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Fall Travel

Chicago, Illinois

A great long weekend: An adventure for your appetite

Belly Shack. Belly Shack.
By Christie Matheson
September 12, 2010

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Those searching for a serious gourmet getaway this fall should head straight to the Windy City. Yes, you read that correctly. And not just for pizza, hot dogs, and beer, though there’s plenty of that good stuff to be had. Food lovers who have yet to experience a dining tour of Chicago are missing some of the most interesting and innovative cuisine in the country, from street food to the highest-end menus – not to mention a host of Top Chef stars.

Getting There: Direct flights from Logan to O’Hare abound. JetBlue, United, American, and US Airways offer nonstop service, and thanks to the frequency of flights, a ticket is generally an affordable proposition. Southwest also flies from Logan to Midway. You should be able to find round-trip fares for $250 to $300 – or less if you discover the right sale. Once there, you can easily get around via public transportation (http://www.transitchicago.com) and cabs.

Friday: Warm up for a weekend of eating with a fun (and fantastic) dinner, and save the super-serious dining for Saturday night. Graham Elliot Bowles, a Top Chef Masters contestant and current MasterChef judge alongside Gordon Ramsay, received a Best New Chef nod from Food & Wine magazine in 2004 while cooking at the Jackson House Inn in Woodstock, Vermont. In 2008, he opened Graham Elliot (312-624-9975; http://www.grahamelliot.com), which is noted for playful interpretations of classic American food. (Bowles’s sandwich shop, Graham–wich, is expected to open later this year, so tasting more another day could be an option.) Top Chef season four winner Stephanie Izard recently opened Girl & the Goat (312-492-6262; http://www.girlandthegoat.com), and it’s the perfect place for a little taste of the exotic (grilled octopus with lemon-pistachio vinaigrette), with plates made for sharing. If you think you’ll need a late-night pizza snack, stay at the Elysian (312-646-1300; http://www.elysianhotels.com), where the rooms are large, elegant, and fabulous, there’s a spa and health club, and pizza is on the menu at its Balsan restaurant. At the modern Hotel Blake (312-986-1234; http://www.hotelblake.com), located in the city’s old Printer’s Row area, discounted rooms start at about $210.

Saturday: Chicago chef Rick Bayless, a favorite of President Obama’s and also a Top Chef Masters contestant, recently opened a quick and accessible all-day spot called Xoco (312-334-3688; http://www.rickbayless.com). Its menu of Mexican street food is a great way to fire up your day. It’s closed on Sunday, so hit it today for breakfast. If you want to squeeze in a workout at some point, try a jog along the shore of Lake Michigan, which is so stunning in the fall that you might keep going and going and work up a big appetite. Stimulate your taste buds with more spicy street food (Asian-Latin fusion this time) for lunch at Belly Shack (773-252-1414; http://www.bellyshack.com). Call now – better yet, yesterday – to secure any table you can at Alinea (312-867-0110; http://www.alinea-restaurant.com), widely regarded as the best restaurant in the city and often called the best in the country. Chef Grant Achatz – rhymes with “packets” – takes the molecular gastronomy tasting menu to unimaginable new heights. (Achatz’s much-hyped new projects, Next and The Aviary, are also slated to open later this year.) Another stellar tasting-menu option is Tru (312-202-0001; http://www.trurestaurant.com), the go-to special-occasion restaurant in Chicago for more than a decade. Do not skip dessert there – James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Gale Gand (who has been a Top Chef guest judge) whips up unforgettably decadent confections, and you might as well go all out.

Sunday: Get an early breakfast at Jam (773-489-0302; http://www.jamrestaurant.com). Sure, it’s over the top – chocolate pancakes with toasted marshmallows, graham cracker crumble, and banana-milk jam, or eggs Benedict with crisped pork belly – but this weekend, that’s kind of the point. Then go for a paddle in Lake Michigan or the Chicago River. Kayak Chicago (630-336-7245; http://www.kayakchicago.com) offers tours and rentals and is the city’s first (and only) stand-up paddle-board outfitter. Not a bad way to shed some of those calories.

For more great long weekend travel ideas, please visit boston.com/magazine