Chicago Can Make Anyone a Food Tourist

Chicago food tour, anyone?

Sounds like a great idea but it wasn’t what we had in mind the last time we visited Chicago.

Then, the weather threw us a curve ball.

We were used to enjoying sunny, clear days in the Windy City. We’d been here many times and spent a lot of time site-seeing, shopping, and eating.

Today’s plans included strolling through Lincoln Park Zoo, the Conservatory, and then wandering down Riverwalk via the Magnificent Mile.

Flower plantings in Chicago's Old Town

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The plan did not include all-day sheets of rain, but that’s what we got.

So, we donned hooded raincoats and sturdy shoes and headed toward Old Town, because it was nearby. We hadn’t fully explored this neighborhood before, and I found some Chicago food shops on Google Maps that looked interesting.

Chicago Food Stop One: Plum Market

1024px-Plum_Market_Ann_Arbor_Michigan
By Dwight Burdette (Own work

The first was Plum Market, on North Wells Street between West Division and West Goethe. It was a cute name. I expected a small prepared food store plus greengrocer. But Plum Market is a full-on grocery store. The produce selection is large and mostly organic. And just beyond that is a spectacular liquor section that includes an impressive array of scotch and bourbon, along with wine and craft beers. This was a valuable discovery!

Chicago Food Stop Two: The Spice House

Next on my list was The Spice House. It was just a few blocks north, still on North Wells. I have been to many spice stores and was curious as to how this one would compare.

All I can say is, there is no comparison. You should go to The Spice House.

As we approached, we noticed groups of people chatting in front of the store. I thought, this must be a local hangout for people who don’t drink coffee. After all, the weather wasn’t great and there weren’t people grouped in front of the other shops.

So, okay. We made our way through the crowd.

Clear glass jars of spices lined up on a shelf exude mouth-watering aromas.
photo by Irene

I opened the shop door and stepped into a scent of lemon, lavender, and clove. It was fabulous.

The shop was trimmed in honey colored wood, and stocked with apothecary jars holding a variety of dried herbs and spices.

An apron-ed salesperson offered me a candied ginger sample, explaining the two varieties on her tray.

I opted for the one she suggested had a bright, sharp flavor appropriate for eating out of hand.

Never have I tasted crystallized ginger like this! It was soft, and moist, as if fresh ginger had just been dipped in syrup, rolled in sugar, and set out to dry. So unlike the firm squares that came out of my jar at home.

It left a nice, lingering tingle like you get after eating a few cinnamon hots. I ended up buying three bags.

I also found a bottle of butter flavoring, which had been eluding me at my local shops.

Butter extract is a great addition to butter cookie dough and coffee cakes, adding a subtle richness that takes baking to the next level.

Chicago Food Stop Three: Old Town Oil

It was starting to rain again as we continued north on North Wells. Our last stop for the afternoon was Old Town Oil.

When we ducked inside this shop, we saw some of the people who had been outside of The Spice House. Odd.File May 01, 12 06 06 AMThe staff in this shop were also attentive and informed.

We sample various oils and balsamic vinegars.

The salesperson warmed a sample cup of Tuscan Blend olive oil by using the friction of the cup bottom against her palm. She did the same with some Reserve balsamic vinegar, poured both into one cup, and offered me a taste.

It was warm, rich, and soothing. I could taste lemon, thyme, and rosemary.

Meanwhile, my husband and daughter were sampling a blackberry and ginger balsamic. Can you imagine it drizzled over a creamy vanilla ice cream or gelato?

Now, we were up to three bottles.

Finally, to make an even four, we purchased some Greek extra virgin olive oil that was smooth and buttery.

A day that started off gray and gloomy ended with fantastic sights, smells, and tastes.

As we headed back to the hotel, I remarked at the coincidence of the crowds at the spice and oil shops.

My daughter remarked, “Didn’t you hear what they said, Mom? Those people were on a food tour.”

I laughed, “Well, so were we! ‘Mom’s Food Tour’. “

And, my tour was totally free.

Sort of.

Featured photo by Irene. Some restrictions

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