me and my mom are takin’ the windy city(‘s pens) by storm!

5 May

Tomorrow morning, me and my mama are headed to the Windy City for the National Restaurant Association Show for one overwhelming night and two even more overwhelming days. The Show is undoubtedly the most exciting event of the restaurant geek’s year. Consider it Comic-con for foodies. What did you say? You just fell over from your jealousy? Yeah. You probably should. This trip is The Shit.

While there lots of useful products and services available at the show, the weekend itself is a fantastico and educational experience, so I’ve broken the whole shebang down for you. Here are the coolest things about attending the NRA Show:

1. The Pens. Our restaurant simply could not function without pens, and trade show vendors contribute significantly to our supply. Every year me and my mom engage in the most competitive pen collecting game in all of the land. We each wind up with at least 750 writing utensils. In the restaurant business, 1500 pens lasts at least 2 nights, so that’s like totally awesome. There are only a few things in this world more exciting than distracting a salesguy with a ridiculous question and grabbing 4 dozen Bic Click Sticks while he turns to ask his colleague the answer. I definitely love the Bics the best, although the eco-esque cardboard recycled pens aren’t bad. There are so many types, cruising through the show is like perusing a personalized shit catalog. Which leads me to …..

2. The Swag. Useful giveaways in the past include personalized t-shirts with our faces superimposed on lobsters, potato peelers, stress balls in the shape of radishes/chef hats/pickles, post-it pads, condoms, bowling pins, choose-your-own-adventure books…. basically anything that can be branded with a logo you can get at the show. Perhaps I’ll set up a shelbytown kiosk in the corner and photograph the contents of people’s swag bags. Seems like a reasonable use of my time.

3. The Celebrity Chefs. This year, thanks to Twitter and the fact that Harry isn’t joining us, I am almost completely capable of stalking out Richard Blais from Top Chef and kicking back some cocktails with him. I’m not saying that I’m trying any funny business while Harry and I are in separate time zones, I’m just saying that he would probably put an end to my antics and make me go back to the hotel to veg and use the indoor pool. Not this time, my friend. This time I am stalking the shit out of my favorite culinary celebs. That’s right, Spike and Antonia. I’m coming to find you. And buy you a shot.

4. The Show Food. The thing about the restaurant show is that most of the people in attendance are really just there to get their snack on. Sometimes you have to work for your snack (ie. sit through a presentation on convection ovens or sanitation equipment) and sometimes you have to schmooze for your snack, and other times (like the best times) you just have to wait in a minor line, and the only words you have to exchange with the salesperson is what sort of horseradish sauce you want on your mini-sub. And maybe what type of bread. The greatest snack of all is the Chicago Red hot dog booth, which is a traditional (yet luxuriously plump) wiener on a poppyseed roll with celery salt, onion, relish, tomato & a pickle. Joy of joys, this shit is off the hook. And the best part is that my mom doesn’t eat hot dogs so I can have hers!!

5. The Drinks. Bottled water, ice cold beer, “the soft drink of tomorrow,” teas from around the world, vodka that tastes like rain, rain that tastes like vodka…. anything that is liquid enough to sip from a glass/bottle/can and we can get our hands on it.

6. The Technology. You may have heard of a little start-up called OpenTable. We bought it at the show. There are a few keys to handling the technologically forward companies. First, you need to make sure that you aren’t getting all caught up in the glitz and glamour of the company’s marketing campaign and forgetting that an automated drive-thru robot is of no use to you if you don’t have a drive-thru. Second, you need to figure out if you can perform the task of the company without actually paying for their services (perhaps we don’t need to invest $2,500 a month on a company that updates the restaurant’s Facebook status every other day…). Last but not least, you need to decide if purchasing the said product will make you (and/or your restaurant) cooler in the long run. Probably yes, if it’s at the show.

7. The Lost and Wandering Jazz & Blues Band. Back in Syracuse, I decided to take a “Restaurant Class” instead of my typical Road Trip Movies and Cinema of the Perverse and Apocolyptic and “How to Write an Episode of Family Guy” 101. During that restaurant class, I learned two vitally important things. #1 – I am the shittiest saran wrapper EVER. This is not an exaggeration. My professor literally told me that in all the years he taught and cooked in a restaurant kitchen, I was by far the worst Saran Wrap handler he had ever laid eyes on. #2 – There’s a little piece of Heaven at the NRA Show. My prof enlightened me to a band that plays in the corner of a dessert company’s booth. Four Gypsies led by an 80-year-old little black man named Hustlin’ Dan. They play washtub bass and a banjo and a mini trumpet and a washboard and they melt your heart, all while you’re eating 175 different varieties of red velvet cake. Ever heard of a little lady called Madeleine Peyroux? Yeah. She started out with Hustlin’ Dan. Me and my dad are obsessed with him. We were on a mission to get them to play at me and Harry’s wedding but apparently Gypsies don’t answer emails.

8. The Insanely Delicious Dinners. In our case, it’s one dinner (unless you count Pizzeria Uno inside O’Hare, which I personally am not). Since my mom and I have such refined palates, this year we have impossible-to-get reservations at The Pump Room, which was a legendary celebrity hangout in the ’50s, recently rebooted by Jean-Georges Vongerichten as a farm-to-table homage to it’s namesake. There aren’t actual words to describe how amazing this meal is going to be. However, I will take photos of me and my mom’s reactions to the plates (of which there will be many…..) and perhaps what’s on them, if I don’t eat them before remembering to snap a portrait.

9. Other meals. If you think that walking around a convention center incessantly eating, then partaking in the most incredible meal in the city is going to stop us from eating breakfast and lunch and brunch and lupper and mid-afternoon snack, you’re sadly mistaken. Here is the list of places I made that I’d like to check out, at least for an app or cocktail.


can we eat at all these places in 38 hours? i’m thinking yes.

10. The Magazines on the Plane. I just bought Self, which I always buy right around the time I’m going to be stuffing my face for at least 48 hours straight. I just like to fuck with myself I guess. I can stare at pretty abs in pretty bathing suits while I finish off the bags of peanuts and regret. As a working mom, reading a magazine from cover to cover is like winning the lottery. Reading two is a complete impossibility but I’m gonna shoot for it.

Tune in over the next couple days for nauseating quantities of food. Too bad they don’t make scratch n sniff blogs. The hot dogs are indescribable….


One Response to “me and my mom are takin’ the windy city(‘s pens) by storm!”

  1. Lindsey May 9, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    As someone who has been to Chicago at least 3 times each year for the past 6-7 years I am going to tell you that Girl and the Goat is the JAM and the next best joint we’ve been to is the The Publican which makes pork rinds like you have NEVER tasted…mmmm… Also on the list for classic seafood (but damn good vibes) is Shaw’s which has a low key crab and oyster bar next door and then has a GREAT Jazz music store on the same block… Just sayin’, next time you go, I’m coming… love that city… and miss you! xx..

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