Monday, August 29, 2011

Chicago Food Planet Bucktown/Wicker Park Food Tour

Remember that awesome food tour I went on last month?  Well another food tour company in Chicago saw my post and asked me to come check out one of their great food tours.  Um...heck yes!  
My schedule has been full the past few weeks, but I finally had a free day this Saturday to check out one, of their three, offered tours.  
Chicago Food Planet Food Tours offered me one free ticket, but the opinions are all my own.

I decided to check out the Bucktown/Wicker Park food tour because it was different area of town I hadn't really explored and all of the food tastings sounded delicious.  

It was a beautiful day for a walking food tour with sunny skies and comfortable temperatures.  I was by myself during the tour and wished I had someone I knew with me, but we had a full tour of 16 people from all over the country and met midday at our first location.  Our tour guide was Gina and she was full of energy and information throughout the tour.  She encouraged us to at least try a bit of everything, because you never know if you will like it until you taste it.  We were each given a handy pamphlet with all the places we were going to visit, a map, other good restaurants in the area, and coupons.  
After some quick introductions we headed inside George's Hot Dogs.  George and his wife Mary have been running this stand since 1948 and still work in the back chopping ingredients and serving guests.  Everything is made to order so it is nice and fresh.  The Chicago style hot dog was no exception!  There is a lot on this hot dog but it all goes so well together.  In case you are unfamiliar a Chicago style hot dog includes an all beef hot dog with fresh onions, green relish, yellow mustard, sport peppers (although I ate mine sans peppers), sliced tomatoes, a big dill pickle, and celery salt on top.  Oh and no ketchup allowed - that's a BIG faux pas, plus I don't think it needs it.  There are over 2000 independent hot dog stands in the city and I haven't tried them all but this is one of the best I have had so far! 

We then walked to a small park where Gina told us some of the history of Bucktown and how it came to be.  
I love history facts so I found all the information pretty interesting.  

After our history lesson it was time for a sweet treat at the famous Hot Chocolate.  This restaurant has been around since 2004 and has won numerous awards.  The owner and head chef, Mindy Segal, has been nominated four years in row for the James Beard Award for best pastry chef.  They don't just serve desserts and hot chocolate here though, there is a full bar and menu to enjoy as well.  Chef Segal is also a big proponent of the locavore movement (i.e. using food that is grown or produced locally) which is wonderful.   The place was a bit busy when we walked in but we had some benches reserved.  I was really excited to try the hot chocolate and it did not disappoint.  We each got a nice cup full of iced hot chocolate with a homemade marshmallow on top.  
It was everything you want hot chocolate to taste like and homemade marshmallows are WAY better than store bought.  It had a super rich chocolate flavor that was creamy and delicious.  Just thinking about how good it was right now is making me want another glass.  MMMM!   
Next we walked to The Goddess and Grocer which is also a supporter of the locavore movement.  It is a gourmet, mostly organic, deli and grocery store that sells local foods, cakes, pastries, salads, and sandwiches.  We tried the roasted vegetable salad that was chock-full of veggies which was good. Everything in the shop looked great.  There is one right by work, so I will definitely be stopping by again!   

We then crossed into Wicker Park.  The line between the two neighborhoods is a bit blurry hence the sidewalk design. 

The next food stop was Piece which is a pizzeria and brewery.  The restaurant was a big open area full of high tops and tables.  The place also had a big bar and great big sun roof.  The pizza came out on a huge baking sheet and looked delicious.
We each got a taste of one of their beers and a slice of the white pizza which was topped with tomatoes and basil.  They make New Haven style pizza which is perfectly crispy and chewy.  It was oh so good!  I am coming back here for sure.  I am not a big fan of beer so I just had a sip.   It tasted like all other beer to me, but they make tons of beers themselves and have won lots of awards for them. 

Afterwards we headed back out to explore some of the quieter neighborhood streets of Wicker Park.  We walked through some pretty neighborhoods and learned some more history about the area and the houses.  There was a good mixture of older homes right next to more modern ones throughout.
House built around 1870
Wicker Park Castle built in 1893
Home from 1877.  Cannon left in front yard from American Legion.

We couldn't visit Wicker Park, without actually seeing the park itself!  It is a lovely green park with a fountain, flowers, and plenty of benches.  It was donated to the neighborhood by Charles Wicker who has a statue in the park as well.  

Charles Wicker: "If something needs to be done - do it!" (hence the broom in hand)
Gina shared some great historical stories about the houses which was really interesting.  After 45 minutes of exploring we went to the next restaurant Sultan's Market.  It is another family run business with tons of vegetarian and vegan options.  We got to try the award winning falafel sandwich.  I am not sure I had ever tried falafel before but this stuff was good!  It came in a homemade pita with house made hummus, cucumbers, and tomatoes.  I don't really care for cucumbers but everything else was really tasty.   

Our final stop for the day was the wonderful iCream Cafe.  I have been to this place twice before and was happy to go back again.  (I blogged about my first visit here.)  This time I learned some more about how the place started.  It was an idea that two students at the University of Chicago came up with as some kind of final project and it has become a hugely successful business.  They have been featured on the Food Network several times.  The cool thing about this place is that you get to make a completely unique ice cream flavor and it is frozen right on the spot with liquid nitrogen.   We tried the flavor "that guy from Florida" which is white chocolate and cream soda flavoring with nutella mixed in.  The flavor got it's name because a guy from Florida would always order that mixture when he visited.  It was delicious! 
Mixture is poured in and frozen with liquid nitrogen!

At the end Gina asked everyone to say what their favorite thing from the day was.  I liked everything, but decided on Hot Chocolate.  Piece, iCream, and Sultan's were close behind though.  
I really had a good time on Chicago Food Planet's Food Tour in Bucktown/Wicker Park.  I was pretty full at the end of the tour so you get your money and belly's worth of food.  
I love trying local restaurants and food tours are a great way to do just that.  This tour did not disappoint on the food front and I loved learning little history facts about the area and restaurants.  Plus as we walked by other places Gina let us know about other restaurants to check out too.  I plan on heading back to Bucktown/Wicker Park to visit those places soon!  So if you want to explore a different and interesting area of Chicago I would definitely consider this tour.

Of the food I tried what would you be interested in tasting?