Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Return of Dixie Beer

            Last week, Gayle Benson, wife of the late New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, announced that Dixie Beerwould spend $30 million to build a new 80,000 square foot brewery and taproom in New Orleans East. The facility is expected to take a year and a half to two years to build. Last year, before Tom passed away, the Bensons  purchased a controlling interest in Dixie Beer with the hopes of relaunching the brand. Dixie Beer represents a crucial piece of the history of beer production in New Orleans. Dixie, founded in 1907, was once one of the leading breweries in New Orleans. The company fell on hard times and nearly closed following Hurricane Katrina. After barely surviving the storm, Dixie practically disappeared from the market until the Bensons’ stepped in. 

Beer production has long been a staple of New Orleans history. The city’s German immigrants brought their knowledge of brewing with them when they settled in Louisiana. The first immigrants arrived in the 1720s, but beer production did not really take off until the 1850s. In 1848, a wave of revolutions aimed at overthrowing Europe’s remaining monarchies and replacing them with democratic forms of government rocked the continent. This uncoordinated wave of democratic rebellion made major advances for representative government in some parts of Europe. In the German states, however, these revolutions failed to overthrow the monarchies causing many Germans to flee to the United States out of fear of political retribution. These Germans settled across the whole United States, including in New Orleans. 

Louis and Samuel Fasnacht, a pair of brothers, opened the first commercial brewery in New Orleans in 1852. Their brewery, however, did not last long and they sold the business in 1869. In 1869, George Merz, another German, opened his own brewery, beginning the golden age of New Orleans beer production. By the end of the 1880s, New Orleans was the biggest beer producer in the South. Merz, Pioneer Merz, Southern Brewing Company, Crescent City Brewing, Weckerling Brewery, Pelican Brewery, Lafayette Brewery, and Louisiana Brewery all competed with one another across the South. Using New Orleans’ location as port of commerce, brewers shipped their beers along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. 

The old Dixie Brewery 

New Orleans beer production continued to expand at the turn of the century. In 1891, Jackson Brewing Company opened up across from Jackson Square in the French Quarter. Named after Andrew Jackson, “JAX”, as it became known, became one of New Orleans’ biggest breweries. In 1907, George Merz’s son Valentine built a brewery at 2401 Tulane Avenue and named it Dixie Beer. The city’s various breweries began to consolidate in order to stave off competition. They bought restaurants and bars where they exclusively sold their own brews. Prohibition, however, proved the death knell for many of the city’s smaller breweries. In 1936, Falstaff, a St. Louis based brewer, purchased National Brewing and muscled its way into the city’s market. By the 1950s, only four brands remained: Falstaff, Regal, Dixie, and JAX. 

The 1950s saw the construction of the Interstate Highway System, connecting the major cities of the United States. These highways significantly reduced the cost of shipping beer nationally. As a result, national breweries flooded the New Orleans market, drowning out the locals. Regal closed down in 1962. JAX shut its doors in 1974, although the brewery is now a shopping center that still bears the company name. The Falstaff brewery closed in 1979. Only Dixie managed to survive, albeit in a much weakened form. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded the Mid-City brewery. Looters stole much of the company’s equipment and left the factory in total disarray. The business survived by paying other brewers to produce Dixie.  

The New Dixie Brewery 

According to the plans announced by Gayle Benson, Dixie’s new brewery will begin producing 1,000 barrels per month. They plan to ramp up production to 5,000 to 6,000 barrels per month or about 72,000 barrels per year. They plan to hire about 60 employees and hope to grow their workforce to about a hundred people. Benson and New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell believe that the brewery will revitalize the economically moribund New Orleans East. New Orleans East—long home of the bulk of the city’s African-American residents—suffered horribly in Katrina. Floods drove many residents from their homes and many middle and upper-class African-Americans moved elsewhere rather than rebuild. 

Yet Dixie’s path to success is not clear. Dixie’s staple beer is a light lager similar to Miller Lite and Bud-Light. Additionally, in the past 30 years, New Orleans, like the rest of the United States, has seen an explosive in craft breweries. Abita, the first of the New Orleans craft breweries, opened in 1986, produces 150,000 barrels per year, and receives 40,000 visitors to its taproom. Royal Brewing, a newly opened craft brewery in New Orleans East makes only 1,500 barrels per year. NOLA Brewing pushes out 10,500 barrels per year. While old and faded Dixie Beer signs dot the sides of buildings across New Orleans, the resurgent brewery will have to find a way to stand out in a crowded field. 

