bumble's pick of Chicago (Part I)

 

Hey there comrades! bumble here, fresh from a whirlwind trip to the Windy City. Not very windy, I have to say. Mainly scorching hot. Maybe it's a seasonal thing. 

Seriously, though, Chicago is a *real* city. It has crazy energy, tall buildings, old buildings, an eclectic mix of people from everywhere doing their thing, a great train system, music, street life, art, and the food. Oh the food (we will get that, oh yes we will). Chicago is smaller than New York (it's actually about the size of Brooklyn), but it feels like a place that's always punched above its weight. New Yorkers would rather you didn't know that the first skyscraper in the US was actually built in Chicago, but I don't mind telling you.

Chicago was the home of literary heavyweights like Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks and social historian Studs Terkel, and is now home to acclaimed visual artist and MacArthur Fellow Kerry James Marshall.

We loved that big-city buzz (lemme have just one bee pun, ok?) that you feel the minute you step off the train. You know you're in a place that's been around the block, if you know what I mean. And everywhere you can see a city with some pride in its architecture: where some places can't seem to tear old buildings down fast enough, Chicago has put some energy into preserving at least some of them, and it shows. If it's a little rough around the edges, it definitely has character.

Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Altgeld Gardens) (1995)
Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Altgeld Gardens) (1995) (Credit: metmuseum.org)

Anyway, let's get on with our little walking tour, shall we? We logged a lot of miles in one weekend, and here's just a few of the things we saw and loved. We already can't wait to come back.

Logan Square

A straight shot on the Blue line from O'Hare International Airport, Logan Square is one of Chicago's great local public spaces. With the Illinois Centennial Monument at its centre, Logan Square radiates outward in a web of green boulevards, lined with some inviting local shops, bars, and restaurants. It features the independent Logan movie theatre, which opened its doors in 1915, and today shows a mix of classics and new releases (that night they were showing Chicago filmmaker Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You, and the amazing Fred Rogers doc Won't You Be My Neighbor?). We were happy to stroll along soaking up the relaxed, neighbourhood feel, with lots of people sitting at outdoor tables on this warm summer night.

Passion House Coffee Roasters

We  arrived at the start of a crazy downpour, so we decided to dash across the street to a hipster-looking coffee joint so we could wait it out before setting off for our b & b. Passion House has nice big windows facing Logan Square, so we could marvel at how hard the rain was falling and watch drenched commuters soldier on in spite of it, while we were lucky enough to be warm, dry(ing), and increasingly caffeinated, thanks to a couple of espresso drinks topped with oat milk (nice surprise to find Oatly widely available in Chicago - we love it).

2631 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60647, USA

The Chicago Diner

Ok, truth time. The Chicago Diner was *almost* the entire reason for this trip. I mean, these folks are the real deal. The Chicago Diner's tagline is "Meat Free Since '83" - and we're not talking about 2083 now - this isn't vegan food from the future. 1983. You could've been wearing leg warmers or listening to Micheal Jackson's "Beat It" for the first time or watching the last episode of M*A*S*H - all while ordering up a Chicago Diner meatless favourite. Way back then, co-owners Jo Kaucher and Mickey Hornick had the vision and foresight to see that plant-based alternatives to diner classics were the wave of the future. 

The great news is they're still going stronger than ever today, so we made a beeline (sorry) for their North Halsted location as soon as we could drop off our bags and catch an 'L' to Belmont station, a short walk away. Travelling in a twosome has its perks, and we leapfrogged over a couple of large groups to snag a table for two on a wall. Typical diner decor meets great service, and anything-but-typical food. The place was packed, which is always a good sign.  We opted for the Buddha's Karma Burger and the Radical Reuben, and two vegan shakes (Chocolate Peanut Butter & Strawberry). 

Some Chicago Diner favourites
Clockwise from L: Karma, Reuben, Carrot, PB+Choc Shake, Nachos - all from the amazing Chicago Diner

Words can't do the next 20 minutes justice. The Karma Burger was a spicy, garlicky, sweet, savoury, perfectly-balanced dream of a burger (with the optional avocado, of course), the kind that makes you just want to order another one and do it all over again. It's not hard to believe the Radical Reuben is probably the most popular item on the menu. Great rye bread, melted vegan mozzarella, the best sauerkraut ever, and an breathtaking PILE of the most aromatic and flavourful seitan pastrami, steamed to perfection and delivered hot to your table. An absolute marvel. 

