Earlier this year, a small family-run business in Northwest Indiana contacted Diana and me via Instagram to invite us down for a tasting of their Italian ice. They explained that they had been around for just under a year and while they were small operation, they had big plans for expansion and an unbeatable range of fresh and unique flavors that would keep us coming back for more. While Diana and I are no strangers to the sweet treat, we're always up for trying new places and we're also big fans of mini foodie road trips (she is the best road trip partner ever!), so we packed a cooler, jumped in her car, and headed down to Hammond, Indiana to check out Jodi's Italian Ice Factory. Little did we know back then that we take the same trip numerous times during the following six months because we just had to return again and again to stock up on our favorite flavors... yes, it really is that good!
Back before my daily commute involved an almost two-hour trek out to the northwest 'burbs, I spent seven years of my life working in the Loop (and as much as I love my current job, I have to say that I sure do miss that quick train ride downtown!). While my fellow Loop colleagues and I always enjoyed the summertime arrival of food trucks, farmers markets, and festivals, we spent most of the year lamenting the lack of casual, but still high quality grab-n-go lunch spots in the area. It was absolutely saturated with fast food and fine dining, but if you weren't looking to grab a greasy burger or to plop down $50 for lunch, you were usually SOL.
Of course, now that I don't work in the Loop anymore, a few fantastic new places have suddenly popped up in that area - and I have to say that I totally jealous! Why did they wait so long?! The newest spot to join the Loop is Maine-based seafood shack (well, as shack-like as you can get in the middle of Chicago!), Luke's Lobster. The east coast fast-casual seafood restaurant opened its first Midwestern and tenth overall location this past May and has been garnering rave reviews for their simple and flavorful selection lobster, shrimp, and crab. Being sworn lobster roll-lovers and former frustrated Loop lunchers, Ashley and I just had to scuttle over to the new hot spot to see if it really does live up to the hype.
The small storefront's design is simple and meant to evoke a New England seafood shack with its barnwood lines, salvaged buoys, and cutesy Maine-themed paraphernalia.
Now that the summer weather has officially taken over the city (we've left my beloved 60/70° temps and moved into the consistent 80/90° range), I've spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about ice cream. I'll take a scoop of ice cream with my oatmeal, a side of ice cream with my favorite summer strawberry salad, and a bowl of ice cream for dessert. Oh, do I want sprinkles with that? Yes, please and thank you. So it should come as no surprise when Sprinkles Cupcakes invited Ashley and me into their kitchen to learn how to make their signature cupcake ice cream sundaes, I may have done a little dance of five-year-old-hopped-up-on-birthday-cake happiness around my living room. Cupcakes and ice cream?! Oh hell yes!
As I mentioned a few posts ago, Chicagoans have hardcore love for a good patio session. After months of being cooped up (Chiberia is real, ya'll!), we're all ready to throw off our winter gear, don our cutest sandals, and swarm the nearest restaurant to achieve what is lovingly referred to our first patio boner of the season (so gross, but so true). Thankfully, the city is absolutely teeming with patios from which to choose. In many neighborhoods, one can walk out their door and stumble right into an entire block of al fresco dining options: sidewalk seating that offers optimal people watching, patios with outdoor fireplaces, hidden beer gardens, rooftop decks with a view, places with picnic-style seating and retractable tented roofs, and even those that welcome our four-legged furry friends. With so many options, the tricky part is finding a restaurant patio that offers the amenities you want and delicious food/drinks (because a good hangout spot is not just all about the patio, right?).
Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend! After spending just about every night out with friends and tackling my seemingly unending to-do list during the daytime hours, I indulged in some much needed R & R by parking myself on the couch next to Mario for most of the weekend. We managed to clear off almost all of our DVR'd shows, including our newest reality show obsession, Player Gets Played - it's sooooo terrible, but it's also crazy addictive!
