Thursday, July 19, 2018

exploring a chicago neighborhood

You would think with only living 45 miles north of Chicago, that'd we'd go into the city often. We don't. The only reason: traffic. It's nuts. That's why when we want a taste of a city, we usually go into Milwaukee, WI. It's much easier and quicker to navigate for us. However, with Chicago being such a beautiful city with so much to see and do, it'd be a shame to miss out. Plus, Brian spent some of his childhood years growing up in Chicago and I spent most of my life in the Chicago area, so we both have an obvious fondness and connection to this city.

This past weekend, we decided to hop in the car and take a drive. At first, we weren't sure where we were going. And then I suggested going into Chicago. Brian was all for it. So we headed towards the city, still unsure of exactly where in the city we wanted to go or what we wanted to do. On the way, I remembered I had always wanted to check out Myopic Books - a three-story used bookstore in the Wicker Park neighborhood. We actually found a nearby parking spot - though I'm glad Brian was driving, because trying to parallel park into a tight space on a busy street with traffic behind you is not my idea of a good time.

There it is! Let's go inside...

The aisles are narrow and the books are stacked high...

You really need to spend at least a few hours in a place like this, unless you're going in to look for a specific book. It's a browser's paradise. I love this ornamental iron gate. Let's play "Where's Brian?"...just like "Where's Waldo?" Do you see him? 

The patina of well-traveled stairs...

After our jaunt to the bookstore, we walked for a few hours, up and down Milwaukee Avenue, popping into a few shops, but mostly taking in all the sights and just enjoying the busyness of city life. I told Brian one could tell we were from the suburbs (hello Skechers, cargo shorts and capris!) and didn't live in that neighborhood, which had a younger, hipster vibe.

Love the architecture of this building...

I also found this old metal cornice interesting and beautiful and we wondered who M. Houlberg was. I looked it up and found that "Martinas (Martin) Houlberg was a Danish decorative artist who came to Chicago in 1892 to work on the World's Colombian Exhibition. He designed and built the metal cornice on the building, which was built in 1903. This housed both his painting and decorating business. He moved out of the building to LaGrange by 1922. He died in 1940." (Source: Chicago Now)

Another great thing about Chicago is the vast array of restaurants. You can find just about any type of cuisine in the world here. Besides all the pubs and pizza places (nothing beats Chicago pizza!), in the Wicker Park area alone, there's Indian, Costa Rican, Middle Eastern, Creole, Ukrainian, Polish, Korean, Thai, Malaysian, Chinese, Mexican, Greek, French...hmm, I might've missed some.

Just a block over from where we had spent the day, was a restaurant I spied from the car on the way. I love looking out the car window as we drive down the streets, noticing all the different shops and restaurants. Sometimes the name of a business or the building itself will catch my eye and I look it up (good thing for smart phones!) to see what it's about. This particular restaurant had caught my eye from the vibrant colors on the storefront with Day of the Dead decor and the name - Estrella Negra. I found their web site and was impressed by their menu and how they were featured on Check, Please!, Chicago's Best, and WGN TV.

Even though we weren't particularly hungry, we had to try this place or we knew we'd regret it.

Each entree comes with your choice of a starter - pozole, bean dip, goat cheese salad, or sweet potato fries. I chose the bean dip (and Sangria!) as my starter. I know you're probably thinking, "Big deal, boring bean dip". It's what I was thinking before I tasted it, too. Let me tell was the best bean dip I've ever had in my life. Their beans are definitely not from a can. These beans were slow-cooked. The homemade salsa verde on top only made this dip even more exceptional, if possible. I saw other people around us devouring this dip, too ~ taking apart the shell cup at the end to get every last bite of dip.

Brian chose the chicken pozole. 

For our entrees, we both had empanadas. I had one chorizo and corn, and the other spinach and artichoke. Brian also had a chorizo and corn and the other, goat cheese and veggie. Best empanadas we've ever had. We couldn't finish and took half our empanadas home for lunch the next day.

Back to Myopic Books, here's the books I came home with ~ two food memoirs, an Anne Lamott book (one of my favorite authors), and a novel whose name caught my eye. Again, good thing for smart phones. I looked up the book on amazon to read about it and quickly glance at reviews. 

Brian's birthday is next week and he has the day off. He wants to go into Chicago again, this time exploring another neighborhood, or maybe we'll go into the downtown area. I have a feeling that battling the traffic will be worth it.


  1. Melanie, I love this post and I know that I've said it before, but I love how you and Brian explore your area. If I were visiting Chicago I would be calling you for information on what to see, and where to eat. Everyone knows the hot spots, I'm been to the museums and Navy Pier, but the two of you know the special little crooks and crannies of the city. The places to go where the people who live there actually go and enjoy. That is one of the things that I love about blogging is that people share the real life experiences of their areas, not the touristy traps. Thank you for this great tour . . . it was delightful.
    Connie :)

  2. What a fun day! I understand about the traffic. I live about and hour from Atlanta and just never go there. But I should explore some of the sights and museums. That food looks amazing. Yummy and interesting. So glad you went into the city!!

  3. You two have such fun excursions. I've never been to Chicago, would like to go some day. Love the book store you found and enjoyed all the photos. And that food! Looked delicious.

  4. What a great time you had and that food looks delicious!!!

    Have fun next week to celebrate Brian's birthday.


  5. I so enjoyed sharing your trip to the big city Mel. Love those type of bookshops, you made some good purchases I believe, and that food looked and sounded awesome!

    Hope next time is as much fun.

  6. What a great day. So glad you went into the city. I will have to take my daughter that is in love with books to that book store. When she gets married some day she wants to get married in a library!!! Looks like a great exploring day for you.

  7. Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good! I recently read it and am working my way through the recipes. Another example of our shared taste in books, Melanie, especially when it comes to food memoirs.

    I would have been like a kid in a candy store with you at Myopic books! I smiled to read Kris' comment above about her daughter wanting to be married in a bookstore--I love that idea!

    I agree that your posts on your and Brian's excursions are always so interesting, Melanie. They make me wish I were tagging along, just out of sight so that you two would still be on your "date" but where I would find all the cool places you stop at. And I could not go wrong ordering exactly what you order because it always looks so wonderful.

    So well done, Melanie!

  8. I love days like this, and like you, book stores draw me in. The restaurant sounds like it was great, too. I bet a lot of people go there for the bean dip. I mentioned Abby just moved back to the Southside from Wicker Park. We visited often and ate in so many great places. There was a tiny place which you could barely squeeze into and order empanadas to go. The line of people went out the door. Once I tasted one I knew why. She would bring us a greasy bagful when she came south. I'm glad to have her close by again but I'll miss those empanadas!

    I hope Brian has a great birthday. Check into River North. Great area with a great vibe for young, middle or old ones!! ;-D

    Jane x

  9. Looks like a perfect day. I'm not a fan of traffic either and avoid it as much as I can, but it sure is fun to explore.

  10. That looks like fun! Sometimes you just have to jump in and say what the heck. I feel that way about NYC. Live super close, rarely go. Traffic is a nightmare, but this summer we've been several times. I just turn on the tunes, expect the bottlenecking and go with it. And it's been a blast...Have a great time next week!

  11. Hi Melanie, nice to meet you, wow this looks like my kind of place love just looking at old structures and the food wow looks splendid. Thanks for sharing your day of fun Lisa@ Sweet Tea N' Salty Air

  12. Loved reading this post, and seeing Chicago along with you. It is on my bucket list. I like to visit big cities, and the location by the lake sounds amazing.


Thank you for taking the time to leave a kind comment - I read and appreciate each one!