Love at first sight. That’s what it was when I met Genevieve Hillis at Northwestern University many moons ago. She’s one of those people you trust with your life – not to mention with restaurant recommendations, the best spa treatments, hidden gems, and amazing music. It was with Genevieve that I first tried steak medium rare, having spent a solid twenty years only knowing well done filet. (Eeesh! I know!). We had late night song fests to Dido (we’re going waaaay back here, kids), nights out clubbing in the city, and girls trips that need only be documented in our heads. We had a ball – and who wouldn’t with this incredible woman whose fun and frivolity is only rivaled by her intellectual prowess. Genevieve is the Director of Government Relations for Direct Supply and serves as the company’s lobbyist, overseeing all state and federal government affairs activities within the company, as well as the political strategic planning & fundraising. Before going to Direct Supply, Genevieve worked in the office of Congresswoman Deborah Pryce in Washington, D.C. She went on to join Congresswoman Pryce in her leadership office in the House Republican Conference. Genevieve has a Bachelor of Science degree from NU, majoring in Social Policy, and a Master of Public Health degree from Indiana University, where she did extensive research in gerontology. Genevieve is a life-long philanthropist, with a strong commitment to children experiencing isolation, and specifically the HIV/AIDS community. She enjoys travel and is an avid Indycar racing fan, let me tell you. And she happens to be married to the most wonderful man. She’s my go-to girl for basically everything, so when it came to an Insider’s Guide to Chicago she was clearly the first and only person speed dialed.
Grace – As the daughter of an entrepreneur, I am a big proponent of innovation – and that is exactly what you’ll find at Grace. Everything that has deservedly earned this restaurant two Michelin stars in its first year of review is a wonder to behold. Chef Curtis Duffy and Sommelier Michael Muser have teamed up to produce the best reason to dine out that the city has seen in years. Chef Duffy has a platinum pedigree, having worked his way from Trio, Charlie Trotter’s, Alinea and Avenues to now being the international culinary phenom and owner of Grace. The attention to every last detail, every moment, every bite, leaves you feeling transported. Guests will experience the highest quality and rarest ingredients but will find the cuisine to be undoubtedly appealing to all. Two options of tasting menus are provided, one with proteins and one vegetarian, punctuated with a visit to Chef Duffy’s immaculate kitchen. To dine at Grace is to see the best that Chicago has to offer!
Senza – Owners Susan McMillan and Amelia Fonti have partnered with Chef Noah Sandoval (formerly of Schwa) to create a gluten free foodie’s paradise in Senza, which earned one Michelin Star in its first year of review-the first gluten-free restaurant to ever be starred by the famed guide. I have hosted many friends and family for dinner at this Lakeview casual fine dining restaurant and I always love surprising them at the end of the meal by telling them that it was completely gluten-free. The tasting menu, featuring contemporary American cuisine, is offered with creative wine selections and cocktails with food oriented flavors. For those that can’t get enough, during the day Senza turns into Wheat’s End Café, serving gluten-free baked goods from Wheat’s End Artisan Foods. It is cozy and approachable yet endlessly creative.
Ceres’ Table – has been a recipient of the coveted Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand from 2011-2014, and with its relocation to the Lakeview neighborhood in May 2014, they now offer a new menu and more space-lucky us! Chef Giuseppe Scurato’s dishes reflect a deep devotion to his Sicilian heritage with many recipes belonging to his family for generations. His focus on seasonable and sustainable ingredients is evident in his expanded menu that includes many hard-to-find cheeses, hand-made pastas, and delicate crudos with a strong commitment to directly sourcing it all. The menu focuses on shared plates so it offers the opportunity, if desired, to taste a wide variety. On warm nights the front windows open to the sidewalk patio and allow diners to really feel a part of the city.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken – It’s not only the best fried chicken in Chicago, but it is the kindest, both to the customer and the environment. Everything used by the chefs is from small farms, never processed or frozen. The kitchen truly wastes nothing-they use every part of the chicken to make their huge variety of dishes, and even sell their used oil back to their supplier so that it can be transformed into biodiesel fuel. The honey butter, which is applied liberally to the top of the finished fried chicken, creates an absolutely otherworldly taste. The sides, like pimento mac ‘n cheese and schmaltz smashed potatoes make the perfect pairing with any dish. There is nothing like sitting down to brunch at Honey Butter after a fun night out and enjoying a seasonal mimosa and some of their crispy fried chicken.
Coalfire Pizza and Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. are hands down the top two choices for pizza in Chicago. At Coalfire, the 800 degree clean coal burning oven churns out the thin crust pizzas that have made their American twist on Neapolitan style so popular. They use the finest artisanal meats and cheeses to create a light and flavorful pizza in under two minutes! Not only that, but they feature desserts from the Chicago Cupcake Company, easily the best cupcakes in the city, which are otherwise only available by food truck.
The building that houses the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder, once at the center of the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, became the home for this neighborhood favorite in the early 1970’s and it has remained as such. The pot pie pizzas, Mediterranean bread and mountainous shared salads are highlights and the delicious salad dressings can be purchased to take home, which many locals do. A staple of mine since my college days at Northwestern, it is a perfect place to seek shelter from cold snowy days or packed summer streets.
