Navy Pier Experiences Even a Jaded Chicagoan Can Love
Popular but maligned by locals, attraction is reinventing itself with tasty eats, new ferris wheel
The new Ferris wheel attraction at Navy Pier is decked out with 42 gondolas and stands at 60 metres (196 feet) high, making it the sixth tallest ferris wheel in the United States.
While the ferris wheel may be the most conspicuous new feature of the Navy Pier, it’s not the only one. Officials hope to rescue the historic attraction from its image as Chicago’s most notorious tourist trap – and many of the most promising-looking initiatives appeal directly to the visitor’s taste buds.
For years, because of its prime real estate on Lake Michigan and close proximity to downtown hotels, Navy Pier has been a major draw for eager sightseers and tour groups. Local residents and those looking for the city’s hot spots have steered clear of it because, frankly, they saw it as being cheesy.
But a redevelopment plan, which includes the new ferris wheel, aims to offer more than just a few passing attractions. Its mission includes making Navy Pier more sustainable, adding more green spaces so visitors may enjoy views of the lakefront. The Pier now also showcases artwork and murals from local visual artists. And a number of locally focused eateries have opened shop, or plan to.
Their convenient location all in one place could enable visitors to get an authentic taste of a number of Chicago’s neighbourhoods at once. This is especially helpful for someone short on time. For even more convenience, we’ve selected our top picks to sample at each venue.
Big City Chicken
Downtown favorite M Burger did so well with its signature crispy chicken sandwich that the owners decided to give it a showcase of its own. At Big City Chicken, it also comes in crispy barbecue and hot and spicy editions, but the real star is the fried chicken. Buttermilk brined and spicy, the chicken tastes like it came out of a Southern home kitchen. It’s best ordered with a mound of green chili cheese fries, topped with pickled jalapenos.
900 E. Grand Ave., 312-546-7440
Big City Chicken
DMK Burger Bar and Fish Bar
The original locations for these two entities are based in the Lakeview neighbourhood, close to Wrigley Field (home of the Chicago Cubs). On Navy Pier, they’re in one spot, so it’s even more difficult to choose a favourite between them. The Burger Bar’s offerings are made with grass-fed beef, with 12 options on the menu. The #2 should actually be at the top of the list. It’s topped with chili-rubbed onion strings, Amish blue cheese and spicy chipotle ketchup. And for anyone looking for something seaworthy, the Fish Bar’s “Satchmo po’boy” is gloriously stuffed with shrimp and crawfish and garnished with roasted garlic aioli and pickles.
600 E. Grand Ave., 773-687-8177
Goddess and the Baker
You could call Debra Sharpe a rock ‘n’ roll chef, and that’s not because she positions herself as a celebrity. When top-notch music artists like Jay-Z, Sting and Aerosmith come to Chicago, they rely upon her to feed them. Her Goddess and Grocer restaurants are based all over the city, and now Goddess and the Baker is her latest iteration, with an outpost at Navy Pier. Everything is made in-house, from the gourmet pastries to various baked goods. Classic items like Thai chicken flatbread and the slow-roasted barbecue brisket thankfully made it to the Navy Pier menu.
Harry Caray's Tavern
This sports-themed restaurant, named after the famed Chicago Cubs’ announcer, boasts a number of locations in the downtown area and suburbs. The Navy Pier venue features a seasonal menu of burgers, entrées, pizzas and children’s specials. One of the mainstays, which is perfect to nosh on during patio outings, is the blackened tilapia taco entrée. It’s garnished with shredded cabbage, avocado, house-made chipotle ranch, queso fresco and black bean salsa.
700 E. Grand Ave., 312-527-9700
There is a lot to the menu beyond sausage lollipops, bacon and brisket at Porkchop, which also boasts multiple locations across the city. While the Southern-inspired eatery gets much recognition for its meaty mains (and shrimp and grits), the tastiest under-the-radar dish is the barbecue salmon salad. It comes with a juicy fillet and topped with all fresh ingredients that change with the season.
838 E. Grand St., 312-733-9333
The chic watering hole on the northwest side of the city makes its way to Navy Pier this summer. Tiny Lounge is taking over a former ice cream shop, trading cones for craft cocktails. While there won’t be an outdoor component to this outpost (the original offers patio seating), it’ll be an ideal hangout for drinks and small bites after the movies or performances at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
800 E. Grand Ave., no phone yet