My mom and I have a pact: When visiting Chicago, where she used to live, we eat as many exotic, foreign-themed meals as we can manage.
It might be Polish pierogi, Vietnamese noodles or Ethiopian flatbread, called injera, piled with stew. This time we went German, Greek and Russian.
Stop one was the Berghoff on West Adams Street. One of the oldest businesses in Chicago, it was founded by a German immigrant who began brewing beer in Fort Wayne, Ind., and then moved to Chicago and opened a restaurant in 1989. It serves up a big sloppy Reuben on rye that I can’t resist ($7.95).
The next night, we hopped a few blocks over from our hotel in the Loop for a Russian fix at Russian Tea Time. The chef/owner hails from Uzbekistan. I love the beef stroganoff, sirloin pieces simmered in a sauce made of sour cream, Madeira wine, mushrooms, onions and dill, sloshed over a mountain of noodles ($26). Yes, it’s rich and heavy, so keep up the running while you’re in town.
And if you drink, the vodka menu features more than 40 brands, and includes instructions on how to properly enjoy a shot. Hint: It involves pickles, loud exhalations and sniffing a piece of pumpernickel bread.
We saved Day 3 for a visit to Greek Town, where we settled on the Parthenon. (Most of the restaurants in the area serve nearly the same food, and it tastes exactly the same, as far as we can tell.) The Parthenon claims to have invented flaming saganaki, and we’re always impressed by how we can feel the heat of the flaming cheese when someone at a table across the room orders it.
I ordered a combination plate, so I could taste everything from roast lamb to dolmades (vine leaves stuffed with rice, meat and herbs), pastitsio (macaroni baked with broccoli, spinach and bechamel sauce), and my favorite, moussaka, layered eggplant, zucchini and potatoes with bechamel sauce.
I wanted to bring home something sweet for my husband, who didn’t make the trip to Chicago, so we stopped by the Artopolis Bakery next door, where I picked out a whole bakery box full of baklava, shortbread and almond cookies.