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Travel to Mexico City with an infant-1-2

Traveling to Mexico City With an Infant – Part 2

Travel to Mexico City with an infant-1-2

My biggest challenge in traveling to Mexico City with a 4-month infant was the water. Don’t drink the water. Skip ice cubes and fruit juice and produce on the street. Easy enough. But what happens when your infant sticks his hands in his mouth seconds after you’ve washed them in the sink and THEY ARE NOT DRY YET?

Dry them. Immediately. Or use wet wipes after you wash. Whatever it takes for you to stop stressing over it and start enjoying your trip. At least, that’s what I decided.

Here are some other things we wondered about ahead of time, and decided mid-stream in Mexico City: Read more

travel comfort socks underwear

Expert Opinions on Travel Comfort

One of the joys of having a travel blog is the periodic jolt of excitement I get when someone finds one of my articles funny, useful or even worth sharing. Such was the case when the Tommy John clothing company found my recent article on tips to travel with comfort and asked permission to use a quote in their infographic below.

Please note that I’ve not been paid in any way to write about Tommy John, in fact, I’ve never worn their clothing. However, I’ll say that after looking at their online store, it might be picking up some of their undies or t-shirts for the trip to the White Mountains in New Hampshire I just booked last night.

Many thanks to the Tommy John team for including Free Range Travel in their fun marketing piece and enjoying our travel blog.



Now onto figuring out what one does with a six-month old in Vail, Co. Any ideas? Leave your ideas in the comments below.

Thanks for reading – John



travel in comfort accessories

Essentials of Traveling in Comfort

travel in comfort accessoriesWhen we had our child, our pediatrician said something brilliant: “Unhappy parents make unhappy babies.” He singlehandedly justified not feeling bad about putting on the airplane mask before my child and having one extra cocktail at every dinner.

This idea inspired me to write about what accessories and strategies I use to be more comfortable (and thus happy) on long trips. They aren’t complicated or expensive. Both of those words generally make me uncomfortable. Read more


To Mexico City With an Infant – Part 1

Traveling is something that neither one of us wanted to give up when we had a child. In our love-hate relationship with Chicago, the hateful days land primarily in the forever greyness between the end of winter and the real end of winter. For those of you who cheat at life by living somewhere without slush, it’s like the stressful 15 minutes between pulling pecan pie out of the oven and not searing your mouth with goodness.

So, we escaped five days of April to Mexico City and did some learning about traveling with an infant. Read more


Free Range Nursing at Culver’s

Now that we have a newborn baby, our adventure travel will likely have to be put on pause, unless we consider long trips with the stroller down the third-world streets of Chicago’s Milwaukee Avenue an adventure.

For this reason, I’ve decided to provide up-to-date reviews on various places where my wife has been required to nurse our impatient young man. We hope to… 1) Help other weary parents find a quality, emergency respite when the cries are inconsolable…  2) Poke some fun at the low-quality places where desperation has landed us.

Our first impromptu nursing spot comes from a recent holiday trip from Chicago to St. Louis:

The Location:

Culver’s – Bloomington, Illinois [map]

The Situation:

  • 30 minutes before hungry baby meltdown.
  • 10 minutes before hungry parent meltdown.
  • A planned stop to satisfy all parties, complete with an exceptional butter burger, chicken sandwich and caramel shake as well as the friendly service one can expect from a Wisconsin-based company.

The Nursing Review:

Environment – 3 out of 5 Swaddles: 


It was a busy day, being a holiday week and its “what-the-hell” vacation attitude that convinced people of good taste to spend the extra buck to pass up McDonald’s and try a more refined, more buttery burger.

Diners were spread out in the large seating area, with light traffic going to and from the bathroom, the soda fountain with surprisingly good diet root beer, and the doors. The environment was warm enough – clean and quieter than one would think, perhaps due to the many mouths focused on the well-cooked beef and soft buns as cozy as a corner booth.

Privacy – 2 out of 5 Swaddles: 


Unfortunately, taking up the big corner booth seemed like an asshat thing to do, considering that a family with five ravenous kids in the middle of a long haul from Green Bay could have come walking through the door at any second. Those were the kind of Cheeseheads we were not willing to fight – even with the sympathy we may have gotten from the mother.

We settled for a booth against the wall instead of the tables in the middle of the room. Shielded by a highway-facing window on one side and my own body on another, Elise only had to deal with potential look-sees from a few adjacent diners and the awkward, yet diligent young busser.

