My two favorite aspects of traveling are planning the whole (usually tropical) shebang and the reintroduction back into my real life in Chicago (not so tropical). I get as much joy in the actual escape as I do convincing myself that I'm ready to return to the grind...this time with a whole new perspective, of course. Either way, I usually start and end my trip at the Breakfast Club, 1381 W. Hubbard St., my idea of a perfect exit/re-entry haunt.
Diners are strategically placed on every corner in the city, but few come close to matching the ideal set-up. Not only does the coffee need to be hot and strong, it needs to be poured frequently. Not only should there be buttery waffles and pancakes on the menu, there's gotta be a whole-grain version. Are the biscuits and gravy homemade or popped right out of tin cans? Are portions huge and worthy of sharing? Are there several of the day's newspapers scattered about, leftover from customers that happened to roll in before me?
When I find one deserving "yes" to every question, that's the place I love leaving on my way out of the concrete jungle, and the place I love coming back to after several weary weeks spent, often, in a real jungle. Through a giant order of whole-wheat pancakes smothered in soft butter and doused in sweet syrup, I can say goodbye to healthy eating and hello to road food in a foreign county: Beans and rice, here I come. And through that huge platter of soft biscuits and sausage packed cream gravy, I say hello to American eats once again.
hough I feel like this is a hidden gem in the city, the pink awning outside the front door cheerily alerts the random passerby to its cozy and homey interior. The Breakfast Club is usually scattered with a healthy mix of construction workers, city employees passing along the latest Loop gossip and business folk taking in a spread of laptops and fluffy omelets (the avocado, bacon and cream cheese omelet is something to behold). Still, there always seems to be room for one more, even if you're sharing a four-top with a total stranger. That's just the way things work at the Breakfast Club.
If I happen to make it back into O'Hare during the lunch hour, I make a clean break from 90/94 and head straight here for a bowl of piping hot beef stew or a golden grilled cheese sandwich. The kitchen makes everything from scratch, so never am I tempted to send something back because of funky industrial taste (this happens more often than not with meals on the fly).
But this isn't a coffee-only diner. Every day of the week sees empty glasses of sucked dry mimosas and Bellinis passing by, not just Sunday brunch. I love seeing an old nana toss one back at about 7 a.m. on her way out into the blustery morning. More than that, though, I love tossing one back before heading out into the total unknown. Being a part of this Breakfast Club makes my day (and trip) go smoother.
The Final Rave: Though this club marks nearly every coming and going, there are a few more places that indicate a great departure and even better return.
Keep It Going:
Read it: Borders
My first and last visit before and after a trip is to this super bookstore on the corner of Clark and Diversey. Its get magazines shipped in early, so I'm always prepped to catch up on the news or buy a bundle to keep me busy on the road.
Eat it: Katerina's
No matter where I am in the world, I'm always dreaming about tiropitakia, a Greek dish made with cheese-stuffed phyllo dough baked to perfection and doused in sweet syrup.
Drink it: La Finca
Strawberry margaritas always remind me of the sunny environment I've usually just returned from, and this usually deserted Mexican kitchen whips up some of the best around.
Get crazy with it: Whole Foods
Returning from a trip always means a full refill of my fridge. Sorry to letcha know, but this insanely expensive grocery store is worth every dime when you haven't seen a vegetable in weeks.