8 am

This is what the start of a cracking day in Chicago looks like.

In summer the defacto home-town of the President is a shiny place, rounded by the charm of mid-west smiles. There are expanses of water and feats of architecture every way you turn your gaze.

And it turns out the Windy City ain’t always so. In summary, I like it here. Lots.

But then it would be pretty hard not to like a city from the hushed, lofted heights of a lake-view room at the Trump Tower, where the carpet is duckling soft and there’s a menu for water (our presence on the 27th floor courtesy of a shocking upgrade).

9.30 am

A great day usually starts with a caffeinated boost. While here in Chicago the locals are friendly, good coffee isn’t something that you’ll find on every corner. But if you know where to go, you’re off to a good start.

Turns out there’s an Intelligentsia outpost not to far away- just near Millennium Park.

Once you’ve made it there marvel at how they understand why tamping coffee, not burning beans, or frothing milk like you’re pumpimg a supersoaker might make a difference to what you drink. Order a latte and be delighted that it’s not topped with a stupid pompadour of fluff. Grab a muffin for a light breakfast. Don’t worry- there’s plenty more to eat later on.

Intelligentsia Coffee
53 E. Randolph St.


10.15 am

From there walk three blocks to Millennium Park before the sun gets too stern.

There’s a trippy Frank Gehry amphitheater, some great public art, winding paths and a fountain that spits water out of projected faces. All around there’s a motley mix of map-flapping tourists and locals enjoying the sunshine, side by side.



11 am

From there, start making your way up Michigan Avenue- ‘the Magnificent Mile’. On it goes, with shops flanking both sides like sentinels. Before you get tempted to buy something you don’t have room in your suitcase, you’ll find yourself at an arched entry to a pathway that juts off to the left. The scrawling sign reads; ‘The Purple Pig’. Yes. This is where you want to go. You’ll thank me for not letting you have a big breakfast.

12.30 pm

Your destination for lunch is a new entry to the food scene of Chicago. On a Friday night you won’t be able to get near the place, but if you come in the middle of the day there’s room to swing a variety of animals. Here at the Purple Pig the menu involves a celebration of the porcine- but there’s also plenty on offer for those who don’t fancy eating Miss Piggy and her friends.

You could sit at the bar and watch the bandana wearing staff hard at work in the kitchen, claim one of the banquets lining the walls or eek out some space at one of the high topped communal wooden tables.

The Purple Pig is a rustic space, with some surprising touches of refinement. The wine list has clout, but servings come in sensible-sized carafes. The beers are a mix of local and international treasures. And while the charcuterie may come draped on cutsey board that resembles the flat back of a pig (topped and tailed by a face and a curl), wine comes in fine stemmed glasses.

This is food designed to be shared and enjoyed over a couple of drinks with some pals. And if one of your friends also likes things that come from well-bred pigs, then you’re in plenty of luck.

Winning finds:

The porchetta panini is pure toasted comfort, sandwiching house roasted pork, studded with fennel seeds and the occasional piece of string. On top is a big splat of salsa verde which works hard to cut through the fat and give a glimpse of green.

Under the menu sub title of ‘Schmears’ there’s a variety of toppings for grilled bread. It’s hard to go past the pork rillettes- which are made in house. What you’ll end up eating is pork meat and its own fat and melded in a crossbreed of a terrine and a pate. Together with mustard fruits it tastes a little like throwing Christmas lunch all together- combining the figgy pudding with the main course of ham. It’s fantastic, and just a little filling.

On the off chance that you feel like you haven’t had enough pig yet, but couldn’t quite bring yourself to order the pigs tails braised in balsamic, you can go to the other end of the animal.

It turns out that crisp fried slivers of pigs ear have a texture that’s pretty close to calamari. With crispy kale, lemon and a fried egg this is a dish that’s a strong nod to the adage of ‘fat is flavour’. And a lot of fat is… a lot of flavour.

When it comes to dessert there’s home made soft serve in flavours of the day- and if the summer strawberry with balsamic topping is on the menu, you’ll kick yourself if you leave without tasting it.

If on the off=chance you’ve still got room for any more carbs you could also turn to an Iris. We’re told it’s closest to ‘the bastard love child between a beignet and a cannoli’. And after eating this squishy doughnut, stuffed with ricotta and chocolate chips will you will most certainly be up for a good stroll up to the beach.


The Purple Pig

500 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611-3777
(312) 464-1744

2pm

To make it to the beach you have to head all the way up the Miracle Mile, past chain stores,high end jewellers and places like ‘American Girl Place’, where any questions about ‘what is happening to this generation of young women?’ will be promptly answered.

If you don’t need to get the ears of an $170 doll that looks just like you pierced, or her hair princess braided (for the bargain sum of $20), then keep on walking up and refresh yourself with some ‘sea’ air, off Lake Michigan.

Along the extensive lake front path there are citizens, both portly and fit pounding the paved shore. To the right are bikes whizzing past teenage girls sunbaking on concrete pavers, while to the left lifeguards stand at 300 m intervals clutching red buoys and staring out at flat water.


3.30pm

The walk back to Trump will take you all the way past the Navy Pier, which is worth visiting so you can take an obligatory holiday picture of a Ferris Wheel.

7pm

Dinner. It’s time to eat a Chicago institution. Asking a group of locals where the best pizza is invites the same kind of passion as openly declaring the White Sox as the superior team.

I’m not sure if it’s the best, but Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria is authentic, cheap, cheerful- and crowded.

The queues for a table the restaurant-slash-sportsbar can last for more than an hour. You can’t make a booking. You want to get there early. Once you get to the front of the queue you might then wait up to 40 minutes for your pie – but that’s because they make everything fresh to order.

The wait is part of the experience.

The ‘Lou’ in Lou Malnati’s’s worked in Chicago’s first deep dish pizzeria in the 1940’s. In 1971 he branched out and opened his own. Lou passed away in 1978, but his two sons and his wife now oversee an empire of 30 plus branches in Chicago and beyond.

So; what is a Chicago-style pizza?

A Chicago style pizza is shaped more like a quiche. And its toppings come upside down. The crust tastes a little like flaky pastry. On top of that is a dense layer of mozzarella. At Lou’s the mozarella comes from a small dairy that has provided their cheese for the past 37 years. From there you’ll find spiced sausage, a chunky tomato sauce (which is surprisingly sweetened with pear), more cheese and dried herbs.

It’s a piping hot pile of sweet and spicy dairy, tomato and meat, somewhat light on structural integrity, but high in flavour. It’s best eaten with a knife and fork, and a cold beer while you pump the locals for inside tips on what to do with the rest of your night.

Lou Malnatis
439 North Wells Street
Chicago, IL 60610
http://www.loumalnatis.com/