Entertaining Distractions (for Mother) – 2 out of 5 Swaddles: 


With the table so close to the booth seat, the primary focus was on preventing our child from splitting his head open and completely ruining our day. The divinely slight char on the beef and the ever-so tenderly-browned bun was a worthy distraction, but the omnipresent bus boy was a constant reminder of how our child might end up after an unfortunate head wound.

Entertaining Distractions (for Father) – 2 out of 5 Swaddles:

swaddle-2The unnecessary stress of watching potential reactions from passers-by and hiding bare breasts from view with a baby blanket over-shadowed the joy I had from my own succulent breast in my Detroit Rock City of a chicken sandwich. In addition, our slow-eating son outlasted my interest in Facebook, personal emails and even a few old Oatmeal cartoons. It was a long hour.

Ease of Escape – 4 out of 5 Swaddles (3 if the burger is left behind):


Unless you’ve come across a pit-stop for Jeff Foxworthy’s funeral procession, the car is probably very close. The only issues in running out of a Culver’s because of an uncooperative baby are confused stares from people you’ll never see again – and leaving behind the last half of the burger you’d been thinking about for 165 miles.

tips to travel with kids - children

Traveling with Kids: A List of Valuable Resources

Someone asked me recently if I had any tips for traveling with kids, both on airplanes and/or internationally. For better or worse, my kid travel has been limited to a few road-trips with my siblings. All I remember from those frustrating times is that I needed a roll of duct tape or a rag soaked in chloroform.

To help this friend and others who’ll soon be traveling with kids, I scoured the internet and put together a list of credible blogs, articles and other resources that should help prevent readers from wanting the same things I did. Read more

My Chicago Summer Crowdsourced Events Calendar

With so many events going on in Chicago this summer, I’m determined to make the most of the five months we have without snow. To do this, I’ve created a crowdsourced Google Calendar. Myself and others will be adding interesting festivals, cheap happy hours, unique performances and other items of note. Feel free to bookmark this page or add it to your calendar list in Google Calendar:

To do the latter, put the Calendar ID below into the Add a friend’s calendar field in the calendar list on the left of your Google Calendar. Once you add the ID, it will appear in your calendar list.

My Calendar ID: c0gggs8ob8noklcvbq6cia5984@group.calendar.google.com



Columbia, MO: My Facebook Friends’ Favorite Places to Eat

I’d like to think my friends have good taste. That’s why my Facebook page makes a more interesting and interactive substitute for Google Search. It also helps that I grew up traveling from my small hometown to Columbia, MO in order to shop at the mall and eat at Bangkok Gardens (not on this “Places to Eat” list for some reason!), so I have a few old-school friends who know their stuff. For those looking at cheap and/or nice places to eat in Columbia, MO (also known to the locals at CoMo), below is a recent and infrormative Facebook thread that started as a request for a family member traveling to that fair city.

A summary and link to each restaurant mentioned is below the image. Enjoy the conversation! Read more


Glorious Fall Colors at Devil’s Lake – Wisconsin State Park

It’s always a crap-shoot Googling something to do over the weekend. Sometimes we end up with suggestions on drunken street “festivals,” yet another improv troupe (we’re in Chicago) or a great deal on a hotel in Phoenix. Last weekend, our roll came up boxcars when we searched “fall colors in Wisconsin” and “devil’s lake state park.” A few clicks later and we were on our way through a rainbow maze of country roads lined with autumn trees toward a mesmerizing view of Wisconsin’s beautiful Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo. Read more


What’s Grand about Grand Haven, Michigan?

Let’s start off by saying Grand Haven is three hours from Chicago and a soft walk over the fine sand to Lake Michigan. That’s too close not to enjoy at least once a year. We recently spent three days visiting Elise’s family and were treated like kings. Served up thick steaks, blueberry pancakes, losing hands of Euchre, stories of harsh winters and a brief tour of the town, we didn’t see a lot of the city. We did see enough to wish we stayed longer. Since most people reading this aren’t interested in what it takes to live through the winter with snow drifts that rise and fall like mountain ranges, we’ll stick to the summer season when Grand Haven’s best restaurants pack in the tourists and mild weather fills the beach.

