My son Mike and I have had a plan each year for our summer adventure (vacation). We look at the Tampa Bay Rays baseball schedule and find a city were they are playing and that we want to visit. We build our trip around that. Last year was a visit to New York City and a game at Yankee Stadium, next year will be to visit the Green Monster at Fenway park in Boston. This year was a week in one of my favorite cities, Chicago, to see the Rays play the Cubs in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. For those of you that are not diehard baseball fans, this may seem like a strange way to plan your summer vacation. But Michael, an aspiring ballplayer himself, and I start planning this as soon as the baseball schedules are released in November, and we start countind down the days until we leave.
Unlike last year, when we rode the rails on an Amtrak train to Manhattan, this year was a direct flight from Jax to O'Hare...the train ride was interesting, but I'll take "now boarding" over "all aboard" any day! So off we went into the wild blue yonder and two hours and six minutes in the air later, we were touching down and ready to take a big bite out of Chicago.
There are a number of meals that Chicago is know for, like Italian beef sandwiches, Chicago-style pizza, kettle corn and the Chicago hotdog--and I did introduce Mike to all of those and many others. There is nothing like sitting in Wrigley for a day game with a cold glass of Goose Island, a Giordanos Pizza, a bag of kettle corn, but we discovered a place that we fell in love with the moment we walked in the door...EATALY!!
Eataly in Chicago is two floors and 63,000 square feet of sensory overload if you have any interest in all things Italian, which we do. I will not be able to do this experience justice in my description, so please Google it. You'll see what I mean. It was founded in Turin by Oscar Farinetti and is now a partnership between many, including Mario Batali, Lydia Bastianich and her son Joe, who are now the faces of Eataly in New York and Chicago. Worldwide, there are a total of 27 Eatalys, mostly in Italy and Japan, but the restaurant is now becoming a traveling destination for those who love to eat, drink, talk and experience Italy.
Our dinner began with a ball of in-house buffalo mozzarella cheese that was cut into four pieces, then drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and finished with cracked pepper. This appetizer was sent to our table by Chef Craig, who Michael had made friends with the previous night--but that's another story. Then we had a Margherita pizza and finished with fresh made linguine covered in mussels, cherry tomatoes, basil, olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano...just absolutely delicious. Mike spent dinner making friends with the guests sitting at the tables on each side of us, but what else is new?
If ever you are in Chicago, and I sure hope you all get a chance visit, you will be as taken as we were by its big city feel and the small town charm of the people. On other visits I have described Chicago as a cleaner, friendlier New York, and this trip only verified that feeling. Great museums, architecture, food, buildings and wonderful people. Yeah Chicago...My kind of town!
Ken Amendola, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine supervisor
Follow me on Twitter @abcwinekena