My 2021 Gathering Food Thread

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MARC Rider

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Alas, we were not able to have a group dinner at this year's Gathering, but nonetheless, we still had to eat. I thought I'd post this thread with my food reviews both off and on the train to get it out of the way, and thus focus my travelogue post on the trains of the Gathering and the general sites of Chicago and places along the way to get there.

The first food or drink I had on the trip was a nice can of ice cold Coca-Cola served to me with a cup of ice by the cafe car attendant on Northeast Regional 174. This was a freebie for me, as I was traveling in business class. As I mentioned in a previous post, they closed the cafe car just after Metropark, which seems kind of early.

Next, another free lunch from Amtrak, courtesy of the Metropolitan Lounge at the Moynihan Train Hall in Pennsylvania Station. (Kind of ironic that a major train station in New York is named after a nearby, neighboring state. :) )

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Fig and Gouda sandwich, garden salad with ranch dressing, and root beer made with cane sugar. I also got a coffee cup filled with penny candy and a charcuterie pack for me to take with me on the train.

On board the Lake Shore Limited, yes, indeed, they had packed my kosher dinner. I'm not sure it was much of an improvement over Flex meals, though.

First, however, my first peek at the V-2 diner:

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The car is top-notch, and a great place to eat and hang out. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to hang out in the early evening after dinner service, as I had a synagogue board meeting, which meant I spent my time in my roomette at a Zoom meeting. Fortunately, the Lake Shore's wifi worked very well for the purpose.

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Here's the kosher dinner, courtesy of Borenstein caterers, who also does the food for El Al Airlines and provides kosher meals for pretty much every other airline in the US.
Actually, the staff messed this up, as they should have served me the hot fish plate double wrapped to ensure that no non-kosher stuff contaminated the food. This was done with the other kosher dinners I received, and thus I was stuck with unwrapping the hot tray myself. The cold tray is also frozen, and staff needs some lead time to thaw it out or else you might end up with a salad popsicle. I ordered a gin and tonic for my freebie booze, and they served me rum with a can of tonic water. That was quickly corrected, but I wonder what a rum and tonic tastes like?

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Here's the cold tray in more detail. The cabbage salad was actually pretty good. The roll was very dry, and according to the kosher protocol, they cant take it out of the wrapper and heat it up for you. The "butter" is non-dairy margarine, as this is considered a "meat" meal. The meal also included a small container of Turkish spring water. That was still partially frozen, so I took it back to my room with me and used it in the morning to help me with swallowing my pills.

The fish itself was OK, the sweet potatoes were fine, but the sugar snap leas were a bit overcooked.

Next morning, time for breakfast:20211014_075552.jpg

Here's the cold tray. The fruit salad was definitely appreciated, the bagel was a travesty of all things Jewish and New York, I don't care how strictly kosher it was, and the little sweet roll was definitely on the dry side.

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The potatoes were good, the ratatouille was good, but the omelet! Horrible, yucky. It was supposed to be a cheese omelet, but no cheese could be found. But beyond that, it was like eating cardboard. Really, I took a couple of bites, and that was that, as far as I was concerned. Fortunately, between the potatoes, the ratatouille, the weird bagel with cream cheese and the dry sweet roll, I had enough calories in me to last to lunch.

OK, so we roll into Chicago. Given the line at the entrance to the Lounge, I didn't bother with it, but just went out the Adams St. exit to walk to my hotel. After checking in, I realized it was time for some eating. I couldn't make up my mind about what to eat, and passed by a barbecue place on Adams St. that looked interesting, but after some consideration, I decided I wanted a deep dish Chicago pizza, and Giordano's was just around the corner on Jackson St. This may not have been the best choice, as it took them over 45 minutes for them to make my pizza, and I thought that the waitstaff was paying more attention to the larger parties than little old solo diner me with a simple order of a personal pan pizza. But they did come by and refill my bottomless soft drink, so I guess they weren't totally AWOL.

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Because the waitstaff was so slow in presenting the check and ringing it up, I left the place in a bit of a hurry, and inadvertently left my raincoat there. I realized this when I was way on the other side of the Loop, so the rest of my afternoon expedition consisted of going back to Giordano's to retrieve it. Then it was back to my room and a rest until it was time for dinner.

