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 pretty mild summer here in Chicago, and the easygoing temperature makes it comfortable to sit outside for lunch. I like eating outside. It's fun. I get to enjoy the breeze and some food, while staring at passersby just long enough to creep them out. I guess that's about the closest thing I have to a hobby these days, considering I'm still unemployed, recently single, and struggling to figure out what I want to do with my life. The most adventure I've had actually happened this morning when my cat almost barfed on my head while I was sound asleep, dreaming of better things to come.
Emerald Loop is just on the border of the north Loop, and it has a fairly large sidewalk seating area, where you can eat outside. This is tourist territory more than office-grunt turf, but I like seeing tourists walking around, enamored with Chicago for the first time. The restaurant serves Irish pub food, just like the countless other Irish bars in Chicago, like the Golden Sheleighleigh and Flanerty O'Shenanigans (I totally made those up right now, they aren't real, but I wish they were).
Considering I'm working so hard sitting on my ass right now, a high-calorie protein bomb is the perfect example of what I should probably avoid. It's hard to resist a Full Irish Breakfast ($12.95), though. This is a hefty meal, consisting of Irish bacon (aka back bacon), black and white pudding, Irish sausage, a broiled tomato, sautéed mushrooms, tinned beans, and two eggs.
My favorite part of Irish breakfast is the black pudding; Emerald Loop's is a little dry, but it still has the bold iron-like flavor of cooked blood that you either love or hate. It's definitely well seasoned and crisped on the flat-top to add even more flavor. The white version is soft, much milder, and salty, and the Irish sausages are a combination of silky, salty, smooth, and crisp at the same time. The bacon is chewy, lean, and hammy, making me wish it was readily available at bigger grocery stores.
And of course, there are the pork and beans on the side, straight from the can, which are in a sweet ketchup-like sauce thickened from the starch from the beans. I grew up with canned pork and beans, so I have a serious soft spot for them. Overall, the breakfast is at least two meals worth, and plus, it's served all day—there aren't many places in the Loop that I know of, if any, that sell Irish breakfast, so there's a novelty to it.
For a more lunch-like meal, the corned beef sandwich ($10.95) comes layered with melted Swiss cheese on dark rye bread. It's thick-cut, tender, with classic corned beef flavor. Plus, Emerald Loop has Coleman's mustard, which, if you haven't had the pleasure of experiencing it, is nose-clearing, sharp, and strong, justifying its existence in small jars.
The mashed potatoes, which come as a side (you can also get French fries instead) are grainy, and the accompanying gravy is almost tasteless. You might be better off with the fries.
The mac and cheese ($10.95, +$1 for additional ingredients) is somehow lacking in flavor; it's just not sharp enough. With bacon and chicken, you do get a bit more flavor, as the chicken is well seasoned, but it's dry and chewy. The cavatappi noodles at the bottom, though, are the good ones, bathing in the extra cheese sauce.
My people-watching mission didn't work out great because of the heavy construction on the facade of the building, as well as a movie crew's fleet of trucks obscuring any city views, but hey, you can't win them all. Irish breakfast is a pretty good consolation prize.