Monday, May 26, 2014

Stadium #3: Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

"The ballparks are like cathedrals." -Crash Davis, "Bull Durham

I don't actually have a bucket list but if I did, seeing the Chicago Cubs win at Wrigley Field would definitely be on it and would be officially crossed off.  Check out our amazing Chicago weekend after the jump!

My best friend since college, C, got her MBA and later moved to Chicago in 2012.  I had yet to visit her and kept saying I would.  Finally, in December, I found some pretty cheap flights and bought tickets for Cam and I to go up over her birthday weekend in May and to see a Cubs game.  While we booked it super in advance I didn't think much of it.  But a lot can happen in a few months.  After I booked the ticket C got laid off from the start up she was working at and decided to move to London.  She got a job that was supposed to start in late May but the timing worked out perfectly in that her last weekend in America and as a Chicagoan was the weekend we happened to be going up.  The stars had aligned.

Our flight left Houston at 6AM on Saturday.  We did the same early morning flight to Denver last year to see the Rockies and we had no problems.  As we got on the highway to head up to the airport at 4:30A.M. there was an insane accident and not even stop and go traffic--just completely stopped.  I noticed some people getting into the shoulder and just reversing on a major highway the 1/4 of a mile back to the exit just behind us and getting on the access road and continuing on.  As we sat stationary for what seemed like forever I made the executive decision that if I didn't reverse on a highway then we were going to miss our flights.  So I took a deep breath and joined the crowd reversing down a highway.  It sounds way more dramatic than it was, though, because it was so early in the morning there was no traffic.  But it was still pretty exhilarating! After reversing safely and getting onto the access road it was a quick shot to the airport.  Then airport security was insane!  But we made it through security just in time to board our plane.  Chicago here we come!

The night before we arrived C told me that she already had a breakfast place in mind to take us as soon as we arrived around 10 and that it was BYOB.  Then she sent me this Snap Chat:
 As promised, as soon as our cab dropped us off C was ready with a bottle of champagne and we headed out to walk to Bakin' and Eggs.  We had our champagne popped and then we ordered bacon flights.  Yes, like a beer or wine flight but with bacon.  I know.  Even though our day had started hours before it was the best way to "start" our day.
Maple Pepper, Jalapeno, Honey, Cherry Smoked, and Mesquite
We headed back to C's place in order to put on our Cubbie blue and then took a cab to Wrigleyville.  All week the weather report had the high being 48 degrees with a possibility of rain.  While any time spent watching baseball in one of the cathedrals like Wrigley Field is a great time, I was definitely hoping that the weather would turn around.  And it did!  It was 55 degrees at game time but once the sun came out it definitely warmed up into the 60s and no rain came.  It was a great day for baseball.  We got out of the cab and walked a block and then saw the most glorious sight a baseball fan could have: the Friendly Confines.

We didn't plan to go to Wrigley this year specifically because it was the 100th anniversary but it just worked out perfectly.  The Cubs are making a huge deal out of it and I'm totally okay with that.  Aside from Fenway Park in Boston Wrigley is the oldest park in the league (and all of the major league sports) and that's just remarkable.  Babe Ruth did his famous "called shot" within the walls of Wrigley Field.  So many thousands of baseball games have been played here and it's amazing to think of all of the memories large and small that have been formed here.  If you're a serious baseball fan and you're reading this you might notice something else interesting about the above picture of Wrigley Field: the famous marquee is green!  Many baseball stadiums, but especially the historic ones, have famous things are wholly their own, such as the Green Monster at Fenway Park. At Wrigley the things that people immediately think of are the ivy-covered outfield walls, the hand-operated scoreboard, and of course, the big red marquee outside.  The marquee was installed in 1934 and was painted green but in 1965 it was changed to red and has stayed that way ever since.  In celebration of the big 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field the Cubs are doing decades throwbacks all season during various homestands.  We happened to be visiting The Friendly Confines during the 1930s throwback weekend so a couple days before we arrived the famous red marquee was painted green.  It was neat to see it look so different.

It wasn't time to head into the hallowed stadium just yet, though. We walked past the stadium and snapped some pics on our way to Murphy's Bleachers.  You can't go to a game at Wrigley Field without grabbing at least one beer at a Wrigleyville bar.
Obligatory pic of us outside of the stadium

Billy Williams statue

Hall of Famer Billy Williams

Ron Santo

All along the sides of the stadium were various vignettes celebrating Wrigley's 100 years of history.  This one took me right back to "A League of Their Own." 