For dinner, I had been scanning Google Maps for restaurants in the Near North Side and had a hankering for beef, grilled and pink. Then I saw the Fogo de Chao Brazilian Steakhouse. Having waiters walk around with skewers of meat, slicing it off to order, sounded kind of neat. The website advertised a special wine-tasting dinner, which was even more expensive than the usual expensive menu, but it did include four wines. Unfortunately, the web site also said this was "sold out," but I made a reservation anyway for the regular dinner. Much to my surprised, when I arrived at the restaurant, on time for my reservation, the tasting dinner was not "sold out" after all. They ushered me over to a table, and I not only got the special dinner, but I also had some pleasant dining company that I hadn't expected. (after a couple of glasses of wine, it's easy to make new friends, at least for dinner.)

This dinner was a schtick sponsored by Daou Vineyards, and their wine, was pretty good. Three of the wines were in the $20-25 a bottle range, but we were also served a reserve cabernet sauvignon that retailed for $50. So these would be $40-$100 a bottle served at a restaurant, and maybe pushing $20 or more a glass. The pours were pretty good, too, and you could have seconds, if you wanted. The wines were, of course, also for sale to take home, but despite the fact they were pretty good wines, I didn't want to have to deal with schlepping heavy wine bottle home on the train. Anyway, most of them are for sale at my local Total Wine store, so why bother.

We had a charcuterie plate and a salad with two large shrimp accompanied by a rose. Then all the meats came around, accompanied by, first, a proprietary red blend, then their regular cabernet sauvignon, and finally the reserve cabernet.


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The meats included sirloin, which I think is what is pictured here, New York Strip, filet mignon, and little lamb chops. I think there was a ribeye, too. It was all really good, and I certainly had enough grilled meat to last me for a while. At then end, they served us a dessert that was some kind of soft meringue. It cost more than I usually spend, but it was fun, and I did enjoy the fairly well-matched food and wine.

On the way back to the subway, I passed this establishment, where I believe some other Gathering attendees were eating. I'll have to try it the next time I'm in Chicago.

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After a short ride back to the Loop, I found my hotel, and, off to bed, ready for train rides (and maybe some more food) the next day. Little did I know that, while I'd be getting more than I was asking for on my train rides, and my food experience was seriously disrupted.

-- to be continued.
 
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MARC Rider

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OK, Friday morning. I slept a bit late, and had to be at LaSalle St. Station at 9 AM. Thus, I wasn't going to risk trying the British-style pub next door to the hotel, as I wasn't sure how fast the service was. Looking around on Google Maps, I saw a Starbucks was on the way to the station, so that's where I went. It was located in the Central Standard Building a bank building in the financial district where the held the conference in the 1800s that established the standard times zones around the country. Standard time was primarily established to enable railroads to consistent schedules, so I guess, eating at this Starbucks is train related. I had a breakfast sandwich and a cup of coffee. Perfectly adequate.

After our ride on Metra to Blue Island and back, we ended up in Millennium station at lunch time. Lunch was at Millennium Dogs (and Tacos, it seems), where I got a Chicago style hot dog, fries and a soft drink. The hot dog was OK, but not as good as the big Vienna Beef Chicago style dogs sold by the late lamented Gold Coast Dogs at Union Station. On the other hand, the fries were excellent. I bought some candy to eat on the train, which turned out to be a good idea.

After our ride on the South Shore out to the South Bend airport, a bunch of us went into the bar ("Bar Fly") located before the security check and had beers, mostly Indiana-produced microbrews. I had a dinner reservation at the Burghoff in Chicago, but the trip back to Chicago was over 2 hours, and I figured that a beer wouldn't spoil my appetite.

Of course, as many here know, our schedules were completely messed up by the tragic crash we had on the way home. A driver senselessly drove around closed crossing gates as our train was barreling forward at 70 mph. We on the train weren't hurt, but the car was totaled and the driver killed. Of course, this meant that we were stopped on the tracks somewhere in Gary, Indiana, while we waited out the police investigation. The railroad finally brought us a rescue train, and we were transferred over and continued our ride to Chicago. While I have nothing but praise for the way the South Shore handled the situation for us passengers, we did arrive in Chicago about 2 and a half hours late. My dinner reservation was kaput, indeed I was set for the last seating of the evening, and the Burghoff was closed tighter than a drum.

Fortunately, Elephant and Castle, the pub next to my hotel, was open for business until 1 AM. So that's where I went for dinner. No problem sitting at the bar, and I ordered a Scottish ale and shepherd's pie, which were both pretty good. However for a place that's supposed to be giving one a taste of Britain (their tagline is "Get your Brit on"), they don't know enough to serve British beers at cellar temperature. In fact, if there's any place in the USA that serves British and Irish beers at the proper temperature, please let me know. :)

Well, that was it for Friday. Off to bed and get ready for our big Saturday expedition to Wisconsin.
 

