Travel: Less than 72 Hours in NYC

I’m very lucky to have friends and family that live in the Big Apple! When I visit, it’s a whirlwind tour of everything that I need to eat and drink, all while catching up with some awesome people.

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Here’s a few of the cool places I got to check out on my most recent visit over the 4th of July weekend!

But First, Coffee

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Fika Coffee, Multiple Locations
I love love love coffee, and in the summer in NYC you need some good iced coffee to get your day started.  Fika has a simple coffee menu without too many fancy drinks, but definitely does regular cold and hot brews right.  Their lattes are also on point.  If you’re fueling a full day of touring I recommend their “power bars” which are really like candy bars, but hey with 16 grams of protein that’s nothing to snuff at in regards to getting your energy boost!  Totally a vay cay treat and not to be had on the reg unless you’re super active and burn calories like crazy.

Where to Roll

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Burger and Lobster, 39 W 19th Street, Flat Iron District NYC
One of the first things I need to eat when I touch down on the East Coast is a Lobster Roll.  One of my newest finds was Burger and Lobster, because it’s an AMAZING deal.  20 bucks gets you a roll, fries and salad. Just the roll alone can run you 15-30 bucks in NY or anywhere, so for this to include two sides with a hearty portion of seafood, I say “yesssss please.”

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Travel - North and Red - New York - Toro

Toro, 85 10th Ave, Meatpacking District NYC
This was one of the best new places I tried!  Toro is a tapas restaurant in the meat packing district that has a fantastic atmosphere, great people watching, and delicious food.  Slightly upscale, but still approachable and casual, this is a great place to go with a small to mid-sized group of friends for a great meal.   Notable dishes were the Pimientos Del Padron, Datiles Con Jamon, Jamon Serrano, Maiz Asado con Alioli y Queso Cotilja, Pulpo, and Empanada De Pollo Y Patatas.

Fancy Drinks

Bathtub Gin, 132 9th Ave, Chelsea NYC
Looking for great cocktails that no one can find?  This place is an homage to prohibition era, and is located literally behind a coffee shop storefront.  Look for a coffee shop from the street, then walk on through to find this hidden gem.  Their cocktails are mostly gin-based, but have a full menu with a variety of classic and new mixology-based cocktails to satisfy anyone’s whim.  Notable cocktails: Shirley’s Temple and Blonde Ambition.

Quintessential Brunch Goals

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Penelope Cafe, 159 Lexington Ave, Midtown East – Kips Bay NYC
No trip to NYC is complete without #brunchgoals.  Penelope has been a favorite of mine, and a mainstay for locals since 2003. This comfy spot is good for hangovers or to enjoy a great brunch bevvy.  The queue can be long especially on weekends, so feel free to put your name in and go grab a quick coffee and check out the neighborhood.  If you’re venturing on a weekday here, breakfast, and dinner offer great options.  It’s very “chick” friendly during the dinner hour, so think SATC #squadgoals. Also, I highly recommend a slice of red velvet cake no matter what time of day.   Notable brunch items: Salmon wrapped poached eggs and Nutella French Toast.

Seafood with a View

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Brooklyn Crab, 24 Reed Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn NYC
#PatioTimes for daaaays here at BK Crab.  This place is great for everything outdoors and is apparently great in the winter too.  Grab yourself some fresh oysters, fried seafood, or a seafood pot… whatever you get it’s ALL good.  In addition to some seriously fresh seafood fare, they have entertainment and views that make you feel like you’re not even in NY.  But then you take a look around and realize, this is definitely Brooklyn with the cast of characters surrounding you.  Worth the trek from the mainland.
Pro tip: Take the FREE Ikea Boat from Pier 11.  Notable dishes: Blue Crab Roll, Seasonal Oysters, and the BK Steampot for 1.

Patio Times

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Lavender Lake, 383 Carroll Street, Gowanus, Brooklyn NYC
So, I have to admit I was super disappointed with my visit to Lavender Lake, because they offer alcoholic slushies on Fridays and Saturdays and I went on a Sunday (insert sad face emoji).  So, despite not getting the draaaaanks that I wanted, the atmosphere and patio at Lavender Lake is totally worth checking out.  Next time I will be in for some fancy drinks and food!  But for now, their atmosphere won me over.

Tiki with a Twist

Zombie Hut, 273 Smith Street, Gowanus – Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn NYC
Looking for strong frozen drink with some flare?  Zombie Hut has got an array of fruity strong cocktails to satisfy a hot summer night on the patio.  It’s also super cool and fun inside, so I am torn whether I say go for their patio or go for some inside times.  Regardless what you choose, there’s board bames, fun drinks and a great atmosphere inside and out.  Notable Drink: The Frozen Zombie.