So after that, you won't be surprised to find out we hit the Logan Square location the next night, opting this time for the loaded nacho plate and a slice of carrot cake with a decadent vegan cream-cheese frosting and a little coco-whip for good measure. The only bad thing about getting to try a place like The Chicago Diner is the withdrawal. But we'll be back - you can count on it. If you haven't been yet, this place deserves a spot on your vacation wish list.

3411 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60657, USA

Myopic Books

Chicago is a book-lovers paradise. You can find pretty much any book you can think of, and a ton that you probably didn't in the dozens of amazing bookshops scattered liberally around the city. Like all other serious cities, Chicago has a literary pedigree and a history (see above), and that history means mountains of used books traded in by millions of readers. All waiting for you to browse and fall in love with (even if your bookshelves at home are totally jammed - not that mine are or anything). 

Myopic Books, Chicago bookshop shelves
Myopic Books, Chicago

Myopic Books is one of the special ones, where you scan the shelves for a favourite author and most of the time you find more than hoped, like finding *all* the Alice Walker books you never seem to be able to find anywhere. The whole vibe of the place lends itself to taking your time and just following your curiosity wherever it leads you - the tone set by the two gentlemen at the front desk, who both rock impressive beards that would've been at home on Allen Ginsberg. This is bookshop as temple, and we're not surprised to hear one of the staff politely ask a customer to finish his phone call outside. Respect. 

1564 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622, USA

Tamales Waffles Al Pastor with Jackfruit - Vegan restaurant Chicago
Tamales Waffles Al Pastor with Jackfruit

Native Foods Cafe

We were happy to see that this great take on healthy vegan 'fast food' had multiple locations around Chicago, and even happier to find one of them a very doable hike down Milwaukee Avenue from our basecamp. Prices were reasonable and the menu had some surprisingly creative options, like Tamale Waffles topped with BBQ Seitan, or solid comfort food standbys like the Chicken, Bacon and Avo Club (all vegan of course). 

1484 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622, USA

Chicago Lights Urban Farm

On Day 2, we set out for a long walk from West Town to Downtown and beyond. Once we'd turned the corner onto Chicago Avenue on the downtown side, we came upon a large garden plot and some greenhouses and it turned out to be a community garden on a mission! Now, if you're lucky enough to have grown up with easy access to good, fresh food, including local produce, you might not stop to think about that very often - it's easy to get comfortable when you're comfortable, right? But food access is a real, and serious, problem for some communities. If you live in a community where the options for fruit and vegetables are severely limited, it makes it that much harder to put healthy food on the table. And this affects learning, overall wellbeing, and longer-term health prospects.

Projects like the Chicago Lights Urban Farm work to bridge the food gap in communities where fresh food is scarce (the term "food desert" is sometimes used to describe the lack of adequate healthy food options in a community). CLUF encourages local adults and young people to volunteer so they can build valuable skills, and learn more about how food is produced, and get access to locally-grown, sustainable produce. This is inspiring work that shines much-needed light on a serious issue.

More urban farms, we say!

Chicago Lights Urban Farm signs

444 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60610 (Chicago Ave at Hudson Ave)

Find out more about Chicago Lights Urban Farm Program

So much more to shout about

We could go on and on about the delights of Chicago - and we barely scratched the surface! We were so impressed with how many restaurants offered thoughtful and delicious vegan options. Some of the best vegan pizza possible can be found at Bonci (we stopped by the Wicker Park location and just couldn't resist), and we thought we'd earned a sweet treat, so a scrumptious vegan donut from Stan's Donuts seemed like a great idea. 

So many beautiful, vibrant neighbourhoods to explore. Do a little research and check some out. We had fun wandering around Old Town (the Old Town Ale House is a must) and Lincoln Park, but find the spots that look interesting to you.

Getting around Chicago was a pleasure. It's such a great walking city - it really is the best way to see a place. Luckily, you can combine that with a really fantastic and easy to use train system: hats off to CTA (the Chicago Transit Authority) for running a brilliant and essential service that's easy for visitors to follow. 

Elevated Train - Sears Tower in the background (Credit: Daniel McBane)
Elevated Train - Sears Tower in the background (Credit: Daniel McBane)

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Well folks, that's all for now from bumble HQ. If we learned anything on this trip, it's just this: Every creature on this earth we all share has a right to live with dignity, to be loved, and to have enough to meet their basic needs of life.

Be kind. Be generous, Give what you can. And remember that we're all in this together.

love and hugs,

bumble xo