Chicago: Nothing Second About This City

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greening of chicago Chicago’s going, going, gone green to become one of the world’s most eco-friendly cities. With more than 7,500 acres of parkland, two world-class conservatories, 26 miles of lakefront, and 600 acres of nature areas, it’s living up to its motto, “City in a Garden.” Certainly credit for the greening of Chicago goes to Mayor Daley who has presided over the planting of between 400,000 and 500,000 trees, and the construction of 75 miles of median planters and dozens of green roofs. The city now boasts more green-roof space than any other in North America, and the biggest green roof of all is the 24.5-acre Millennium Park, constructed on top of a sub-level parking garage and train yard. The $500 million pleasure-ground park is centered around the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Designed by Frank Gehry, it’s the site of free classical concerts and other events all summer long. Adjoining is the 320-acre Grant Park which, in summer, is the stage for some of the city’s biggest events, including the Chicago Blues Festival and The Taste of Chicago, a massive food festival with fireworks and live music.

gourmet delights Chicago is home to more five-diamond restaurants than any other city in the nation: Alinea, Arun’s Avenues (The Peninsula Chicago), Charlie Trotter’s, Everest, Seasons (Four Seasons Hotel Chicago) and Tru.

Less haute cuisine is served up in Chicago neighborhoods, packed with all kinds of ethnic restaurants, delightful bars and blues and jazz clubs. The tourism office runs a tour program called Taste of the Neighborhood, putting the accent on local and ethnic food and featuring two different restaurants serving assorted small plate samplers; the destination changes every two months.

At the same time, Chicago chefs are taking advantage of the city’s position in the heart of farm country and taken up the banner of local, seasonal, sustainable cooking. Visitors enjoy not only dining at a bevy of new “slow food” restaurants, but wandering through top-of-the-line farmers markets.

Eat native and go local and be sure to sample the hometown favorites, including Pizzeria Uno to pay suitable homage to the birthplace of the deep-dish pizza pie. Chicago has made other contributions to the food world where Mr. Beef on Orleans Street is the inventor of the Italian beef sandwich (a split roll piled with thin slices of juicy beef and roasted peppers; a wet version dips the whole thing in gravy). Chicago foodies say that for the quintessential Chicago-style steakhouse experience, you have to dine at Gene & Georgetti (no frills ambiance, gruff service and monster hunks of meat.) And then there’s the Chicago hot dog: a boiled or steamed natural-casing beef frank on a steamed poppy seed bun garnished with yellow mustard, green relish, “sport peppers,” chopped onions, tomato wedges, celery salt and a dill pickle spear—absolutely no ketchup. The prize-winning, superstore for sausages of all kinds is Hot Doug’s.

getting around Chicago does a good job of organizing touring for its guests, including a nifty Greeters program in which volunteers introduce groups (no larger than six) to their neighborhoods. The touring options include a Hop-On, Hop-Off Trolley, with fully narrated, 2-hour tours of the downtown area; a Segway Tour (both day and night), experiencing the city highlights on a two-wheeled Segway; a 3-hour Food Tasting Walking Tour, sampling the iconic and ethnic flavors of Lincoln Park, Old Town and the Gold Coast; a 4-hour Ghost Tour visiting John Dillinger’s death site and Al Capone’s grave.

For another special perspective on the city, rent a bike to ride along the 19 miles of lakefront paths. Or take a relaxed-pace Bobby’s Bike Hike with the award-winning cycle-tour company that originated Obama bike tours. Non-political and focusing on the President, two tours are available: Obama’s Easy Chicago Tour, taking a ride through the University of Chicago campus with stops at the Rockefeller Chapel, the Nuclear Sculpture and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, and ride-bys past 19th century mansions and the homes of some of Chicago’s most famous residents, including Louis Farrakhan, Muhammad Ali and, of course, Barak Obama. Moderate to advanced riders can step up the pace and cover 22 miles in four hours on the Obama Stimulus Package Tour, covering the same ground as the main tour, but adding the Museum Campus, Grant Park and Promontory Point.