Neighborhood Vibes

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Bar Tabac, 128 Smith Street, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn NYC
If ever there were a “feeling” that you’re in Brooklyn this place is it. The candle lit, euro influenced dishes and random artisty types that hang out here make you feel right at home.  Whether you’re settling in for a chill date or throwin’ back some wine with friends this is a neighborhood joint that anyone can enjoy.  Comfort food galore and live music 4 nights a week makes me wish I lived around the corner.  Notable dishes: Burger Bar Tabac and Couscous Merguez.

Where all the Cool Kids Hang

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Gansavoort Park Avenue Hotel, 420 S Park Ave, Midtown East – Flat Iron District NYC
I was fancy during my visit this time and got the opportunity to stay at the Gansavoort Park Ave.  I recommend this place because it was a luxurious hotel without being stuffy.  It’s also a great neighborhood location that is convenient to getting to lots of tourist areas, without being in tourist central.  The bi-level rooftop during the day was a fantastic place to sun bathe, hit the pool and grab a delish snack like their guac with plantain chips.  Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, hitting their rooftop bar, The Drift for some cocktails and views is definitely a great idea if you’re in the area.  If you’re up for some cluuuub times see about hitting the VIP Red Room for some DJ, dancing and a scene.

And Hey, it’s Okay to Be a Tourist

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Eataly, 200 5th Ave,Flat Iron District NYC
I love going to off the beaten path places, but it’s a-okay to enjoy places that are touristy central, including Eataly.  Eataly is a unique market place chef-driven and totally amazing, so don’t beat yourself up if you just can’t help indulging in their artisanal market shopping, delightful desserts or going carbie barbie and sitting down to a hearty pasta or pizza dish.  No judgments over here, because Eataly is the best!

Always looking forward to more NYC finds next time I visit!  Comment below with your favorite places to eat, drink and parte!  Would love to check them out soon!

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Hype or the Real Deal? Instagram’s Famous Food

I think it’s safe to say I’m a “foodie” although I dislike that word, because I am not certified in any capacity to be an expert on the subject.  But, for the past 9 and half years I have been eating and drinking my way through this fare city and somehow stumbled upon jobs and opportunities to share my love for it.

I remember being perched over my laptop in my tiny room in my first apartment in Wicker Park looking stuff up on Metromix to inform me of what was all the rage.  Nowadays, there’s a gazillion and one ways to find “the best” anything from trending dishes like avocado toast to good old fashioned pizza. At the end of the day though, I have learned that I can only trust one source above all else, and that’s MOI!

Sure, I read tons of review boards, publications about restaurant openings and stalk down people’s Instagram feeds like it’s my job, oh wait, it kinda is;)  My point is, there’s so much information out there, that sometimes I get tired of being told what’s good when in reality, it’s not.  Like I said, I’m not an expert, but I have definitely ate and drank enough to know what I like, and sometimes I don’t agree with what people are hyping up on their social media feeds, just because it looks pretty in a photo to get more of a following.

A while back, I read two great reviews from the Infatuation, Chicago Edition.  These articles stuck out in my memory and definitely shed light on the legitimacy of their publication and in turn gave them major street cred in my book at least.  A lot of people know the Infatuation for it’s hip hashtag #EEEEEATS, it’s millennial-esque review writing style or it’s glutinous postings on social media.

Ultimately, they want to take over the world, but for now, it’s a premium food guide that started in NY that has since expanded to Chicago and other cities.  Like I said, world domination is part of the plan, but for now they are only in six cities in the U.S.The Infatuation - North And RedThe first piece I read was about Coal Fire, known in the Insta world for it’s Pepperoni and whipped Ricotta pizza.

I had never been there, but was curious to read the review, because at the time I was a starry eyed pizza dreamer ogling photos of this decadent pizza in my feed.  So, it was surprising to read this:

“But there’s something we need to be honest about, and it goes against everything Instagram will tell you. We don’t like the pepperoni and whipped ricotta pizza at Coalfire. It makes an infinitely better picture than it does actual meal. The ricotta adds nothing to the overall enjoyment of the pizza from a flavor standpoint, unless you get pure enjoyment from snapping the perfect shot. There. We said it.” – Sam Faye, Infatuation: Chicago

I’m one of those people that’s on social media before I am even out of bed in the AM.  I also can appreciate overhead coffee table shots to perfectly manicured hands holding ice cream cones.  However, the authenticity of influencers is not always transparent and there is a lot of pay to play in the market right now along with an ever changing landscape of rules and algorithms.  It’s hard to really know if something is really worth the hype or if it is a well written article or perfectly captured photo that makes food and drink items seem better than they really are.

