Chicago fact-finding tour, 2017: A serene Chicago Botanic Garden, a bustling Chinatown and the re-delicious Baderbräu (Friday, July 7).


(backdated … previously, day three)

The Chicago Botanic Garden is situated past even Evanston, roughly 23 miles north of the Loop. For this trip out of the urban area, we purchased tickets on the Metra suburban train, leaving from the Oglivie Transportation Center a couple of blocks from our hotel.

Alighting at Braeside, it was a 15-minute stroll to the Botanic Garden, which is free to enter. It’s an impressive park.

The Chicago Botanic Garden opened more than 40 years ago as a beautiful place to visit, and it has matured into one of the world’s great living museums and conservation science centers. In 2015, more than one million people visited the Garden’s 27 gardens and four natural areas, uniquely situated on 385 acres on and around nine islands, with six miles of lake shoreline. The Garden also has a renowned Bonsai Collection.

For the Fitbitters among you, the fact that 10,000 steps had been recorded by the time we boarded the return train says it all.

Did I mention being with a Brit?

This train back to Chicago was packed with Cubs fans, as there was another afternoon game at Wrigley. It turns out that the Oglivie Transportation Center has a remarkable French Market food court. We bowed to temptation and ate Belgian-style frites with mayonnaise for lunch. I failed to properly examine the Montreal-style pastrami.

It’s a trencherman’s regret.

Having spent the morning in the north, it was time for a foray to the South Side and Chinatown, via the Red Line. The original plan was to eat there, but we’d already gorged on potatoes.

Still, having devoted a fair amount of time earlier this year reading and writing about Chinese food, it was a pleasure just to read the menus.

BOOK REVIEW: Chop Suey – or how Chinese food came to be taken for granted in America.

Our last visit to Chicago came in 2005. The cheapest hotel we could find was in Chinatown, and it was perfectly acceptable. We flew into Midway, bought public transport tickets, changed from Orange Line to the Red Line somewhere at the Loop, and noticed that the next stop past Cermak/Chinatown was (whatever the stadium that should be called Comiskey Park was named then), where the White Sox play.

Chinese restaurants: “Do you know why Americans don’t like eating meat with bones in it? They’re too lazy!”

The Chinese in Chicago have a long history, stretching to the 1860s grouped downtown, then with the establishment of the present-day Chinatown in 1912. Several blocks of Wentworth might as well be in Asia.

On the other hand, Chinatown is so American that McDonald’s sponsors it. But a Chinese company might own McDonald’s by now. It’s moot.

After cursory shopping, it was determined that beer might restore our appetites. Diana delved into Google, and I was surprised to learn that a brewery was close by: Baderbräu, truly a name out of the past, though now doing business on S. Wabash, a 15-minute walk.

At the dawn of craft beer history in New Albany (that’d be 1992 or thereabouts), I traveled to Chicago for an interview with the State Department — you don’t want to know the sad details — and while there, visited my first-ever American brewpub: Goose Island, long before it was absorbed by the Great Satan.

Soon I was involved with the Public House, and word came down through the grapevine that the finest beer in Chicago wasn’t Goose at all. Rather, it was Baderbräu, which brewed only a Pilsener and a Bock, and was owned by the world’s most incredible salesman, a former policeman named Ken Pavichevich.

Someone with connections in Chicago gave me his number, and I called him out of the blue to ask if we could get the Pilsener in Indiana. We had a few nice chats, and eventually he got some of his beer into the state, but unfortunately the brewery didn’t last long.

For more on this story, old and new, go here. It’s fascinating.

In any event, Baderbräu is back, with new owners, a few old recipes, and many new ones. The old/new Chicago Pilsener is just grand. After two of them, I was hungry; at this point, there was no use walking back to Chinatown, so our final Chicago meal became Reuben sandwiches and soft pretzels appetizers.

The best conceivable ending would have been a White Sox game, but the team was on the road.

If any loyal readers go to Chicago and drop by Baderbräu, please pick up some Chicago Pilsener for Papa. I’ll happily pay cash for a couple six packs of cans, or even a case. 

On Friday, I didn’t want to carry beer on the bus. So, we stopped at a bar on Randolph for a final Chicago drink, and motored out of town on Saturday morning … with me probably ten pounds heavier, and with at least one of us craving steak & kidney pie, Marmite and a shandy.