I’ve always been a fan of the macabre. I’ve watched more crime shows than any person needs to see, I love zombie flicks, horror movies, mostly anything Halloween-y, and in high school Macbeth was my favorite Shakespeare play (because most high schoolers have a “favorite” Shakespeare play – NERD ALERT). It’s no wonder why The Devil in the White City has been on my reading list for what seems like eternity. The book has it all, Chicago, architecture, the World’s Fair, and a serial killer! What more could a girl ask for? I finally got around to reading it this past winter, while I was freezing in my apartment, day-dreaming of summer trips to the World’s Fair. Though macabre is probably the last way anyone would want to describe their breakfast food, you might rethink that after trying Unicorn Blood Espresso French Toast from Township. In case you didn’t figure it out, this week’s Books ‘n’ Breakfast I’m covering local brunch/lunch/venue spot Township and Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.
Township – Logan Square: I hate to use the word random, since I already overuse the word and feel that there is some negative connotation attached to it, but it is honestly the first word I think of when Township comes to mind. I first happened upon it some months back when I was in Logan Square, unexpectedly popped in, got a drink and listened to a band after chowing down on some ‘za from Boiler Room next door (pizza file coming soon). I didn’t return again until a few weeks ago when I visited for brunch under the suggestion of my fabulous friend who works there (tempting me with the offer of free drinks). To be honest, on my first visit, Township didn’t make much of an impression. The beer was good, fairly priced, music was good, but nothing about the venue itself really struck me. My second visit changed all that.
For brunch I had the Unicorn Blood Espresso French Toast served with a honey chevre mousse and some kind of in-house chi syrup – literally still salivating over it. I don’t usually go for sweet brunch items, but this one is a must. Just to clarify, Unicorn Blood Espresso is a blend from one of the best local coffee companies Dark Matter Coffee (they’ll be up on here soon). This particular espresso has great nutty and chocolate undertones, which pairs beautifully with the cinnamon, honey, and chi notes in the french toast. I could also write an entire novel about my general affection for the honey chevre mousse, and all the different foods I want to put it on, but I feel like things could get weird fast, so I’ll just leave it at that. The Bloody Mary was spicy and delicious, and the service wonderful. The interior is cozy and chill, ain’t no bougie brunch destination. Township also has a lot of vegetarian options, most of what they serve is organic, there’s a great selection of local beer, and all with decent prices.
Places like Township seem to get a bad rep for using their space for more than one purpose. I’ve seen people leave comments on their Yelp like: “What exactly is this place? A venue? A restaurant? A bar? Just choose one and be good at that”. Probably because of the popular belief that to be successful you have to “specialize”, but honestly these are my favorite kinds of places. Cities can only grow so much, and we only have so many resources on this planet, so business owners that cut down on needless sprawl and resource waste are good with me. Township has only been in business since 2011, they may be still figuring out the best way to mesh the venue and restaurant parts of their business, but they were still awarded ‘Best of the City’ in 2013 by Timeout Chicago so… haters gonna hate. Can’t wait to return for brunch, and interested in checking out the night scene again so I can compare and contrast. When you visit don’t be afraid of the unicorn blood, it’s not real unicorn’s blood… or is it?
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
The Devil in the White City is a classic, the historic non-fiction master piece of Erik Larson who recreates the years leading up to, and the eventual installment of, the World’s Fair, also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, which took place in Chicago in 1893. The novel follows two stories, centered around two vastly different characters, the first of which is Daniel Burnham. Burnham was a well-known American architect who would head the task of building the World’s Fair with his then business partner John Root. Their story details Chicago as the booming metropolis it still is, but at the time it was considered a second-rate city compared to New York. Making this fair successful was not just crucial to the reputation of the U.S., following in the dazzling wake of the World’s Fair in Paris where the Eiffel Tower was first unveiled, but it was also essential to Chicago’s reputation as a first-rate city. Burnham and Root encounter a hundred different kinds of obstacles in their journey to complete the World’s Fair; the failing economy, labor strikes, Chicago’s notoriously temperamental weather, conflicts of artistic vision, deaths, and all without out enough time or money. The details and experiences are so vivid they seem like first-hand accounts, like Larson was actually writing the novel while the fair was being built, instead of nearly 100 years later.
The second story follows H.H. Holmes, one of modern day’s first documented serial killers who exploits the influx of people and business coming to Chicago for his own gains. Holmes explores a number of business ventures, including a pharmacy and hotel, which he acquires through a multitude of unsavory acts. Resulting in the eventual building of what would come to be known as his “Murder Castle”. Holmes is described as being devilishly charismatic and a textbook sociopath that targets young women (though he doesn’t mind killing the old or other men if need be). He is arrested by the end of the novel, but ironically not for any of the heinous crimes detailed throughout the story.
It’s isn’t a linear story, so if you find yourself easily confused or bored by a lot of jumping around, this may not be the book for you. Larson’s writing is beautiful and exact, and the sheer amount of research that must have gone into this story is baffling. That said, I wasn’t that crazy about the book. I thought I would be most interested in Holmes’ story, but mid-novel I was almost bored with him. I suppose serial kills are nothing if not predictable, that’s what makes them ‘serial’ killers, right? To me the story of Chicago was more interesting, the fair itself felt more real to me than Holmes. Even it wasn’t my most favorite book in the whole wide world, I think it’s still worth a read just for the history component.
Hopefully my post wasn’t too terribly macabre for your morning. Reminder: It’s almost beach season, so before we actually have to wear swim suits, get some of that french toast, and put in your order on Amazon for a new gaggle of books (and maybe some workout wear).
Arty the Alien