Hidden Treasures You Must Visit in Chicago
Marcia Frost is always on the lookout for things to do in Chicago that are under the radar. On this month’s trip, Marcia found three that are definitely worth putting on your schedule.
Head to the Chicago French Market
The Chicago French Market consists of over 30 unique vendors. The majority do not have locations anywhere else. You can find just about anything you want to eat here, and watch items being made. Fresh fruits, meats, fish, Vegan, and Kosher dishes are available to take home or eat there in the seating area.
FliP Crepes makes gluten-free crepes right there in its shop while you watch. Antoine Elie, a native of France, started selling at farmer’s markets before opening this location. He makes sweet and savory crepes, which he calls FliP because of their burrito style shape. He made a delectable raspberry one for us, which he’ll be touting for Valentine’s Day, along with a Strawberry Dream Crepe special. Elie is also selling his crepe mix for those who want to make them fresh at home.
We’ve seen a lot of donut shops with unusual flavors show up, especially around Chicago, but Beavers Donuts lets you create your own. After you watch your mini donuts freshly made, you choose what you want to put on it. Cinnamon, sugar, and chocolate are freebies, or you can pay $1 for such combos as Fluffernutter with peanut butter and marshmallow, or S’mores with chocolate sauce, graham cracker crumbs and marshmallows. For the ultimate sugar rush, get a Beavers Donut Milkshake. This concoction, featured on the Cooking Channel, is a treat you won’t soon forget.
Vanille is the ultimate bakery for cakes and tarts. Everything is fresh and delicious. For February 14th, they even have a cake called Valentine with marzipan mousse, strawberry amaretto compote, almond streusel crisp, an almond biscuit, and fresh strawberries. White chocolate raspberry individual cheesecakes. They also have gourmet cupcakes and melt in your mouth French macaroons. They are all available before or during Valentine’s Day, but the lines get long, and the products gets short, so place your order in advance.
Lolli and Pops is a chocolate shop that thinks of everything. The luscious chocolate truffles, with heart designs and shapes for the upcoming holiday, are the best truffles I’ve tasted. The chocolate is deep and rich, and the fillings plentiful. No one will forget a box of chocolates from here. They also have some other unusual candy items, such as Pink Vanilla Cotton Candy.
The French Lunch Box is known for Parisian-style Gnocchi. We tasted some of their deliciously light sweet potato gnocchi. They are getting ready for Valentine’s Day with two specials: Bouillabaisse Gnocchi and Duck a la Orange Gnocchi. Both are enough to share for a really special dinner.
Before you leave the Chicago French Market, stop by Pastoral and sample some wine and cheese. They specialize in cheese from the Midwest and are making up platters with locally made baguettes. Their triple crème Brie is very popular for Valentine’s Day and they can recommend a Swiss and gruyere if you’d like to put together a fondue for two.
The Chicago French Market also has a Happy Hour Monday-Friday, when there is live music, drink, and food specials and offers something else unique for Chicago – free parking. If you spend $20 at the market, you’ll get one hour in their covered parking lot without charge. If you chose public transportation, it’s actual in the middle of the train station to Chicago suburbs, and only two blocks from the Amtrak Station.
Check out the Race Exhibit at the Chicago History Museum
The Chicago History Museum is often overlooked because it isn’t down by the lake in the center of town like the Art Institute, the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, and the Shed Aquarium. It’s up in Lincoln Park and well worth a trip for a history of this remarkable city.
The museum, which was founded back in 1856 by the Chicago Historical Society, includes exhibits that detailed everything the Windy City is known for, from architecture to agriculture, and music to sports.
Through July 15th, the museum is housing a very special exhibition like no other. It’s called Race: Are We So Different?, and it examines the subject from a unique perspective, the American Anthropological Association in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota. The Race exhibit includes many interactive features for a “contemporary scientific understanding of human variation is beginning to challenge ‘racial’ differences, and even question the very concept of race.” One section of the exhibit even explores the role of race in mascots, with a specific look at Chief Illini.
In conjunction with the Race exhibit, the Chicago History Museum also has a Remembering Dr. King display. Save some time to stroll through that one too. The stories, told in clippings and photographs, are a unique look into the life and times of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Have a Fun Dining Experience at Safehouse Chicago
Safehouse Chicago is a lot more than a restaurant, it’s an experience you can enjoy with friend or family.
There is no sign outside Safehouse, just the street address of 60 E. Ontario. It starts as you enter the office of “International Exports Ltd,” where you will give the password that came with your reservation and be vetted to make sure you aren’t a spy. After the secret process, you’re given the papers and entrance into the stairs that lead to the restaurant. Once inside, you’ll be immersed in games, magic, a recon operation, and more, with a chance to even win free food.
For the grownups, the bar and cocktails at Safehouse are creative and fun on their own, but the food would be worth a trip even if you didn’t have the experience to go with it. The Fried Cheese Curds, topped with grated parmesan are flavorful and fresh, as are the Bird Watchers chicken wings.
Safehouse received the honor of Best Burger by Chicago Magazine. After tasting their The Provocateur, with brie and bacon jam, it’s easy to agree. They also have a fantastic Raven (Reuben sandwich), which was a tough choice when faced with the prospect of Goldfinger Grilled Cheese, which includes American, parmesan, and pepper jack cheese, as well as cheese curds between two slices of thick cut toast.
The desserts at Safehouse are also difficult to choose from. After serious consideration, we went with The Italian Job (vanilla cake filled with mascarpone mousse and a hint of lemon, then topped with streusel) and Mr. Big’s Brownie Cheesecake (cheesecake on top of a brownie and filled with brownie cubes, then covered with chocolate ganache and walnuts).
Finished with chocolate ganache and walnuts
Like Midwest Travel with Marcia Frost on Facebook for more information on her trips, and read her stories on her Wine And Spirits Travel blog. You can also follow Marcia @Spiritstraveler on Twitter and Instagram.