Lunch in Chicago

23 Aug

While in Chicago last week, we had an unexpected, unplanned afternoon off.  That is to say, Danielle ditched our planned  annual back to school shopping excursion to head to North Beach to spend the day with people her own age.  I get it.  So, what to do?  We had heard from a guide on the Architectural tour that the Walnut Room on the 7th floor of the Marshall Field’s on State St. was worth a visit.  Back story;  The old Marshall field’s on State is now Macy’s, but there are those who refuse to recognize it as such and will forever and a day, still call it Marshall Field’s.  Being a bit of a traditionalist/history geek, I’m ok with that.  Anyway, the plan for the afternoon now becomes, lunch at the Walnut Room followed by a trip to the Art Institute.

The Walnut Room  opened in 1907 at a time when ladies who shopped had to return home for lunch as it was considered inappropriate for a female to dine in a restaurant unescorted by a gentlemen.  So, seeing an opportunity, Marshall Field opened a tea room for ladies to dine in and then complete their shopping in his store, rather than having to leave for lunch and then return downtown, possibly to another store.

It is an expansive 17,000 square feet. My inner caterer could picture weddings, and a multitude of corporate events being held there.  The walls are lined with the original Brazilian walnut panels, and Austrian crystal chandeliers sprinkle the room.  It is faded elegance at its best.  The room seemed at bit empty.  How could it not?  It would take a crowded football stadium to fill it.   DJR was skeptical, “it looks too dark and stuffy.”  But the room was cool, the staff seemed inviting, and I was starving.

I could imagine generations of women and their daughters stopping in for lunch after a strenuous morning of shopping for notions, and potions, and undergarments and whatever women shopped for that would take an entire day.

It was a hot day in Chicago so we didn’t try their famous chicken pot pie, instead we each had a salad. I had a salad of peaches, grapes, strawberries, shoestring potatoes and a scoop of cool, white chicken salad in the middle (my vegetarianism momentarily abandoned). DJR ordered the special; a fried chicken salad with roasted corn and buttermilk dressing.  He drank local Chicago beer, the 312 (referring to the Chicago area code) and I had a glass of Proseco.  My salad plate came with three half slices of bread.  The “bread” was actually, date and carrot loaf and the first bite brought me back to my childhood and staying home sick from school watching the afternoon movie, drinking milk tea and eating date loaf.

While in Chicago, we ate at some highly regarded restaurants, including” the super hard to get a reservation at”, The Girl and the Goat (over seasoned, pretentious?? judging by how busy the place was on a Monday night at 9, I guess it’s just me).  Anyway, our lunch at the Walnut Room was delicious, satisfying, uncomplicated and a bargain.  One of our best meals on the trip.  We headed to the Art Institute feeling well fed and all warm and fuzzy, kinda like supper at your Nana’s house.  Good food doesn’t have to be thought provoking or cutting edge or expensive.  Good food is food that just makes you feel good.

The “bread” that was served along my salad was more than just “bread,” as that was how it was described on the menu.  Yesterday, during a particularly serious craving attack I tried to recreate the date loaf.  This recipe is amazing, it’s based on a recipe that I found in my recipe box, that I have never made, but had copied a long time ago.  The method seemed questionable, as in too easy, and I changed it a bit to add more flavour; the texture is not as fine as the loaf from Chicago, but the flavour…  If you love dates or ever loved your granny, make this bread, it will leave feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.  And if you’re in Chicago, try the Walnut Room, oh, and when they bring the cheque, you get a little Chicago Frango mint, a surprise ending to a really nice lunch.

Quick Date and Nut Loaf

Oven to 350 defress F.

Butter or spray a 9X5 inch loaf tin

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

4 level tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts, because I always have walnuts in the house)

1 packed cup chopped dates

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 egg, well beaten

1 cup milk

3 tbsp. butter, melted

Here’s the ridiculously easy method;

In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder and salt, stir to mix.  Add the brown sugar, the nuts and chopped dates, mix well with a fork.  Make a well in the centre, add egg, milk, and butter.  With a big wooden spoon, stir to combine.  Pour into greased loaf tin and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until golden brown and no longer wet in the centre, you know, stick a toothpick in it.  In my oven, the loaf took 60 minutes.  Cool on a rack.  Let cool completely until you slice it.  Delicious for breakfast, lunch or with tea watching an afternoon movie.

Date and Nut loaf, memories of Chicago and my grandmother.

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