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What to do in Chicago IL

Interview with the Locals Michael Morrissey and Salem Muribi - Chicago
December 6, 2011

There is visiting Chicago like a visitor, and then there is experiencing Chicago like a local. The latter is completely unique, with exposure to the neighborhood joints where everyone knows your name, and they are so glad you came. We sat down with Michael Morrissey and Salem Muribi, Chicago locals and best friends since childhood. They have lived in Chicago so long, they are Chicago

Galavante: Thanks for sitting down with us to share the Local’s Chicago. Tell us about yourselves.

Mike: I was born and raised in Wheaton, a suburb of Chicago, and have lived in the city of Chicago for over 16 years. I work in software sales, and bought a house in Logan Square with my wife Kara a few years back.  Logan Square is an historic neighborhood in Chicago, with beautiful greystone buildings on a wide boulevard. In my free time, I hunt and enjoy cooking, so have an appreciation for high quality food. In addition, I’m always out entertaining clients so love to find new restaurants.

Salem: I’ve lived in the Midwest for over 30 years. I work at Citadel in their technology area.   Where Mike is a big hunter, I’m a big traveler. I love to travel to Italy, Spain and have spent time with family in Lebanon. My work brought me to New York for months at a time, so feel like I know the city pretty well. Along with my travel, I appreciate fine dining, with of course the best food made at home by my wife Rima. 

Galavante: How long have you known each other? 

Mike and Salem: We’ve been best friends since childhood; we’ve known each other over almost 30 years. So much of our great times have been together in the city of Chicago, which we love. 

Galavante: So where do you normally hang out in the city?

Mike: Logan Square is my neighborhood, which has some of the best low-key gourmet restaurants. It’s a re-gentrified neighborhood with both character and an up-and-coming restaurant scene.  In my opinion, the neighborhood represents the best the city has to offer. Gastropubs are a hot trend in Chicago.  My favorites are Owen & Engine and Longman & Eagle. Owen & Eagle has a hearty menu, a killer beer selection and outstanding chocolate and banana mousse with graham cracker crust.  Longman & Eagle has kobe meatballs and a wild boar sloppy joe, which are amazing. 

Some other recommendation are Pequods or the Boiler Room for pizza. These are not your touristy Chicago pizza places though. Try the PBJ at Boiler Room which is pizza, Pabst Blue Ribbon and a shot of Jameson. La Fonda Del Gusto in Wicker Park is excellent for gourmet Mexican food and Bob San or Hachi’s Kitchen for sushi. And of course there is La Scarola and Mart Anthony’s, which is a very hidden gem – the Steak Vesuvius is awesome-for Italian food.

Salem: I think Mike’s recommendations are great. I’m very proud to be from Chicago. We have some of the best fine dining in the country, and also some great local places. I’ve been to everything from Alinea, the highest Michelin rated restaurant in Chicago to the local diner on the corner. I’ve always enjoyed high quality diners, and The Original Pancake House is one of my favorites. I get the Dutch pancakes; it’s pretty exceptional. 

On the scene, Chicago Q is the new ‘it’ place for barbeque and bourbon flights. The chef/owner won a bunch of awards and it’s always packed, even on the weekdays. If there is such thing, I’d characterize it as fancy BBQ.

I also like Mastro’s, a steakhouse specializing in bone-in cuts. Mastro’s has a really cool piano lounge with a very throwback feel. My wife Rima and I got the best seats in the place and were served dinner on the grand piano.

Galavante: What are the good bars to hang out at in the city? 

Mike: Personally, some of my favorites are The Whistler in Logan Square for the outstanding mixed drinks. It’s got to be good when they use eye droppers and hand cut ice. We also like Revolution Brewery for their homemade beers.  Cross of Gold is a standout. 5 Star in River West and Hub 51, The Bear and Bull  and the Witt Hotel near the loop for good people watching and an after work scene. Benchmark on Wells and Big Star on Damen and LeMoyne are red hot right now.

Salem: South Branch is the current happy hour ‘it’ place in the loop. It has a nice patio along the Chicago river with some lounge style seating. I would also recommend Rebar at the Trump Hotel. Low key but lots of celebs. My wife and I like the roof at the Witt Hotel. Not pretentious (I didn’t see anyone jump the line) and they have a nice wine selection that is very reasonably priced.

Also newer is Benchmark in Old Town on Wells. I thought I would hate it but we lucked out with a sidewalk table when we were there. Lastly, the Pump Room, an old school Chicago classic, just reopened.

Galavante: With growing up in Chicago, you must do big dinners with friends. Where would you suggest for a group dinner?

Mike and Salem: We’ve been going to Greektown for years, far before we turned the golden age of 21. Rodity’s is a classic for our crew of friends, where they keep the house wine coming and we order a feast of saganaki, mossaka and roasted leg of lamb. Actually, we probably order the whole menu when we have everyone together. And the bill comes and it’s barely anything, so for value, you can’t beat it. Greek Isles is another favorite in this neighborhood for a livelier scene and Athena has a great outdoor dining patio in the summer.

Galavante: Sounds like fun; and a party we’ll have to crash next time in Chicago. Thanks for sharing your inside tips.