I have gratefully come to adopt owner/founder of Perman Wine Selections, Craig Perman’s, philosophy- “life’s too short to drink average wine!” When tasked with selecting four wines from four different regions for a tasting this year, I went directly to Craig, as he is the man who is trusted by the greatest chefs and sommeliers of Chicago. Whether you are attending one of Craig’s private tastings or just shopping for your own collection or enjoyment – Craig sources the most elegant wines from the most creative and innovative winemakers in the world. This is the retailer to call, whether you already know exactly what you want or you are in need of some suggestions.
The Peninsula Chicago – is the grandest and most luxurious choice for your home-away-from-home while visiting Chicago. Food and Beverage guru and former chef, Kai Lerman, oversees the delights of Shanghai Terrace, Pierrot Gourmet, The Lobby and The Bar which are regularly frequented by locals, visiting celebrities and foreign dignitaries. The outdoor space connecting to the Shanghai Terrace restaurant offers the best alfresco dining in town and even becomes an ice skating rink in the winter! The rooftop spa offers premium treatments, a spectacular pool and sundeck. An impeccably trained staff, led by manager Maria Zec, will help you to throw all of your cares to the wind in the Windy City!
While many, including myself, have been stuck for hours wandering amidst the glamorous and crowded storefronts of Michigan Avenue, instead you may opt to head towards the shopping on Oak Street, Rush Street, River North and Lincoln Park where the shops can provide a bit more room to browse and some very unique offerings.
Material Possessions really has it all. A steady stream of great jewelry designers, trunk shows and a mix of the most eclectic and luxurious furniture and home accessories are all carefully curated by discerning tastemakers and co-owners Peggy Swartchild and Carol Levy. It is my go-to for anything for the home, to punch-up any look and of course for gift-giving. Their at-home accessorizing service offers a totally customized styling experience. A highlight is local jewelry designer Meredith Marks who has a loyal following, from hip Chicagoans to celebrities like Chelsea Handler and Julianne Moore.
Friends, Lori Wallis and Jen Gerenraich have both been in the design industry for over 25 years and bonded over “life, love and leather” as they say. JGEREN started with handcrafted leather handbags and expanded to cuffs, belts, men’s, outwear and more-these two women have a strong vision for their Chicago-based and manufactured brand. Their appointment-only showroom is located in Lincoln Park and houses a variety of hides, inspiration boards and prototypes as well as their current line. My husband took me there on Valentine’s Day this year to design something special for lucky me. Walking into Lori and Jen’s wonderland was quite an experience! The ladies’ handbags are named for some of Chicago famed streets including the Astor, Cedar, Sheridan and Hudson.
Luxury Garage Sale – started as a pop-up shop for ladies high-end consignment, and now has a permanent location for their boutique as well as an online store where they carry everything from classic staples to on-trend must-haves. In addition, co-owners, Brielle Buchberg and Lindsay Segel willingly visit a client’s home and then remove, inventory and sell unwanted items-with prices being negotiated during the closet editing. This store is a treasure-hunter’s dream come true.
Green City Market – has been the place to find local organically grown products for over 15 years. Now, with two summer locations (Lincoln Park and Fulton Market) as well as an indoor location for the colder months (the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum) both suburbanites and city dwellers alike can get their fix of clean grown and made produce and products throughout the year. What was started by Abby Mandel in an alley next to the Chicago Theater has grown into a sustainability practice that provides the foundation for Chicago’s vast regional cuisine.
Anthony Cristiano is filled with talented stylists and is in the most spectacular setting imaginable. On the Mezzanine level of the Trump International Hotel & Tower and overlooking the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, guests can enjoy the works including a wide range of hair, nail and make-up services just as Anthony’s celebrity clients. It is also my favorite spot to find the perfect hair accessories. I adore my cuts from Anthony, color from Becky and styling from Jessica but really everyone I have seen has done impeccable work. Go in for anything from a major makeover to an everyday styling and you won’t be sorry.
More beauty…Go to The Spa at Trump and see Regina for an Ultimate Kate facial if you want to glow for days. And for your more in-depth beauty needs, visit Dr. Toral Patel at D&A Dermatology.
Summers in Chicago are filled with festivals and fireworks, with many events in local parks like Union Park (Pitchfork Music Festival) and Grant Park(Lollapalooza). But once the nights turn cold, Chicagoans head indoors to hot spots ranging in size from multi-level to quite intimate, including the Double Door, Hideout, Empty Bottle, Green Mill and Back Room – all are favorites for locals and visitors alike. A favorite of mine is Pops for Champagne in the trendy River North neighborhood. With one of the best Champagne lists imaginable, guests can enjoy their bubbles while enjoying the smooth sounds of the band and the perfectly paired menu of Chef Luke Creagan…caviar anyone?
Photos via: Genevieve’s own, HBFC, Coalfire, Chicago Cupcake Company, Material Possessions, Green City Market, Pitchfork Music Festival, Pops for Champagne.