Read more

Traveling - What to do in Sofia Bulgaria 2

A Couple’s Advice – Things to Do and See in Sofia, Bulgaria

Like the country in which it sits, Sofia is a wonderfully complicated place. It is what you make of it. Whether you want to spend a lazy day at a coffee shop on the plaza or play scavenger hunt with the remnants of past civilizations, there are plenty of things to do in Sofia. We traveled there on a 2-week vacation. We’re no experts. However, I’d argue that our experience may be the typical one for an adventurous mid-30’s couple who has no expectations and travels to Bulgaria because it wants to see something different. It’s not Paris. There are no places to check off your bucket list. The list of Sofia recommendations below is our own, created by random turns at the many intersections during our short time there. Read more

Touring Devon Avenue Chicago - Best Places to Eat 5

The Best Way to See Chicago’s Devon Avenue

Nice job! You’re looking beyond downtown to see the “real” Chicago: its wonderfully diverse neighborhoods.

My favorite local communities are uniquely ethnic. Yes, there are tasty ethnic restaurants around every corner. Many are worth a trip across town because the bánh mì  is so damn good. If you’re lucky, the gyro place across from your office has the best tzatziki. However, if you’re looking for a unique cultural experience beyond the lunch buffet’s chicken tikka masala, Chicago’s famous Devon Avenue is a highly recommended day trip.

What many consider the most diverse neighborhood in Chicago may look like a bazaar of urban capitalism, but behind each glass door is a story written by smiling moms and pops. On your own, choosing which door to open first can bring on Analysis Paralysis. Yelp can only tell you so much (and with little accuracy). Luckily, Devon Avenue was made accessible and incredibly entertaining by Spice of Life Tours. 

Touring Devon Avenue Chicago - Best Places to Eat 1

Company founder and tour guide Mohammad Ali gave a knockout performance <apologies> as a Devon Avenue youth turned public school AP History teacher turned civic promoter. It’s obvious he’s passionate about Chicago’s Little India. Where he gets the energy for a four hour tour after teaching kids European Absolutism all week is beyond this article, however, we tore up the town like only a bunch of 30-something white folks can do.


Eating Devon Avenue – The Restaurants

The Indian Book House is the start of the tour and its culinary journey. Begin with sweets and samosas from the local establishments. Meet your inevitably cool tour group. I find people who are culturally adventurous to be generally fun to talk to. <try the donuts and take the compliment> You’ll ease into the day with smiles and laughs.

Tiffin apparently has the best butter chicken in town and I’m not going to argue after scarfing a full plate of it. The buffet is huge and decor spotless and charming. It’s not expensive – and if you’re on the tour – included in the tour price is full lunch complete with unique Indian wine.

JK Kabob House looks like any other lunch-special corner joint. This shop makes the Spice of Life Tour because the meat kabobs are great. Sample lamb, chicken and beef from the local owners and wash it down with some fresh-off-the-boat Thumbs Up cola. The fizz of pre-Coke capitalism never tasted so good – and it’s only 40 calories a bottle.

Touring Devon Avenue Chicago - Best Places to Eat 2


Wearing Devon Avenue

You don’t have to be drunk to want a henna tattoo at the Roopkala salon. A common element in Indian celebration, its intricate beauty can make the back of your hand a piece of art (if for only a few days). Get one in 5 minutes and show it off to your friends. They’ll want one too.

Touring Devon Avenue Chicago - Best Places to Eat 3

I’ve never looked so good in bling. One would think the sequin and rhinestone covered hand-made clothing would be more for art than wearing, but once you straighten the collar, its elegance is addictive. Saahil is a special place where the incredibly friendly staff help visitors try on graceful saris and talk about the pomp and circumstance of Indian ceremonies. Hearing the stories and seeing in the brides’ dresses will make you want a very close Indian friend who is about to get engaged.

Touring Devon Avenue Chicago - Best Places to Eat 6


A Devon Avenue Community

Our tour brought us to a Sikh temple where we donned a customary head-scarf, learned about this peaceful region and had post-service tea. It’s a simple place that reminded me of a family reunion where people had nowhere to be but in pleasant conversation. While Sikhism is by no means the populous religion that Hinduism is, their story is unique, and according to many reviewers, a memorable part of the tour.


Getting to Devon Avenue’s Little India:

Since it’s in a large residential neighborhood, there is plentiful street parking (free on Sunday for now) and a parking garage on the corner of Rockwell and Devon. The garage is useful for those people going on the four hour Spice of life tour. If you’re coming from the southern parts of Chicago in a car, consider taking I-94 north to Peterson. Go Western north through the city at your own risk.


More information on Devon Avenue’s best restaurants:


Devon Avenue is more than restaurants…

…and even India. It’s a multi-cultural experience that offers a view into Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Afghanistan and other Southeast Asian countries as well.  If you want a personalized guide of this unique place from someone who does it for the community and not the money, I’d highly recommend contacting Mohammad to learn more.

