This past weekend Chris and I went to Chicago to visit my friends and their new baby daughter. Since Talia is only 5 weeks old and her parents are tired, we stayed at a hotel nearby. This also gave us a chance to celebrate Chris’s birthday a little early.
We left Lansing after work on Friday and after a late start, decided to just wait until we got to the hotel to get some dinner. My friends live in Rogers Park (I think that’s right) and after determining that paying $160 a night for the Super 8 near Loyola was absurd, I looked in Evanston and surrounding areas for an affordable room rate. There is a Best Western in Evanston that had the cheapest rates however it also had some unfavorable reviews on-line. I put together a list and let Chris handle the actual reservation.
In the end, he chose the Margarita European Inn, a small 47 room hotel converted from a home for young (Catholic) business women built in the 1920s. At $144 per night, it wasn’t much less than the Super8 but the atmosphere was far better. The building was very cool with old light fixtures, a giant sitting room and a little library. There is also a top notch Italian restaurant, Va Pensiero, in the basement although we didn’t go there on this trip.
When we arrived there was a little confusion about our room. Seems they had accidentally set us for Thursday night arrival and check out on Saturday. And the clerk was a little flaky. BUT, when we asked for a Chicago pizza suggestion, she found a guide to Evanston and circled the three choices but said her personal favorite was Lou Malnati’s and she grew up eating their pizza.
Its hard to say no to such a personal testament so we dropped our bags in the antique-furnished room and walked several blocks to the restaurant. Obviously, the little map was not to scale but we found it eventually. And the place was practically empty, so much so that I thought they may have been closed. However, they were still open. For a college town (Northwestern), Evanston was pretty quiet although we did see a large group of over-dressed college girls getting on the train. I guess the local bar scene leaves something to be desired.
As we walked in, we became the only customers and had our choice of tables. We ordered a couple of sodas (Coke products) and looked over the menu. But really this was all about pizza. Chris wanted some Chicago-style deep dish. The topping choices at Lou Malnati’s are limited but they had a deluxe deep-dish with sausage, mushrooms, onions and green peppers which is exactly what Chris wanted, minus the green peppers. I decided to go with the individual sized Lou’s which is a sized-for-one deep dish with tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms topped with a 3-cheese blend.
We should have ordered soup or salads or even bread sticks because it takes 30 minutes or so for the pizzas to come up. Instead we just sat there and listened to our stomachs grumble. I guess it was a good thing the place was so dead or I might have felt the need to wander over to other people’s tables and “Helen Keller” them.
Eventually, our pizzas arrived. As I had the individual serving size, my pizza was cut in half and on a plate already. The waitress cut and plated Chris’s first slice from the deep dish pan and we dug in. Since we were so hungry, it took a little while to actually evaluate the pizza flavor. In the end, we both felt ‘eh.’ The cheese blend on my pizza was very good but if you put spinach on a pizza (or in a pizza) it needs to be cooked and really well drained. Some spots were good and had a nice garlic/basil flavor. Other spots were watery. And I like a slightly crunchier crust. Chris didn’t get so specific with his opinion but he felt that the sauce was weak. We had previously been to Pizza Papalis in Detroit. We both agreed that pizza was more what we expected of Chicago Deep Dish. Who’s version is more accurate? No idea although my pizza did NOT have sauce over the top which I understand is original Chicago-style. My friends, whom we saw the next day, said we should have gone to Giordano’s.
Neither Pizza Papalis, Pizzeria Uno nor Lou Malnati’s could ever replace my love of the Detroit pizza icon, Buddy’s Pizzeria – that square deep dish with the crispy crust and cheese baked right to the edge. I’ve nearly come to blows over who gets the corner pieces.
After the meal, we walked back towards the hotel and stumbled upon a little place called Bill’s Blues Bar with a live band inside. There were not many customers but a few people were up dancing to the music. We grabbed a couple of seats at the bar and just listened. Later on, it was pretty empty but the party was just starting. As it happens, the bandleader, LV Bank and Bill, bar owner, were celebrating birthdays. All of us who stuck around past the break in the third set got cake and champagne.
Locations throughout Chicago and Suburbs plus Online Ordering and Nationwide Delivery at Tastes of Chicago
Hours vary by location. Evanston did not serve alcohol, not sure about the others.
Bill’s Blues Bar
Website with calendar
Liquor license, generous pours, low wine prices and smoke-free!