Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
It's been a week since I've been untethered from a full time job, which means I have plenty of time to start exploring the northern section of the Loop. Because my old office was in the South Loop, going up north usually took too much time, and I didn't want to incur the wrath of the boss. We all know boss wrath is pretty high up on the Dennis Lee Scale of Wrath. Getting caught taking long lunches is one of those things a boss keeps in their back pocket in case they are crabby and want to roast you for something.
There's a stretch of Wells that I've always wanted to visit, and on this block, there are lots of fun-looking lunch spots I haven't checked out. They include Lemon Tree, Curried, Crepe Bistro, Off the Tracks Grill, and one I've always been especially curious about, Pierogi Heaven. Sadly, when you walk in, there are no angels or cherubs made of pierogi, which, now that I think about it, would be pretty creepy. Creepy, yet delicious.
Now that we have creepy pierogi angels out of the way, starting a meal out with a hot cup of red borscht ($1.99 for a cup) is a good idea if you want something comforting. Now that summer is starting up, a hot cup of soup might not be the first thing you think of, but this borscht is good enough to take the edge off a lousy day.
It has that deep red color from the beets, but isn't as earthy as you might imagine, and instead of being sweet, it's actually pretty salty. I noticed a distinct savory flavor, which I could tell was a hit of MSG, so out of curiosity I asked the woman behind the counter about the ingredients in the soup. It turns out they use bouillon cubes (she didn't specify which type).
There are 11 different types of pierogi on the menu, and you can mix and match in groups of three. I wanted to try every one of them, but eating 33 pierogi didn't seem like a particularly good idea, so I tried three types: Meat, potato and cheddar (per recommendation from the cashier), and the fruit mix ($7.87 for 9 pieces).
The potato and cheddar is the best out of the three. With a little bit of bacon, sautéed onions, and sour cream, it's pretty much like a chewy baked potato. The shredded pork and beef pierogi is fairly dry; the filling is tightly packed, and it isn't particularly seasoned. Maybe I'm not a fruit pierogi person, because the berry and plum filling is very tart and not sweet, but to be fair, these are the first fruit pierogi I've ever eaten. And just so you know, all of the pierogi are boiled and not pan-fried.
There are a few sides, one of which is the sauerkraut ($2.70). It's a relatively unique version, with a deep cabbage flavor and a soft texture. It definitely has a homemade flavor to it.
You can get a single piece of Polish sausage ($2.90), which I definitely recommend. It's scored and charred, and the skin has a hefty snap to it. It is dense, heavy, and juicy, with a very tight grind, and goes well with a bite of sauerkraut.
If you're looking for a bite of comfort food for lunch, Pierogi Heaven might be up your alley, plus it's an interesting option in an ocean of bland sandwich joints. And if you see a confused looking Korean guy running around the Loop with a DSLR, taking pictures of his lunch, say hello. It'll be even funnier if it's not me.
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.