Chicago culinary trip: Fifty courses in four days

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I don't know how to act my age. I have this bad habit of going to bed early, doing homework in the morning and not drinking nearly as much as a twenty-one-year old writer/cook should drink. Hell, I even occasionally go to class.

My friend knows how to act his age. He turned 21 yesterday, and celebrated the way you're supposed to: with 20 friends on a beach in Florida during spring break. He'll remember none of it. How did I celebrate my 21st? By trying to find someone to go to Chicago with me to eat. Seemed to make sense to me. Alas, I had no takers, but the will lived on.

I am on a plane right now, typing T-Rex style, cramped and waiting to order my first grown-up Bloody Mary 30,000 feet in the sky. Chicago, here I come. When I get there, I'm getting some tacos, a lot of hot dogs, very deep-dish pizza and also the avant garde cuisine Chicago is becoming known for.

This idea was formulated when my executive chef repeatedly told me to just buy a ticket and that everything else would fall into place. A month ago, I was looking at four days alone in a city where I knew no one. But now I have a person to stay with, a framework of where I'm eating and even a few stages--those all-important unpaid internships.

But this trip is about exploration. No, I'm not trying to find myself, and I'm not planning on appearing on some MTV special about being "lost" in a big city. I am, however, trying to find a little peace in the neon-green relish that apparently adorns a true Chicago-style hot dog. I want to know what the hell's so great about a pizza that looks more like tomato and cheese casserole. And the only reason I'll be at the top of the Sears Tower is to scout a tactical map of Chicago eateries.

I chose Chicago over San Francisco or New York, because the Chicago dining scene seems more in line with what Denver dining could eventually become. We don't have the sheer size of New York and, at least according to almost every chef questioned in Lori Midson's Chef and Tell interviews, we have far too many chain restaurants. Chicago has started to embrace strong, modern cuisines, as have we, but they also seem to have the patrons to really push this idea to another realm. Just enjoy a look at a few of the restaurants I'll be going to do. This one has brioche twinkie croutons and this one has a foie gras hot dog! I will do my best to perform culinary espionage, learning what the diners in Chicago have that we don't.

I invite you to follow me the next few days as I learn what it means to be a professional eater. I will be enjoying more than fifty courses in the four days and doing some Spring Break-esque damage to my liver. I might stop at a museum, but only to give my stomach a break.

And the first thing I'll do when I get off the plane? Pizza and beer. Ok, maybe sometimes I do act my age.

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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