In the rest of Sam’s review about Coalfire on the Infatuation he gave them props for items that maybe aren’t as picturesque, but have some serious flavors!

“We actually like the calzones more than the pizzas, and they are almost equally as large. All calzones come stuffed with mozzarella, ricotta, and romano cheese, along with your choice of filling. There’s a heavy dose of ricotta in the calzones too, but it adds flavor when backed in with everything else, unlike when just glopped on top of the pizza for show.” – Same Faye, Infatuation: Chicago

The other misconception is the hype of a restaurant in general, and not just one food item.  I was cracking up when I read the Infatuation’s cheeky rap battle review about Big Star.

“Point, Sam: There’s not much I’d rather do on a beautiful summer day than post up at Big Star to eat and drink as many tacos and margaritas/beers as my body can handle.

Counterpoint, Claire: I can think of at least 17 things I’d rather be doing on a beautiful summer day that doesn’t include sacrificing two hours of wait time, a sunburn, and potentially my first born for the privilege to sit in the equivalent of a folding chair while eating mediocre (at best) tacos.” – Same Faye, Infatuation: Chicago

I have to say, personally I’m torn too. On the one hand, I love a good patio….on the other, I can’t stand WAITING!  So, for me I brave it every year and I always enjoy myself, because helloooo I have awesome friends to accompany me.  But I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite place on the planet like some people make it out to be.

So what’s the point?  Should everyone give up on social media?  Of course, not!  But, I say it’s worth taking a deeper look at, right?! This post marks the beginning of a series of investigative blogging, where I rate things that are super trendy on social media and give you my two cents on the matter.  So look out for more Hype or RD posts soon!

Suggestions are absolutely welcome:)  Cheers!

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Best Things I Ate & Drank in 2015

In 2015 I was fortunate to work for a company that introduced me to tons of amazing new people and tapped into my passion for dining out.  I have shared some of my experiences here on this blog, in my contributions to Spotted By Locals, social media, and of course anyone willing to lend an ear that will listen to me gab about my latest discoveries has heard it all!

So here’s a look back at some of the best things I ate and drank in 2015!  Cheers:)

BAGELS
Goldberg’s Bagels & Flagels: Montauk, New York
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Lox Bagel: The picture speaks for itself.  There’s nothing that compares to bagels in NY, nothing that compares to lox on a bagel, just nothin’ like it.  Get it on an everything with onions and tomatoes and you’re in breakfast heaven. 

BEER
Beer & Bacon Classic 2015; Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois

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Hell or High Watermelon: I haven’t tried a ton of new beers this year, but this one was my favorite from the Beer and Bacon Classic this year.  It’s fruity without being over the top in your face and fake watermelon flavored.  LOVE LOVE LOVE this for a warm summer day.  

BREAKFAST
Live Oak Cafe: New Orleans, Louisiana 
IMG_8196Breakfast Sandwich: I had no expectations for this little cafe in the Garden District of Nola.  Just wanted some simple breakfast, and this BISCUIT, literally BLEW MY MIND and all other biscuits can never live up to the awesomeness of this one. #butter

COCKTAIL
The Harvest on Fort Pond: Montauk, New York

IMG_7209Rosé Cocktail: I can’t remember the name of this!  Which makes me sad, but if you’re at The Harvest, first off I hope you brought your appetite, because everything is HUGE and delicious.  But if you’re thirsty, this delightful cocktail was a lady hit with my sister and I!  It’s made with Rosé wine, cucumber vodka, a splash of soda and something else… a secret ingredient we’re call it.  I remember it being the most refreshing taste of summer in a glass and I am going to go back for it!  

COOKIES
Beatrix: River North
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Coooookies: Beatrix is known for it’s delightful meal options, but I’m into their after meal treats!  It’s a toss up for my fave with options like the butterscotch or apple oatmeal… I think the butterscotch wins, because anything with sea salt… #winning. 

DONUTS
Firecakes: River North IMG_3994Butterscotch Praline:  The donut craze has swept Chicago, and only the strong survive.  Firecakes is one of my top picks for 2015, because I discovered the light, fluffy, creme-filled decadence of their Butterscotch Praline donut.

ETHNIC CUISINE
Jibek Jolu: Lincoln Square FullSizeRender-1Boso Lagman: I suggest eating #allthefood at Jibek Jolu, but their hand pulled noodles are NOT to be missed. Boso Lagman is made with sliced vegetables and stewed beef served with fried hand pulled Noodles.  

