Chi-Town by Belly

Apologies for the delay between this post and my last! I’ve been putting the finishing touches on the first draft of my thesis, and between wading through those two hundred pages and trying to keep up with my teaching duties, I’m afraid blog updates fell a little behind.

But no more! I’ve got big plans for the weeks ahead, and I’m hoping to share them all with you. This week I wanted to take some time to report on my recent trip to Chicago for the 2012 conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the AWP hosts an annual conference in a major metropolitan area (past sites include New York City and Denver). Writers, publishers, and agents swarm the city, crowding the hotels as they mingle and make contact with their fellow word-smiths.

I attended a number of interesting panels — several on the use of social media and marketing, self-publishing versus big house publishing, and the state of the novel — but the highlight of the trip was, by far, having the opportunity to hear Margaret Atwood speak on writing and its craft. Since I’m a die-hard Atwood fan, listening to her was pretty much the equivalent of achieving nirvana. She was smart, witty, and utterly delightful, and I am immensely grateful for having had the opportunity to hear her talk. You can (sort) of see her in the picture, but we were sitting a ways back so it was hard to get a good shot. Fortunately, AWP was prepared for the crowd (over 10,000 people had registered for the conference!) and had a kind of jumbo-tron screen hanging behind her.

But conference aren’t just about panels—whenever I travel to one, I try to split my time between panels and conference-sponsored activities and exploring the city I’m visiting. What’s a good trip without a little sightseeing, after all? Due to scheduling conflicts, I was unable to see Shedd Aquarium or any of the other lovely museums in Chicago, so my city tour occurred mostly through eating —what a sacrifice that was. 🙂

While in town, I ate a ton of great food, but I decided to limit my post to just three courses — my favorites during the trip. First, breakfast.

After a bit of wandering in the direction of our conference hotel, my friend Robynn and I stumbled upon a small cafe and bakery that specialized in French cuisine (or, more likely, French-American cuisine). For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of this place, but it was charming and the food was great! Robynn and I each settled on a slice of quiche Lorraine—quiche filled with prosciutto, Borsin cheese (I think), and onion—and to our surprise and delight, our quiche came with a small side salad of mixed greens and red onion that was topped with some sort of herb-infued olive oil. It was so delicious that we all but licked our plates.

The next day, I attended a panel on publishing with independent presses versus big house presses and, stomach growling, set off in search of lunch. My comrades in arms were off at panels of their own, so I was on my own. I wandered south on Michigan Avenue until I found a mod, upscale sushi place called OySy. I’m still not sure about the pronunciation of the restaurant’s name, but the sushi was to die for. I also treated myself to an afternoon cocktail, and I almost fell out of my chair over the first sip of that amazing mojito.

I ordered my usual rolls—tuna and eel—but decided to test out something special for the trip. I went with the Summer Roll, which featured super white tuna, regular tuna, avocado, roe, and, best of all, cilantro. It was amazing. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it. Even more amazing was the mojito that I ordered. It was made from completely fresh ingredients, and the muddled mint leaves in the glass were also sugared, so you got that pleasant tang of citrus with a touch of sugary sweetness. This drink was proof that fresh ingredients make all the difference in the world when it comes to flavor.

And, finally, dinner. It wouldn’t have been a trip to Chicago without at least one slice of the heart-attack inducing, artery-clogging amazingness that is deep dish pizza, so on my last night in town, I set off in search of a slice. My colleague, Albert Goldbarth, who hails from Chicago, recommended that I stop in at Lou Minalti’s, which apparently serves the best deep dish in town. Alas, after a forty-five minute Google Maps fiasco (we were trying to use their app to navigate from our hotel to the restaurant–not realizing that some streets are literally stacked on atop the other and that you actually have to go down a level), we arrived at the restaurant to find that there was an hour and a half wait. No dice.

Back out into the snow we went, until we found Giordano’s. Still a half hour for a table, but we were able to order our pizza in advance, so the wait wasn’t too bad. And when it arrived–dear God. Words cannot express the deliciousness. Normally I kept my diet pretty healthy so that I can stay on plan with Weight Watchers, so eating this huge slice of greasy, full-fat pizza was an otherwordly experience. By this point, Jeremy and I were both starving (it was after nine), so we managed to scarf two slices each.

Like any city, there were things that I didn’t care for—big cities are, and always will be, rather dirty, and you can’t take two steps between stores selling couture without running into someone who is homeless, who is in need, reminding me how fortunate I am and how broken so many of our systems are—and there were things that I loved—the architecture, being able to walk anywhere I wanted, having great food every where you turned. All in all it was a great trip and definitely one I hope to make again soon.

Full disclosure: I do not profit from mention to the restaurants or brands listed above. Opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. 

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