For a brief history of New Orleans brewing, see this article.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Antoine's: A Culinary Legend

            Opened in 1840 in New Orleans’ French Quarter, Antoine’s is perhaps the most important restaurant in the history of New Orleans. Created by a French immigrant named Antoine Alciatore, the restaurant is still run his descendants. Throughout its long history, Antoine’s has come to symbolize New Orleans’ creole cuisine. Creole cooking is the fusion of the cooking traditions of New Orleans’ many immigrant communities into a new and original culinary tradition. Dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans and rice are all traditional creole dishes. Yet throughout much of its history, Antoine’s described itself as a French restaurant. Only recently has the restaurant come to embrace its foundational role in the evolution of New Orleans cuisine. 

The exterior of Antoine's

            Antoine Alciatore was born in 1822 in France. He worked in French restaurants in the port city of Marseilles before leaving for the United States in 1838. He eventually settled in New Orleans where he opened a boarding house and restaurant in the city’s French Quarter. Thanks to Alciatore’s culinary creativity, the restaurant soon grew in popularity. Alciatore and his son, Jules, who eventually took over the restaurant, gained a reputation for their culinary creativity. Famed dishes included Beef Robespierre—marinated beef tenderloin, cook rare served with a sauce of stock, sweetbreads and chicken livers. The dish, the chef claimed, reminded him of a story his father had told about witnessing the execution of French revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre in 1793. Jules later invented Pompano en Papillote—white fish baked in parchment paper and served tableside allowing the diner to cut the bag open. The list of famous dishes pioneered by Antoine’s is nearly endless, but includes: Oysters Rockefeller, Oysters Bienville, Toast St. Antoine (crabmeat in wine and Bech├ímel sauce) and Filet of Sole Joinville (poached sole with a white-wine sauce with mushrooms, truffles, and shrimp). 

            Despite branding themselves as a French restaurant, the Alciatores’ menu relied some of the key features of creole cuisine. They incorporated local shellfish like Gulf oysters and shrimp. The Pompano (of Pompano en Papillote) is a fish found primarily along the Eastern and Gulf coasts of the United States, but not in France. The menu also began to include locally made sausages—a contribution from German immigrants, African spices—the involuntary contribution of African slaves, and coffee—another American innovation. Yet the Alciatores and their descendants remained devoted to the idea of Antoine’s as a French restaurant. Historically, French cuisine has long been considered the best in the world. Creole cuisine was the bastard child of mostly non-French cooking traditions. Antoine’s even kept its menu only in French until the 1990s. 

            In 1877, Antoine’s moved from its original location to its present day home on St. Louis Street in the French Quarter. The restaurant features 15 dining rooms with the capacity to seat over 700 patrons. Each dining room has its own particular name and history. Some, like the Rex, Proteus, and 12thNight Revelers, are named after famous Mardi Gras Krewes where the walls feature decades old memorabilia. During Prohibition, the famed “Mystery Room” served alcohol against state law. Guests went through a door in the women’s bathroom into a secret room where they would exit with a coffee cup full of liquor. When asked where the liquor came from guests would answer, “It’s a mystery to me.” The Japanese Room, designed in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies, features Asian style decorations. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, then owner Roy Alciatore closed the room. It remained closed for another 43 years. The restaurant also features a 165 foot long and 7 foot wide, wine cellar—though it’s more of a wine alley due to New Orleans’ position below sea level. 

            Antoine’s reached the height of its fame and prestige under Antoine Alciatore’s son, Jules. In 1877, after receiving four years of culinary training in France, Jules took over the restaurant from his mother. She had taken control of the restaurant in 1874 after Antoine had returned to France—wishing to be buried in his homeland. During his time running Antoine’s, Jules invented Oysters Rockefeller. The restaurants welcomed presidents and celebrities like Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Babe Ruth. While the restaurant appealed to some of the nation’s leading cultural figures, Jules also catered to the New Orleans elite. Antoine’s provided regular customers with their own personal waiters rather than assigning patrons to waiters at random. These repeat customers could make reservations directly with their waiters and be guaranteed a table when they wished. It became a mark of social distinction amongst the New Orleans elite to have their own waiter at Antoine’s. The waiters themselves also benefitted from the repeated patronage of their guests and attaining the job of waiter carried a certain standing above those at other restaurants. 

