Chicago Food: Bombobar

Of all of the food places in Chicago, this is the place that is probably the most well publicized of any “boutique style” desserts. Located in Chicago’s West Loop, and annexed to the ever-popular Bar Siena, is the home of numerous Buzzfeed and Tasty videos on the Hotter/Colder Chocolate, bombolini, and “white girls” from around the world tagging their friends in the videos and commenting “omg, we have to go!!”

Come on, tell me I’m wrong.

All joking aside, Bombobar is worth the hype. Where else are you going to find gelato and hot chocolate that looks as beautiful as it tastes?

Pro tip: If you have time to spare, stop inside Bar Siena and sit down to eat there. We learned that not only do they serve Bombo’s desserts inside, but they come in much more aesthetic-looking glass mugs (or ceramic dishes, depending on the dessert). Not to say that the standard paper mug isn’t adorable, but there’s something to be said about the sophistication of such a whimsical dessert.

Truly, the only criticism of Bombobar I have is that their Hotter Chocolate is extremely rich…and this is coming from the queen of dessert foods. In the s’mores hot chocolate (above, left) the whipped cream is actually marshmallow fluff, which is DELICIOUS but also too much. In the funfetti (above, right) they use actual whipped cream, so it’s more doable. Their actual hot chocolate base is more than enough for those who don’t care for the frills of the regular Hotter Chocolate, and is also served on their menu.

Recommendations:

For those traveling far for a taste of Bombobar, I would definitely recommend getting their Hotter/Colder Chocolate. It’s become an instagram staple, and is worth trying if you don’t frequent the city often.

For those such as myself, who are downtown frequently and have already tried one of these, I definitely recommend trying their s’mores gelato. As far as gelato goes, they have some of the best in the city, but the s’mores flavor is not something that you can find everywhere. I usually get it with sprinkles (simply for aesthetic purposes), and a bombolini, which is worth the $1 upcharge. Their bombolini come warm, and are utterly delicious and a fun side to enjoy with your gelato.

A full menu can be found at Bombobar.com

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Chicago Food: Summer House, Santa Monica

*All images my own unless stated*

Everyone across the United States has heard of the perils of a true Chicago winter: several feet of snow on the ground, blistering cold temperatures in the negative digits, and the overall inability to enjoy yourself outside when your face hurts from the biting, cold wind. Luckily for us, there’s a place where we can escape for a few hours, and feel like we’re sitting on a beach in California, instead of a slush-covered street in our dear Chicago.

Welcome to Summer House Santa Monica.

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Located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, entering this restaurant immediately feels like you’ve transported yourself a couple hundred miles away to the actual shores of Santa Monica. This boutique restaurant is one of two of its’ kind, the other located in Maryland.

With summery music playing in the background, and daylight streaming in from the glass roof (which becomes open air in the summer!) you instantly get a mood boost as you walk in the door.

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Although their brunch menu is rated one of the best in Chicago, the lunch menu was already being served by 11am during the week. At first glance, their lunch menu appears to be relatively small and limited in choices, but many substitutions and add-ons are allowed, making the menu more of a suggestion than something to stick to.

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Most of the food was reasonably priced, but you are definitely getting a small up-charge to normal prices. But with a view this good, do I really have room to complain?

For my friends (& me, for now) who are still in the under-21 club, they offer “zero-proof cocktails”  -a twist on several of the beverages that they offer, which are unique in their own right. Where else could you possibly go for watermelon and cucumber coolers?

Recommendations:

To drink, I opted for something classy, but simple: a latte. Not only did this fuel my caffeine addiction, but it was one of the smoothest lattes I’ve ever had. Not too bitter, not grainy from espresso grounds, not too much milk. Coffee connoisseurs, beware.

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For lunch: Stacked Turkey Sandwich ($12.95)

Not your typical turkey sandwich. With avocado showing the Cali roots of the restaurant, followed by the pungent taste of a (homemade?) mustard, this gourmet turkey sandwich is worth the price.

Another surprising twist: the french fries. These weren’t your sub-par, fast food quality fries. These were french fries that even the French would be proud to call their own.

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A full list of menus and meals can be found at http://summerhousesm.com/chicago/menu/.

Chicago Food: Hashbrowns

Since beginning school at UIC in August, I’ve had the opportunity to truly embrace my foodie side, and visit restaurants that are not only well publicized, but also the ones that are overlooked to the out of town traveler. I begin a new portion of my blog with a review of my new weekly staple, Hashbrowns.

Located just off the corner of Maxwell and Halsted, (With a second location in the North Side!) Hashbrowns is fairly invisible and easy to walk past. It’s located just two storefronts down from the corner, with the UIC staple on the end (Bar Louie) and a Mexican restaurant between that I’ve been told to avoid.

I’ve been to Hashbrowns enough times to be on a first name basis and shared life stories with my favorite waiter, and I have yet to try a single thing off the menu that I didn’t like. From breakfast foods (served with none other than hashbrowns- regular or sweet potato) to grilled chicken, to cheeseburgers (too many to decide from!) there’s something there to please everyone, from gluten free to vegetarian options.

And better yet, it’s cheap. Like broke and underfed college student cheap. Most entrees are around $11, but you could definitely go cheaper or spend more if you’d like!

Granted, I like to splurge a bit on myself when I sit down to eat, but even on the cheaper end, the portion sizes are more than enough to keep you comfortably full for a long time.

