Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sweet Carmel Corn

Garrett Popcorn Shop - I can almost smell the carmel corn just sitting here thinking about it. Garrett's makes small batches all day long - so whenever you stop by, you always get fresh, hot, gooey carmel corn. There's nothing quite like it - It's (one of) my guilty pleasures when I'm in Chicago. It's delicious when it's hot, but it's great when it cools down too. It's definitely worth getting out of your hotel room for - your e-mail will still be there when you get back!

There are several shops throughout the city ( - but I like the one on Randolph near the State Street shopping area anchored by Macy's (formerly Marshall Fields) and Carson Pirie Scott which makes the area a destination all its own. Garrett's carmel corn is just an added bonus.

Scoozi! Per Favore

Scoozi! Italian Restaurant (or as I call it -"the flying tomato" because of the huge, 3 dimensional tomato that hangs over the door), has been one of my "go to" restaurants in Chicago for about 20 years - It's the first place I ever took my (now) husband back when I was living here. It's also the first place I'd ever heard of and tried Magherita Pizza and it remains the best I've ever had (I wonder how they make and keep the crust so thin and so crispy?! )

I've returned to Scoozi! many times over the years when traveling to Chicago on business - I've brought clients, co-workers, friends and of course enjoyed many meals here solo - and I'm never disappointed. The food is delicious and the service is excellent - you always have a full water glass and bread on your plate - but you never feel like you're being hovered over.

Menu: According to the website - "Comfortable Italian"
Faves: Margherita pizza, and the crusty bread served by the "chunk" by the waitstaff with seasoned olive oil is so good I could almost use up my entire appetite on just that.
Other info: Scoozi! is a little off the beaten path (west of Lasalle) but still an easy cab ride from any downtown hotel.

410 West Huron
Chicago, IL 60654
(then go to find a restaurant at top of site)

A "Hidden" Treasure

Bandera is one of those great restaurants that seems to be "hiding" in plain sight. It's in the middle of downtown Chicago right on Michigan Avenue and it has a huge sign that you almost can't miss and yet, until about 3 years ago, I'd never ventured in. It took someone from Ohio to tell me about it!

Since then Bandera has been one of my favorite restaurants in downtown Chicago for several reasons
1) great food that isn't too fussy - but definitely interesting and always delicious
2) a place that I can recommend or take anyone to because of its diverse (although not large) menu - from delicious burgers and fries to Prime Rib (not to mention always interesting fish of the day and other specials)
3) casual but fabulous ambience (excellent for solo dining or for taking a colleague to lunch or dinner) with a jazz trio that starts at 6:00 every night and several tables pulled right up to large windows overlooking the hustle and bustle of Michigan Avenue below
4) moderate prices that won't blow the expense account budget

I go to Bandera almost everytime I'm in Chicago for work. Sometimes I've gone more than once. It's the coleslaw... I'm addicted!

Menu: Eclectic American
Faves: The coleslaw (wish I had some right now!!), burgers (Bandera chops their meat fresh everyday), the "fall off the bone" barbecue beef back ribs (comes with coleslaw :>)
Just an FYI: The jazz trio (piano, bass guitar, drum) sets up toward the front of the resaurant, where the windows are - If you're with colleagues and you need to talk, ask for a table more toward the back (still great ambience and you'll still be able to hear the music.)
Also, they don't take reservations for parties larger than four.

535 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
(then click on Bandera)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Magnificent Mile

Staying downtown Chicago for work? One of my favorite things to do when I'm in the Windy City and find a spare moment or two is to walk down Michigan Avenue's "Magnificent Mile." I love to wander into the three story, sports-themed NikeTown, or the open, airy Apple Store (one of just a few flagship, stand alone locations in the country). You don't even have to go into any of the shops to enjoy this walk - the window shopping at the more than 450 upscale department stores and boutiques such as Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales, Sax Fifth Avenue, Gucci, Coach, and Ralph Lauren is awesome. Take in the atmosphere of this gorgeous, bustling street, melt into the crowd of beautiful people and forget all about work - for a little while anyway.

Go to to see where it is, get a list of shops and restaurants, see what's happening/special events, etc.

