Apr 11, 2013

Gino’s East … and dillydallying in downtown Chicago

One thing I love about downtown Chicago is that you never have to stray more than six blocks from wherever you’re staying to find everything you need for a fun one-night or weekend getaway.  Case in point:  my recent stay at the Inn of Chicago.  So, when it came time for me to venture out for the evening, my options seemed limitless.  But once I realized I was just four blocks south of the original Gino’s East, my choice for dinner became a no-brainer. 

A single slice of Gino's East Supreme, with your choice of pepperoni or sausage (pictured here), green peppers, onions and mushrooms.

If you’re not familiar with Chicago-style pizza, Gino’sEast is always in the mix among those places that is considered Mecca for the deep dish.  Gino’s is also in the conversation of who originated Chicago-style, having been at its original location since 1966.  I've always been partial to Pizzeria Uno myself, and Giordano's is excellent as well (I also have friends who swear by Lou Malnati's), but Gino’s was closest to where I was staying.  And, frankly, it had been 10 years since I’d had Gino’s and I wanted to re-familiarize my taste buds.

So, what’s changed in the last decade?  From what I could tell, they've expanded the original location.  You’ll find a newer, expansive sports bar to the left of the entrance.  The bar is long and caters to the ADD in every sports fan.  Front and center at the bar is the six-screen flat screen directly above the taps. 

The bar is also ideal for a single diner who wants to avoid the 45-minute wait in line outside for a table – that’s one thing that hasn't changed.    

Still haven't perfected the nighttime photography skills.
Another thing that hasn't changed – in fact, it’s still heartily endorsed – is the graffiti you’ll find in every possible spot on the walls inside Gino’s.  Hey, when you have to wait another 45 minutes after you get inside for your deep dish to be cooked properly, you have to find some way to pass the time. 

The celebrity wall of fame near the bathroom is still there, with new additions being added all the time, and you can even still make out the occasional autograph among the rest of the scribbling.

As for the pizza, it was every bit as good as I remembered.  I ordered a small supreme (with crumbled sausage, onions, green peppers and mushrooms), and although it’s just four slices it really is plenty for two people.  I stayed away from the crust and devoured the interior of each slice instead. 

With the small house salad and a couple of locally brewed 5 Rabbit beers (they make an outstanding American blonde ale, by the way) I had to pass my 45-minute wait, I was sufficiently stuffed by the time I left. 

One more observation about Gino’s East – it really has become a tourist destination.  While at the bar, I chatted with folks in town from Atlanta, Indianapolis (in town for the Big 10 Conference basketball tournament) and a very friendly gentleman from England who I not only explained deep dish style pizza to but also attempted to help him understand March Madness. 

Yes, I could have ended my night there, but let’s face it … my grandmother didn't raise a quitter.  So, wandering I went and to my pleasant surprise I discovered an Irish bar I had just been to last summer during the infamous Wrigley field road trip.  With it being three days before St. Patrick’s Day, how could I say no to stopping for a couple at Timothy O'Toole’s just a couple blocks over on Fairbanks Court?

It was a good call.  Although only about 10 p.m. on a seemingly unimportant Thursday night, the place was packed.  Still, I managed to squeeze into a single seat around the circle bar near the entrance at the bottom of the stairs you go down to find the place.  I made myself comfortable with a Half & Half (Guinness and Harp) and intended to end there, but a closer examination of the beer menu and a small refrigerator behind the bar led to a true discovery – Hamm’s tall boys. 

Hamm's -- the beer refreshing
Yes, a real half-quart can of beer from the land of sky blue water, and it was only $3 … in downtown Chicago!  To quote my good friend, Springfield, Ill., legend and fellow gadabout Terry Hupp, “You can’t afford not to drink!”  No, I couldn't. So I did. 

And that prompted one last stop back at the hotel bar at the Inn of Chicago, a fitting end to a fine but chilly spring night in the Windy City.  It may not seem like the most exciting way to spend an evening in downtown Chicago to some, but I’ll take it.  Travelling commoners can be easy to please with the right combination of food and drink.

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