Travel & Food – Driving from Chicago to Kansas City

As the title suggests, we didn’t do much yesterday other than sit in the car. It took us just over 8 hours to drive from Chicago to Kansas City with a quick stop in Springfield, Illinois for lunch. We drove 500 miles on a tank and a quarter of petrol in our Yaris that cost about $40 (£24)! Crazy!

Everyone always talks about the amount of space in America. It’s the kind of space that as an English person, you can’t really comprehend until you see it. The houses are literally miles apart. And although they look lovely and idyllic, the more practical side of me can’t help but wonder how frustrating it must be if you forget something at the store or how scary it is to know that if you hurt yourself, how long it would take to get to the nearest hospital. It must get pretty lonely too, especially if you’re a kid or teenager.

Most of our drive was rather dull flatlands but there were odd sections where the trees were gorgeously autumnal or the houses would be especially pretty.

Driving from Chicago to Kansas CityWe stopped off about halfway in Springfield, Illinois at a place called Cozy Dog Drive-in. It’s actually on Route 66 and is the home of the corn dog. I’ve always wanted to try a corn dog so I was pretty excited. I rather liked it. It was a cheap Oscar Mayar weiner dipped in batter, but not like a battered sausage in the UK, more like a pancake batter. I’d have preferred a better quality sausage I think but for $2 it was pretty good.

Cozy Dog Drive in Springfield illinois route 66Cozy Dog Drive-in Springfield IllinoisInside cozy dog drive in springfield illinoisCorn dog and fries at Cozy Drive In, Springfield, IllinoisNick at Cozy Dog Drive InThis was followed by more driving and crossing the Missouri state line.

Missouri state lineWhen we left Chicago, it was grey, raining and about 60F (15 degrees) and it just got sunnier and sunnier and hotter and hotter as we drove to Kansas City. It was about 80F when we arrived (26 degrees).

Driving into Kansas CityIt’s quite funny driving into Kansas City. After hours and hours of flat land, there’s suddenly a little bunch of skyscrapers on the horizon. We arrived around 4pm and checked into our hotel (Hotel Phillips) then went to meet some of Nicks friends and American Royal team members, including the lovely Derek who we stayed with in Napa earlier this year.

We hung out at Marks house for a little while, catching up and then went to Port Fonda for dinner (you can tell how cool it is just from the website!). It was all a bit spicy and wacky for me (pigs tails & tongue tacos) but the guys loved it. We didn’t take any photos as Nick had left his camera at Marks house but Simon was tweeting some pictures. Then we went to Glace for some beautiful ice-cream. I had fleur de sel caramel and Christopher Elbow dark chocolate.

Today I’m on my own as Nick is doing a judging course to become a certified Kansas City Barbecue judge so I’ve spent the morning catching up on work, emails and blog stuff and will probably spend the day just wandering around the residential streets ogling the incredible houses. Everything looks like a movie here! I would LOVE to stay for Halloween! Unfortunately Nick has the camera so I’ll only be able to take iPhone snaps but I’ll be sharing them on Instagram and the blog tomorrow I’m sure.

Travel & Food – Chicago (Part 2)

It’s been an absolutely beautiful day in Chicago today. Bright blue skies and lots of lovely warm sunshine! Not at all what I was expecting from ‘the windy city’!

We crammed an awful lot in today and got to see lots more of the city again. Everything I ate today was incredible. There are literally not enough descriptive words for me to explain. You’ve just got to come here and try it for yourself.

The day started with a trip to Intelligentsia coffee, followed by us stopping at Nordstrom so I could buy my 3rd pair of TOMs. It was super busy because Bobbi Brown was doing a book signing there this afternoon and there were tons of makeovers happening.

Then we hopped on the ‘L’ train to visit Smoque, a BBQ place that has come highly recommended by pretty much everyone we speak to. It most certainly lived up to the hype and outshone yesterday’s barbecue by a million to one.

Smoque BBQ sign, Chicago

We had a platter to share with half a pound of brisket, half a pound of pulled pork and a quarter slab of St Louis style ribs. This was along with a refillable drink and sides of coleslaw, cornbread and a peach cobbler. This came to an astounding $15 (about £9)! Everything is so crazily cheap here!

Smoque BBQ Chicago

This was followed by a 20ish minute walk to Hot Doug’s, which is a hot dog place with a fantastic atmosphere. The decor is bright red, yellow and blue with hot dog paraphernalia all over the walls and some cool classic rock blaring from the sound system.

I was too full up to eat a hot dog after our BBQ feast but Nick assures me that it was the highlight of Chicago for him. He ordered ‘The Anna Kendrick’, named so because it’s ‘hot’.

Hot Dougs, Chicago

Another 20ish minute walk later and we arrived at Bang Bang Pie. Easily one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. We ordered a slice of their signature plum pie and took a bench in the sun in their garden that feels like someone’s back yard.

bang bang pie shop logo ChicagoOutside bang bang pie ChicagoBang bang pie interior ChicagoEmma from The Style Box at Bang Bang Pie Chicago

I don’t need to describe how incredibly delicious this was. I think the picture says it all really.

