TYOLD May 26, 2014: More Pigs & Random Tourism

I had planned on driving over to Dubuque, Iowa today to see a friend from high school (hey Patty!) but wound up not for several reasons.

First, they were forecasting some bad weather for this afternoon and I just pictured myself huddled in a ditch somewhere next to a cornfield along the seven  hour round trip drive that is Chicago to Dubuque while a twister was heading my way.  For those that don’t know me well, that is EXACTLY the kind of luck I have.

But second, and more importantly, it is becoming painfully obvious every single day that I am no longer 25.  I would like to blame my sheer exhaustion on the fact that I had a cold when I arrived and had also screwed up my back a bit so I felt horrible in a bunch of different ways and yet didn’t amend my schedule of activities to account for it. There was still food porn, sightseeing, museums, and more than a bit of drinking and carousing.  By last night, all I could think of doing was napping.

So my official apologies to Ms. Poggemiller.  I will see you at the *cough*choke* 30 year high school reunion in August.  Sigh.

Today I decided to take it fairly easy and so I went back to lunch at the Purple Pig again (which is more or less right next door to the hotel), hoping against hope I could snag another single seat and I lucked into one amazingly.  That I was able to do this two days in a row at lunch time on a holiday weekend is a bit of a miracle. There were people that were waiting for upwards of two hours to get in.

I started with Prosciutto di San Daniele, which is, quite simply, amazing.  It comes from the thighs of pigs raised in the north central region of Italy, is never frozen, and is cured in a very specific way that makes it a little bit sweet.  The flavor is insane.  Add in the beautifully garlicky crustinis and it’s just perfect on a plate.

And that’s before I had the milk-braised pork shoulder with mashed potatoes.  Now, as you will see from the picture below, what is interesting is that they serve this cut of meat with a spoon.  It is that tender, that juicy, and that stupid good.  I want to go back there and eat every single thing on the menu.

As I was waiting for my food, a couple sat at the bar next to me and were going over the menu with the waiter.  The woman, when advised of several of the menu items, said in a very firm manner “No, no, no… no pork!”  And I thought, “Then what the hell are you doing at a place called The Purple Pig, whose slogan – writ large in iron over the front gate – is ‘Cheese, Swine, and Wine?!’”  Okay, yes, they have other things including a roast turkey leg that is roughly the size of a small Toyota, but it should not be surprising that a place with “pig” in the name should have a lot of it on the menu.

Then my food came.  She took one look at that pork shoulder and order that.  And the bone marrow, which I took a shot of below.  I’m not a fan of the marrow, but the presentation of this is great – huge, with big chunks of garlic bread and salt.

After lunch I proved that I am not 25 anymore by sitting in a rocking chair along the banks of the Chicago River.  Totally serious.  The second Chicago picture below is taken from that vantage point.

Then I took a Chicago River boat tour with the Chicago Architecture Foundation.  Our guide was a little too heavy on the esoteric architect/builder names and light on, what I consider to be the more interesting, historical context that illuminates architecture.  Yes, I see that is an neo-classical building and I don’t care, quite frankly, who built it (unless there’s a good story there) but tell me why neo-classical architecture was all the rage in the late 1920s and how it changed in the next decade after the Great Depression into the less ornate (and grandiose) Art Deco styles of the 30s and 40s in response to more austere times.

Still, it was cool to see the city from that vantage point and something I have never done before so Diferentlies accomplished.  Pictures below.

purplepig04 purplepig05 purplepig06chicago01 chicago02 chicago03 chicago04

TYOLD May 25, 2014: Pigs

Sunday, May 25, 2014

More food porn of the pig variety.

There’s this place in Chicago called The Purple Pig.  It’s on Michigan Avenue in the thick of things and it has gained a great reputation for it’s inventive interpretations of everything pork (and other stuff, but mostly pork).  I have been wanting to eat here for a couple of years but have never been able to get in – they don’t take reservations and the wait times are usually measured in hours, with lines out the door and spilling out onto the street.

Just for kicks and grins, I decided to try again today and lo and behold there was one empty stool at the bar just waiting for a single and so I walked right in and grabbed it.

Started with the Bobata, which is a Greek corn bread topped with feta cheese and honey and I swear to you that it was so delicious I nearly burst into tears.  Hot corn bread, which is kind of tart in a way, with the creamy cheese and sweet honey.  Insane flavor combination.

