Romance: ( ) depending on where you eat dinner
Distance: 95 miles (either a 90-120 minute drive or 2 hour train ride)
Cost per person: $25 round trip train ride per person; cost of meals (could range from $10-100 dollars depending on whether you nosh on two hot pretzels from street vendors and a couple of cupcakes from Molly’s OR splurge on juicy steaks and gooey molten cake at David Burke’s Primehouse
Heading into Chicago for the day may initially sound like a hassle, but it is actually one of the easiest and most rewarding ways to fill an empty Saturday while here at Notre Dame. Whether you decide to catch an early train and head back on a late one or drive yourself, the route is easy and direct. Between the time change heading into the city and having a date you’re trying to impress by your side, you won’t even notice how long it takes to get there.
By the time you get into the city, you are destined to have worked up an appetite. Heading to Yolk (which now has three locations, it has gotten that popular!) is a must. Yolk has everything from traditional eggs, toast, and waffles, to extravagant sweet treats like Red Velvet French Toast and savory dishes like the West Coast Crepes, stuffed full of avocado, mushrooms, eggs, and two kinds of cheeses. My personal favorite is the Tour de France, a dish featuring a sample of each of the restaurant’s specialty french toasts: lemon poppy seed, banana bread, and sweet orange.
My date’s pancake combo… he was happy and full when we left!
My Tour de France breakfast
If you’ve chosen to dine at Yolk’s River North location on N. Wells Street, you will be less than a mile walk away from Chicago’s largest shopping hub: Michigan Avenue. Even if you are not planning on purchasing anything, strolling down the street, peeking into stores, and people-watching makes for great conversation with your date. Around Christmas time, the street is decorated beautifully and even Scrooge would feel its warmth and holiday cheer.
After walking for a while, sitting down will probably seem like a good idea. That said, you are in Chicago and can’t just sit down. Instead, you can take an architectural boat tour. I know, it sounds nerdy and boring, but it is so fascinating. Once everyone has boarded the boat, it starts moving slowly downriver as a guide explains the background behind the development of many of the city’s most famous buildings and landmarks. While the tour is not cheap – around $30 per person – 20% and $5 off coupons are readily available online. The ride lasts for an hour and a half and is informal enough for passengers to continue to converse throughout, so your date and you will not have to sit in silence for ninety minutes.
An architectural boat tour mid-route
After the tour, it will most likely be late afternoon or early evening. Stopping by Cloud Gate (“The Bean”) and seeing Navy Pier are both fun to do once or twice, but I like to try something different each time I am in Chicago. The Lincoln Park Zoo, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Field Museum have been some of my favorite spots. Try one at some point, even for just a few minutes. The zoo is free, and most museums are heavily discounted for students.
Now, you have finally walked off your french toast and pancakes, and you blush, embarrassed, as your stomach growls loud enough for your date to hear. It’s time for dinner! An avid foodie, I have explored the ins and outs of Chicago dining, having eaten everything from hot dogs and falafel from carts on the street to roasted maple pork belly and truffled deviled eggs in some of its finest restaurants. I have compiled a list of options for dinner – a range that includes both casual and romantic, relaxed and formal, cheap and expensive stops.
1) Chicago-style pizza at Lou Malnati’s: The debate surrounding who has the best deep-dish pizza in Chicago will never end. I’ve tried three classic choices, and the pie at Lou Malnati’s has been my favorite. Prepare for a wait, however, because they are always busy.
— Location: 439 North Wells Street
— Restaurant Atmosphere: Casual and loud
— Average Price per Person: A small pizza (great for two) is around $11
2) The Grand Lux Cafe: The Cheesecake Factory’s sister restaurant has an expansive menu covering everything from small plates to pasta to burgers to what the restaurant calls “Grand Casual Cuisine.” There is something for every eater here, big or small, picky or adventurous. My favorite dish has been the Crispy Caramel Chicken, battered chunks of chicken breast tossed in a spicy, Thai ginger sauce served with stir-fried veggies and rice. Save room for dessert – the restaurant specializes in baked-to-order treats. These sweets take thirty minutes to make, so you order when you get your meal so that they are ready at the perfect time. The molten chocolate cake and blueberry buckle are to die for.
— Location: 600 North Michigan Avenue
— Restaurant Atmosphere: Fun and casual
— Average Price per Person: Around $20 if dessert is included
Crispy Caramel Chicken from the Grand Lux Cafe
3) Pierrot Gourmet: A classic French cafe, Pierrot Gourmet is romantic at night without being too stuffy or expensive. The cafe is close to Michigan Avenue and serves large salads, refined sandwiches, and flatbreads. The dessert case, stuffed with French pastries, is unreal. I would strongly recommend a classic ham and brie sandwich on pretzel baguette. It is served with a light salad or one of the always delicious soups du jour.
— Location: 108 East Superior Street
— Restaurant Atmosphere: Warm, open, romantic
— Average Price per Person: Around $20 if dessert is included
Inside Pierrot Gourmet
4) Frontera Grill: The best Mexican food in the Midwest. Period. Rick Bayless’ high end grill offers dishes that never fail to impress. Having lived in Mexico for a period of his lifetime, Bayless brought what he learned about the cuisine back to America, gave it his own twist, and has become world-renowned for his food. Although the meal can become pricey with drinks, appetizers, entrees, and dessert, it can also be cheaper if a couple decides to split several items off of the “street food” menu. My favorites have been the goat Barbacoa tamale and the sopes rancheros. The first is a succulent, corn masa filled husk topped with melt-in-your-mouth tender shredded goat, chile sauce, and arugula. The second is composed of little masa boats filled with spicy beef, pico de gallo, avocado, and cotija cheese.
— Location: 445 North Clark Street
— Restaurant Atmosphere: Vibrant, colorful, make-you-wanna-dance vibe
— Average Price per Person: Around $50 with tip
Date by Kristin Brennan
Hey everyone! I’m a sophomore in Cavanaugh Hall majoring in marketing and minoring in both entrepreneurship and gender studies. My hobbies include reading, cooking, eating, and reading about eating and cooking… and I’m really not joking. When I arrived at Notre Dame last year, dating was the furthest thing from my mind. I was here to have a fresh start, make new friends, get a degree, and maybe find out a little about myself in the process. Well, I did find out something about myself, and it was that I wasn’t as much of a planner as I thought I was. By October, I was happily dating someone I had known in high school… so much for a fresh start! Throughout the past year, we’ve come up with some great date locations and ideas (most of which involve food, since I’m obsessed), and I hope you give them a try!