Ah, Chicago…

I could smell the Italian beef. I could taste the deep-dish pizza. I could hear those around me bemoaning how awful “da Bearsss” played on Sunday. I was home.

In Los Angeles.

Huh? That doesn’t make any sense. Am I lying? Not at the moment. Losing my mind? Perhaps one day. But no. Monday night I attended the 2nd Annual Chicago LA Link Event – thank you, Columbia College! – and received a small glimpse of what heaven must be like.

Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting much when I received the invite. I had never heard of this event and wasn’t sure who would show aside from my college friends. Also, given the circumstances of the day – RAIN! OMG! – I was certain the turnout would be small. It was like God testing the real Chicagoans to separate the wheat from the chaff. The strong from the weak. The awesome people from the lame.

I arrived within the first hour, and already the place was packed. A fabulous venue, about as big as you can get for a restaurant, yet it still couldn’t hold all the guests. People were spilling onto the street. I couldn’t believe it. And then it dawned on me. Free Chicago food. Portillo’s. Lou Malnati’s. Eli’s. All the major food groups were represented. People get fanatical when they hear the words “open bar,” but when compounded with authentic Chicago cuisine, then you have a true feeding frenzy on your hands.

My friends and I circled dutifully for the first hour or two, mingling among familiar faces and perfect strangers. When the occasional celebrity crossed our path, we’d exchange looks and ask, “Was that who I think it was?” But honestly, I was growing less and less enamored of my fellow Chicagoans as the night wore on. They were no longer my compadres. Rather, just one huge obstacle course between me and the food.

Given that I’m a vegetarian, it was heaven and hell for me that night. I don’t miss my meat-eating days, yet the hot dogs at Wrigley always mock me with their inviting aroma every time I visit The Friendly Confines. And of course this shindig flew in a Vienna Beef stand. I did not give in. Nor did I give in to a deliciously evil Portillo’s Italian beef sandwich.

Nevertheless I was sabotaged. Not only was this restaurant serving Chitown favorites, but also they had platters upon platters of sushi. I guess they were trying to class up the joint a bit. When I saw them, my revolve faded like the Cubs in September… I still have a huge soft spot for seafood. A soft spot right in my belly. And after three glasses of sangria, I would have sold my right kidney for a spicy tuna roll. Once I caved, it got ugly real fast. Nom nom nom… I couldn’t stop. But within a matter of minutes, the buzz began to wear off. I needed a bigger hit. That’s when I saw the crab leg platters. They never stood a chance.

I tried to quell my craving by downing a slice of Eli’s cheesecake, but it was like throwing a cup of water on the Great Chicago Fire. I needed the crab. I meandered nonchalantly toward the kitchen. I spied three trays  – two sushi and one crab – just sitting there. All alone. Just begging me to fulfill their destiny. I happily obliged and proceeded to vacuum them into my mouth. A few crab legs here, a piece or two of sushi there. But as I began round three on the crab, a server came up alongside me and swiped a sushi platter. A moment later, another server came for the second one.


I guess I was supposed to wait until being offered the food and not just scarf it straight from the kitchen counter. But to the servers’ credit, neither of them said one word to me as they took away their demolished trays. What they were thinking is a whole ‘nother story. I didn’t care. I was still hungry. Then one of the chefs put out another tray of Eli’s cheesecake. Chocolate banana.

I’m definitely going to hell.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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