Main course was the JLT – a pork jowl, tomato, frizee, and a fried duck egg on a thick slab of garlicky toast.  Pork jowl is basically like bacon on steroids, all salty fatty goodness that mixed perfectly with the summery lettuce and tomato and the rich egg.  I’m in love.

Dessert was something I can’t remember the name of (it’s not on the online menu) but it as Greek fried dough topped with honey and cinnamon – sort of a Greek version of a beignet.  I was ready to fall over by the time I was done.  Pictures below.  I may go back for dinner to try the pork shoulder with mashed potatoes or the pork trip with crispy pork skin breadcrumbs or the prosciutto platter or the…. I think I’m going to pass out now.

purplepig01 purplepig02 purplepig03

TYOLD May 24, 2014: Outsiders, Leather, Loco Burgers, and Loot

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Day three in Chicago involved a couple of offbeat museums and more amazing food.

I started the Inuit Museum of Intuitive and Outsider Art, which for those who don’t know is usually dedicated to exhibits by untrained artists, folk artists, people who do art out of “found” objects, and, very often, crazy people who have a hot glue gun and too much time on their hands. In other words, exactly my type of museum.  Mary and I went to one in Baltimore on a Plucky trip and it was one of our favorite stops.

This one is very small – only a couple of rooms – but it had a few fantastic exhibits. The first one was called “Lost and Found: The Search for Harry and Edna.”  A Chicago photographer found 30 boxes of unlabeled slides in a thrift store in St. Louis and found a treasure trove that chronicled the lives and travels of this random older couple from the 50s and 60s and their lives and extensive travels around the world.  Curious, he started posting the photos online to see if anyone could identify the couple and it turned into a bit of a sensation.  The photos are pure kitsch, with beautiful color of Harry and Edna at dances and weddings, on cruise ships and bus tours, at wacky roadside motels and just living their daily lives.  They had several dozen blown up on the walls and then more on a slideshow and even more on an iPad.  It’s fantastic and I even got my picture taken with Edna…

edna

 

After that I took a lovely drive along Lakeshore (has to be one of the most beautiful drives in the nation) up to the Lakeview neighborhood on the north side to a place called bopNgrill.  It’s a Korean inspired foodie joint that I had read about that sounded interesting and man was it ever.

Small space, right across the street from a college and it happened to be graduation day so lots of people. The wait was about 25 minutes between order and serve but it was worth it.  I had the Loco burger, which came topped with a fried egg, short-rib gravy, caramelized onions, bacon, and sharp cheddar.  Loco, indeed, but delicious and ridiculous all at once.  They also had their weekend-only special of Philly Cheesesteak egg rolls, which are exactly what they sound like and are exactly and ingeniously delicious as you would hope they would be.

bpgrill

Right around the corner was museum #2 of the day, the Leather Archives and Museum.  This is a facility devoted to the history and people of the leather culture, gay and straight, male and female (albeit mostly gay and mostly male), from it’s earliest incarnations to modern day.  I don’t know what I was expecting – okay, I do – I figured it would be a bit lame and not very well put together but it wound up being very well done, researched, and organized – very extensive and well put together and, while certainly adult in nature, not overwhelmingly graphic.  Well, at least not to my eyes – others may have been shocked.

Then I went to the other major casino in the area  - The Horseshoe in Hammond, Indiana, about a 30 minute drive south of Chicago.  This is what $5,000 looks like:

slot

Later that night, I went back to Portillo’s, just because I could.

TYOLD May 23, 2014: Chicago Food Porn

Friday, May 23, 2014

Chicago day 2 started later than I had anticipated due to the aforementioned drinking and carousing the night before, but I still managed to get up and out in enough time to get things done.

Stop #1 was an old favorite, Hot Doug’s, a famed “encased meat emporium” (read: gourmet sausages and hot dogs) that has gained near mythical status in these parts.  There is often a line to get in the door but the recent announcement that Doug’s will be closing – the owner is retiring – in a few months has driven things into hyperdrive, apparently.  The below photo is PART of the line at 11am on a Friday morning.  And by part, I mean about 1/4 of the line.  It was about 200 people long and stretched all the way down the block.

dougs

I pulled over about here and ask how long the wait was – a woman told me that she had been in line for “about 2 hours.”  I figure she had another hour to go.

I’m sorry, I think the sausages here are incredible but I wouldn’t wait in line for ANY food for three hours unless it came with a side of gold doubloons.