The interior of Antoine's 

            By the last quarter of the 20thcentury, the New Orleans culinary landscape had begun to change and Antoine’s struggled to keep pace. The restaurant remained devoted to its French roots and style of service. Regulars kept the restaurant afloat, but the a new wave of affordable and less stuffy restaurants had emerged onto the dining scene. Mr. B’s Bistro, home of barbecued shrimp, marked the expansion of the Brennan family’s (they own Commander’s Palace amongst other restaurants) restaurant empire. Paul Prudhomme, former chef at Commander’s Palace, opened K-Paul’s in the French quarter and reinvigorated Cajun cuisine. Gone were the refined and traditional restaurants, replaced by minimalist designs where the chef and the food were the stars. 

            In 2005, Rick Blount, a descendant of the Alciatores, took over as owner and manager of Antoine’s. Less than six months later, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Winds caused some of the walls at the attic level to collapse onto the street below. The walls of the main dining room bulged out and the ceiling nearly collapsed. The loss of power and air conditioning resulted in the loss of some 15,000 bottles of wine. Remarkably, the restaurant survived and reopened in January 2006 and Blount devoted his efforts to turning the restaurant’s fortunes around. As the city began its slow recovery in the aftermath of the hurricane, Antoine’s began to recover as well. Blount reduced the size of the menu to something more manageable—cutting down on food costs. He created the Hermes Bar featuring an informal menu and a jazz brunch. 

            As a result, Blount kept Antoine’s afloat during the worst crisis confronted by the city of New Orleans. Antoine’s remains one of the city’s restaurant gems in terms of food and its contribution to the history of New Orleans. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

History of the New Orleans Pelicans

            Louisiana is primarily known for its football. LSU football and the New Orleans Saints are by far the two most popular sports teams in the state. Yet, the state has a long and colorfully history with America’s Pastime—baseball. The LSU baseball program is one of the most prestigious in the country. They have won six national titles, routinely have players drafted by professional teams and succeed in the Major Leagues. New Orleans also currently hosts a Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins—the Baby Cakes—who began their life as the Zephyrs in 1993. Yet the history of baseball in Louisiana goes back much farther than that. One of the oldest and most notable baseball teams in Louisiana was the New Orleans Pelicans, who served as the inspiration for the renaming of the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets in 2013. 

The Pelicans Logo 

            The original Pelicans were founded in 1865 as an amateur sporting association. These types of groups were common in the early days of baseball. In cities across the United States, men interested in playing baseball joined together and created local amateur teams—similar to recreational leagues of today. They would scrimmage against one another or play other local teams. At this point, the rules of baseball were still very much in flux, rules governing strikes and balls, the size of the field, the type of ball all varied from city to city or even team to team. Players came and went from teams. Teams would play one week, dissolve the next, and reform under a few name a few weeks later. Some more talented players earned money by offering their services to the team most willing to pay.  Games took place during the day and on weekends, though Sunday games caused consternation amongst moral and religious reformers who felt that Sunday should be reserved for church, not recreation. 

            In the late 19thcentury, teams across the United States began organizing professional leagues. In 1887, the Pelicans joined the Southern League, one of the country’s growing number of professional leagues, where they played intermittently until 1899. Like any number of the professional leagues that popped up in the 1880s and 1890s, the Southern League suffered from persistent financial problems. Teams entered and left the league on a yearly basis and the league lacked the power to centralize or collect revenue. Seasons began in April and would sometimes end in July or earlier when teams simply ran out of money or quit. In 1888, for example, the Southern League only had four teams. The league dissolved in 1899. 

The 1910 Championship Pelicans 

            The competition and failure of various professional baseball leagues eventually gave way to consolidation. In 1901, the Pelicans joined the newly formed Southern Association, consisting of former teams from the Southern League. With seven permanent members: the Atlanta Crackers, Birmingham Barons, Chattanooga Lookouts, Little Rock Travelers, Memphis Chicks, Nashville Vols, and Pelicans, the Southern Association had a stable foundation. Three other teams: the Knoxville Smokies, the Mobile Bears, or Shreveport Sports rotated through the eighth slot. The Association began its existence as a Class A league—meaning that the players were three levels below the major leagues. The Pelicans played in a variety of parks around the city of New Orleans. From 1901-1908, they played in Athletic Park on the south side of Tulane Avenue near South Carrollton Avenue. In 1909, they moved to Pelican Park just down the street, and then relocated to their permanent home on South Carrollton at the intersection of Tulane Avenue. The park had various names, but remained the home of the Pelicans until 1957. The park was torn down in 1957 and became a hotel, storage units for Xavier University, and is presently the site of a Burger King. 