Recommendations: 

For Breakfast: Cinnamon Blueberry French Toast ($11), Loaded French Toast ($13)Hashbrownz

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For Lunch: Grilled Chicken Breast & Avocado ($11), The Taylor Street Burger ($11)

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A full menu can be found at http://www.hashbrownscafe.com/

 

Why Miami Wasn’t Ideal For the Solo-Traveling Girl

When going on vacation, most people (At least here in the Midwest!) picture warm, sunny beaches, with the tide rolling along the coast, and the perfect sunny getaway from the normalities of everyday life.

We look, we search. With over 12,000 miles of coastline in the United States, we often are overwhelmed with options of where to go.

So we tend to settle for places we hear of before: San Francisco, Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach, and possibly the largest of all- Miami.

Although I’ve been to Florida and the Keys more times than I could count as a kid, I had actually never been in Miami for longer than it took to pick up the rental car, grab some lunch, and drive down to Key West or such.

After hearing about some wild spring break trips and vacations from a few friends of mine, I decided to finally set my sights on Miami, and began to plan a summer trip there.

After my standard crazy-lady-obsessive research (find more about THAT hereI settled for about $100/night at Hotel Shelley, one of the many hotels owned by the South Beach Hotels Group.

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courtesy of Expedia

It’s Art Deco style fit right into the standard style in South Beach, and this hotel was perfect for the traveler who is looking for a cheap hotel room with a few extras included; Free transportation to and from Miami Airport, Free Happy Hour, and very well-kept hotel rooms, to name just a few.

With piece of mind and all of the minor details smoothed out of the trip, I felt extremely confident to be staying here, and had already looked into many things to do while I was down there (#1-Lay on the beach).

When I finally stepped off the plane, after a ride from Newark to Miami (I was previously in NYC), I instantly felt like I was out of place. Most of the people surrounding me spoke only Spanish, and even with 4 years and a planned Spanish Minor under my belt, it felt like I was alone in a whole new world.

Note to my readers, the middle of August was also not the most IDEAL time to visit Miami, unless you are in love with 90 degree, humid heat. The kind that makes you feel like you ran a marathon after walking a few blocks.

After finally getting to my hotel after an hour or two, I was confronted with not being able to check in until much, much later than check-in time, due to an overbooked hotel. I took this in stride and decided to walk down the street to Starbucks and grab a cup of coffee, to add a little normality to my life. But even THIS didn’t go smoothly, because I ended up getting harassed by an unreasonably angry older man who went around the store harassing people of minority groups (including myself as a woman, I suppose) and telling them to go back to where they came from, even after they asked him several times to leave. After leaving, coming back in, throwing his hat at me, and demanding someone thank him for his service in the Vietnam War, he finally left all of us alone. Needless to say, I was on my toes with that one, and I was afraid it would progress to something more violent.

After finally getting back to my hotel and receiving a room (RIGHT next to the concierge desk, which kept me up a good couple hours at night on the weekend), I finally set out for some time on the beach.

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Where my hotel was located, the walk towards the beach was only two streets over, and then through a short, grassy area on the outskirts of the beach. What should’ve been a reasonably pleasant, short walk (in modest clothing for the heat) turned into 10 minutes of harassment and being creeped on by guys I would pass by on side streets or that would walk behind me. Mind you, this isn’t late at night-it’s 5pm on a weekday.

Now, I do hail from the suburbs of Chicago. I’m used to the occasional stare, or the occasional beg for money, but this turned into full-scale, being followed down the street, catcalled walk in the middle of the day. Part of this is to do with the fact I am female, and the other part due to the fact I was alone, which I was prepared for.

I spent about an hour out there, grabbed myself some dinner at an Italian restaurant, and called it quits before the sun decided to set. My #1 rule of traveling alone is to be at least within a block of my hotel by sunset no matter where I go, because I would rather miss out on a bit of nightlife than end up harassed or worse by the sketchy people that do exist in the world.

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On the way there, I stopped at a CVS around the corner to grab some snacks and a case of water, and then walked back to the hotel.

Side note: Avoid buying sunscreen down here, if at all possible. They know tourists need it, so they up-charge it to about $8-$10 per bottle. Bring a few travel-sized containers on the flight with you if you are like me and refuse to check a bag.

It was already dark by this point, and I found myself harassed by a few more men, and haggled especially hard by one who needed money “to buy his baby food and diapers”. Mediocre haggling at best, honestly.

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Now, I’m not saying don’t travel to Miami EVER- please do, the Art Deco style of the 1920’s isn’t replicated as well anywhere else in the states. The beaches are gorgeous, the alcohol is DEFINITELY flowing for you partiers out there (I couldn’t believe the amount of times I was offered things even though I visibly do not look 21), and the culture and cuisine were good as well. This is a fairly cheap tourist attraction, in my opinion, and after the wake of the nightclub shooting, the LBGT community has beautifully banded together to create a welcoming and lovely environment there.

But definitely do NOT travel there alone, in my opinion. Even with all of the street-smarts and safety precautions I took, I felt more safe on the streets of NYC than I ever did in Miami, which is mildly concerning. Safety is #1, no matter where you travel. Because of the amount of tourists they get, many skeevy guys prey on girls from out of town, and vice versa.

Also be aware that in many restaurants down there, the 20% gratuity has already been added to the bill. A lot of the places now have the servers hold tablets that you use to receive the bill and pay for the meal, and in the panic of feeling “awkward”, you may end up accidentally choosing to add a tip to the already-tipped bill (Lesson learned the hard way, over an extra 20% tip on an already $50 meal). Many times you are able to catch it because it is clearly labeled as “gratuity”, but sometimes they are sneaky in hiding it in the receipt.

Restez en sécurité, mes amis!

-C

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