Travel Sickness: “What To Do When It’s NOT Yellow Fever”

Travel Sickness Yellow Fever

My girlfriend Elise is at the doctor’s office and I’m at a coffee shop trying to hold back an annoying amount of sneezes, coughs and sniffles myself. The situation has reminded me of a more memorable bout of travel sickness, one that forced us into three long days in Baños, Ecuador (named for its volcanic baths). As with most challenges, overcoming it was a learning experience on how to deal with overseas illness. I’ve formatted this story with more humor than was actually present, and into a few important topics for easy reference.

Elise’s sickness came on quick, painfully and was introduced by a relatively uninformed statement, “What did I eat?”

Read more


Hunting for Bob Ross in the Wisconsin Northwoods

Cabins in the Wisconsin Northwoods are made for snow. The perfect amount is enough to cover the dark green Spruces like a Bob Ross painting, but not too much to fill your shoes when hiking through it. I almost feel sad when I accidentally brush up against a tree and that brush stroke of titanium white falls off the branch. It becomes naked and out of place.

No worries. There’s more where that came from. A lot more. Read more

Best Summer Music Festival? Portland’s Pickathon…

Inevitably, as musicians finish their 60 minute sets on any of the unique stages at the Pendarvis Farm, they say to the crowd:

“Pickathon is the best summer musical festival in the country! I really hope you’ll have me back next year!”

If I didn’t hear it from every band on our most recent trip, I wouldn’t believe it. However, when the artists are so obviously inspired by the genuine excitement and appreciation of being there, you must know it’s true. The music is made so much more powerful when the fun is shared across the blurry line between stage and audience. This is the case at Pickathon – and why it’s worth a flight and a few hundred dollars to be a part of a weekend full of those moments.



The Pickathon Mountain View Stage – Courtesy of Liz Devine

Read more

Where to Eat in Chicago – by One Year Locals

 “Where to eat in Chicago?”


Over the past year, we’ve typed this into Google more than a few times…

We’ve been in Chicago for almost a year and the first thing we learned about the town is the sheer amount of amazing places to eat. Elise and I came to Chicago from St. Louis where the food scene is growing, but here in the Windy City, 3,000,000 people from almost every country on the planet make for limitless choices. Read more

What to Eat, Drink and Read in Downtown St. Louis

Eat, Drink and Read in Downtown St. Louis - Central Library

photo by Timothy Hursley Photography

I recently went back to St. Louis, where I still own a loft apartment just off Washington Ave, and had a day off from visiting friends to wander my old neighborhood. I had lived there five years and very rarely walked across the street to one of the most beautiful buildings in the city – The St. Louis City Central Library. It’s over a century old and takes up a city block with a mountain of stone and granite. I never felt very comfortable there in the dark cavernous rooms stacked 30′ in the air with dusty books. There was always a danger of walking into the law section, getting lost and dying of thirst clutching the 9th edition of Robert’s Rules of Order. It was a dreary place. Read more

A Staycationer’s Guide to Los Angeles

Coles los angeles what to do guide

Cole’s – Great dip, great drinks

If you’ve never been to the City of Angels, or perhaps came on quick business and were grounded by meetings and the two hour event otherwise known as TSA Security check at LAX, you might think it’s a city better seen through film than actually visited. Fellow travelers might have warned you of the insane traffic, the lingering smog and the alleged lack of culture. As a transplanted Angeleno, and recovering road-rager, I know a bit about being behind in the learning curve of loving L.A. It took me years to find that avoidance is the best approach to the city’s clockwork gridlock –and I mean AT ALL COSTS. Plan around it. If you’re spending the day at the beach, stay there for the duration of the day. Leave the anxiety of trying to jump across town to the ones who truly have to be somewhere. You’ll thank me later.

Flying In: 

If at all possible, catch a flight into one of the smaller airports, like Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. It’s a breeze with or without checked bags, and there is a Super Shuttle van that will take you (without reservations) to any place you need to go—carpool lane! One way fares average $18, and you might meet a fellow traveler who can suggest a local spot to eat/drink/party en route. Taxis in LA are usually a no-no, if you’re on a budget especially. If you’re flying into LAX, the FlyAway Bus has pick-ups every 15 minutes or so on the bottom level outside baggage claim. One way tickets are $6, and they drop off at Union Station downtown, Van Nuys and Westwood. Then catch a cab or courtesy shuttle to your hotel, if you’re not staying near the airport. That being said, do yourself a favor and rent a car for at least a portion of your trip. I’m all for public transport, but there are places you’ll want to see that will be much quicker and easier to get to on your own.