            The Pelicans featured a number of famous players. In 1910, Shoeless Joe Jackson, of the Black Sox Scandal fame, hit .354, winning the league batting title and leading the Pelicans to the pennant. In their existence, the Pelicans won 17 league titles in the Southern League and Southern Association. Beginning in the 1930s, the Pelicans entered into an agreement with the Cleveland Indians to serve as one of their minor league farm teams. Prior to the formation of farm systems (a process that began in the 1930s, but did not accelerate until the late 40s) major league teams simply purchased the contracts of players from independently owned and operated minor league teams. Thanks to the work of legendary baseball executive Branch Rickey (of Jackie Robinson signing fame), teams entered reciprocal agreements with minor league teams. Major league franchises had the benefit of developing young players and teams like the Pelicans were guaranteed a continuous supply of players. Throughout their history the Pelicans served as a farm club for the Indians, St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, and New York Yankees. 

Pelicans Stadium-1921 

            By the 1950s, however, the Southern Association was in trouble. After Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in minor league baseball in 1946 (the major league barrier would fall in 1947), the major and minor leagues began the slow and contentious process of integration. Teams in the Southern Association, bolstered by the South’s Jim Crow laws, refused to integrate. Only one African-American player, Nat Peoples, ever played in the Southern Association—for two games in 1954. While the Association became a target of Civil Rights activists, it remained segregated until its collapse in 1961. By the late 1950s, the league became financially and geographically unstable. Money problems forced Little Rock to move to Shreveport in 1958. Similar pressures led the Pelicans to move to Little Rock in 1959. Memphis’s stadium burned down in 1960. Facing pressure to integrate, the remaining teams in the Association moved to different integrated leagues and the Southern Association dissolved in 1961.

            While the Pelicans would reappear for a single season in 1977 thanks to a Tulsa oil baron, professional baseball would not return to New Orleans until 1993 and the arrival of the Zephyrs, a Triple-A franchise. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Eataly Chicago

            It’s hard to describe Eataly in a few words. The Chicago location, at 43 E. Ohio Street, features a retail area that includes imported pastas, olive oils, balsamic vinegars, Italian sodas, chocolates, and a host of other grocery items. There’s a wine store, beer section, a meat store, a mozzarella bar, a bakery, seafood, and produce sections. There’s dessert stands that sell homemade cannoli and gelato. There’s even Italian beauty products. This cornucopia of Italian products opened in December 2013. Eataly has 63,000 feet of retail space. It is the second-largest Eataly in the United States. There are other locations in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. 

The interior of Eataly 

            And there’s one more thing that we haven’t mentioned yet: the restaurants and food counters. Eataly Chicago has four restaurants. Sabia—an Italian seaside inspired restaurant. La Pizza and Pasta—featuring homemade pastas and Neapolitan style pizzas. Osteria di Eataly—a traditional Italian restaurant serving full Italian meals of antipasti, primi, secondi, and dolci. Birreria—Eataly’s microbrewery and beer themed restaurant. They brew the beer about 20 feet away from the restaurant. The food counters include Pronto—a grab and go panini and salad bar. Ravioli & Co.—a pasta bar. A focaccia bar and La Rosticceria—a roasted meat counter serving paninis and plates. 

            Eataly is the brainchild of Oscar Farinetti, an Italian businessman who founded the consumer electronics chain UniEuro. After selling UniEuro in 2003, he created Italy. The New York Times described Eataly as a megastore that “combines elements of a bustling European open market, a Whole-Foods-style supermarket, a high-end food court and a New Age learning center.” The first Eataly opened in 2007 in Turin, Italy in a converted vermouth factory. The first American Eataly opened in New York near Madison Square Park in 2010. It is over 50,000 square feet in size. The American Eataly locations are owned in partnership with Italian restauranteurs Lidia and Joe Bastianich (of Masterchef fame). In addition to the five American locations, Eataly has opened stores across Italy and in places like Tokyo, Moscow, Istanbul, and Sao Paulo.  