So instead, I headed off to Johnnie’s Beef, another Chicago institution and another Italian Beef purveyor.  There were about 20 people in line, which I could handle.  The sandwiches are a bit smaller than Portillo’s and the meat hotter (and by that I mean spicy) which I liked a lot.  Hard to compare the two but I’d still give the nod to Portillo’s, although you could always do what I did and have both!!

johnniesThe thing next to the sandwich is an Italian lemonade, which is basically lemon Pledge flavored shaved ice.  I didn’t have much of that.

And yes, I ate it on the trunk of my rental car because there were no tables.  I wasn’t the only one eating in the parking lot.

Next I headed off to the Rivers Casino up by O’Hare airport.  Nice place – just like a Vegas casino with all the usual table games and slots.  It reminded me a lot of Red Rock Resort in terms of design, which is to say lovely.  Had fun, didn’t win, but didn’t lose a lot either so there’s that.

On the way back I stopped for dinner at a place called Smoque, a BBQ join in the Irving Park neighborhood.  Now, you’d think with a name like that it would be some pretentious place posing as a BBQ shack but no – this is the real deal in a lot of different ways.  Rough and tumble inside, basic cement floors and wood tables, a nice patio outside, order at the counter, and go get it yourself when they scream your number.

I have been thinking a lot about this since I ate here.  I’m a total BBQ snob – I have eaten a lot of it and I know good ‘que when I taste it.  I have a list of bests and favorites – Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City; Poole’s BBQ in East Elijay, Georgia; that little shack we stopped at in god-know’s-where-Arkansas on one of our Plucky trips.   But I really think that Smoque smokes them all.  This was fantastic, unbelievable, delicious, perfect BBQ.  I had the Texas sausage, two huge not-too-spicy links plus two sides (mac and cheese and cornbread) plus a side of pulled pork and slaw.  The sausage was insanely flavorful – dripping with juices, expertly cooked, and perfect for dipping into one of their two signature sauces – a vinegar one and a sweet one, both of which were not too much of either.

And pulled pork… oh sweet heaven, it practically melted in my mouth it was so tender.  Everything was amazing and I can’t recommend it enough.

smoque

 

 

TYOLD May 22, 2014: Upgrading

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Back to doing some different, just because I’m off to Chicago and felt like it would be easy to stick in my rut of what I usually do when I go to Chicago – drink and carouse a lot.

So started the trip with something I have always wanted to do but never have – fly first class.  Virgin has last minute seat upgrades often available.  It involved getting up a 4:30 in the morning to get it, but in the end, once you factor in the waived fees for checking luggage, food, drinks, and movies, it cost me about an extra $100.

I may never be able to fly coach again.

Cabin_FC1

 

Once I got here, an epic drive to get from the airport into the city and then straight to the drive through at Portillo’s.  Some things just can’t be different.  Italian beef with mozzarella no peppers and a side of onion rings.  I dream about this stuff.  And I was not disappointed.

portillos

On a Break

Obviously, the Year of Living Differently has come to a bit of a standstill.  There are a bunch of different reasons for this.

First, I got busy.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I sold an idea for a TV movie and I basically have about 3 weeks to turn that idea into a full-blown script.  Between my full time job, my Vegas work, and trying to birth a screenplay, I just haven’t had much time to do anything else.

The good news is that I finished the first draft of the movie in about a week and am currently doing some polishing before I send it off.  It’s in better shape than I would have expected and while certainly not perfect, it’s got some good stuff in it.  I made myself laugh a few times and that’s always a good thing, I think.

The second reason is because I was losing track of what TYOLD was intended to be.

I had wanted this to be fun – a way to break out of my doldrums of doing the same thing every day.  I thought a little variety would do me good.

But along the way I discovered that people are creatures of habit for a good reason: it’s easier.  We get up at roughly the same time every day because that’s easier on our bodies.  We have a morning routine because it helps both mentally and physically to get the day started.  We take the same route to work because it’s the fastest way to get there.  We eat things we’ve had before because we know we like them and can digest them.  And in the precious little time that we may have free, if all we want to do is sit on the couch and watch “The Voice,” well then that’s what we should do.

Coming up with something different to do every day was becoming an obligation.  It had stopped being fun.

Interestingly, I haven’t stopped doing different things.  I got to see the second act of Book of Mormon finally (thank you Maureen); ate a couple of new restaurants; and what else?  Oh yeah, I finished a freakin’ movie in a week.  Suck on that, differently.  I just didn’t do it every day and I didn’t stress out about it.

