We’re rapidly approaching the end of the year, and while Chicago seems to be having more of a wet Christmas than a white Christmas so far, the holiday spirit is very much with us. Pop-up bars, special markets, and holiday-themed dishes are springing up everywhere, but I’m more interested in classic traditions. What are iconic drinks and dishes that symbolize the coming of the season? Here are a few of my picks.
Glögg at Simon’s Tavern (Andersonville)
There are lots of variations on spiced wine served around the city, but Simon’s glögg has a special place in my heart. While you’re doing your holiday shopping on Clark Street’s many independent shops, take a short break at this Prohibition-era watering hole for a fortifying beverage. The bar has classic Chicago character, with a dash of the neighborhood’s Swedish heritage thrown in. Plus, the warming, delicious wine comes with a cookie, so it counts as an afternoon snack, right?
Chicken Pot Pie at the Walnut Room (Loop)
I’ll be the first to admit that the Walnut Room, the iconic restaurant inside Macy’s — always Marshall Field’s to all true Chicagoans — doesn’t have the best food in the city. But there’s something genuinely amazing about sitting in that beautiful room, surrounded by lights and decorations, and eating a classic dish that’s been on the menu for more than 100 years. Originally created by a lady’s hat salesperson (the story is adorable), their pot pies will warm you up like nothing else.
Eggnog at Café Selmarie (Lincoln Square)
Just like mulled wine, everyone seems to serve some kind of eggnog around the holidays, and let’s face it: Most of it is terrible. The exception is at Café Selmarie. Made from scratch with cream, egg, brandy, rum, and nutmeg, theirs is an insanely decadent treat. You probably can’t handle a second glass, but your cup will certainly runneth over with holiday glee.
Bûche de Noël at Delightful Pastries (Jefferson Park)
One of the iconic desserts of winter is bûche de noël, or yule log. Generally made out of rolled sponge cake and topped with a torrent of icing, the dessert isn’t for the faint of heart — and probably not for dieters, either. Each bakery tends to come up with its own charming variation, but one of my favorites in town is at Delightful Pastry. It’s chocolatey and topped with tiny fondant leaves and mushrooms. While you’re there, do your holiday cookie shopping.
Tom and Jerry at Miller’s Pub (Loop)
This 19th-century classic hot cocktail is a holiday signature of this downtown restaurant. A combination of rum, hot water, milk, and, traditionally, an actual batter made from spices, powdered sugar, and vanilla, this cocktail is simultaneously comforting and a smack to the face. If you’ve never had one before, you’d best not let another New Year pass you by without making a trip. They even serve it in special seasonal mugs.