Downtown: Where to stay:

Lodging for the carless:

The Biltmore Hotel–This hotel is worth it. Located at 506 South Grand Avenue and 5th Street, you’ll be in the middle of the city with easy access to all sorts of interests (and freeways ) and the 7th Street Metro stop just a few blocks away. The rooms are everything you’d expect from a ritzy downtown hotel and the breakfast is super yummy. The lobby bar will do for pre-dinner drinks or late evening mingling with the natives, and if you need to sweat it out in the morning, the gym in the basement has an excellent steam/sauna/lap pool to rid your body of the previous evening’s indulgences.

Biltmore hotel los angeles what to do guide

Not too shabby

Lodging for the thrifty:

Stay on Main–You can choose one of the hostel style rooms, or get a private bathroom for under $50 a night if you book early online.

Downtown: What to do?

Bring your walking shoes and make like a tourist. Adjacent to the Biltmore is Pershing Square, the Los Angeles Public Library (worth a stroll), and not too too far, Little Tokyo. Get yourself a milk tea Boba and check out the special exhibit at The Museum of Contemporary Art.

The French Dip:
The French Dip Sandwich is somewhat like the Philly Cheese Steak of LA. My two cents? Phillipe’s on Alameda—ask ‘em to double dip it, and get a side of the macaroni salad. Walk it off through the chiming, parasol-filled muddle that is Chinatown. Buy yourself a dollar cat statue or just wander in amazement at the myriad wares. If one ‘wich wasn’t enough, compare the self-professed original at Cole’s French Dip on 6th Street and eat at the bar. The drinks here are a real treat. If it’s late enough, head to the back of the restaurant for a cocktail at Varnish. Live music and ambience abound.

Other spots for LIVE MUSIC downtown, if you’re not feeling the 40’s vibe:

The Redwood Tavern (free) —nightly spanning from folky to rock ‘n roll. Get there early and try the sliders.

The Down ‘n Out (free) —nightly bands and/or DJs and eye-candy at the bar. If you’re a people watcher, take a break from the booze and sit out at the patio. Across the street is The Last Book Store. Take a gander.

Last Book Store los angeles what to do guide

Return your books at… I mean to… the counter

The Smell ($5) —check the website, indie experimental to hard-core noise, all-ages. If there’s a crowd in the alley, you’re in the right spot and it’s probably a break between bands. Go around the corner and get a late night taco off the cart.

La Cita ($5) —Mariachi to DubStep, depending on the night. Check out Friday’s Part-Time Punks ‘Punky Reggae Party’ or head to the back patio on a Sunday morning/noon. Build your own Bloody Mary bar and don’t be afraid of the jumbo shrimp.

Staying and doing on the West-side: 

Stay in Venice, rather than Santa Monica and save yourself about $100/night. It’s a long stroll from one end to the other, but the street performers, shops and roller-skating dolls on the Venice Boardwalk are not to be missed and you can rent beach cruisers at one of the shops on Venice or Washington Blvds and ride up to Santa Monica. I know it’s not the preferred method of travel in L.A., but I love biking around this town. Sporadic accident is my favored way of finding new spots. Just make the best of whatever situations present themselves, because there’s no telling what little gem of local culture you’ll find when you don’t get to where you’re going.

Los Angeles Beaches, Man:

If you are traveling across town in the morning for a beach day, your best bet is to take the 101 N and take one of the canyons out to the coast (as long as you go early). In the summer, there’s really no way of escaping Westbound traffic, but the scenic ups and downs through Topanga Canyon, not to mention the fruit stands, hiking trails and little hippie villages along the way will make you forget you were ever stuck in it. For Zuma, Point Dume, El Matador or Malibu, stay on the 101 to Kanan Road. From the Westside, find your way to Route 1, or the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). It’s a gorgeous drive whether you’re headed North or South, littered with Seafood Restaurants and beachy shops. You can park at any time to admire the view, surf or just test the water.

Point Dume Beach los angeles what to do guide

Point Dume Beach

Secluded and a steep hike down a rusty stairway is one of my favorite places for relaxation and calm. You can take the bus, but I’d recommend renting a car for this excursion. Leave early and pack a picnic. There are limited parking spaces near the trail, and absolutely nothing walk-able in the way of food and drink. The climb over the rocky patch before the beach can be difficult with your hands full, but I promise it’s worth it. Right next-door is El Matador; slightly more ‘romantical’, just as worthy of a visit.