So, I’m taking a little break from the Differentlies.  I need to get the movie polished and submitted and then spend a little time trying to figure out how to recapture the spirit of what TYOLD was supposed to be.

I’m going to start again – maybe as early as next week when I’m off to Chicago on vacation.  I have all sorts of cool things planned including a visits to several museums I’ve never visited, an architecture tour, and a trip to Dubuque to see a friend from high school and maybe ride a funicular.   I may not be doing and/or posting every day for a little while but I think I will get back to that pace eventually.

Thanks for reading – stay tuned.

we-were-on-a-break

TYOLD Day 123: Crash Course

I’ve been terrible about updating the blog lately. I’m still actively doing “Different” stuff but I have been either too busy or too lazy to write about it.  So today I went to go post the last few days worth of stuff and…. the website was there.   Gone.  History.  Ghost.  Nada.  Nil.

Internal Server Error.

Yikes.

I have worked in the Internet world kind of since the Internet was first becoming a thing but I’m not technical so I immediately got on the phone with my hosting company (GoDaddy) and put them to work on it.

For the record, the hold music for GoDaddy is the worst in the entire world.  There are three songs that repeat over and over and over again.  One is a jazzy kind of New Orleans Mardi Gras song that isn’t too bad the first time you hear it.  The second is kind of jazzy 60s song – something that might play while Don Draper is doing something bad on “Mad Men.”  And third is kind of a jazzy 80s song, all synthesizers and weirdness.  None of them is longer than 2 minutes.  I was on hold while they tried to fix thingshold for one hour and 24 minutes.  You do the math.

I am going to find the person who is charge of the GoDaddy hold music and we are going to have words.  Strong words.

Anyway, as you can see, eventually they fixed it.  Something about a PHP upgrade.  I just nodded and said thank you and then got back to the Differentlies.

 

TYOLD Day 122: Dragged Into the 21st Century

I’ve been flying a lot lately – to Vegas already three times this year and heading to Chicago in May, perhaps Europe in June or July, and then to Iowa in August.

Before I get to my main point of this post, let me mention that the $85 I spent to get the TSA Pre-Check was the best $85 I have spent in my entire life.  When I flew to Vegas last week, I breezed past about 25 people in line at the Burbank airport and when I flew home, breezed by about 100 in line at McCarran.  You don’t have to take off your shoes or belt or jacket and you don’t have to take out your laptop or your toiletries bag… GENIUS.

Anyway, one of the things I do like to do when flying is read, but I haven’t felt like taking an actual book with me lately just because they are too cumbersome and I’m too lazy to carry it.  I thought about downloading books and reading them on the computer but you couldn’t do that while taking off and landing until recently.

So today, I finally joined the 21st century and downloaded a bunch of books on the Kindle Windows 8 app on my tablet.  Now when I take my trips over the next couple of months, I’m all set with reading material!

Here’s what I downloaded:

  • Missing You by Harlan Coben
  • Innocence by Dean Koontz
  • Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz (it was on sale)
  • A View from a Broad by Bette Midler
  • Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Regarding the latter, yes I know what it’s about and yes, I know I will probably wind up looking like this if I read it on the airplane:

crying

TYOLD Day 121: My Milkshake

Now that I have finished the Vegas stuff (mostly – still have some things to do for the website), I was finally able to officially start on the movie today.  I had already written character summary, the outline, and the extended treatment (the story of the film in short-story form) but I hadn’t actually started writing the script until today.

I still can’t tell you anything about the movie, but the first few scenes take place in 2004 and I’ve been having fun listening to music from that year to get me in the head space.  Here’s the list of songs I’m using:

  • Yeah by Usher
  • Hey Ya! by OutKast
  • The Way You Move by OutKast
  • Tipsy by J-Kwon
  • Naughty Girl by Beyonce
  • Dip it Low by Christina Milian
  • Move Ya Body by Nina Sky
  • It’s My Life by No Doubt
  • Toxic by Britney Spears
  • Redneck Woman by Gretchen Wilson
  • She Will be Loved by Maroon 5
  • This Love by Maroon 5
  • If I Ain’t Got You by Alicia Keys
  • The Reason by Hoobastank
  • My Immortal by Evanescence
  • You’ll Think of Me by Keith Urban

And of course a song that I actually refused to play when I was a club DJ in 2004: Milkshake by Kelis.  I HATED this song… in fact, I used to say that it wasn’t a song, it was a collection of noises set to a drum beat.

I hate to say it… but it’s kind of grown on me now.

milkshake