Sweet Home Chicago

Highlights from Jeanine and Jack's trip to Chicago...including their favorite restaurant stops. Did someone say vegan peanut butter cookie dough milkshake?

Having grown up here, it feels weird to categorize this as a “vacation.” Yet we don’t make it back very often and when we do, so much has changed. This trip was part business trip, part visiting family, and part mini-getaway. This is by no means a comprehensive list or a city guide, just some highlights of what we did and where we went this time.

follow the jump to continue reading (and disregard that it says “recipe”):

We flew in late last Monday night, and headed straight to Avec around 10pm. Which, turns out, is the perfect time to go. I’ve had this one on my list for awhile but was always intimidated by the long wait (they don’t take reservations). This time we walked in and sat right down. The vibe is loud and fun. And the food… so so good. The highlights were: 1) baba ghanoush crostini with radishes and sumac, 2) rainbow trout with peaches, garbanzo puree, and mustard greens, and 3) the focaccia – it’s impossible to describe why this was so good, so if you go, just get it. It’s a thin layer of dough and cheese (not like traditional bread-y focaccia), it’s somehow light and insanely rich at the same time.

The Bean
We all made fun of this modern art installation while it was being built, yet we always feel the need to stop and take a few quick photos every time we’re passing by.

Public Hotel
So I have this little obsession with boutique hotels. As in – it’s not uncommon for us to bounce around to multiple hotels within the same city on any particular visit just to experience more than one. I’m lucky that my husband is patient.

I was really excited about Public – it’s an old hotel renovation – the way to my heart. The entry is grand with gorgeous white columns and large antique mirrors, the bell men are uncommonly good looking (that’s never actually been a criteria of mine – just something that happened to stand out here), the bar area/coffee lounge decor is chic and quirky at the same time. Sadly it seems that their entire renovation budget was spent on this first impression because the rooms were less than impressive and with incredibly hard beds. So stop here for a drink, but go stay at The James, which is our standing favorite so far.

Art Institute of Chicago, Roy Lichtenstein Retrospective
I went to the school so this museum is like home to me. It still feels weird to come back as a “tourist” and actually pay for a ticket. This time, we happened to be there while this Lichtenstein Retrospective was going on. And art imitated life – Jack ate that hot dog (pictured above) for breakfast, and then we saw it in pop-art form on the wall.

Chicago Diner
We look forward to this vegan restaurant every single trip. And we never miss for this reason alone: the vegan peanut butter cookie dough milkshake. You would never even guess that this is vegan. And I’m not usually one for fake meat, but I crave their seitan gyro.

I try to stay clear of restaurants of TV personalities, but I booked this place before I even realized it was Top Chef Dale’s place. Everything we ate here was incredible, and this post is starting to get long, so I’ll just cut to our favorite thing which was this crazy dessert – zucchini curry cake with beets and carrot ice cream. Sounds so weird, I know.

Violet Hour
Not a place for taking instagram photos, this place is DARK. After your eyes adjust and you can see further than your hand in front of you, it’s a speakeasy style bar with victorian decor and old time-y cocktails… A nice change of pace in this city full of TV’d bars where “the game” is perpetually on.

Lou Malnati’s
Everyone has their favorite place for pizza. This one’s mine.

Public lobby photo credit: Public’s website


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  1. Judith

    I REALLY agree with your to-do list! from a former Chicago resident but still a huge lover of this amazing city

  2. Hi there! I stumbled upon your blog via another blog and I’ve been drooling over your pretty blog, recipes and photos! Just bookmarked this as one of my favorite food blogs! I’m also born and bred in Chicago – I love this city….even the nasty winters =).

    • jeanine

      thank you! Yes, I love that city too, but oh not those winters…

  3. Marcie from thefortyexpress.wordpress.com

    I have only spent a day here and there in Chicago. We like to stop and eat when we travel through. It is a gorgeous city with a lot to offer.

  4. Lindsay from lmn-drop.blogspot.com

    Lou Malnati’s is my favorite pizza too – specifically the “Lou”! Excited to try out some of these places you mentioned (a drink at Public has been on my list for a while)!

  5. Kathryn from londonbakes.com

    Sometimes it’s so fun being a tourist in your hometown! I’ve always wanted to visit Chicago but not made it there yet, fingers crossed for next year 🙂

  6. Claire from stickygreenleaves.com

    So…you basically just named all my favorite places to eat. 🙂 If Violet Hour is your thing, I highly recommend trying Barrelhouse Flat on your next trip. The first floor can get a little…Lincoln Park-y, but upstairs is very cool: lots of plush upholstery, antique fixtures, wingback chairs, and–this is what makes $12 cocktails worth it to me–no TVs!

    • jeanine

      ha, yes… a $12 cocktail is worth it for no TV :). I’ll be sure to check out Barrelhouse Flat next time, thanks!

  7. Chi town represent!!! So glad you were able to hit all those hot spots! I am a Lou’s lover too! Ordering that pizza once a week probably isn’t the healthiest but it’s our Sunday night tradition.

    • jeanine

      Well that sure is a delicious tradition, there’s really nothing like it!

  8. not my hometown, but i just finished up 7 years living in that amazing city. and we didn’t get to avec either, until we visited for new years last year! amazing.

    also, i totally love the violet hour, even if they are snobby.

    glad you had a fun trip :). i hope we get back out there next year, at which point we’ll have a nice hefty list too!

  9. Laura from thefirstmess.com

    Fellow boutique hotel obsessive. We’re lucky to have such patient men in our lives. Can’t wait to refer back to this on our next trip over there 🙂

  10. erin from naturallyella.com

    I had no idea you were from Chicago! It’s nice that it is only three hours from me and I think that’s where I’m looking to move next summer!

    • jeanine

      Oh, fun, it’s such a great city – I could live there if it weren’t for those winters!

  11. I love Chi-Town. You can’t get a decent Chicago dog or pizza anywhere else. Your vegan restaurant reminds me of a Vegetarian restaurant that I used to go to in Wisconsin, The Cheese Factory. I still crave their Hazelnut Torte. http://tinyurl.com/cu8yefy Also, Lou’s is awesome. Loved your post, thanks!

  12. Shanna from foodloveswriting.com

    My hometown, too! So fun to see your look at the city.

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.