I’m almost a year late in writing this post, but I cannot leave out my Chicago food tour with Secret Food Tours! I’ve been lucky enough to take other tours with Secret Food Tours, including Edinburgh and New York. All of them have been excellent, with fantastic guides and wonderful tastings as well as plenty of information about history, art, and culture along the way.
Gino’s East: Chicago Deep Dish Pizza
The Chicago food tour is focused on the Loop district, and I met my guide Denise at Gino’s East in their South Loop location on South Dearborn Street. Surprisingly, I was the only participant on this tour, which is both fantastic and awkward at the same time. It’s fantastic because you get all the personal attention you could ever want, and also awkward because….. same reasons. This also happened to me on my Edinburgh tour. In the end, it becomes a great experience when you have the undivided attention of your new “friend” and you get to hang out for about 3 hours. It can be a lot of fun. But I’m always sure to tip extra well, as much as I can, because I hate knowing that this guide has missed out on all the tips of all the people that weren’t on the tour.
So the first stop was for some Chicago deep dish pizza! Since this pizza takes quite a while to bake, my guide put in the order straightaway and we talked for awhile until it came out. There is quite a lot to talk about regarding Chicago! I enjoyed my Gino’s lager (a German style Helles) while we chatted, since I got the Upgraded Drinks Package with my tour.
When the pizza came out, it was amazing and super hot! We had to wait a bit before we could take a bite, but once we could eat it, it was delicious. I loved the thick cornbread crust which held all that cheese together. They actually packed up the leftovers for me and I got to take all of that back to my hotel!!
We had the entire restaurant to ourselves.
Art & Architecture
The Italian Village Restaurant: Al Capone’s Chicago
Now this place is something to see. What a fantastic relic, a blast from the past. The Italian Village still has such a retro vibe to it, and you can just feel the generations of people that have flowed through it. The kitschy and creative painted décor is almost like a stage set. It’s absolutely delightful. Most notably, we’re here for Chicago classics like an Italian beef sandwich and Al Capone.
With my drinks package, I got to try the Capone which was supposedly Al Capone’s favorite drink that he got there? I don’t know the truth to that at all, but it is described as: “An Italian style Rum Old Fashioned:
Gold Rum, Disaronno, Orange bitters, Agave Nectar.” It was very delicious and I had to declare that it tasted like Christmas! I think it was the warm spiced almond/citrusy notes.
The Italian beef sandwich, famous in Chicago. The bread was good, the beef was a bit bland, the au jus was okay, but there was just something that didn’t add up for me. I didn’t like the raw green peppers on this sandwich. All in all, it was super hearty and filling but just not flavorful at all. It was not a winner for me, but I’m glad I got to try what they call a Chicago Italian beef sandwich even if I’m not sure what people like about it. The locals can like whatever they want; hey, I don’t live there.
There was hardly anyone in the restaurant at that time of day, so I was able to look around a bit and take some photos.
On the East Coast, we have places that boast “George Washington Slept Here” but in Chicago, it’s all about “Al Capone was here.” The Italian Village was one of his favorites, and they still have his favorite booth where he liked to sit “conducting business” surrounded by his bodyguards blocking the entrance.
The Palmer House Hotel
Oh my goodness, the Palmer House Hotel…….. of all the many tours I took in Chicago, at least three of them came to this hotel and I got the full rundown of its history at least three times. Give me a test! I’m sure I will pass. It’s very beautiful, so I never minded each and every time we came here. It was interesting to hear the different perspective each tour guide brought to this landmark hotel.
The famous and gorgeous Peacock Doors.
Of all my tours that brought me to the Palmer House Hotel, this one was the only one with a food sampling!! The “Secret Dish” was in fact the original Palmer House brownie, invented for the 1893 World’s Fair.
You can find the original 1893 recipe on their website.
Secret Food Tours: Chicago
Overall, did I love this tour? Yes and no.
For a food tour, it wasn’t that great. There were only 3 notable tastings: the deep dish pizza, the Italian beef sandwich, and the (Secret Dish) Palmer House brownie. I would not count that free sample at Fannie May’s as a stop on a food tour at all. That is the same free sample they give to anyone who stops by. I actually felt like it was just a stop for me to shop and buy something (which I did, because I felt bad). I’m not sure why it was included. So while I was definitely full after my tour, I would not say that I felt like I had a wide variety of tastings.
To be fair, my tour was in late August of 2021, in the full effect of Covid summer restrictions, so I know small businesses and restaurants were all doing the best they could. Perhaps this tour would look a bit different when it wasn’t covid time.
But for an overall walking tour, it was fantastic! I enjoyed the company of my “friend in Chicago”, Denise, and we really hit it off and she dazzled me with her knowledge of everything about the Loop in Chicago. It was fantastic to have a personal private guide to walk me around and show me so much great stuff.
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