HOT DOG
JAPADOG: Vancouver, Canada IMG_3456The Terimayo: JAPADOG’s Signature hot dog is made withTeriyaki sauce, mayo and seaweed make for a winning combination.

ITALIAN
Trattoria Funistrada: Maple City, Michigan
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Veal Saltimbocca: I’m not a veal person, but this was their specialty, and I have to say this is just about the best thing I ever ate: meat edition.  This dish is scaloppini broiled with prosciutto, mozzarella and parmesan served with a mushroom marsala sauce.  Trust me, if you’re in Michigan, FIND this place.  Get their food, it’s delish and such a surprise based on the location.

ICE CREAM CONE
John’s Drive In: Montauk, New York
IMG_7298Sprinkles Dip Cone w/ twist ice cream:  Perhaps it’s the ambience, could be it’s the pretty colors, but this cone is just the BEST.  Nothin’ like ice cream from John’s when you’re in MTK. 

SUSHI
Clam & Chowder House at Salivar’s Dock: Montauk, New York
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Sushi: It doesn’t matter what kind you get, EVERYTHING is fresh, and delicious.  There were two fisherman chowin’ down next to me at the bar, which means this place is legit.

FRIED FOOD (Savory)
Barrel + Rye: Geneva, Illinois
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Duck Poutine: Fries are delicious, but poutine is better… especially when it has duck! It’s got a crispy fry base, pulled duck breast, local cheese curds, homemade gravy.  It’s all about this gravy and the freshness of all the ingredients that pulls this savory and salty plate together.  Meant for sharing…. but that doesn’t mean I will if I return:)

FRIED FOOD (SWEET)
Cafe du Monde: New Orleans, Louisiana
IMG_8499Beignets: Fried dough. Powdered sugar.  Possible addictive drugs?  Regardless, the best thing from the best place to get them from.

JUICE
Owen and Alchemy: Logan Square
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#21: The only juice on this list is probably even more expensive than some of the alcoholic drinks!  At $11.50 the blueberry, basil, lime, himalayan sea salt juice is legit, and seriously, I am not going to juice my own blueberries… #sorrynotsorry for putting this hipster find on my best of 2015;)

MEXICAN
Tiztal Cafe: Uptown
FullSizeRender-10Chilaquiles: There’s nothing that makes me more happy than brunch that is also mexican food.  And I have yet to find a place that rivals Titzal when it comes to Chilaquiles.  This is absolutely one of my favorite meals probably ever:)  Tiztal chilaquiles are made with fresh tortilla chips, green salsa, topped With baked chihuahua cheese, chopped onions, fresh cilantro, with eggs served scrambled and your choice of meat and their delectable breakfast potatoes.

PIZZA
ORD Pizzeria: Ravenswood 
IMG_6595 (1)The TC Pizza: I can’t believe I only discovered this pizza 38 weeks ago according to my instagram feed.  I was already impressed when ORD opened up as a great neighborhood pizza place, but the TC is my JAM!  It’s made with sliced spicy coppa, fresh pineapple, pickled jalapeno, shaved red onion, fresh cilantro with mozzarella and crushed tomato sauce.  Sweet, spicy, savory, EVERYTHING that makes me happy about pizza.  Literally a party in your mouth.

SANDWICH
Parkway Bakery and Tavern
: New Orleans, Louisiana

IMG_8271Shrimp Po’ Boy: You can eat all the sandwiches in the world, but the simplicity of a poor boy is where it’s at.  Plus is there anything better than fried seafood on your sandwich?

TACOS
Los Dos: Downers Grove, Illinois
IMG_3627.2015-03-13_191701Peppers & Cheese Tacos: These tacos were made with the freshest most tastiest tortillas on the planet.  Los Dos is on my list to go back to in 2016 to try some of their carnivorous options!

VEGETABLE
Found Kitchen
 Evanston, IllinoisIMG_9903Masala Fried Cauliflower (with pickled celery yogurt, pea tendrils): The healthier fried food, is a thing.  I’ve tried quite a few versions of friend cauliflower in 2015, and I have to say that regardless of being cauliflower, this is a delicious dish. Healthy, not healthy, I don’t care, I loved it!

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Recipe: Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon

Vegetables are totally overlooked at Thanksgiving.  I found that in order to grab people’s attention you have to add bacon!  Here’s my super easy way to make all the grownups at the table eat their greens with this delicious and easy way to make roasted brussel sprouts with bacon recipe.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon
Serves 3-4 sides, you can increase or decrease based on how many folks you’re serving.