Eataly desserts 

            While we were in Chicago, we had the opportunity to eat and shop at Eataly. We loaded up on imported olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and imported dry pastas. We also bought a small—LARGE—number of pastries and cannoli. We also had the chance to eat at two of Eataly’s restaurants: La Rosticceria and La Pizza & Pasta. In the best traditions of Italian cuisine, the cooking was straightforward and allowed the fresh local ingredients to shine. 

Capricciosa pizza 

 La Rosticceria: We enjoyed sandwiches from La Rosticceria. The first was a thinly slice porcini-rubbed prime rib. The meat, nestled in a homemade baguette, is melt in your mouth tender. The other was a roasted and braised pork shoulder served with salsa verde. The shoulder had a rich pork flavor and soft, succulent texture. 

La Pizza & Pasta: Our meal at La Pizza & Pasta started off with a selection of mozzarella from the mozzarella bar and Pane al Forno—a focaccia style bread—with two types of prosciutto and speck. The focaccia style bread was heavenly little pieces of pizza dough crisped up in the pizza oven. The mozzarella was bright and fresh. In Neapolitan style, the capricciosa pizza with buffalo mozzarella, mushrooms, prosciutto, artichokes, and olives had a blackened and crisp outer crunch that became softer towards the middle. The remarkably fresh ingredients were the star of this dish. 

So if you’re ever in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, or New York and you want an immersive introduction to Italian food and cuisine, stop at Eataly. You may enter hungry, but you won’t leave that way. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Chicago Dining Options

            Let’s continue our trip through Chicago by highlighting some of Chicago’s best restaurants. 

Stan’s/Do-Rite Donuts: These two Chicago doughnut shops are at the forefront of the gourmet doughnut craze. Stan’s features a range of doughnuts from the traditional to the unusual. There’s regular old glazed, chocolate old fashioned, fritters, and also there’s lemon curd and glazed pretzel.  Do-Rite has a wide array of new flavors like Candied Maple Bacon, Cinnamon Crunch, and Pistachio-Meyer Lemon. These doughnuts pack quite the punch so either bring a friend (or two) or only order one or two at a time. 

Fish at Frontera 

Frontera/Xoco: While pursuing a PhD in anthropological linguistics, Rick Bayless and his wife, Deann, lived in Mexico for six years, studying regional Mexican cookery.In 1987, Bayless opened Frontera Grill in Chicago. Bayless introduced regional Mexican cuisine to an American restaurant market flooded with Tex-Mex, quesadillas, and fajitas. By treating Mexican cuisine with the same attention to detail and technique found in French cuisine, Bayless offered a different view Mexican food in America above the homogenized “Mexican” food found across the country. Frontera and its sibling take-out spot Xoco, use local, fresh ingredients to highlight Mexican flavors. 

Purple Pig: Opened by fourth generation restauranteur, Jimmy Bannos in 2009, the Purple Pig’s menu includes small-plate preparations of pig, cheeses, vegetables, and a standout wine list that highlights the flavors of Italy, Greece, and Spain. Bannos began his culinary career bussing tables at his father’s restaurant in Chicago. After culinary school, Bannos worked for Emeril Lagasse in New Orleans and Mario Batali in New York. In 2015, Bannos won the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef. The Purple Pig doesn’t take reservations and is located in the heart of the Magnificent Mile, so there may be a wait. 

Lamb ravioli at Monteverde 

 Monteverde: Opened in November 2015, Monteverde is the creation of chef Sarah Grueneberg. After culinary school, Grueneberg worked at Brennan’s in Houston before moving to Chicago to train in Italian cooking under Tony Mantuano at Spiaggia. She began as a line cook before working her way up to executive chef in 2010. During a trip to Italy, Grueneberg studied pasta making and her pastas are the star of Monteverde’s menu. The ravioli filled with braised lamb, ricotta, garlic, artichokes, olive, and mint is a particular standout. In 2017, Grueneberg won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes. The restaurant also appeared on Eater’s 2017 “America’s 38 Essential Restaurants.”

