Lake Michigan Circle Tour Day 3: Chicago!

Stan's Donuts and Coffee Chocolate Glazed

Here we go again: I’m going to try and get the Lake Michigan posts finished so I can write about Washington upon my return from a trip down there next week! It’s for a work conference that’s not food related — I edit a mental health literary journal called Open Minds Quarterly — but I intend to eat my weight in American food while I’m there.

Have any suggestions for things I should try? Let me know!

By our third day driving around Lake Michigan (see here for day one, and here for day two), we’d resigned ourselves to the rain. We wound up following a storm around the lake, so I guess we should have gone counter-clockwise, but either way we’d have met the storm in Chicago so… whatever!

We started our day with bone-chilling hail and strong winds (I don’t know why we were surprised) and so my first quest of the day was hot coffee and doughnuts (obviously). I’d heard good things about a place called Stan’s Donuts and Coffee (yeah, they spell things weird down there, I know) so we bundled up, parked the car, and set off.

It’s been two months, but I can still taste the doughnuts  like it was yesterday. I selected an old-fashioned sour-cream glazed, a chocolate glazed with sprinkles, and an apple fritter. Moderation is not the name of the game when I travel.

 

Whenever I try “artisanal” or small-batch doughnuts, I’m left underwhelmed. They’re generally stodgy, overly-yeasted, topping-centric to-dos. Granted, I’m extraordinarily fussy, but there’s been a doughnut-hole-shaped hole in my heart for years, and I was beginning to think the perfect doughnut was a figment of my imagination, a myth.

Stan’s doughnuts proved me wrong. After my first bite of the old fashioned it was clear I’d found what I’d been missing for so many years. It was a dense, rich cake doughnut that was neither heavy nor greasy and had subtle hints of spice and a crunchy slightly tangy coating. Brady’s eyes just about popped out of his head when he ate his half. The chocolate glazed was so beautifully complex I wonder if they use a slow ferment, the dough was airy and chewy, almost like sourdough. The apple fritter was just as good, jam-packed with cinnamon coated apple, and boasting a sugary shell and browned exterior.

I’ll leave it at that because I’m drooling on my keyboard and words can’t do these doughnuts justice anyhow, just trust I am even fussier than before after this experience.

Oh, and the dog liked them too. We tried to go eat in Millennium Park, but it turns out dogs aren’t allowed in and it was pouring, so we hid in an alley and let him snack on our crumbs.

Stan's Donuts and Coffee

After the doughnuts we popped into a popcorn shop for some outrageously expensive Chicago mix to snack on later (I love campfire snacking, photo at the bottom of this post) and then decided to give up on the rainy downtown and headed to the Chicago History Museum.

There’s not much food related to say about the museum, but I do highly recommend it as a destination if you’re in town. The blues history exhibit and museum as a whole were outstanding.

Finally the rain let up and we headed west to Oak Park to see some Frank Lloyd Wright houses and grab Chicago-style deep-dish pizza for dinner because… well, how could we not?

We decided on Giordano’s purely out of convenience: I’ve heard Lou Malnati’s is better and in retrospect wish we’d gone there, but on such a whirlwind trip it’s best not to focus on shoulda, coulda, wouldas. Either way, the pizza was incredible: I got half plain cheese (for me) and half hot peppers, green peppers, and onions (the Brady special).

Giordano's Chicago-style deep-dish pizza

Truth be told, I like pizza just fine but I don’t adore it. Brady’s the pizza guy in our household and he loved it. Well worth the heart burn. At the very least this did help me further my research into how to recreate deep-dish pizza at home, and Brady can look forward to enjoying the results of this research at his birthday.

Also, here is evidence we ate some vegetables in Chicago.

Giordano's Ceasar Salad

Stuffed from our pizza and weary from the rain and exploring, we headed out of Chicago reasonably early, driving north to Illinois State Beach Park for the night. There was a charming retiree working the desk who helped us settle right into the park, which is nestled right up to the lake, and right up against the Illinois-Wisconsin border.

The night ended on a beautifully rain-free note and the popcorn was well worth the exorbitant amount of money I paid for it.

Next up: Day four, Milwaukee and Wisconsin!

Garrett's Chicago Popcorn

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