Bang Bang Pie plum pie Chicago

After that we jumped onto the L again and travelled to Big Star tacos in the trendy Wicker Park area of town. We couldn’t have picked a better day to visit. With the gloriously hot sunshine beating down, we took a seat out front and soaked up another fantastic atmosphere. Here we ordered a taco al pastor and a taco de pescado and a couple of beers. The food was delicious but the venue really makes it.

If you visit, make sure you check out the shops in Wicker Park, they’re really great. We particularly enjoyed Belmont skate shop and army surplus store (see inside here) and there’s a Carhartt, Aldo, Urban Outfitters, Free People and American Apparel among the fantastic independents.

Big Star tacos Chicagonick at big star tacos chicagoYet another bit of walking (well, you’ve got to burn off all this food somehow!) and we arrived at our final destination of the day, Hoosier Mama Pie. Hoosier Mama is totally different to Bang Bang Pie. Bang Bang has a cool, hipster vibe with lots of exposed brick whereas Hoosier Mama is very cutesy and vintage looking (you can check out the inside on Google maps here). Their pie is completely different too. We opted for their signature pie, the sugar cream pie. Although it looks a bit less appealing in the picture than the plum pie, it really was incredible. Imagine the best creme brulee you’ve ever eaten but in pie form. The recipe for this can actually be found online here – so I’m totally trying it when I get home!

Hoosier Mama pie shop sign ChicagoSugar cream pie at Hoosier Mama pie shop ChicagoEmma from The Style Box at Hoosier Mama Pie shop Chicago

As you can imagine, we waddled back to the hotel after all of that! Tomorrow we’re up bright and early to collect a hire car to drive 8 hours to Kansas City. We’ll hopefully be stopping in Springfield, Illinois if time allows. I’ve had a great time in Chicago and will be quite sad to leave but I know we’ll be back soon!

Chicago theatre sign

Travel & Food – Chicago (Part 1)

Hello from Chicago! Our first stop on our big American road trip!

I’m writing this from my hotel bed looking out over Lake Michigan at 7.30pm and I’m totally exhausted! Stupid jetlag! Our plane landed about 10am yesterday and after a THREE HOUR QUEUE at Chicago O’Hare to get through security, we arrived at the hotel around 2pm.

We’re staying at the Radisson Blue Aqua hotel and it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s in a great location, very close to Navy Pier, Millenium Park and the Magnificent Mile. We’re on the 16th floor and the view from our balcony is really lovely.

16th floor room at Radisson Blu Aqua Chicago

Yesterday afternoon was bright, blue and sunny so we went for a wander. We started off at Navy Pier but weren’t big fans, it’s very commercialised, full of chain restaurants which is totally not our thing so we snapped some pictures of the city and left. Then we walked round a bit to a little beach and wandered along the lakefront trail before heading into the city for Lou Malnati’s Chicago classic, deep dish pizza.

Chicago beachyouarebeautifulLou Malnati's deep dish Chicago pizzaToday wasn’t quite as sunny but the weather was still rather nice. This morning we walked a couple of blocks to check out Millenium Park and Cloud Gate, aka ‘The Bean’. It was amazing.

Cloud Gate Millenium Park Chicago


T-shirt – Hurley

Jeans – Abercrombie

Trainers – Converse

After that we went to Hertz to pick up a hire car as some of the places we were planning on eating at were a bit out of town.

The first place we stopped at was Al’s #1 Italian beef. If you’re a fan of Man v Food (who isn’t?) then you may have seen this place before as it’s famed for it’s beef dipped sandwich and the ‘Italian Stance’. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it on YouTube here. I was a bit apprehensive about having this for breakfast (although it was about 11am) but I needn’t have been. It was immense. The beef is shredded so finely and it’s dipped in the most delicious meaty juices. I wolfed it down in about 10 seconds flat.

als number one italian beef sandwich chicagoAls number one italian beef dipped sandwich chicagoThis amazing looking lemonade place is opposite Al’s but it’s seasonal so it’s shut until May. We were gutted!

Marios lemonade chicago

Our original plan was to visit a BBQ joint after this but it didn’t open until 2pm and it was only about 11.30am so instead we headed to Calumet Fisheries. You would never find Calumet Fisheries unless you knew where to go. It’s nowhere near the city and there’s nothing else of interest in the area but it’s most definitely worth the journey out. (You can see a James Beard video on YouTube here). If you’re a big fan of The Blues Brothers, then it’s on the bridge that they jump in the movie.

Nick started off with an order of smoked shrimp (the size of my palm!) and a tail of smoked catfish. Then the manager, Carlos, started chatting to us and invited us outside to take a look at the smoker and was very generous with samples (the sturgeon was fantastic). We literally stood and talked to him for about an hour. He was such a lovely guy.

Calumet Fisheries ChicagoCalumet Fisheries smoke houseThen we drove to the ghetto in a Yaris. The next destination was Lem’s Bar-B-Q where you’re served through a hatch in bullet proof glass. We got an order of rib tips and hot links and then drove as quickly as we could out of the ghetto to the beach to scoff it. The rib tips were lovely but I wasn’t a fan of the sausages. I found them much too dry.

We’re still in Chicago tomorrow and believe it or not, we’re cramming even more food in! Two pie places, a bbq place and a taqueria!

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