Ramen-san: Part of the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group, Ramen-san features traditional tonkotsu broth—a broth made from pork bones—to accompany its ramen. The broth is first part of the five key components of Ramen-san ramen. There are also shio (chicken broth) and roasted veggie miso broth options. Seasonings include soy sauces, kimchi, and white miso. Next are the specially made ramen noodles. Then there’s the choice of chashu pork (pork belly), fried chicken, and beef shoulder. Finally, you can top your ramen with a soft-boiled egg and a variety of pepper blends. The menu also features a number of steamed buns, dumplings and chicken wings. 

Sushi-san sushi 

A Japanese Old-Fashioned 

Sushi-san: Sushi-san is Ramen-san’s sushi cousin. The menu features a variety of fresh maki rolls, nigiri, tempura, and fried rice dishes. We indulged in a clever play on fish tacos made from fried nori. The nigiri highlighted the fresh fish. The maki were a mix of old-school maki (tuna, Hamachi) and new school (tempura shrimp with gochujang and spicy tuna with tobanjan). The service at Sushi-san is especially attentive. The cocktails are inventive and playful. The crowd is young, professional, and a bit loud, so be prepared. 

Epic Burger: A small Chicago based burger chain, Epic burger follows the model of Smashburger and Shake Shack by favoring thinner griddle-cooked patties. There are burgers, French fries, and an array of toppings. The menu is small, but well-executed.. The small chain also promotes environmental consciousness. All of the ingredients for the burgers and toppings are locally sourced. The ingredients are never frozen or shot full of artificial colorings, steroids, or other additives. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Chicago Entertainment Options

            Welcome back to our tour through Chicago. Last week we looked at some cultural landmarks in Chicago. This week we’ll focus on some entertainment options.  

Wrigley Field 

Wrigley Field: Opened in 1914, Wrigley Field has housed the Chicago Cubs since 1916. Nestled in the Wrigleyville neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago, Wrigley is in the middle of a residential area. There are no obnoxious parking lots and the other amenities that make so many modern stadiums joyless deserts. Wrigley features its famous Ivy covered outfield walls and hand turned scoreboard. The stadium retains much of the charm of the old ballpark while offering modern amenities. The Cubs were the last team to install lights for night games. At present, they still play many of their home games during the day. In 2016, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the time since 1908, ending a championship draught longer than that of the Boston Red Sox. 

Guaranteed Rate Field: While not as famous or successful as the Cubs, the Chicago White Sox are the Second City’s second major league baseball team. Playing in Guaranteed Rate Field on Chicago’s South Side, good seats are cheap and plentiful. While lacking the charm and history of Wrigley, Guaranteed Rate Field has easy access to public transit. Guaranteed Rate lacks the neighborhood feel of Wrigley and the crowd can be a bit rougher—we witnessed a lot of drinking, smoking, and cursing fans—but the stadium is worth a visit. Even if it is just to take advantage of some cheap seats. 

Guaranteed Rate Field 

Second City Chicago: Besides being known for the Cubs, hot dogs, those guys from SNL, and the Blues Brothers, Chicago is famous for improv. Second City is the city’s premier improv troupe. Throughout the years, Second City has nutured the comedy talents of Billy Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert and many, many others. Second City offers two recurring comedy shows, one on the main stage and the other in a secondary theater. They also have improv classes, stand-up comedians, comedy workshops, and a host of other activities. The recurring shows feature Second City’s famous “Third Act” where the performers engage in improv based on audience suggestions. They even had table-side service where you can a beer to go along with the show. 

Chicago Architecture Foundation Tour: Okay, this is a little bit of a cheat. The Chicago Architecture Foundation actually has 7 tours: River Cruise, Must-See Chicago, Historic Treasures, Elevated Architecture, Art Deco Skyline, Bus, and Chicago Modern. We recommend the River Cruise. Starting out on the Chicago River, the boat tour lasts 90 minutes. The trained docents tell the history of the city through its architecture. There’s discussions of the 1871 Fire, the Great Depression, the evolution of Art Deco to Modernist styles, the rise and fall of Chicago’s big businesses, and the city’s requirement that the public must have access to the entire length of the river. Find a seat on the top deck and bring a coat. 