Absolutely loving life.  
After downing some of Chicago's finest local craft we headed back to the stadium for our game versus the division rival Milwaukee Brewers.  Right across from the bar is a (kind of weird) statue commemorating Harry Caray's contribution from the radio booth to the Chicago Cubs.  If you don't know, Harry famously sang "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" during the 7th inning stretch at Wrigley and started it off with his famous line, "Let me hear ya...a one...a two...a three..." before leading the stadium in the song.  Miss that guy every season.  Rest in Peace, Harry.  

I said it's "kinda weird" because the people coming out of Harry's legs were a little disconcerting.

Original Wrigley plans

Now it was officially time to head into the stadium and find our seats.  I can't even tell you the level of excitement and just utter joy I had walking through those gates.  It's incredibly brutal to be a lifelong Cubs fan.  But all of the past disappointments, struggles, and frustration just melts away as a Cubs fan when you walk into Wrigley Field.  It makes it all worth it.

In our first two games at Coors Field and Minute Maid the promotion was fireworks so this was our first game to get a giveaway and it was actually a pretty good one!  Apparently Morton Salt is based in Chicago and was also celebrating a 100 year anniversary--of their adorable umbrella girl.  Thus, Morton and Wrigley Field teamed up for their joint 100 year anniversary.  A girl dressed as the Morton Salt girl threw out the first pitch and we all got these very useful umbrellas with both Wrigley's 100 year logo and Morton's.

After collecting our umbrellas we headed to our seats.  The newer stadiums are very different from the old cathedrals.  For instance, when you walk into Coors or Minute Maid you immediately have a magnificent view of the field.  Wrigley is different, though.  You've got to work for it.  But it's worth the wait.  Once you ascend the steps up into the seats and you first see those ivy covered walls it's just magical.
"My parents took me down and we went to the ballgame.  What a thrill that was...Wrigley Field, when I walked in there, I'll never forget the thrill.  The green grass, the ivy, everything. It was exactly like I thought it would be. That's always my feeling about Wrigley Field, you know?" -MLB Commissioner Bud Selig

C and I ready for some Cubs baseball!

I was worried that it being an early season game and the winter was so brutal this year that we wouldn't see much ivy so I was thrilled to see it coming in so well already
Some retired numbers belonging to Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, and Fergie Jenkins
C told us that this billboard changes every series depending on the opponent.  Appropriate billboard for a game against the Brewers
The Cubs went into this game on the bottom of the division and the Brewers on top of it.  C had told us that in her almost two years of living in Chicago she had been to five Cubs games and never seen them win.  Obviously I was really hoping to break that streak and keep our streak of seeing the home team win at home!  The first inning started off very promising with three Brewers up and three Brewers down.  The third of those Brewers was noted cheater Ryan Braun.  Getting to hear a stadium full of Cubs fans boo the hell out of him every time he came up to bat was delightful.  Edwin Jackson was on the mound and looking confident.  In the bottom of the first the Cubs were facing former Cub Matt Garza and Emilio Bonifacio immediately started things off with a hit.  The Cubs would finish the first by rocking Garza and putting up three runs.  The rest of the game was pretty quick and easy.  There would be no more runs and the North Siders ended up winning 3-0.  Edwin Jackson pitched seven scoreless innings and only gave up 4 hits while fanning 11 Brewers.  It was a great pitching performance and even better to see the Cubs win!
Edwin Jackson getting to work

the sun decided to make an appearance!

the Wrigley Field 100 logo 

Wellington Castillo taking a swing

The official stamp in our MLB passports! Big shout out to the Cubs for mailing us tickets with their logo on them instead of generic Ticketmaster tickets like some other teams.

The crowd looking up at the booth and singing "Take Me Out To the Ballgame"
Root, root, root for the CUBBIES!

One of my favorite Cubs, Anthony Rizzo, taking a pitch
When a Cubs game is over they raise either an "L" or a "W" flag over the scoreboard so that commuters on the El will know if the Cubs have won or lost.  Unfortunately the L flag gets hoisted up more than the W.  But on this day we got to see them raise up the W flag!  Cubs Win!  Additionally, when the Cubs win the whole stadium sings "Go, Cubs, Go."  Getting to hear and sing it in person was just the perfect end to a perfect day at the ballpark!
Cubs win!

