Soldier Field, Willis Tower, Perennial Virant, Second City

After last night’s epic dinner, we decided to skip breakfast and head out for our first activity of the day: touring Soldier Field, the stadium of the Chicago Bears.

Wall at Soldier Field, with the Field Museum in the reflection
Wall at Soldier Field, with the Field Museum in the reflection

Built in 1924 as Municipal Grant Park Stadium (later changing its name on November 11, 1925, as the result of a contest), Soldier Field is the oldest NFL stadium. The tour began by the “Doughboy” statue at the entrance to the stadium. The statue, which once stood in Garfield Park, was vandalized and placed in storage for many years. It was eventually restored and given a place of honor in the new Soldier Field in front of the American flag. The life-size Doughboy, sculpted in the early 1930’s of sheet metal and cast bronze, represents “a World War I infantryman advancing through No Man’s Land through stumps and barbed wire entanglements, his rifle in one hand and a grenade held high in the other.”

Doughboy Statue, Soldier Field
Doughboy Statue, Soldier Field

We then made our way through the South Concourse, whose walls are embedded with real medals of honor and an embossed motif of falling leaves to represent fallen soldiers. At the far end, there were many murals depicting football players (some more realistic than others).

Interestingly-shaped football players
Interestingly-shaped football players
ready set hut
ready set hut

Next was a short film on the history of the stadium (complete with an exuberant Mike Ditka shouting “Go Bears!” at the end during the outtakes reel).

The tour guide then took us down into the visiting team locker room.

Visiting Team Lockers, Soldier Field
Visiting Team Lockers, Soldier Field (black & white)

Jerseys from various NFL players were set up in some of the empty lockers, including Matt Ryan from the Falcons.

Matt Ryan jersey, Soldier Field locker room
Matt Ryan jersey, Soldier Field locker room

We were allowed into all the offices, equipment and press rooms, and even the showers. (Well, I’m not sure if we were technically allowed to roam around like we did… but, hey, no one said we couldn’t!) We very nearly lost our tour guide because of all the nosing around!

Head Coach Das
Head Coach Das
Reviewing game footage
Reviewing game footage

From the locker room, we were taken out to the field through the same tunnel that the visiting teams go through on game day. Unfortunately they were doing construction on the stadium, so a giant crane prevented us from getting a good photograph… but we were still able to get a quick selfie!

On the turf at Soldier Field
On the turf at Soldier Field

After visiting the field, we headed up to the top of the stadium to see Soldier Field’s iconic columnade.

Original doric-style columns at Soldier Field
Original doric-style columns (and a teeny tiny Rupak) at Soldier Field

Soldier Field underwent major renovations in 2003, which proved to be extremely unpopular. The site was previously listed as a National Historic Landmark, but as a result of these renovations, the federal advisory committee unanimously voted to delist the site.

Old Meets New at Soldier Field
Old Meets New at Soldier Field

It is now popularly described as a “spaceship” that crashed into the old stadium. Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin dubbed it the “Eyesore on the Lake Shore.”

The stadium that held the record for the largest game attendance (over 123,000 on November 26, 1927, when Notre Dame beat the University of Southern California 7–6) is now the third smallest in the NFL with a capacity of 61,500.

The tour disbanded and we snapped a few more pictures before heading to the gift shop (where Rupak persuaded me to let him buy a Jay Cutler bobblehead).

Seating from the original stadium
Seating from the original stadium
Plaque commemorating Medal of Honor recipients outside Soldier Field
Plaque commemorating Medal of Honor recipients outside Soldier Field
Veteran's Memorial, Soldier Field
Veteran’s Memorial, Soldier Field
Veteran's Memorial, Soldier Field
Veteran’s Memorial with JFK quote (Field Museum in the background)

After the gift shop, it was time to eat! Today, we had lunch at Native Foods.

Native Foods, Chicago
Native Foods, Chicago

We just happened to walk by this place, and the menu sounded good, so we went in. I didn’t even realize it was a vegan place until we went to place our orders. The items on the menu are described using meat terms (chicken, beef, etc.) but are vegan versions of these foods. Rupak had a kale salad and Japanese sesame crusted “chicken” bites, and I had Native Nachos and polenta bites.

Japanese sesame crusted chicken bites, Native Foods
Japanese sesame crusted chicken bites
Native Nachos, polenta bites
Native Nachos, polenta bites

The food was surprisingly delicious – I honestly could not tell that the food was vegan. Rupak enjoyed his food as well, which means a lot coming from a carnivore.

Next up was the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower), the second-tallest building in the United States and one of the most famous tourist attractions in Chicago. The observation deck, called the Skydeck, is is 1,353 feet high and located on the 103rd floor of the tower. On a clear day, you can see four states (Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois). It is said that tourists can experience the building sway on a windy day… thankfully, we did not have the pleasure of experiencing this phenomenon ourselves.

After waiting in line for an hour, we were herded into a small theater to watch a short film on the history of the tower before getting on the elevator to the skydeck. The trip takes about one minute, and you can feel your ears popping as you ride. We finally arrived, and snapped a quick selfie to commemorate our successful ascent.

