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.