Grub With Us at Chicago Q

Stranger danger: eating with strangers.

I’ve been having a lot of meals with “strangers” lately. It’s still kind of odd for me to put myself out there like that and meet up with someone, or multiple someones, I’ve never met. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m incredibly shy and that my social anxiety makes it all very nerve-racking to do. Especially getting food. Because I don’t like for people to see me eat, or what I’m eating. (Which I guess is ironic for someone entering an eating contest and for someone who posts photos of all the food she eats.)

But these past few years I’ve been on a self-induced therapy kick of forcing myself out of my comfort zone and trying to force this anxiety out of me. Or at least forcing myself to do things in spite of the anxiety. And, I mean, I guess if I’m going to travel the world, by myself, I’m going to have to get used to this eating with strangers thing, right? And considering I love to try new places to eat, and that most of my friends are either too poor or too far away it makes sense to seek out others to eat with.

A few weeks ago I met up with Patrick, a guy I know through Twitter who was in town for a few nights for work. He wanted to get dinner somewhere good. I suggested we head to The Bristol, because it’s away from downtown and because it was on the list I made of 200 or so Chicago restaurants I just need to try.

We made our way there and settled in for some delicious food and drinks. I got a Poire & Elderflower cocktail with Grey Goose Le Poire, St. Germain, white grape juice, and fresh sour…and it tasted like bad wine in an amazingly good way. Not bad wine per se, but the grape juice made it taste like that Welch’s fake wine we’d always get at holidays at home. And thus, it was delicious.

Poire & Elderflower cocktail with Grey Goose Le Poire, St. Germain, white grape juice, and fresh sour from The Bristol

For my meal I got the pappardelle with suckling pig ragu. Which was delicious, but I am always disappointed when I order things with “ragu” because it comes out looking like ground beef when I had in my head something that looked more like a pig on a spit roast stuck on top of pasta.

Pappardelle with suckling pig ragu from The Bristol

Afterward as we walked back to the train we decided to stop at Hot Chocolate for dessert. Yes, it’s a restaurant devoted to one of my favorite things in the world (OK, so I guess they have real people food there too) and no, I had never been there before.

We got a small table and perused the menu of goodness. It was a tough decision because besides amazing looking desserts the rest of the menu was split between an awesome list of hot chocolates and an awesome list of milkshakes. And as you all know, hot chocolate and milkshakes kind of play tug of war between each other to see which will take my heart.

I decided on a milkshake and Patrick got a hot chocolate. And see the overflow pitcher? I was not above drinking straight from that.

Hot chocolate and milkshake from Mindy's Hot Chocolate.

A couple of weeks later I met up with some others I know mostly through Twitter. Amanda from A Dangerous Business was in town and wanted to get some Chicago pizza with me and Katie. We met up at Gino’s East for some delicious pizza…

Pepperoni pizza from Gino's East.

and then afterward we all headed up to the Playground to watch an improv show, which ended up being pretty hilarious. The ending group created a “play” from rehearsals to opening night based on a suggestion of a ping pong love story. I was amazed at how they were able to redo the same scene later over the course of the show (I can hardly remember what I said 30 seconds ago) and how they remembered their character quirks throughout. And I thing we all almost died laughing when the girl in the show said she knew a lot about ping pong because she was Asian because I think we had all recently read the same blog post.

A couple of weeks after that I made my way to Chicago Q for a GrubWithUs dinner. This was actually my second “social dining” meal where I reserved myself a place at a table full of strangers. Because, I mean, really, who can pass up delicious barbecue? I sure can’t!

It was a great night of getting to know a bunch of new people over amazing food. We started out with appetizers of chips, pickles (OMG I’ve never had a pickle this good in my life), Smoked Dry-Rubbed Wings, and House Bacon-Cheddar Hush Puppies.

Appetizer of pickles, chips, Smoked Dry-Rubbed Wings, and House Bacon-Cheddar Hush Puppies at the GrubWithUs Chicago Q meal.

And then the rest of the food started arriving!

A table full of food at the GrubWithUs Chicago Q meal.

There was pulled chicken, St. Louis Ribs, Honey Butter Cornbread, Coleslaw, and House-Cut Fries….

Pulled chicken, St. Louis Ribs, Honey Butter Cornbread, Coleslaw, and House-Cut Fries at the GrubWithUs Chicago Q meal.

And for dessert: cookies! Delicious red velvet, BACON, and chocolate chip cookies!

Dessert of cookies at the GrubWithUs Chicago Q meal.

We even got to meet the chef, Lee Ann Whippen of BBQ Pitmasters fame!

The chef, Lee Ann Whippen, at the GrubWithUs Chicago Q meal.

So I guess dining with people I don’t know isn’t so scary. And it’s been fun meeting new people and trying new foods and new places to eat. If you’re looking to eat with strangers yourself I highly recommend GrubWithUs and/or getting yourself a Twitter account. Because there are some great people out there. And we all have to eat, right?

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Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

  • Katrina Mauro
    April 20, 2011at12:01 pm

    Great post! I too have recently begun to enjoy dinner with strangers via twitter…and I totally understand what you mean by it being a bit un-nerving at first…but definitely also see it as part of networking, and moving towards lifes goals. Isn’t it beautiful to live in a time where technology allows our networks to grow so quickly and regarding such specific interests?

      • Carolyn
        April 20, 2011at3:19 pm

        Thanks so much for writing about your experience, Val! It’s really great to know that you’re spreading the word and we love to have foodies like yourself at our dinners. Hope to see you at another one soon!

  • Amanda
    April 20, 2011at4:37 pm

    Mmm, now I’m dreaming of Chicago deep dish again. Damnit! It was fun meeting up with you two, though – Twitter is so great for bringing people together!

    (And, you are totally right about the ping pong… haha! I couldn’t help think about Kate’s post!)

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