Whole Foods

(Chicago, IL) — It’s been a busy weekend. We drove to Grand Rapids to gather material for an upcoming article, and to attend a friend’s birthday party. From there, we zoom southward to Chicago for a business event. We need to be back home for a couple appointments late Sunday afternoon, so what to do for lunch? Whole Foods isn’t too far from the hotel, and they have a massive food court; it is decided. We’ll do some shopping and grab a quick bite before hitting the road again...

He Fed:

I like shopping at Whole Foods because the selection is so far-ranging and you can find practically anything. We had a good time visiting the original one in Austin, Texas last year and Juliet’s been talking up the one in Chicago (just west of Lincoln Park) for some time. She gets to the Windy City more often than I do and has been here a couple times with friends.

We manage to get a parking spot without much difficulty. As with most Whole Foods, this one is busy, people rushing past with cartloads of food, desperately trying to remember where they parked. We go inside and Juliet leads me to the food court.

Now, when you think “food court” you’re probably thinking of a mall’s kiosk of small counters dishing up cheap Chinese or sloppy pizza. Take that concept and pump it up threefold, elevating the quality a few notches too. You can get freshly made Italian, sushi prepared in front of you, or hit a salad bar vegans only dream about.

After a quick tour, I make my way to the Smokehouse & Rotisserie counter. A plate of BBQ sounds good so I wait patiently until a young man asks what I’ll have. I get ribs, mac & cheese, and potato salad. He dishes it up silently, slowly. I get the impression he’s either tired or hungover. I am impressed he brings out a half rack and slices it in front of me. He slaps a price tag on the plate and shoves it at me. The $13 platter only cost me $11, but I discover later he forgot to include cornbread.

I join Juliet back at the wine bar where we unveil our choices. She opted for a fresh salmon stir fry, served on actual dishware, as opposed to my plastic to-go container. We manage to drum up a bartender and get two nice glasses of sparkling rosé. I dig into my ribs. Nice! They are tender, slightly smoky, and cooked the way I like them—pull off the bone, leaving just a little silverskin. The pasta is very mild; I would have liked some jalapeno chunks or something spicy to give them a kick. Potato salad is creamy, rich, with just enough cheddar cheese to make it seem sinful.

Juliet also wrangles steamed pork buns to share: soft, warm, slightly squishy bread filled with crisp veggies and tangy pork. We finish our wine, then head out. I have an awkward run-in with an employee stocking the beer who doesn’t want to help me, and we have another rude encounter at checkout that leaves us puzzled. Despite that, the food was much better than I expected and when we’re next in Chicago, we’ll probably schedule another stop...this time at the beer bar.

She Fed:

A while back, we toured Whole Foods in Austin, primarily to see their culinary school recently outfitted with my brand’s products. And while I’ve been to this Lincoln Park Whole Foods several times in the past, primarily with Karla K, Jeremy and I have never been together. I’ve regaled him with tales of their “food court” and how fabulous the fare is for years. Today’s our chance to check it out!

I always get lost driving to this Whole Foods location, and even as the navigator I manage to get us briefly lost. We finally find it and Jeremy maneuvers through the parking ramp. We enter on the second floor, zipping down an escalator to all the action. I can see Jeremy taking it all in—the coffee bar, the expanse of fresh and bulk foods, the wine department, the cheese counter—it’s slightly overwhelming compared to our hometown markets.

We decide to eat first and shop later so I lead the way to the “food court,” though the name doesn’t do it justice. Every cuisine imaginable is featured here: a Chicago style diner, pizza place, Southern style bbq joint, sushi rolled to order, Asian and Thai, pasta made to order, a NYC deli. Everything is made on-site and features natural, local, and organic ingredients whenever possible. Even better, this location has a wine bar where you can sit and sip a glass with your lunch. Clearly, this is no ordinary food court.

I’ve been drooling for the Salmon Teriyaki Bowl since my visit last month; I flirt briefly with the idea of subbing tofu for the salmon, but cave and go for the fish. I also order two of their bbq pork steamed buns so Jeremy can have a taste and because I’m a sucker for steamed buns of any kind.

I arrive at the wine bar to find Jeremy with a behemoth platter of ribs and fixins. We decide to each indulge in one glass of sparkling rosé with our lunch today. The steamed buns are second only to those I’ve had at Zazu in Sebastopol and those are hard to beat. Sweet rich dough holding fresh crunchy veggies (the cukes are so tasty) and sweet fatty bbq pork. Incredible!

The teriyaki bowl is as good as I remembered. Perfectly cooked brown rice is topped with lightly sauteed veg including bok choy, red peppers, carrots, broccoli, onion, purple cabbage, and three generous fingers of salmon drizzled with teriyaki sauce. The salmon isn’t overcooked. The crisp veggies and the toothsome rice make the dish seem virtuous, while the sticky sweet teriyaki makes it taste indulgent. If only every grocery store was like this!

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