MARC Rider

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Saturday:
Up fairly early, so I was able to go to Elephant and Castle and have steel-cut oatmeal, a "British Banger (sausage) and some coffee.
Then the morning ride on the Pink Line L, which returned me to my hotel. I looked for some interesting lunch places, but it seemed that all of the interesting looking little eateries in that part of the Loop were closed on the weekend. I ended up going to Union Station and Robinson's Ribs in the food Court, which is located next the the site of the former Gold Coast Dogs. I got a plate of "rib tips (rib meat without the bones), slaw and bbq beans. I took it down to the Metropolitan Lounge where I ate it on a proper table (no empty tables in the food court). It was certainly a filling lunch, I wasn't sure what I was going to do for dinner, given our late arrival back to Chicago after the trip to Milwaukee.

We were all at the Milwaukee Public Market between 3 and 5 PM. Lots of food vendors and places to eat, but I wasn't hungry. After walking along the river for a bit, I realized it might be a good idea to but something to eat on the train ride home. So I went back in and looked around. While I was enticed by the prospect of authentic Wisconsin bratwurst, they don't let you drink beer on the train in Wisconsin (can you believe that?) and what's the point of brats without beer? Also, it would be a bit messy and get cold by the time I actually ate it. What I found was "Aladdin, Taste of the East" a Middle Eastern joint that had some cold combination packs vaguely reminiscent of the Japanese "ekiben." Just what I needed, enough food, in a compact package, no worry about it getting cold. The pack I got had a spanakopita cut into 4 pieces, a tub of hummus, a tub of tabouli salad, some olives and a pita. This was accompanied by a can of sparkling water. This was an excellent dinner to eat on the train. I also stopped at a cheese and sausage shop at the market and got a small dried salami locally made in Wisconsin and a small piece of Stilton cheese, which were very useful on the trip home, being that the Capitol was 6 hours late.

After my return to Chicago, I stopped off at the pun and had a Manhattan as a nightcap, before turning in early to be ready for the trip on Metra the next morning.
 

MARC Rider

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Sunday:

I was up bright and early because I had to pack my bags and check out of the hotel. After that, I had enough time for a nice leisurely breakfast at Elephant and Castle, clearly the best breakfast of the whole trip:

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I definitely appreciated the fruit salad, as this place was the only place that I found during the trip that had it on the menu. This was so unlike my pre-pandemic trip to the 2019 Gathering, where it was available everywhere, including the Flex dining on the Capitol Limited and the Cardinal.

After our trip up the Metra-UP Northwest line (formerly Chicago on Northwestern), I had about half a day to wander around Chicago. But first, I was hungry and wanted to find somewhere to eat. Unfortunately, the French Market under Ogilvie Station is closed on Sunday, so I ended up walking towards the Chicago Riverwalk, as I figured there would be places open there.

Indeed there were, but the place I picked turned out to be a dud. I really wanted to like this place, the City Winery at Chicago Riverwalk. Nice alfresco dining right by the river, with a great view of the skyscrapers and all the tour boats passing by. They were even welcoming of solo-diner walk-ups, even if the chalkboard sign could have been edited to not send such an unintentional hostile message. :)

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Unfortunately, the service was slow, and the food was mediocre at best. I had an OK glass of their house pinot noir, a shrimp ceviche, and fillet mignon sliders. I think the ceviche only had one piece of shrimp in it, and the fillet in the sliders was overcooked. In addition, there was nothing in the sliders besides the meat and the little buns. No little onions/pickles/relish, "special sauce," not even ketchup. The whole thing was grossly overpriced, in my humble opinion, and despite what seemed to be small portions, I did feel a bit bloated after eating. It may have been the tortilla chips that came with the ceviche that filled me up.

After working off lunch by walking around a bit, I returned to the hotel, got my luggage, and went to Union Station, where I waited for my train, which ended up leaving close to an hour late. Little did I know I was going to have to eat dinner, breakfast, lunch, and another dinner before we got to Washington, all under the flex dining regime.