When we went to Denver the Rockies game was on the last night of our trip but this time since it was just hours after we landed we still had two days of fun planned in Chicago.  After the game we headed back to C's apartment and C and Cameron took some long naps. I took pictures of them sleeping and shamed them on Instagram.  After my two favorite people woke up we headed to our late reservation at Balena.  Houston is a huge culinary city but man oh man I didn't have one meal in Chicago that was anything less than stellar.  We shared a few pastas and desserts and had our bellies just stuffed with amazing Italian food.  Since our reservation was pretty late by the time we ordered dessert it was almost midnight and therefore almost officially C's last birthday in America.  So I asked the waiter to bring her a candle so her wish-making could start immediately.

this was quite possibly the juiciest and most delicious chicken I've ever tasted!

There were a lot of beverages on our table at all times.  

when you see something called "season gelato" you have to get it.

I'm not a tiramasu girl but C claims this is the best on she's ever had so if you find yourself at Balena in Chicago, get it!

Cam ordered these adorable little donuts (that he didn't give us a taste of) that came with a glass of gelato...

...that the waiter then poured espresso into to make an espresso gelato milkshake to dip the donuts in.  had Cam given us a taste I'm sure it would've been magical! 
my precious (almost) birthday girl!

  For the last two years C has become beyond a regular at her neighborhood bar: The Monkey's Paw.  She enters into their sports pools. She knows every staff member and they know her.  She is constantly Instragramming from "The Paw."  So naturally all of her friends back in Texas constantly make fun of her for being seemingly obsessed with this place.  When I told everyone that Cam and I were visiting her in Chicago they didn't ask me to send their love to C.  No, they all just wanted to know about The Monkey's Paw.  So after dinner I demanded we get a nightcap there so I could see what all of the hype was about.  It was great!  We were pretty much the only people there that late but it was fun to talk to the owner and get to see C's fave place in Chicago.  After a delicious Kentucky Mule we headed home to get some shuteye.

The next morning was C's second to last day in America and her birthday so she planned a brunch at The Monkey's Paw and then day drinking there afterwards as a birthday/going away party.  It was really fun to meet some of her soccer, work, and life friends that she's been talking about for two years!
In all its glory!

I've had many bloody marys in my day but I've never had one with bacon salt on the rim.  A million bonus points to the Paw!

extremely juicy burger!

The Monkey's Paw is primarily a whiskey bar so since I'd already had a bacon flight in Chicago why not also have a whiskey flight?
Blowing out her birthday cake from her fabulous roommate, A
best buds for almost 9 years

guys, try to keep it together

I don't know what was so funny but I love this

desperately trying to remain composed 

C told whoever was taking this to say something funny so we could laugh and then she started fake laughing so I started fake laughing...

...which quickly turned into real laughter

Cam and I finally hanging out in The Monkey's Paw!

After hanging out at the Paw for many, many hours we headed back to C and A's place to change and get ready for a truly epic dinner.  There's a restaurant in Chicago that's one of the best in the city and probably the whole country: Girl and the Goat. It's owned by Chef Stephanie Izard, one of the winners of "Top Chef." The thing with restaurants of its caliber is that you have to make reservations months in advance.  On Friday, the day before we arrived in Chicago, C got the best phone call: a hostess from Girl and the Goat was calling to confirm her reservation for Sunday, May 18th (her birthday).  She made the reservation so far in advance when we booked our plane tickets that she completely forgot!  Talk about winning the culinary lottery.  She had made the reservation for six so Cam, me, C, her roommate A, and two of her pals headed to Girl and the Goat to celebrate C's birthday and her time in Chicago with a truly amazing meal.  It's a small plates restaurant so we ordered 12 or 13 plates and all shared a little bit.  Every single thing that we ate was absolutely perfection.  I was a picky eater as a child but thankfully I shook that as an adult.  I'm still not as adventurous as some, though.  But as such a renowned restaurant I promised to myself to at least try everything even if it sounded weird.  I think my Mom, who dealt with me as a picky picky child, would be proud.  I even tried the goat liver mousse.  Those three words together sound very gross but it was one of the best things I've ever eaten!  I managed to snap quick iPhone pics of most of our plates for your salivating pleasure:
SO excited for this dinner

I may or may not have cried at the dinner table when C was making her "thanks for being the best!" toast to everyone at the table.  So excited for her adventures in London but obviously sad to see my best friend move so far away. 

