September is the start of a new school year and a new and busy restaurant season. I did my part to support the industry this past week by checking out a new place, revisiting a favorite and getting delivery from a neighborhood spot. With each experience came a little of the unexpected.
1. A trendy bar on the top floor of a hospital.
Chicago’s newest rooftop bar, GreenRiver, is a collaboration between Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group and the team behind The Dead Rabbit, a hip New York City cocktail bar that was named World’s Best Bar at the 2015 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. It begs the question of why two such high-profile operators would open a bar in one of Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s buildings, but once you ride the elevators up to the 18th floor, take in the view of Lake Michigan through floor-to-ceiling windows and step out onto the 100-seat outdoor terrace, you no longer feel like you’re in a hospital. And the ambitious craft cocktails and bar bites I sampled were light years away from hospital fare.
Evidently, Northwestern is keen on attracting cool retail tenants to its medical complex in Chicago’s young Streeterville neighborhood. I just hope the residents can find it—and don’t get freaked out that the night has to start in a hospital lobby.
2. Help! I’m surrounded by Yelp!
The Purple Pig, located on Chicago’s crowded shopping strip of Michigan Avenue, is well positioned to be a tourist mecca. Add in celeb chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. at the helm, and the place is always jammed. But my son who was visiting from New York wanted to go there, so we arrived at 5 p.m. and were soon taken to one of the communal tables. We ordered a bunch of lusty small plates to share and some cocktails—all tasty. But the most interesting part of the meal was eavesdropping on the millennial foodie couple sitting across from us. It took them about 30 minutes to decide on what dishes to order because they had to read numerous Yelp! reviews before committing. And they were reading them out loud to each other!
They finally decided on the marrow bones (which we also ordered, whew!), the milk-braised pork shoulder and a few other things that I tuned out. Then it was on to the wine—another angst-filled decision. I understand that out-of-towners visiting a well-known restaurant want to maximize the experience, Instagram it and review it. But to me this looked like a severe case of food insecurity.
P.S. They weren’t alone…the customers to the right and left of us also were consulting their smartphones to put together their meals.
3. Slowest pizza delivery ever.
I couldn’t let my New York-born-and-raised son leave without sampling Chicago deep-dish pizza. So on the evening of Labor Day I ordered a pie online from Lou Malnati’s, at a location less than a mile away from my apartment, to be delivered. Now, I know from living in Chicago awhile that deep-dish pizza takes 40 minutes or so to bake, so I was willing to wait an hour for the delivery. But after 1½ hours and still no pizza, we were getting a little antsy. So I called the restaurant and after holding for 10 minutes, found out they were slammed (is Labor Day the new Super Bowl or something?) and our pizza was the next to go out. It did finally arrive, 2½ hours after I placed the order.
The thing is that restaurant delivery is becoming increasingly competitive, with third-party vendors like Postmates and Uber getting involved. Restaurants either have to ramp up their service or outsource it. If you’re listening, Lou Malnati, waiting that long for a pizza, no matter how good, is going to result in lost business.