My husband woke up craving a Chicago-style hot dog, but our daughter Emily had something entirely different in mind. We were visiting her new hometown, and a pastry from Julius Meinl's authentic Austrian cafÃ© would be the next best thing to breakfast in bed. Who could argue with Viennese coffee delivered to your table on a small silver tray, French toast smothered in baked bananas, luscious pumpkin pancakes, or baked eggs with pancetta, spinach and feta cheese?
It's easy to see why Julius Meinl has become a favorite gathering place for neighbors on Chicago's north side, a place where you can linger over coffee and quiet conversation and forget about all the errands you have to run on a busy Saturday morning. The Meinl coffee tradition dates back 145 years, when the family used to roast coffee on wood-burning stoves back home in Vienna. Maybe that's why their Chicago cafÃ© still has the aroma of an old world "Kaffeehaus," an elegant one at that. The bakery case is more like an art exhibit, with its display of six-layer buttercream cakes; legendary Vienna tortes; Austrian strudel; seasonal tarts; cream puffs and coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate.
Chicago, we discovered, tempts guests with a smorgasbord of art -- from the culinary arts to the magical arts, from the visual arts to the performing arts, sometimes in the most unexpected places. And we had just two days to take it all in.
Less than a block from our daughter's apartment in Lincoln Square, at the end of Diagon Alley (made famous by the Harry Potter books), lies Magic Incorporated the oldest, continuously operating magic shop in the country. After breakfast, we found owner Sandy Marshall behind the counter regaling visitors with stories about his Dad, the legendary stage performer Jay Marshall.
A quick ride on the brownline train and suddenly we appeared in the Michigan Ave. gallery district, where we stepped into an exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center appropriately entitled "Deceptive Design." The exhibit came highly recommended by our tour-guide daughter, an industrial designer who helped to curate the show. A collaboration of the Chicago Chapter of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) and the Chicago Furniture Designers Association (CFDA), the exhibit had us examining holograms, prototype furniture, and functional objects from every angle. You'll love the playful use of found objects and light if you have the opportunity to visit the gallery before Jan. 4.
After exploring nearby Grant and Millennium Parks and a visit to a dusty antiquarian book shop, we caught a heart-pounding performance by street musicians near the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago. If we picked up the tempo, we'd have just enough time to tour "Henri Cartier-Bresson and the Art and Photography of Paris" before closing time.
NEXT: A nap and a late dinner put us behind schedule for jazz at the Green Mill, where it was standing room only for the Dave Liebman Quartet.
If you go:
Julius Meinl CafÃ© and Patisserie, 2 locations
4363 N. Lincoln Avenue; 3601 N. Southport
Deceptive Design: Experiments in Furniture
Chicago Cultural Center, now through Jan.. 4
Open 7 days a week, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., free
Lincoln Square Christkindl Market
Sample traditional German food, bratwurst, potato pancakes, goulash and apple strudel, Dec. 5, 6, and 7, Lincoln Square
The Art Institute of Chicago
Henri Cartier-Bresson and the Art and Photography of Paris
(Free General Admission 5:00Â–8:00)
Children, Students, and Seniors (65 and up): $7
Children under 12: Free
The Culinary Tourist appears twice a month in Gather Essentials: Travel. Go exploring with award-winning documentary producer Lisa Gensheimer as she discovers the fun, food and people she meets along the way. Whether you're visiting the home of a faraway friend, stopping for directions at a roadside market, or on holiday in an exotic location, richly layered experiences await. Read more about Lisa's work at Main Street Media or join Lisa's gather network.