Dug into the first plate to come out that I almost forgot to get a pic.  Hamachi crudo with crisp pork belly, chili aioli, caperberries.

these were some delicious empanadas

ham frites with smoked tomato aioli and cheddar beer sauce.  you guys, I didn't realize that HAM FRIES was a thing but I'm so glad that it is.  

incredible bread/biscuits

pan roasted halibut with marcona almond butter, white asparagus, and blueberry nuoc cham

wood oven roasted pig fave with sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro, red wine-maple, potato stix. I wouldn't ordinarily order something called "pig face" but oh shit this was incredible!

crisp braised pork shank with buttermilk dressing, grilled spring onion kimchee, and naan.  best pork I've had in my life. 

wood fired walter's chicken with mofongo, balsamic coconut, and un-belizable rub.  it was unbelizable indeed.
After this truly incredible dinner shared with great company we headed home and went to bed early.  Our flights the next day (Monday) weren't until the evening so we had all morning and early afternoon to do some touristy things.  While it was great to spend C's birthday/going away party with her Chicago friends we still wanted to make sure to get in some sight seeing while in Chicago.  C was originally going to join us but realized she had way too many last minute things to pack and do before her big move.  While I love her it was nice to spend the morning just with Cam being tourists.  We headed downtown and went up to the top of the Hancock Tower for some amazing 360 views of the city.

We knew we wanted to see the famous Chicago "bean."  We walked from the Hancock Tower down the Magnificent Mile to Millennium Park.  It was a very nice 65 degrees so the walk was beautiful.  I was very impressed with how every single block had a different and amazing crop of flowers planted.  You're so chic, Chicago!

I love it when very old churches remain unchanged in the middle of downtown buildings.

The bean that you always see on your Facebook and Instagram newsfeeds is a public installation called Cloud Gate by the artist Anish Kapoor.  It was just as fun in person as it seems in pictures!

one of us knows how to smile.  

BEAUTIFUL day in Chicago

After the bean we strolled around The Lurie Garden in Millenium Park and loved that spring had just sprung in the Windy City.

For her last meal in Chicago C decided to meet us downtown at the brand new (to Chicago) Eataly.  We joined her for some delightful pastas and pizza and strolled around the massive downtown store.  We definitely made sure to hit up the Nutella bar before leaving.  Yes, you read that correctly.  If you're ever in New York or Chicago you MUST stop by Eataly, seriously you will thank me later.

After stuffing ourselves with even more delicious Italian food it was time to start getting ready for the airport.  But as I said in the introduction post to this blog, our goal in each city is to explore some of the local craft beer.  We headed to a liquor store on the way back to C's place and picked up a few bombers to bring back to Texas.  We also made sure to pick up a couple Old Styles, Chicago's version of Lonestar in Texas.  We enjoyed some tallboys at C's place before heading to the airport.  While we boarded our plane back home to Houston C boarded her one-way flight to London to start her new adventure.  While it was so sad to say goodbye to her I will be forever thankful that I was able to see her off in style and spend an unforgettable weekend with her in Chicago before she left.

We didn't know a ton about Chicago/Illinois beers and our brewer pal S didn't know a ton either so we went in a little blind.  At C's birthday party I tried a Begyle beer at The Monkey's Paw so we grabbed the Begyle bomber on the left.  Next up is Two Brothers Brewing which neither of us had ever heard of but we figured if they've been around long enough to have a 17th anniversary beer they're probably doing something right.  Next is Bell's, a well-known Michigan brewery.  Can't wait to drink more Bell's when we go to Detroit in July!  And on the right is a brewery that S knew of and recommended and this specific beer is one that C has had at a beer dinner featuring the brewery at, you guessed it, The Monkey's Paw. "Ninja vs. Unicorn" has to be the weirdest craft beer name I've heard in a long time.  

Being a lifelong Cubs fan it was already going to be unfair to compare any of our 29 other stadium visits to Wrigley Field.  But add in my best friend's birthday and going away party and I don't know how any other visits will eclipse this one.  The Cubs won at home, I got to sing "Go, Cubs, Go" with the Chicago faithful, ate truly incredible food, and spent one last weekend in America with my best friend.  However, I'm fully confident that many of our trips will come very close to being just as fun so I can't wait for July 4th weekend when we will be crossing three more stadiums off of our list.  Until then, go, Cubs, go!

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