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Katie Davis

@PopCultureCuisine

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Christmas in July

Friday, July 15, 2011 @ 12:07 PM

047Around this time in the summer people start to complain about the heat and crave that cold winter breeze again. Personally I’m not sure what’s wrong with them! I will take a hot sunny day over a cold one anytime…, but maybe that’s just me. That being said, this month seemed the perfect time to reminisce about a wonderful Chicago holiday experience we got to have back in December.

Nostalgically, Chicago is one of those cities I LOVE LOVE LOVE at Christmas time. There is something so festive about the city all adorned with lights, thousands of shoppers out and about, and the historical decorated windows at Marshall Fields (now Macy’s) on State Street. Ever since I was a little girl I have loved everything about that time of year in the city and visiting Marshall Fields. It is a MUST on my “Life To Do” list. Since the early 1870’s, Macy’s has been stunning spectators with its famed holiday window displays and celebratory events. As the first store to ever feature holiday windows created for the pure fun and joy of the season, Fields (Macy’s) began a tradition that still lives on today. Additionally, a guest of the store can marvel at the 45-foot Great Tree decorated with over 1,200 themed ornaments and 25,000 dazzling lights…and you can see it all in the Walnut Room. (http://www.visitmacyschicago.com/events.cfm).

The tree in the Walnut Room truly is spectacular; and although I have gone inside to the observation deck to see it many times, I had never had the chance to dine in the actual room…a dream of mine since I was a little girl. The Walnut Room opened in 1907 and has been a landmark in the city ever since. Walnut paneling adorns the walls giving the room its moniker while other standouts include the large marble fountain and beautiful Austrian chandeliers. And their famous Chicken Pot Pie…ain’t half bad either! What makes this room so magical at Christmas time though is the huge 45 ft. tree glistening around you while you enjoy a warm comforting meal. What I wasn’t aware of was just how popular this whole experience was, but I’ll get to that.

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Adam had surprised me with a birthday weekend in Chicago (my birthday is a week before Christmas). Just like when we lived there, I of course had already expressed my desire to go look at the windows on our last day, something Adam was already expecting (am I that predictable). But when he suggested we see if we could eat at the Walnut Room, you would have thought he told me I had won a million dollars! Yes….I was that excited.

Our original plan included having our good friends Jenn and Bob join us for brunch there, but when we arrived at the Walnut Room at 10, an hour early to put our name in, we were told that the earliest we could eat was 4:45 in the afternoon! Yes….you read that correctly. There was a nearly 7 hour wait!!!

I was quite shocked to say the least. I mean… I knew it was popular, but I guess I just hadn’t realized how popular. Needless to say, with a quick change in plans, we had our friends pick us up and take us to another brunch spot and we decided to bop around the city until our dinner reservation was available. We figured since we were there we might as well live up the experience.

After a little time killing, shopping about, grabbing a couple of beers, it was finally time to line up for our reservation. This time around I think our wait was worth it, because as fate would have it, we were lucky enough to get a table directly next to/in the center of the restaurant, right near the tree. This may not sound like a huge deal, but a good portion of the restaurant is actually back in a walnut paneled area that really doesn’t have a good view of the tree, so we truly did get the full experience.

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Adam already knew he was going to order the famed “Mrs. Herring’s Chicken Pot Pie.” I, on the other hand, mulled around for a bit before deciding upon the German Sausage Platter. The food in the Walnut Room still has its authentic German comfort food roots, however, there are many other dishes anyone would know and love, including a cobb salad we saw people order that looked amazing! Also, with my meal I decided to enjoy a festive drink called a ‘Poinsettia’, a champagne drink that truly made the whole thing that much more special. Finally, prior to our food arriving, we got to enjoy a basket of pretzel rolls, a favorite of ours.

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It really is hard not to enjoy the warmth you feel seeing all of these people celebrating the Holidays under such a beautiful tree. Even better is that in addition to wonderful atmosphere and nostalgia, the food was equally great. Adam raved about his pot pie, which although very untraditional with simply a puff pastry placed on top and no crust, it was probably the best pot pie he’s ever had. Also, I simply loved the variety in flavors my sausage plate provided. Overall it truly was a very special meal and I was so glad we decided to stay the afternoon and experience it.

SIGNATURE DISH: While I wouldn’t say the Walnut Room is known for any one in dish in particular, it would seem that Mrs. Herring’s original Chicken Pot Pie is pretty widely known. In fact, it is so popular you can even order one at a few of the other dining spots within Macy’s. I would say that makes it a pretty popular dish; and who doesn’t like a warm pot pie when it is freezing outside….right?

TASTE: I was very impressed with both Adam’s and my dish, especially given how large of a restaurant it is and how many dishes they are serving up a day during the Holiday season. It would be very easy for everything to be just heated up and sub par, but everything we tried tasted like any homemade comfort food you would crave.

AMBIANCE: While I’m sure the ambiance of the Walnut Room is gorgeous any time of the year, it is truly magical at Christmas time. It’s hard not to feel festive when you are dining in not only a beautiful old architectural space, but one adorned with decorations and a 45 foot Christmas tree…, truly an experience for the ages.

SERVICE: Our waitress was very sweet and polite. I could see where it would be pretty tiresome day after day during the Holidays to serve that many people and still like your job at the end of the day. But she made us feel right at home and welcome.

PRICE: I can’t say for sure how much this meal cost, largely because I don’t remember. But I am pretty sure it wasn’t as outrageous as I was expecting. Sure you are going to pay a bit more given that it is the Holidays and they know this is a one of a kind experience. But I thought their dishes were priced fairly reasonably and well worth it.

We truly enjoyed every minute of our dinner at the Walnut Room and I when our little girl gets older, I plan to take her there for sure. SHE won’t have to wait until 28. I figure if I felt like a kid during the whole experience, a child definitely should get to enjoy it first hand. I easily give the Walnut Room … 5 ‘Little Piggies’

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