Overlooking the north side of Chicago
Overlooking the north side of Chicago

It was getting close to sunset, and it was a Friday night, so it was more than a bit crowded. We still managed to get a few beautiful shots of the city, though. (I finally remembered to bring my GoPro this time!)

Southern view of Chicago from Willis Tower Skydeck
Southern view of Chicago from Willis Tower Skydeck
Northern view from Willis Tower, Chicago
Northern view of Chicago from Willis Tower Skydeck

My favorite image is the eastern view – as the sun set, the shadows of the Chicago skyline appeared on the water.

Eastern view of Chicago from Willis Tower Skydeck
Eastern view of Chicago from Willis Tower Skydeck

The last part of the attraction is “the ledge” – a four foot wide retractable glass box on the Western side of the skydeck that was added in 2009. The bottom is made of multi-paned glass, so when you step out onto it, you can look straight down onto Wacker Drive, 103 stories below. (The ledge made headlines in 2014 when a layer of glass in one of the boxes shattered.)

I’ve discovered that as I’ve gotten older, I’m more scared of things like roller coasters and airplanes and heights. I was okay with the ride up to the top of the Willis Tower, and looking out the massive windows didn’t bother me, but that ledge… that was a whole different story. After waiting in another hour-long line, it was our turn to venture out on the ledge. Rupak walked out with confidence. I put one foot on the ledge and immediately had a legitimate panic attack. After some prodding from the couple behind us (they began chanting “do it, do it, do it”) I succumbed to peer pressure and stepped out onto the ledge, with tears in my eyes and my heartbeat reverberating in my eardrums. I took the quickest picture ever and jumped back to safety. It was honestly the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my life.

The Ledge
The Ledge

After the ledge experience, I was ready to get out of there. We rode the elevator back down the 103 stories to the bottom and headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

Our dinner that evening was at Perennial Virant. From the restaurant’s website:

Chef Virant’s restaurants are built upon his guiding philosophy of making the ingredients – their origin, production and quality – the full focus of his culinary approach. Embracing the Midwestern seasons and utilizing methods of preservation allow guests to always expect a menu that showcases local flavors and ingredients in abundance.

Chef Virant founded his restaurants on the principle that food is a symbol of the good life and conviviality including all of the joys that are experienced around the table – a sense of community, relationships and the connection that we feel with our land, all laying the foundation for a full and abundant life.

“I wanted to create an extension of my home, where people come together and enjoy high quality food and drink in the company of others. My goal is to be a small part of my guests’ enjoyment of every morsel and drop of life.”

2010 and 2011 brought Virant a Michelin star, an appearance on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America as well as the James Beard Best Chef Great Lakes Nomination.

Of course, we continued down the stuff-ourselves-silly path. (I’m beginning to think I’ve found a new career as a food blogger… or maybe just a professional eater…) For starters, Rupak ordered the housemade charcuterie plate with various preserved meats, seasonal fruit mostarda, beer mustard, and giardiniera (relish).

Housemade Charcuterie Plate, Perennial Virant, Chicago
Housemade Charcuterie Plate, Perennial Virant

I had the cheese plate (of course) which consisted of Midwestern regional cheeses (goat, sheep, and cow) with seasonal preserves, candied nuts, cranberry nut crostini, Green Acres honeycomb, and sliced red apples.

Midwestern Cheese Plate, Perennial Virant, Chicago
Midwestern Cheese Plate, Perennial Virant

Next was the soup course. Rupak and I both ordered the mushroom soup. As at Alinea, the bowl was served dry with a single mushroom topped with black garlic and sherry panna cotta, chives, and pickled garlic chips. The waiter then poured the steaming hot soup into our bowls.

mushroom soup, Perennial Virant
Best mushroom soup I’ve ever had!

Finally it was time for the main course. I ordered the pan-fried gnocchi with grilled carrots and pickled fennel, and Rupak ordered seared diver scallops with cucumber kimchi, lime aioli, and roasted tomatillo relish.

Pan-fried gnocchi, Perennial Virant, Chicago
Fluffy bits of heaven: pan-fried gnocchi
Seared Diver Scallops, Perennial Virant, Chicago
Seared Diver Scallops

It was absolutely delicious and we cleaned our plates. The waitress asked if we had room for dessert… I declined, but Rupak has never been one to turn down a dessert, no matter how stuffed he might be.

After finishing his coffee ice cream, we walked a couple of blocks down to the famed Second City comedy club.

Second City
Second City

Second City is well-known for churning out comedic talent. Names such as Chris Farley, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Steve Carrell, and many more grace the alumni roster.

Stephen Colbert on the menu
Stephen Colbert on the menu!

Unfortunately, the show was rather lackluster in my opinion. I only laughed a few times, and found myself checking the time quite often during the show. Thankfully, Rupak shared my feelings on the show, because judging by the audience, it was the funniest show on earth. We exchanged glances several times that said, are we missing something here? The cast seemed to rely heavily on cheap stereotyping jokes to get a laugh from the crowd. For me, the most exciting part of the show was when a member of the audience had his phone taken away for texting during the performance.

The show ended around 1am and we made our way back to the hotel. Tomorrow is another busy day, with a pizza tour, Millennium Park, and finally, a Chicago hot dog at Devil Dawgs.

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