I also managed to get in some cooking time before the heat wave hit - ugh, we were having such a lovely mild summer until this weekend! Longtime readers my recall that I often switch into no-cook summer mode, where the focus is on putting together quality meals that don't require turning on the oven (this is primarily due to the lack of AC in the kitchen/living room area). Thankfully, it stayed cooler just long enough for me to try out a fab new meatball recipe starring a brand spanking new product I received in my Red Gold Tomatoes summer goodie pack: Sriracha Ketchup. Yes, there is such a thing as Sriracha Ketchup and yes, it is just as awesome as it sounds!
People often ask where I eat when I'm not in food blogger mode. Well, the truth is I'm almost always in food blogger mode these days... even when I force myself to go to a restaurant sans camera, I still end up mentally composing food photo after photo (I can't help myself!). However, there are a few special restaurants I go to so frequently that I actually do manage slip out of blogger mode at some point (especially after a cocktail or two ;-)). Some of these restaurants are neighborhood favorites, some come with a heavy dash of nostalgia, and others are new favorites I've discovered via my awesome foodie group. To me, these restaurants strike the perfect balance of food, ambiance, and service; despite all of the choices in the city, they keep me coming back for more above all others. One of these restaurants (and the newest addition to my list!) is Crīo, a Latin-inspired hidden gem along the sleepy stretch of Clybourn Ave in Lincoln Park.
As many of you already know, I have a soft spot in my heart for Wisconsin. I spent my undergraduate years at a tiny liberal arts school in the middle of the state and spent as much of my free time as possible traveling to my two Wisconsin city loves: Madison and Milwaukee (while I loved my school and got a fantastic education, it wasn't exactly the epicenter of culture). I fell in love with both cities and considered moving to one or the other once I finished with school, but that all changed after my my student teaching semester in Chicago. I realized then that I loved the even bigger city life too much to return to Wisconsin; however, all these years later both cities still hold a special place in my heart. So of course when Potawatomi Hotel & Casino invited Diana and me up to Milwaukee for a special dinner at their award-winning steakhouse and a stay at their fab new hotel, I jumped at the chance to revisit one of my old loves and discover all that has changed since I left the land of delicious cheese.
As you may recall, I have mixed feelings about Taste of Chicago. On one hand, it's the city's biggest food festival of the year, and as a self-proclaimed taster of all things (as long as they don't involve broccoli), it seems like the Taste would be right up my alley, right?! After all, what foodie wouldn't love spending an afternoon immersing herself in a veritable feast of Chicago delights? However, it's what's on the other hand (e.g. horrendous crowds, annoying people who love using their SUV-sized strollers as weapons, the inevitable heat/humidity) that often gives me pause. Every year, I fight the mental battle of whether or not to attend... and just about every year, it's the food-lovin' part of me (combined with a good ol' dose of FOMO) that finally wins.
This year, rather than heading down to the Taste and aimlessly wandering from booth to booth, I'm pairing up Humana and using their Healthier Choices guide to make my way through the festival. As an eight-year sponsor of Taste, Humana is showcasing its commitment to lifelong well-being for all Chicagoans by providing the Humana Healthier Choices Rewards Program - an interactive experience that rewards attendees for partaking in fun activities and trying Humana Healthier Choices, a physician reviewed listing of appetizers, entrees, and desserts all under 500 calories!
Welcome to July, aka the party month of the summer! Actually, I think July may just be the ultimate party month of the entire year. While October offers oodles of fall fun and December is filled with back-to-back holiday events, July is a nonstop parade of happiness with its themed get-togethers, fireworks, BBQs, beach bashes, patio gatherings, and one very special perk afforded to those of us who live in the city: dining amongst the skyscrapers. Chicagoans have mad love for rooftop decks (quite possibly because the city is buried under three feet of snow for most of the year); I have to admit that I didn't completely understand the frenzy surrounding rooftop dining until I was here for a few years, and now I can't get enough! While we all love a good patio session, I have to say there is something very special about dining on rooftop during a beautiful summer sunset with fruity cocktail in hand.
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