ago when we were having some drinks at the Zinc Cellar Bar.  He was a long haired, fairly young blues artist who definitely knew his way around a guitar.  We liked him enough to go to Scalo’s Il Bar just to watch him play an acoustic set a few weeks later.   While the live music scene in Albuquerque is getting much better, we are not too much of a Blues town, so to find a local talented Blues musican was very exciting!

Last week friend Robin invited us out to a blues performance.  The blues singer ended up being Ryan McGarvey, and we absolutely jumped on the opportunity to see him perform again.

The music venue is called Low Spirits.  I had never heard of it before, and was a little concerned to find out it was on 2nd street between Candelaria and Menaul which is a more industrial, less polished part of town.  Plus, a place called Low Spirits made me envision a shady dark  hole-in-the-wall where unsavory characters hide out in between evil deeds. 

We completely missed it the first drive-by.  The lavender neon sign is pretty dim, and the parking situation is less than ideal.  We parked a couple of buildings away hoping that our car would still be there when we left.

The bar itself was close to what I imagined.  Dark, no frills, skulls painted on the walls.  But the clientele and staff were actually relatively young and lively.  The place was packed with about 150 people.  I only saw two wait staff, but our girl managed to keep our orders straight and wasn’t too inattentive considering the amount of people she was serving.  Low Spirits doesn’t serve food.  The beer list is about what you would expect with one or two craft beers and a lot of bud light, miller light, Tecate, and, if you’re really brave, Milwaukee’s Best.  The cocktails were weak (as in, I’m not convinced my $6 mojito had any rum in it)

My phone doesn't take good pictures

But really, I don’t think most people come here for the ambiance or drink selection.  Low Spirits is a music venue, and I’m guessing the crowd changes based on the act.  If an interpretive mime was on stage, then I don’t think Low Spirits would have any redeeming qualities.  But luckily, Ryan McGarvey was on stage, so the place was tolerable. 

Ryan is a local musician who can sing with a wide range, jam out on the guitar, perform a respectable Jimi Hendrix, and play three sets (5 hours) without losing his voice.  He’s great to watch in person, because he seems so emotionally connected to his music.  The entire place froze with mouths wide open to watch the way his fingers moved.  He is raw, amazing talent, and recordings don’t do him justice.

If live music is losing the battle to virtual video, Ryan McGarvey proves that we should seriously reconsider.  Low Spirits is keeping live local music alive, and even if it isn’t the most glamorous place in the world, I would go there again to enjoy good company and good music.