A Tale of Obsession and Consequences
I’m going to preface this tale by saying that 98% of all the Americans I’ve met have been lovely, friendly, warm people. This isn’t a chirp against any of the USA’s citizens, but you guys just don’t get tea. Perhaps its a result of rebelling against your British roots. The consequences of this almost left me with my already-eaten dinner all over a famous table.
One day to spend in downtown Chicago is not enough, but it is all that I had. I was in the Windy City’s suburbs on a business trip, and my final day was free to actually get into the city.
Two things were on my list: visit Millennium Park (as advised by all the Chicago natives I’d been working with), and eat a true deep-dish pizza (as advised by my stomach).
The night before my big day out, I researched the city for hours. None of it was about sightseeing, getting around Chicago, or where Millennium Park was. I didn’t even open a map of the city. I researched pizza.
Specifically, the original deep-dish pizza. I had to have it.
There were a few claims on who started it, but i settled on Pizzeria Uno, opened in 1943. Armed with a useless cellphone (no roaming data), my camera, and a strong hope I wouldn’t end up in the “scary” part of Chicago, I hopped on a train and headed to the city.
Immediately, I thought I had ended up in bad part of town. It felt like chaos as soon as I stepped out of the train station. Cars honking, sirens screaming, the thunder of a subway train that goes above the city. I watched a police officer listening to her walkie-talkie and then just start running. Ready to bolt with her, I thought something was about to explode.
However, the people around me hardly seemed to notice. Those in office attire were all in a hurry, but there was no panic to it. The sirens got louder, the police officer returned and began re-directing traffic for three firetrucks to rush past, and then everything calmed down a bit. No explosions. I relaxed, and began to wander downtown. With no real sense of direction, I just took whatever street looked like it had more people on it.
At one of the intersections, there was a three-piece jazz band going to town on the corner. Saxophone, full drum kit, upright piano. I almost turned around and got right back on the train then. A jazz band in Chicago, what else did I need to see?
Chicago and Toronto are sometimes likened to cousins as far as cities go. They take up roughly the same space, have similar population sizes, and both sit on one of the Great Lakes. Maybe its because I’m used to the sounds and rhythms of Toronto, but Chicago just felt bigger and more wild to me. Maybe because one of their subway lines has escaped the underground, and now rides above the streets.
All day I wandered, impressed with myself for finding Millennium Park on my own. I marvelled at The Bean for about an hour, looked at Navy Pier, but decided it was too touristy to go alone. I got a bit hungry – so I got a coffee. To this day, I’m not sure why I felt like that was a good decision. My obsession with only eating deep-dish pizza blocked out any other thoughts of eating.
In a ridiculous attempt to further stave off hunger, I went to Eataly, to eat with my eyes instead (genius). Part grocery store, part fine-dining hall, I felt under dressed in my sandals and backpack. Eataly is insane – it has valet parking. I fell a little bit in love, fawning over the wall of canned truffles and the hundreds of varieties of pasta. My inner culinary student was geeking out.
And then the hunger really hit. The kind that makes you unable to focus on anything else. I almost caved and ate at Eataly (the oyster bar was calling my name), but I refused. My one meal in Chicago couldn’t be at a grocery store, no matter how fancy.
I left in a rush, determined to get to pizza before I passed out or ate my backpack straps. After of course, downloading directions to Pizzeria Uno with Eataly’s free wifi.
I was already pretty close, under a five minute walk. And there she was on the corner of Ohio and Wabash – Pizzeria Uno. My stomach growled, and everything around it blurred as I speed-walked closer,
But, I had with a dilemma. The second deep dish place in Chicago, Pizzeria Due was just down the street. The temptation was strong. Due looked busier than Uno, but it wasn’t the original. My gut said go with the busier Pizzeria Due, my stubborn-ness demanded numero Uno.
Mistake. How many travel blogs have you ever read that always say “go with the busier restaurant, its probably the better one”? Pretty much all of them. And Lisa, please, always go with your gut. Especially in matters regarding…your gut.
At least I didn’t have to wait for a table. I got some funny looks from the hostess when I asked for a table for one and ordered a pizza meant to serve two. Even funnier looks when I ordered a second pint before my pizza came (again, trying to stave off hunger with liquids). Sitting at a dark, tiny table shoved into the back corner of the restaurant, I enviously watched the groups around me enjoy their massive pizzas. I tried not to look too hungry, or too bored, wishing I had some data on my phone.
At last my pizza arrived. She was beautiful. The “Numero Uno” – sausage, pepperoni, peppers, onion, mushrooms, romano cheese, and whole lot of sauce, mozzarella, and dough. She was delicious, but honestly not the mind-blowing pizza experience I had expected. Perhaps I was too hungry and ate it too fast. The dough did look a little bit different from the group-sized massive pizzas, so my guess is that the small sizes get mostly batch-made and frozen for solo diners like me.
But, I had pizza, I had beer. I was happy.
And then I almost lost it all.
Ordering a tea after a big meal always goes a long way in making me feel less full. A new server had taken over my table. He looked dumbfounded when I ordered a tea. “Hot or cold?”, he asked. Please excuse my cultural ignorance, you Americans do have iced tea down to an art. I should have taken his baffled expression as a warning sign, however I was settling nicely into a bloated food coma.
He returned with a mug of tea. Literally, that was it. Hot water, bag in, and nothing else. None of the add-ins my quasi-colonial self expected. I like my tea strong, but this was Red Rose, and I’m not that much of a masochist (FYI – I hate Red Rose and always cringe when restaurants serve it. Please up your game to Tetley).
“Could I have some milk and sugar please?”, I asked, receiving a shoulder shrug, a nod, and mild look of disgust in response. But my server walked off to the bar, returning with a disposable plastic cup full of milk, and a few packs of sugar. I wondered if he’d never seen anyone drink a hot tea before, or if he was just trolling my request for “some” milk. Without thinking too hard about it, I mixed up, and took a sip.
And vomited in my mouth.
Panic began to set in as I quickly tried to figure out why my body was rejecting my favourite hot drink. I don’t hate Red Rose that much. Inspecting my tea, I saw some little floaty bits sitting on top, the kind you get when they accidentally give you cream instead, or much worse. Uh-oh. I looked at that big cup o’ milk and there were chunks.
And then my idiot self smelled it, just to be sure that the chunky milk had gone off. Genius.
Yes, the chunky milk was 100% rotting.
Frantically, I tried to catch a staff member’s eye, but a rush had just begun and they were all busy. My gag reflex is pretty strong, but I was fidgeting and sweating, trying to not vomit everywhere. My beer was all gone, there was no water left on the table. Nothing to get this horrific taste out of my mouth.
Finally, my server returned. Stuttering between gags, I told him about the chewable milk that I had just ingested. He seemed unconcerned about the quality, but did offer me a replacement. At the thought of more dairy, I nearly lost it. I tried to impress on him the urgency of telling the bartender about his spoiled product – it could’ve been a bad batch or a faulty fridge behind it all. In the end I just asked for a pint of water and the bill.
A busser brought over my cheque. He asked me how my meal was. I told him the pizza was good, but “please, please get rid of whatever milk that guy served me. It’s really bad.” The poor guy looked into the mug, and almost puked too.
In the end, I got my deep-dish, but I almost lost my dinner.
Lesson learned – listen to the wisdom of travel blogs, always go to the busier place for dinner. And in The States, ask for a green tea.
Have you ever had a meal go horrible wrong while traveling? Share it in the comments below!