Friday, March 25, 2011

Searching Chicago and Enjoying the Food

The past two days have gone by really fast.  My friend, Kristin, and I took a quick trip to Chicago to find an apartment, look into some job possibilities, and just explore some more of our soon-to-be new city, which included some tasty food as well.

We arrived in the city late Tuesday morning and after dropping our bags off at the hotel we headed around the corner to a small cafe, 3rd Coast.  It was a charming little place that played some great music.  We sat by a window that looked out onto the street.  I enjoyed a turkey and brie panini with a side salad that was quite tasty.  
We then hopped on the L to meet our leasing agent from Apartment Finders, which is a free apartment finding service.  We chatted with him about what we were looking for, what neighborhoods we were interested in, and our price range.  

While he pulled a few listings for us we ran across the street to check out Ann Sather's. It is a brunch restaurant that is known for their delicious cinnamon buns.  As soon as I heard that I knew I had to try one.  This cinnamon bun did not disappoint - great cinnamon spice flavor, warm, fluffy yet gooey texture, and sweet icing all over.  It was a great treat before our apartment search.  

We got on the road and looked at six different apartments.  We liked all of the neighborhoods we checked out and saw some good places.  Our choices were narrowed down to two, but, go figure, I had a hard time making a decision.  I felt like there was something out there that we were missing that was going to be better than what we saw though.  After some discussion, however, we decided on a walk-up on the North side of the city.  It is a nice place, near a park, close to transportation, and a really good price.  The lease is just for a year and I think it will be a good starting apartment for us so we can get to know the city.  We signed the initial paperwork and are just waiting to sign the actual lease which should be soon.  This is a super big deal for me.  It is going to be my first real apartment that I am going to pay for and in a totally new place!

Look at that steam!
By the time we finished with the apartment we were hungry and headed over to XOCO which is one of Rick Bayless' restaurants.  There was a little bit of wait, but it gave us time to browse the menu in which everything sounded good.  The host was super friendly and helpful, which is always appreciated.  I ordered the pork belly meal-in-a-bowl caldos, which was basically a big bowl of soup chock full of mushrooms, zucchini, onions, noodles, avocado, and spices.  It was pretty spicy, but had some great flavor.  
We tried to catch a show at Improv Olympics, but got there a little too late and there was no room left; they had to turn people away.  

I have read and heard lots of great things about the Chicago Lakefront Trail and finally got a chance to run part of it early Wednesday morning.  It was a bit chilly, cloudy, and misty, but decided to go out anyway.  I had a six mile run planned with four at tempo.  I started off slowly and the cold wind stung my face at first, but I knew once I got going I would warm up.  There were lots of runners and bikers on the trail.  I got to run by the choppy water of the lake, through some of Lincoln Park, and past some Chicago buildings.  
After I warmed up a little and got into my first tempo mile I was feeling good.  I decided to try to make my walk breaks a little less frequent and I did it!  I guess it was just the joy of being in Chicago, the energy of the city, running on a great trail, and all of the impressive runners around me.  My last tempo mile happened to be the fastest mile I think I have ever run.  Now, by no means am I a fast runner, but I completed an 11:50 mile, which is fast for me considering my pace is usually around 14!  I wasn't exhausted or huffing and puffing either.  Seriously, this might be one of the best runs I have ever had - it felt great!  As I was heading back to the hotel after my run I realized that I had a pretty gnarly blister on the back of my left heel.  I didn't notice it until I had slowed down but the back of my shoe was covered in blood.  I think it was the misty weather and that my sock had slipped down a bit.  The blister will heal, but the memory of such an amazing run will last forever.  I hope I can have that same energy and speed for the upcoming IronGirl Half!
Happy Post-Run!
After getting clean Kristin and I headed Uptown to a small restuarant called Tweet.  If I hadn't seen the good review on Urbanspoon we probably would never had seen or stopped at this place, but it was a good find.  They use fresh, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, organic when possible foods.  Lots of things on the menu looked great, but I went with the Santa Fe Special which was two black bean patties topped with scrambled eggs, salsa, hashbrowns, and fruit.  The hashbrowns were pretty standard, nothing great, but I really like the black beans, eggs, and salsa.  

The Best Popcorn
After a good breakfast we took some time to explore our new neighborhood before heading back into the city.  We checked the distance to the train and grocery stores.  We then walked the windy city streets of downtown and after passing the delicious smell of Garrett's Popcorn had to stop and grab a bag of the Chicago Mix, which is an oh-so-tasty blend of caramel and cheddar cheese popcorn!

That afternoon I also had an interview to discuss some job options.  I was nervous, but the meeting went well.  We talked about what my plan for moving to the city was and what kind of work I would be interested in.  My goal right now is to find something I like, that is going to pay the bills, give me a chance to learn more about the city, and figure out what I want to do.  I don't have a ton of information to share on this front yet, because it is still in the works, but I have hopes that something good will come from it. 

A trip to Trader Joe's was a must, seeing as there are none here in Central Florida.  I picked up some fruit bars, cookies, and fruit strips.  Ah, I just love Trader Joe's and can't wait to be able to shop there more often when I move.  

I had never tried a Chicago hot dog and was set on trying one on this trip.  So after the store we walked a few blocks to Portillo's to grab one.  The Chicago dog comes with mustard, onions, tomatoes, and a big pickle spear.  I got it without the relish and had to take the peppers off because they were too hot, but this was a tasty hot dog!  You should definitely try one!

All in all it was a successful trip to Chicago!  It looks like we have an apartment, in a good neighborhood, which was ultimately the goal of this trip.  
I have to say that the Maps and Urbanspoon apps on my iPhone were really useful on the trip.  It helped us navigate our way through the city and discover some new places to eat.  So if you are going on a trip soon, you should utilize these apps.    
Moving day is a little more than a month away now!

If you could move to a city where would you want to go? Have you ever had a Chicago hot dog or tried the Chicago popcorn mix?