Ingredients

  • 1 pounds Brussels sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Onion powder (optional)
  • 1/4 of a sweet onion diced
  • 5 bacon slices, cut into 1/2 – 1 inch pieces

Preheat the over at 400 degrees. Wash and dry your sprouts.

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Cut the brussel sprout stems off and then cut into halves.

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Place the Brussels sprouts evenly across a baking sheet or casserole dish.  Then spread the diced onion pieces across evenly as well, followed by your bacon pieces.  As far as a pan, whatever you have at home that is large enough to fit everything across so that they can bake is fine.  I’ve done it in a casserole dish and a baking sheet and it’s the same result.  I like to line the dish with foil, so that there’s less clean up on the pan, but it’s totally not necessary if you don’t have any.

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Some folks recommend adding the oil and seasoning in a bowl first, but why clean another bowl?  Just pour the olive oil evenly across and make sure your hands are clean, and mix the vegetable bacon mix with the oil.

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When it comes to the spices, I didn’t specify an amount, because it’s personal preference and it really depends on how big your sprouts are.  Use your best judgement to make sure that they are lightly coated, but not drenched in oil and spices.

If you like a little heat, you’re welcome to add a pinch of cayenne or chipotle pepper to spice things up.  I’m always generous with the salt, but keep in mind the bacon is also salty and will add flavor.  I add onion powder, because I think it brings out a different flavor in the sprouts, but it’s totally optional.  It’s also nice, if you know someone doesn’t like onions to eliminate the onions all together and just add the powder, because it’ll still get the flavor without overpowering.  Personally, I love roasted onions and think that the sweet onions add a nice balance.

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Move this bad boy dish into the over for about 30-40 minutes and you’ve got a delish crowd pleaser for your holiday feast!

Note: I like my sprouts and bacon crispy, so the oven timing will all depend on your oven and your preference.

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Another Note: For a veggie friendly version feel free to skip to bacon and add a little parmesan cheese after it comes out of the oven, still a great way to enjoy your veggies this holiday season!

Hope you all are preparing for a fantastic holiday season and I’d love to hear if you made this recipe or any other great spins you put on your vegetables!

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First Slice Pie Cafe + Lill Street Art Center

With Thanksgiving and the holidays just around the corner, I thought it only appropriate to share one of my favorite cafes that also serves up some delish pies!

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First Slice Pie Café is located in the heart of the Ravenswood community in the same building as the the Lillstreet Art Center. Being located at the art center makes it a truly a communal hang out for the neighborhood. You’ll find artists grabbing coffees and treats before going to their classes or working in the studio, or people like me who stop in for a coffee and lunch.  While you’re waiting for your delicious latte or sandwich, you can peruse the gallery shop where they feature local artists’ ceramics, jewelry and other items for sale.

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There are actually three locations, where you can access their full menu of pies and eats. I love their 70s salads, especially the curry chicken salad.  I know pies are what they are known for, but I’m also a big fan of their baked goods.  I’m a sucker for their flourless peanut butter cookie or kitchen sink cookie.   And you can forget the guilt on any treats you pick up here, because First Slice is all about giving back to the community and actually supports feeding the needy.

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Chicken Curry Salad – to go!

This post would not be complete without mentioning the sweetest part… the pie. Baked fresh daily, they offer a wide variety of sweet and savory pies from their infamous coffee toffee to Michigan sour cherry.  You can grab a slice and eat there, take it to go or order a pie ahead for your Thanksgiving or holiday parties!  I’m with the crowds and I dig the coffee toffee, because it’s like grown up french silk with the slight bitterness from the coffee that comes through.  I’m not a huge fruit pie person, but their apple made me a changed person.  Just do it, whether it’s their traditional or the streusel version depending on the availability it’s a delight!

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Check out one of their three locations for breakfast, lunch, dinner and those in between hours when you’re hankering for a treat!

First Slice Cafe at Lill Street: 4401 N Ravenswood Ave, Chicago
First Slice Cafe at Ravenswood Manor: 4664 N Manor, Chicago
First Slice Cafe in Andersonville: 5357 N Ashland Ave, Chicago

If you’re in the market for a hostess gift or holiday gift idea they have lots of great stuff at the Lill Street gallery shop and also offer some cool holiday classes including how to make ornaments!  Check out their holiday open house coming up on December 14, 2015 here!

You can also find another article about First Slice written by me and more Chicago finds at Spotted by Locals: Chicago Edition.

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