Another day of driving in the rain. After a long stretch, the corn and wheat fields of Nebraska and Iowa gave way to the tangle of highways outside of Chicago. I haven’t touched on food this trip because, frankly, the food available to I-80 travelers isn’t worth mentioning. America is facing an epidemic of obesity. Every truck stop, small town diner, and fast food joint I encountered on this trip made its own contribution to the collective hardened arteries. Hitting each of the three main food groups — fat, salt, and sugar — the available options turned meals into nothing more than 20-minute refueling sessions.
With that in mind, I’ve been looking forward to a stop in Chicago since Day 1 of this trek. It would have been much easier to bypass rainy rush hour Chicago traffic, but to do so would also require bypassing a world class meal (and a chance to catch up with my nieces and my sister-in-law). My brother-in-law, Bruce Sherman is Chef and Partner at North Pond Restaurant and it’s been several years since I’ve had the opportunity to visit.
I wish I’d taken better notes on the dishes that just started appearing, but safe to say, it was all amazing. After a delicious appetizer-sized amuse bouche and a glass of champagne, the first course involved a mix of Alaskan Spot Prawns and Smoked Rainbow Trout next to an Autumn Vegetable Confetti, on top of a Shrimp Bouillon. The first course I ordered fit the feel of the rainy evening perfectly: Sherried Roasted Kabocha Squash Soup, Goat Cheese-Parmesan Gnudi, Pancetta, Brown Butter, and Candied Pecans. There is nothing more comforting than a rich soup. I could have stopped there and been more than satisfied, but I avoided the roadside grease today specifically to ensure I’d have room come dinner.
For a main course, as much as the steak beckoned, I went with an intriguing Arugula-Cheese Crusted Bass Filet, Charred Fingerling Potatoes, Green Beans, Sweet Onion a la Plancha, and an accompanying Arugula Coulis. The bass just melted in each bite. A generous glass of white, paired by our server, fit perfectly. Although all the desserts looked great, I tried to resist, opting instead for a double espresso to fortify another couple of hours of post-dinner driving. Of course, the coffee arrived with figs done three ways: Caramelized Black Mission Figs, Honey-Cream Stuffed Kadota Figs, Lemon Pound Cake, Fig Sorbet, Pine Nuts. After an obligatory protest, I scraped the plate.
It was an amazing meal and really great to catch up with everyone. Having served in Haiti and India with CARE, my sister-in-law had some excellent advice over dinner. The in-law designation is just for factual accuracy. I’m so lucky to have acquired eight brothers and sisters when I married E a couple decades ago.
After dinner, a quick hug goodbye and I was back on the road. My plan was to bang out a quick 100 miles beyond Chicago to avoid the heavy morning rush hour traffic. I imagined light traffic and a clear, fast highway. There wasn’t the bumper-to-bumper traffic I’d experienced coming in to town, but it didn’t really matter. Rain coming down in sheets combined with lots of road work, narrowing several areas to one lane, and confusing my GPS to no end. Lots of white knuckling through Chicago and its outer burbs before Indiana and smoother sailing took hold.
I rolled up into South Bend, Indiana, home of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (and more bad food). Having just crossed over the Eastern Time Zone, I hit a welcome bed around 2:30 am, figuring I’d sleep late, put in a moderate day of driving, and get in to DC by noon on Saturday.