A Fave Mag Mile Activity:
If I have time, I love to take the elevator up to the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the John Hancock building for a cocktail or soda (open 11am - 12:30 weekdays/1:30am weekends) It's free to ride up the elevators that are dedicated to the restaurant and worth every penny of the slightly elevated price of your drink to enjoy it in front of floor to ceiling windows getting a bird's-eye view of the city.
(Note: The building is located at 875 North Michigan Avenue - However, the elvator to get to the restaurant/bar is located on the south side of the building)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Get Your Irish On

The James Joyce Irish Pub, is in the growing Harbor East neighborhood of Baltimore and has a very cozy and authentic Irish Pub atmosphere (or what I assume is authentic as I've never actually been to Ireland...yet) Typical "pub grub" is bountiful (burgers and fries, sandwiches and wraps) but the best bets are the traditional Irish dishes. Listed on the menu as "Irish Favorites" these include offerings such as, Fish and Chips, Shepards Pie, Corned Beef and Cabbage, and Irish Lamb Stew.
I actually just sat at the bar last time I was there (it's my usual spot at this venue and many others) and had a delicious steaming bowl of hearty potato soup and bread with a pint of Guiness. Hardly gets any better than that.

Menu: Casual "Pub Grub" and traditional Irish fare (casual prices)
Faves: Potato soup and anything on the "Irish Favorites" menu, and last but not least, the Guiness
Extras: Besides the cozy atmosphere and hearty food, I love the very Irish bartender (old enough to be my father) who has a tendancy to call me "darlin'" and "luv" (I realize this is not necessarily a plus for my male readers :>)

James Joyce Irish Pub
616 South President Street
Baltimore, MD 21202

Monday, October 26, 2009

Little Italy in Baltimore

Cafe Gia's is right on the edge of Little Italy on the East side of Baltimore's Inner Harbor. The food is good and the prices are moderate but it's the bright, fun atmosphere including huge murals of old-fashioned Italian posters painted directly on the walls and tables of this small Italian restaurant that makes it one of my favorites when I'm in Baltimore.

Menu: Italian (Lot's of pasta and other hearty, traditional dishes)
My Faves: Eggplant Parmagian (Slices of eggplant are the thinnest I've ever had - I wonder how they do it - perhaps a mandolin? I'll ask next time I go.)

Cafe Gia
410 South High Street
Baltimore, MD 21202

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bon Apetite!

La Bonne Soupe is a cozy little bistro in mid-town - just perfect for solo dining or a casual dinner with a colleague. You walk down the stairs into a small dining room that's bursting with energy. (Note: There's seating upstairs too with choice seats on a small balcony outside in the summer.) I generally prefer to be seated on the first floor amid the hustle and bustle with tables crammed so close together you almost don't feel like you're dining alone.

Menu: French bistro fare
Faves: The house special - A bowl of hearty soup that comes with salad, bread, drink (house wine, beer, coffee or soda) and dessert for under $20.00.
Recommendation: If what you order doesn't come with fries - get some -You won't be sorry! (yum!)

La Bonne Soupe
48 West 55th Street (Between 5th and 6th)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Walk To Bryant Park

I had about an hour and a half after my last meeting ended and before my colleague was meeting me for dinner so I answered a few quick emails, put my cell phone in my pocket and headed out of my mid-town hotel. Since I didn't have a lot of time I decided to make Bryant Park my destination and so I headed off toward Times Square, took a left on 42nd Street and made my way over to the park.
For those who've never been, Bryant Park is a lovely mid-town oasis between 5th and 6th Avenue and 42nd and 44th Street. There are numerous tables and chairs scattered throughout the park where you can unwind with goodies from one of the 4 'wichcraft kiosks (each kiosk carries different items from sweets and coffee, to sandwiches etc.)
There are also events in the park year round - concerts, theater in the park, ice skating and from early November - early January you'll find "The Holiday Shops at Bryant Park" which features over 100 boutiques, artisans, designers and food merchants from around the world.
You can go online or you can follow them on Twitter (BryantParkNYC) to see how to get to the park, find out what's going on and where you can grab a drink or a bite to eat and then next time you're in mid-town and find yourself with a few spare minutes -- take a walk and experience this lovely NYC park.