Chicago is known by several nicknames such as the Windy City and Second City, but it’s not second to many cities in the food and beer world.  Our visit found Chicago to be enthusiastically growing in both craft breweries and sophisticated beer restaurants.  Goose Island Brewing began in 1988 and was followed by Half Acre Brewing, Revolution Brewing, and Haymarket Brewing.  Craft brewers in Illinois and the surrounding states support the well-rounded beer lists of the local restaurants.  We couldn’t wait to belly up to our first beers in Chicago.

Goose Island Brewing wins brewing awards year after year with their wide selection of beers which are available at two brew pub locations.  We were able to enjoy several brews.  Honkers Ale, an English Style Bitter, was very smooth and creamy at 4.2%.  Matilda, a Belgian style pale, at 7% was fruity along with a hint of spiciness from the yeast, and is a good crossover for a wine lover.  Pere Jacques, a dark Belgian ale, was dark, malty and fruity with a soft ruby color at 8%.  Nina sampled their Gluten free, Queen-OA, 6.1%.  The Ruby Red grapefruit definitely comes through.  It was a light cherry color and tart, perhaps a great Summer refresher or massurate some fruit for a Beergria.  A special brew that day was the Four Star Black Saison, it tasted of molasses and cherries.  Keep an eye out on the SYF Beer Library menu for Goose Island additions. A food menu item that caught our eye was the “wort-bread”.  It is made using the mix of water and grains used during the brewing cycle.  It was served with “bacon jam”.  Sound interesting?  We thought so.  The bacon jam was a pulverized blend of bacon and pork fat.  We spread that on some wort-bread and we were in hog heaven! Another beer please…

Leopold was a hidden gem of a restaurant with a beer lover’s food menu and a beer list to match.  The atmosphere was abbey-like. We were surrounded with flickering candles and stone walls.  The beer menu was Belgian inspired with a few local brews.We sampled the Cane & Ebel from Two Brothers Brewing in Illinois.  It’s a Red Rye Ale coming in at 7% using the “wackiest new hop” the brewers could find. From the food menu we selected; fresh made pierogies that were soft as pillows stuffed with mushrooms, potatoes, and peas; veal sweetbreads breaded with cornmeal and a mustard gravy; and a bowl of mussels steamed with wit beer, bacon and ramps.  With our savory dishes we shared a bottle of Tank 7, a Saison from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas. The beer is straw colored, with notes of grapefruit hops and a dry finish. It pairs well with all the food.

Gage was a welcoming café we found near Millenium Park, decorated with stone, tile, and wood.  From the tap I tasted the Goosemer Ale from Half Acre Brewing, which was a crisp and refreshing 4.2% session ale.  Nina and I shared a Canadian food favorite, Poutine.  Poutine is a bowl of fries smothered with brown gravy and cheese curds along with stewed vegetables and pork confit mixed in. Maybe this is the next perfect item for the Stuff Yer Face menu!  Robert the Bruce Scottish Ale, from Three Floyds Brewing in Indiana, was perfectly matched with a smoked salmon sandwich with cucumber, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and a pickle aioli on sour dough.  For dessert we shared a Porter brewed in Michigan by Founders Brewing. At 7% it was silky black with a tan head, and strong chocolate flavors. Yummy.

Our final stop for another pairing of food and beer was The Publican.  Belgian inspired in décor and menus, the entire staff are a Cicerone Certified Beer Servers!  That comes in handy when you have your beer questions ready.  Woodsy yet modern, the walls are decorated with large photos of pigs, and the booths along the wall remind you of pigsties or small corrals.  (Look closely at the left picture above.) But there was nothing swiney about this place! With their own bakery and butcher shop on premise the selections of food and beer were enticing, and delicious. There were so many choices, the beer options left Nina in a conundrum.  Her solution was to enjoy a sampler of the draughts.  A new trend we are seeing is the Ciders. So, her first sample was Chapman’s Blend from Vander Mill Cider Mill & Winery, Spring, Michigan, refreshing at 5.20%.  The next two were from Stillwater Artisanal Ales of Baltimore, Maryland, first the Brit-Witter at 3.33% was a Hibiscus flavored session beer;  then Kopstootje, a smoooth Saison at 6.50%; Three Floyds Zombie Dust IPA at 5.20% garnered a happy face in her notes before moving on to some stronger flavors, yet low ABV percentages. Traditional to Lent season, the next sampler was Bamberg’s Aecht Schlenkerla Fastenbier, 5.50% followed by a sour she didn’t much like, the Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge from Belgium, also 5.5%.  Sour beers are an acquired taste and don’t suit everyone’s palate. Nina settled in with the Saison to enjoy with appetizers.  My first beers were Alpha King pale ale from Three Floyds which was citrusy and quenching, and Carnevale, a true-to-style Belgian Dubbel from Lost Abbey in California.  Our food items were Smoked Artic Char with spinach, radishes, & truffled peach olives, Boudin Blanc sausage from the house butcher, and fresh English mushy peas.  We paired those delicious dishes with a full portion of the smoked Easter beer from Schlenkerla. It was unfiltered, reddish brown, and just slightly smoked. If that wasn’t enough we also sampled Potted Rillettes, a slow cooked pork served with black cherry preserves paired with La Trappe Quad aged in Oak Barrels ($45/12oz!) Dessert was Olvisholt Brugghus, Lava Beer from Iceland, an Smoked Imperial Stout, which was better than a slice of chocolate cake! Stick a fork in us, we were stuffed from this internationally inspired beer and food pairing evening. The Publican’s service was exceptional; their food and beer worth a second journey.


We don’t always drink the finest craft beer and eat gourmet food, sometimes we go with tradition.  When in Chicago do like Chicagoans.  That’s what our Hop On Hop Off Tour guide told us. This brings us to Portillo’s.  A famous hot dog place serving them up since 1963. Itlooks like a scene from a Seinfeld soup episode, the line extending to the door. Within minutes it’s our turn.  Like a well-oiled conveyor belt, the workers have a solid and fast system.  Go with the flow and ask for your dog with “everything”.  This Chicago tradition means your dog is topped with mustard, relish, chopped onions, two sliced tomatoes & held together by pickles served on a poppy seed bun. All that for $2.39! Give us seconds.  Tourists and locals palatably pleased.


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