Windy City Weekend Eats: Part 1

Although I didn’t spend last weekend in Portland with all the cool vegan kids, I’ve had my fair share of adventures this summer, including an action-packed weekend trip to Chicago with my manfriend, forthwith to be known as S. We had a great time, and I’m breaking up my recap post into two parts because it’s just too darn long (twss)!

So, Chicago. S and I have both done most of the standard Chicago touristy activities, so instead of taking photos at the Bean or buying overpriced mass-produced souvenirs at Navy Pier, we chose events that appealed to our interests. We took an architecture boat tour of the city (#protip: If you take the 8:00 AM tour, tickets are 50% off), visited the Museum of Science and Industry (agriculture [read: dairy] exhibit, gag!), marveled at the Baha’i Temple, checked out Ikea (my first time!), and ogled cute animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo.*

And, of course, we ate. Weeks prior to our trip, I created a Google doc with a list of possible eateries, so when we felt rumbly in our tumblies, we pulled the document up on my man’s phone and found somewhere nearby to eat. (Incidentally, I have almost been convinced that smart phones aren’t the devil now that I’ve learned how frakkin’ easy it is to navigate public transit with one. You basically say, “Oh, I would like to take the bus to Destination X; tell me how!” and the smart phone is all, “Yes, my liege! beep boop beep Here are step-by-step instructions on how to reach your destination! It will take you this many minutes and this many stops and, also, feel free to watch your progress via this small blue dot moving along this map! Have a great trip!” For those of us prone to travel-induced anxiety, it’s a godsend.)

Anyway, we ate. On Friday night, our first stop post-Madison and pre-Chicago was Ravinia Park, where we watched Fellowship of the Ring on a huge open-air screen while the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played the soundtrack live. Oh yes. It was as awesome as it sounds, despite the fact that we were 4,395 miles from the screen and had to perch atop a picnic bench to be able to distinguish Sauron from Saruman. After the movie ended, we hightailed it to – wait for it – a vegan-friendly 24-hour diner. 24-hour diner, y’all. Pick Me Up Cafe is located in Lakeview and has some amazing vegan options. It took me ages to decide between french toast and tostadas; I couldn’t decide if I wanted brekkie food or dinner food at 1:00 in the morning! S had less trouble deciding and chose a seitan-based sandwich, the details of which I cannot remember because I was waffling back and forth between my two options. Ultimately I went for the french toast, and I did not regret it:

Toast of the French!

Pardon the crappy colors, but it was late/early, the diner was dark, and I wanted to get my toast on! This is French toast like I remember it from my pregan days, thickly sliced and super filling. And our waitress even let me know that the butter on the side was vegan! Rapture! I also shared a creamsicle milkshake with S, and it was sweet and cool and delicious. Diner food at its finest.

Our next meal of note was a first for me. I’d never had pho before, but S is a bit of a pho connoisseur and has sung its praises repeatedly. So we were thrilled to discover that Chicago has at least one vegan pho option, Bon Bon Sandwiches in Wicker Park.

Phantastic!

This was the perfect meal on a rainy Saturday (it cleared up later, never fear!), and I really enjoyed the variety of flavors in each spoonful/chopstickful. S said the broth was not as flavorful as its beef-based kin, but adding various sauces and spices helped. I’d love to try to make this some time!

And that’s all for part one. I’ll finish up soon, I promise. And in the meantime, let me know if you have any tips for making homemade pho!

*Re: zoos. Zoos aren’t very vegan. As an institution, I feel pretty darn uncomfortable with them. Keeping animals in captivity for the sake of keeping them in captivity is ethically wrong. But I do think zoos can do some good when they promote breeding in species that are endangered because of something good ol’ humankind has done to them or their environment. And I also think they could conceivably foster awareness in visitors, particularly children, who might have that “aha!” moment when they realize that the cute animals they’re seeing in zoos are not so different than the cute animals that are butchered and cooked and served up for dinner. For me personally, any interaction I have with animals, at a zoo or elsewhere, reminds me why I’m vegan and reinforces my belief that I’m making the best choice I can. In my ideal, vegan-friendly fantasy world, zoos would be replaced by centers for the rehabilitation of injured animals and the breeding of endangered animals, and they’d be open to the public in an educational capacity so families could come and learn about our multi-legged friends. A girl can dream, right?!