Soon after we left, it was time for dinner. My SCA brought me my kosher dinner, but he actually brought me two kosher dinners. Or at least two of the kosher hot trays. Since I only needed one, he took the other one back and had it stored in the fridge for me to have the next day, if I needed it. I didn't really want to clutter up my room with all the kosher meal packaging, so I took my meal to the diner and ate it there, but in the lounge section. I had the "Beef Povencal" with basmati rice and cooked carrots. It was basically a beef stew. The beef was properly cooked, not too salty, but the gravy was a bit watery and could have had more flavor. There were a few mushrooms floating around in the gravy. The rice was overcooked. The carrots were fine. Apparently because the train had been put together at the last minute, the kosher trays had been loaded at the last minute, and the colds tray hadn't had a chance to completely thaw. My Turkish springwater as a block of ice, and pearl couscous salad was a couscous popsicle, which the LSA nuked for me so I could it it in a non-frozen state. I did enjoy my complementary Makers Mark on the rocks, though.

Off to bed....
 

flitcraft

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However for a place that's supposed to be giving one a taste of Britain (their tagline is "Get your Brit on"), they don't know enough to serve British beers at cellar temperature. In fact, if there's any place in the USA that serves British and Irish beers at the proper temperature, please let me know.
Well, if you are ever in Seattle, the Machine House Brewery brews all of its beers as cask conditioned beers, served with real beer engines at honest-to-God cellar temperature. (Their best bitter is superb, and I love sashaying up to the bar and saying, "I'll have a pint of the Best, please!" Their dark mild, porter, and pale ales are also great. ) Machine House brews on site at its brewpub in the Georgetown neighborhood, but for an easier way to sample their assortment of British-style beers, the bar Capercaille in the Capitol Hill neighborhood is more accessible if you don't have a car. And it's next door to L'Oursin, a great little French bistro. Honestly, Machine House would hold its own back in the UK!
 

MARC Rider

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Up at dawn just outside of Pittsburgh. Only a mile from the station, and the engine conked out. Major delay, but eventually we had a NS freight engine pulling us, and off we went. But, more about that later, time to talk about what I ate on the massively delayed train.

Fist, of course, breakfast. Even though they packed me one of those vile kosher omelets, I decided to try the flex meals. I got the french toast.

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Don't tell my rabbi about the bacon. :) Anyway, it's possible that I didn't eat that. Whatever, though, of course, it couldn't hold a candle to the real traditional dining french toast, it wasn't bad, and they did include butter and syrup. Plus I had coffee. But I really wish they had the fresh fruit salad back.

Normally, the Capitol doesn't serve lunch, but because of the delay, they gave out emergency rations. The ones for the coach passengers consisted of a packet of cookies, a packet of pretzels, and some nut/fruit snack. They had a special one for sleeping car passengers that had hummus, cheese, and a beef stick among other stuff. I still haven't eaten it, because I had more food than I knew what to do with on this segment.

First, Carlos, my helpful SCA, reminded me that I still had another kosher dinner on board, which I had him bring to me for my lunch. I decided to eat in my room so I wouldn't be attacked by food-deprived passengers seeing me consuming a full meal when the general announcement was that all that was available was the least-popular pickings of the cafe car.

This meal was the chicken entree. It actually wasn't that bad, although I think that reheating the chicken twice dried it out in a few places.

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The chicken was good. The orzo and the beans were definitely reheated too much. The chickpea salad was by then fully thawed, but nothing to write home about. The dessert was a chocolate creme puff, which actually was pretty good.

That lunch kept me pretty full, but by the time we hit Martinsburg, it was getting to be late afternoon, and we were talking about a 7 PM arrival in Washington. Fortunately, I had an ace (or some food) up my sleeve.

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The charcuterie pack was courtesy of the Metropolitan Lounge at Moynihan Train Hall. I picked it up on Wednesday, and it kept very well without refrigeration until I ate it Monday afternoon. The paper wrapped salami from Driftless Provisions I purchased at the Milwaukee Public Market on Saturday. Also the little "orphan" wedge of Stilton Cheese. The wine was a Chilean red, purchased from the liquor store in the old part of Penn Station. No doubt overpriced, but it was pleasant to drink, and finishing the bottle made me more relaxed about my late arrival into Washington Union Station. The brownie was given to me by the LSA at dinner the night before, but I was so full from dinner, that I saved it for a situation like a very late arrival.

In the end, I was so well fed on the train that ran out of food that I didn't even bother to see what was on offer at the Club Acela in Washington, nor did I need to get anything at whatever eateries were open at Union Station. However, it's clear that the moral of the story is, if you take the Capitol Limited, pack at little extra food. You might actually need it.
 
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