April 20th, 2018

Eat and drink your way through Chicago’s neighbourhoods on a delicious, and not so delicious, cycling tour

By Medicine Hat News on June 3, 2017.

Steve MacNaull

Special to the News

Head tilted skyward, the rim of the glass hits my lips and the Malort slams into my mouth in one violent shot.

I grimace, my eyes water slightly and I finally gag a bit.

The disgusting taste lingers.

Malort, a Chicago invention of vodka-meets-wormwood to create a foul-beyond-belief liqueur, has been described alternately as tasting like distilled bug spray or what soap washes its mouth out with.

But this palate-punishing ritual is required if I’m to complete the Chicago Handshake.

The Windy City’s signature drink is actually a shot of Malort chased by a glug of Dog Days lager by Illinois brewer Two Brothers.

The beer is cold and fruity, the complete opposite of the repugnant liqueur.

With a laugh, our tour guide, Gabe Fries of Bobby’s Chicago Bike Hike, explains that’s the point of the handshake — repulsive followed by refreshing, abominable followed by appetizing.

My wife and I are on a cycling food tour of the Windy City and the Chicago Handshake is included at stop No. 4.

After downing our handshakes at Bucktown Pub, Fries asks our group of 10 cyclists if anybody would voluntarily consume another.

Everyone shouts no until one of the girls from New York puts up her hand.

The entire group clamoured for seconds, though, at all the other stops.

Since our tour was billed as the high-brow of Bobby’s food bike adventures, it avoided the cliches of Chicago deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs.

(Although Bobby’s does serve up pizza pie and dogs on its original bike food tour.)

As such, our foray included peddling through downtown to the Fulton Market District, a former meatpacking district turned restaurant-and-tech hotspot.

Google has stationed offices here and celebrity chef Rick Bayless has opened Cruz Blanca, where we nosh on wood-fired chirizo sausage tostadas accompanied by brewed-on-site Paloma ale in the bright upstairs tasting room.

We’ll also cycle into the old Ukrainian Village for perogies on the patio at Kasia’s Deli; meatballs at mechanic’s-shop-turned-resto, The Chop Shop, in the hipster Wicker Park neighbourhood; and chocolate-and-banana-stuffed paper-thin pancakes at Creperie de Paris in Lincoln Park.

Sated and happy we cycle back along Lake Michigan, which looks blue and ocean-like in the sunshine, to Bobby’s shop near Navy Pier.

We won’t have to cycle to gratify all our culinary cravings.

That night we dine at Shanghai Terrace in The Peninsula Hotel, where we are staying in style.

The Hong Kong-based hotel chain touts its Chicago property as combining Midwest hospitality with Asian graciousness.

The credo definitely spills over to Shanghai Terrace where the service is elegant and the view is Michigan Avenue, aka The Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s famous stretch of hotels, office buildings and shopping.

We order champagne, split the scallops in black truffle sauce and Peking duck, and finish with a dessert bird’s nest soup, which is actually made with the abandoned nest of a swift, and renowned to be not just tasty, but promote health and happiness.

The Peninsula has just completed a year-long renovation that saw all guest and public rooms refreshed to a new level of comfort and luxury.

The rooms again manage to meld Chicago and the Far East with blue-accented decor and wave-pattern linens in a nod to adjacent Lake Michigan and art and details featuring Asian flowers.

All rooms are high tech, but intuitive, with The Peninsula’s proprietary automation system that sees touch pads on the walls, instead of light switches.

Everything else, from TV, music and room service to concierge connection, housekeeping and, again, the light switches, is controlled from bed-side iPads.

We’re in Chicago, after all, so we can’t leave without devouring deep-dish pizza.

We walk from The Peninsula to authentic Lou Malnati’s, where we order lean-sausage-and-roma-tomato thick pies.

Of course, this being the Windy City, we revel in the skyscrapers-raising-from-the-water spectacle on the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s First Lady Cruise along the Chicago River; drink wine on killer-view rooftop bars LondonHouse and Cindy’s; drop by Millennium Park to pose in front of the 110-ton, polished-stainless-steel bean sculpture; utilize The Peninsula’s Keys to the City program to ride a Mini Cooper to the Adler Planetarium for the expansive view back at the Chicago skyline; and take the elevator to the 94th floor of the John Hancock building to soak in, once again, from a different angle, the skyline that can only be Chicago.

Check out ww.bobbysbikehike.com and http://www.peninsula.com.

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