Lemon Chicago!!

Steph Rager

There's these tiny planes called puddle jumpers that only do small distances. They're called puddle jumpers because of how quickly they hop from city to city. They're barely up in the air before they're down again. Back in the first week of August, I pretty much feel like I puddle jumped through the restaurant world of Chicago, barely done with one meal before zipping off to the next. Have you heard the Chicago food scene is out of this world? Take the recommendation, get yourself on a plane, and try some of this food. It's really really epic. :)

Before food, and more importantly, I have to explain the real reason for this adventure. Chicago hosts one of four major events used to raise funds for Alex's Lemonade, a movement started in 2000 by brave, courageous, determined Alex Scott. She was four. She fought cancer her entire life and used that as motivation to fight even harder. You should take the time to read her full story here. When she passed away in 2004, she had already helped raised over a million dollars and her foundation has continued to grow like wildfire. Since the second Hedley & Bennett existed, we've been supporters of and believers in this cause. For the last two years, we've had the amazing honor of being involved by outfitting the chefs that cook for these events. Each one we attend, we're blown away by the stories Alex's mom tells about who she was as a person, by the chefs who give their time and incredible talent to contribute to this cause, and by the people who attend and give in order to make a difference. Our hat is off and hugs all around for all these individuals. Here's more photos of the whole crew!


Your must-must-must list for your next visit to Chicago....

My flight arrived at 10am and for a hot second I toyed with the idea of grabbing brunch. Scratched that plan and pointed myself right for deep dish. 10 am10 pm? Doesn't matter. It's deep dish. I reached into my Chicago foodie rolodex a boat ton of people said to go to Lou Malnatis, yes its a sort of chain but I don't even care, I will still say it was fan-freaking-tastic. And it was clear from the line at the door that I wasn't the only one with this idea. I popped myself onto a bar stool and with the free advice of the bartender, ordered a Malanati Chicago Classic plus his special version of the classic sans sausage but added pepperoni and jalepenos. If I could convince you to go to Chicago for one flavor alone, it would be for this pizza crust. They call it the buttercrust and I could have eaten it entirely by itself. So perfectly crunchy on the outside, just the right amount of softness on the inside. Amazing!

From there, I ran through Dylan's Candy Bar like a childish grin like you've never seen before. They've taken everything I've ever wanted in a candy bar, multiplied it by 1,000 and put it all under one roof. Oh, and they let you sample everything you want. It's two stories of candy magic. There were lollipops the size of your dad hanging like a mobile from the ceiling. There was a spectrum wall of different colored candies. There was a fudge station, sour candy, candy shaped like tarantulas, gummy candy, hard candy, candy the size of my head, old school candy... I can feel the sugar rush coming back just thinking about it all.


I barely dug myself out of there in time to get to River Roast. Worth noting was the steer shaped grill (because that's just awesome), the beet salad, and the fried chicken sandwiches. Not to mention that fact that it sits right on Chicago River walk and is just about the most ideal setting imaginable.

Second dinner... yes I ate second dinner... was at The Publican. Stop what you're doing and listen up. You MUST go to The Publican. It was almost 11, the restaurant was mostly cleared out, and the table was set for 30. Paul Kahan, freaking genius of the culinary world and one of the amazing hosts for Lemon Chicago, welcomed us into his restaurant. The lot of us gobbled up shared plate after shared plate - amberjack crudo, pork belly, and grilled cantaloupe. I salute that team of badass cooks who not only wowed us with every dish but handed us the most genuine welcome to their city imaginable.

The next day was for food adventure marathon-ing...

-The day was started off with spread from Staropolska - pierogies and cabbage, and latkes with apple sauce. The pierogies were old school good - like the kind you'd want your grandmother to make. When you co-adventurers are Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, know that you are going to eat Polish food and it's going to be the best stuff around.

-Then to Bang Bang Pie - a must on my list any time I'm in Chicago and Michael Ciapciak makes the trek worth it every time. When you go, there's only one way to do it... you do it all. We started with the sweets: the keylime, plum blueberry crumble, chocolate pecan, and my favorite, the honey pie. Then some savories to wrap it all up: some grits du jour, avocado biscuit, farmer's biscuit, the b.e.l.t. and a mug full of candied bacon. Whatever you do, don't forget the candied bacon!!

-Once we were adequately filled to the gills with pie, we found our way to no man's land outside the city. Our destination? The Romanian Kosher Sausage Co. A deli reputed to be the best kosher deli in the entire country. I'd support that claim. A few white haired gentlemen in hard hats manned the counter, sharing their hard salami wisdom. These guys were hard core about hard salami. But what was no joke was the reuban sandwich we took to go. You just can't compete with their rye bread and it was literally just salami, yellow mustard and cold rye bread but WOAH, it was so incredibly incredibly delicious. This is totally worth the trek to the middle of nowhere!

Tuesday's crucial stops...
-Brunch at Dove's Luncheonette - I had the best tomato salad possibly known to man. Tomatoes, baby fennel, avocado, charred spring onion, mint, over sunflower-seed puree, with radish and queso fresco. It was unreal. Then the pepper and potato hash and the Back to Life Cocktail of seafood marinated in tomato, orange and lime juice.
-Then Mindy Segal's Hot Chocolate. This was a special stop to chat about the launch of Mindy's new cookbook Cook Love. Mindy's pizaz is contagious and after you try her blueberry pie, you will be won over for life. Somehow, the blueberries still had some pop and life to them, sitting on top of a custard base and a swedish pie crust that was to jaw dropping. She'd just taken it out of the oven for our visit and I've been raving about it ever since. Go for the cookies but don't miss the pie.
This list doesn't stop here - the talent in Chicago is startling. But I packed what I could in two and a half days and will just have to go back again to hit the rest!