Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Gen Con 2013: The food edition

Let’s call this, Gen Con, the food edition. I tried to avoid eating anywhere I could eat in Chicago. I didn’t see a lot of point in going to Panera, Subway, Starbucks, or Steak and Shake when I’ve got a horde of those suckers back in Chicago I don’t go to. I get their appeal. Same as in  Chicago. It’s relatively inexpensive, it’s relatively quick and the food isn’t terrible. But…

On the way in, I treated my mom to the dreaded Cracker Barrel. While it’s not ‘fancy food’ I haven’t had a bad food experience there yet. The madre feasted on Chicken Pot Pie while I wolfed down some butter milk pancakes with eggs and sausage. The great thing? Real maple syrup. Its scary when you try to read the ingredients on the stuff you put on your pancakes and are like…. “Well, can’t pronounce half of those and don’t want to know what the other half represent.” On the 65, there are plenty of them to choose from as well.

It was a pleasant stop because my mom likes to look through the assorted goods being sold there. While I usually avoid most of it, I have been known to buy the apple butter from time to time. It’s also neat that they usually have some old style wrapping on the candy so it looks like it came from a simple time.

While in town, I stayed at the Embassy. It had a breakfast buffet style things going on so I was well feed for the most part in the morning hours. When your day job requires you to be at work at 5:30 AM every day, being at the buffet at 6:30 AM is no problem.

 Strangely enough though they start serving ‘late’, at 7:30 AM on Saturday and Sunday so it was challenging to eat and get to my early morning games which of course were cancelled due to no one else showing up. The good news is that because of that, when I went back in, they were still serving and didn’t stop till 10:30 AM I believe. The better news, is that even when I went down early, if they had already put something out, like bananas or apples, we were allowed to go in and grab it. Worked perfectly for me getting vitally needed coffee on those days.

They had a lot of the usual fare in terms of chopped and cooked potatoes, paper thin bacon that you could see through, greasy sausage, tiny breakfast rolls, small muffins, a wide variety of dry cereals and hot cereals, several different types of fruit including oranges, apples and bananas, many juices and sodas, and a tray that switched out. For example, there might be sandwiches in it or pancakes or French toast. It allowed the place to keep up some variety. Of course the great thing? Coffee. Gotta have the coffee while on the out and about.

For lunch, my ‘budget’ side came out as I was often running games during those times so I made sure to have some protein meal replacement bars and some of the snack variety bars to prevent the taste of one horrid meal completely ruining the eating experience. While the protein bars are not for everyone, their low cost and easy of use factor are still at use in my daily life as I’ll often snag one for breakfast if I’m late for work or low on funds for lunch.

The ‘cool’ thing for me was the food trucks. I don’t remember there being quite so many of them last year. It was a near overwhelming selection of options. The prices weren’t bad either. Mind you if you wanted something to drink they were going to snag you on that front pretty much where ever you went.

At the recommendation of some of the others, my first stop was in a Louisiana food stuff and enjoyed a Shrimp Po Boy sandwich that came with fries. I can say it was the best meal I had in terms of taste. Spicy but with flavor, not just heat. I then ate at the Pullman, a fairly well known restaurant. I had a simple cheeseburger with bacon. It costs $15 and since I usually throw 20% tip in, costs me $18. At that point, I didn’t eat at a restaurant again.

So then it was a turkey sandwich that disappointed. The outside looked very fancy and I thought it was a hot sandwich for some reason. Generally I won’t pay for a cold sandwich because hell, as lazy and bad as I am at cooking, I can make a sandwich. The good news is that the carrot cake was fantastic. It had a rich soft flesh that was easy to pull apart. The frosting was heavy and creamy and tasted very fresh.  It was also a decent sized piece of cake.

Along the line another food truck I stopped in at Ali BabasCafé, a Middle East style serving and enjoyed a chicken sandwich on pita bread and in another instance, the pretzel truck. The pretzel truck was insanely busy as they had a huge order a bit before I got there and it took over twenty minutes to eat.  I was super annoyed because I just wanted a cinnamon pretzel for desert and could’ve went to a few other desert trucks that weren’t busy but figured I was already in line right? D’oh! The good news is that it was a fantastic pretzel. Don’t know about that time wait but…

Some of the trucks were from restaurants around the area. Makes sense as I can tell you many of the sit down places were just walk in and eat. For me, after that outrageous price at the Pullman, I figured I might as well stick to the food trucks. Seriously, if you’re a restaurant serving the ICC, be aware of the trucks and have some con specials that deliver real value. Mind you the ‘sports’ places that are really serving beer don’t have to worry about that, and I suspect the coffee shops don’t have to worry about that.

Speaking of coffee shops, Bee CoffeeRoasters had some great stuff. The guy behind the counter was pointing out the variety of stuff they had and I ordered something on the expensive side and busted his chops a little. “Wow, it’s just like Star Bucks. I feel like I’m at home!” His reply was something along the lines of, “Oh come on man.” They had some fun flyers and other bits in the window that were a nod to AD&D. He told me that the gamers of Gen Con have a great thirst for coffee and they were glad to provide it! He also noted that they allowed some of the food trucks to use the facilities in exchange for food and seemed quite pleased with the arrangement.

Like much of downtown, the trucks were in on the whole ‘science-fiction-fantasy’ theme that Gen Con brings. There was sandwiches like the Han Solo for example at the pretzel place. Some went to more trouble than others with fancy menus.

Food wise, Gen Con has the benefit of being in the heart of downtown so you can spend however much you want. I still think it would be wise though if the smaller ended restaurants cut back on their prices if they have to compete with the trucks. If I go again next year, I may have to actually take advantage of the refrigerator in the suite and use that for making some grub in order to spend more in the main hall itself.

What  did everyone else eat? I know that the Ram is very popular and for me, that was part of the problem. Since I didn’t drink while I was out, I tried to avoid anyplace that was going to be packed due to the drinking activities. I saw a Dick’s Last Resort there and I’m pretty sure we have one in Chicago. There were also a few steak joints lined up that I didn’t hear too much about. 

I also didn’t hear much, either good or bad, about the convention food itself. Well, not quite true. The pizza I heard was ‘okay’. Bad news thought is I’m from Chicago so I wasn’t going to chance it. Don’t get me wrong, I know Chicago stuffed or pan pizza isn’t for everyone but it is for me. As a matter of fact, when I came home Sunday, I took mom to an Italian eatery.  One person at one of the games though, had a sandwich that actually looked not only edible, but tasty. I also know that coffee and other liquids were being sold in great quantities based on the amount of trash in the convention center.

I think I’ve got one more recap in me about the stuff at Gen Con so until then, good eating!