The stage for Hamilton 

Broadway in Chicago: Chicago has a number of theaters that host touring and permanent productions of Broadway musicals. This year, Broadway in Chicago will feature The Book of Mormon, Fiddler on the Roof, Kinky Boots, Dear Evan Hansen, Hello Dolly, and Charlie and Chocolate Factory. Chicago’s CDIC Theater is also the permanent home of a production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, the smash musical. While not cheap, Chicago’s Hamilton has tickets more tickets available than at the musical’s home at New York’s Richard Rogers Theater or for any of the touring productions. The cast is similarly impressive, stocked with Broadway veterans. Chicago will also soon be the host of a new historical exhibition based on the musical. 

            Next week we’ll take a look at some of Chicago’s best dining options. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Chicago Cultural Attractions

           Chicago is the third biggest city in the United States. As luck would have it, we recently spent quite a bit of time there. As a result, we were able to take in some of the best—restaurants, events, and attractions—that the Second City has to offer. For example, we learned that the phrase “Second City” does not mean that Chicago is inferior to New York. Rather it is the name that the city adopted following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that destroyed much of the city. A new, “Second City” arose from the ashes. 

            Like all the of major cities of the United States, Chicago arose due to its proximity to water. Located on the shore of Lake Michigan and a short distance from the Mississippi River watershed, Chicago served as a crucial function in the early 19thcentury of linking the disparate regions of the United States together. In the late 19thcentury, the nation’s booming railroad industry caused Chicago to rise to even greater prominence. The Second City served as a crucial link for east-west and north-south railroad lines.  Chicago soon became a leading center for art, education, food, and commerce.  With all this in mind, let’s start with some of Chicago’s biggest cultural attractions.  

Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte 

Art Institute of Chicago: The Art Institute is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States. It hosts over 1.5 million visitors annually. The Art Institute has over 300,000 works of art in its collection. The collection includes exhibits in African, Indian, Ancient and Byzantine, European, and Modern and Contemporary Art. It has particularly strong collections of Impressionists and modern American art. Some of the standouts include Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte, Pablo Picasso’s The Old Guitarist, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, and Grant Wood’s American Gothic. 

Field Museum: Sue the T-Rex is the star attraction of the Field Museum. Sue is the best-preserved and most complete T-Rex fossil ever found. Sue is 40 feet long and 67 million years old. The Museum’s permanent exhibitions include the Animal Halls that feature a variety of mammals from Asia and Africa including the infamous man-eating Lions of Tsavo.  The Evolving Planet exhibit examines the evolution of life on Earth over our 4 billion year history. The Museum also has an exhibit on life in Ancient Egypt complete with 23 human mummies, mummified animals, and a three story replica tomb. 

Adler Planetarium 

Adler Planetarium: Located right next to the Field Museum, the Adler sits on the shore of Lake Michigan. The Adler features the Doane Observatory with its 20 inch diameter aperture telescope that gathers 500 times more light than the human eye. This allows visitors to view objects like the Moon, planets, stars, and distant galaxies that are light years away with remarkable clarity. The Planetarium also hosts an exhibit detailing mankind’s exploration of Mars with a replica Martian rover. 

Shedd Aquarium: Located right near the Field and Adler, the Shedd Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in the United States. It houses over 1,500 species and 32,000 animals. It is the most visited aquarium in the United States and the most popular tourist attraction in Chicago. The Caribbean Reef exhibit is home to a rescued green sea turtle named Nickel. Nickel was struck by the propellers of a motorboat in 1998 that left her paralyzed from the waist down. As a result, her backside sticks up when she swims. She earned her name after an x-ray revealed a 1975 nickel lodged in her throat. She is one of many rescued animals to find a new life at the Shedd. 

Apollo 8 

Museum of Science and Industry: Located in the Hyde Park neighborhood, near the University of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry opened in 1933 in the building that hosted the 1893 World Fair. Over the years, the museum’s holdings have grown significantly. It currently houses a full-size replica coal mine, a large model railroad, the command module of Apollo 8 (the first Apollo spacecraft to orbit the moon), and German U-Boat 505, captured during World War 2. 

Lincoln Park Zoo:  Founded in 1868, the Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the United States. It is one of the few zoos in the United States that does not charge admission. The zoo houses over 1,100 animals including polar bears, penguins, gorillas, reptiles, and monkeys. The Zoo is currently constructing a new penguin and polar bear exhibit that will allow the polar bears to roam more freely. The Zoo also houses an extensive collection of African apes in an expansive habitat. The Kolver Lion House contains a number of rare African lions, leopards, linx, and pumas. 

Next week, we’ll be back to look at some entertainment options in Chicago.