If you’ve a hankering for something with a resort feel, check out Paradise Cove on your way back down PCH. Parking is steep at $30/day, but if you eat in the restaurant, it’s $3 for 4 hours and the property is well worth the dough. Go later for sunset from the pier. You can also rent cabanas and chairs, and there’s the benefit of not having to pee in the Pacific.

A special thanks to guest blogger Katy Hill. She is an actress and jack-of-all-trades currently living in L.A.  Elise and Katy bonded as teenagers in their shared room aboard the Feodor Chaliapin on the Volga River.

Have your own suggestions? Please let us and our readers know! 

Sidney Bridge Climb – An Everest Down Under

Sidney Bridge Climb

Say “I need a bathroom Pleeeease!”

December, 2012…

The end of a two-month self-guided journey through Australia and New Zealand lands us in Sydney. The two most prominent landmarks descending to the Sydney Airport are the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge.  The most prominent landmark viewed from the Intercontinental Hotel is the Harbor Bridge – the Coathanger – as the locals call it.  Image stabilizer binoculars focus on 12 Everest-like climbers – Bridge Climbers making their way to the summit!

“Liz we are all over that!”

A quick call to the hotel concierge and three hours later we were stripping street clothes and sliding into blue/grey body suits.  Absolutely nothing was allowed that might fall below onto the Bradfield Highway or into the Harbor. We underwent an alcohol breath analyzer to screen out the inebriated and even a metal detector for hidden forbiddens that might be tossed on the unexpected below.

All 12 climbers are connected to a cable that runs the entire tour length.  The climb itself was not difficult.  The 3 1/2 hours with no bathroom break was… damn that extra double-shot cappuccino!  Our knowledgable guide, Clyde, had led 6,000 plus Sidney Bridge Climbs and probably uttered, through our headphones, the same corny but funny jokes just as often. The price of $248 per person covering 1,332 steps works out to 18.618 cents per earned step. The 360 degree view was priceless! A satisfying accomplishment. This was a perfect activity to end our visit down under.

Sidney Bridge Climb-2

Photo courtesy of http://australia.shopsafe.com.au


Scott and Liz Capen are this week’s guest bloggers, and retired educators who travel the world searching for the next total eclipse. Elise and John met Scott and Liz while traipsing around Chugchilán, Ecuador.

The Difference Between NY and Montreal Pastrami

Apparently there’s a secret war going on in the meat world, and it’s a low-profile, high stakes game of geocuisine chest-thumping.

Montreal Pastrami - Travel planner

Montreal Pastrami

Elise and I recently took our first trip to the Chicago French Market and spent two hours wandering through a few authentically titled French food stalls, and even more vendor counters selling very un-French cuisine. The purpose was to waste time on a Sunday in the hopes of finding unexpected and tasty lunch. We completely succeeded. Elise found an amazingly good Teriyaki sauce that reminded me to respect what I thought was something left to poor college students. I found Fumare’s Montreal Pastrami. This post isn’t about the war between those two discoveries (although many would argue that battle was won after the word “take-out” became popular), this is about the long banner that advertised a unique Canadian experience.

While waiting for my sandwich at the counter I asked the kind of question that has no short answer:

“So what’s the difference between Montreal and New York Pastrami?” Here’s the summary:

The Cut of Meat:

Pastrami meat is really just beef brisket – the difference in the two comes down to what part of the cow is used. While most NYC meat comes from the navel part of the cow where the muscle is longer, Fumare uses meat from the area of the heart where, according to the owner, the muscles are shorter, more tender, and have more oxygen. This oxygen allows the meat to break down better in the heat and render in a creamier, smoother fashion that gives  Montreal Pastrami it’s unique taste. The numbers on Montreal meat:

  • Wet-cured in brine for a day
  • Rubbed in seasonings and marinaded for up to 10 days
  • Smoked for up to 10 days

New York style meat is cured in the more common way – in a brine seasoned with a mix of various herbs and spices. In addition to being smoked, NYC pastrami is often steamed before serving to help soften and render the fat. The numbers on NYC meat:

  • Wet-cured in brine for a day or so
  • Rubbed-seasoned with spices and marinaded for up to 5 days
  • Smoke-cooked for a few hours
  • Steamed before serving

The Spice:

Montreal Pastrami is uniquely brined for maximum juiciness. After being rubbed with spices and salt, the meat sweats its liquid, in effect creating its own brine. Most delis will then rub the brisket with peppercorns and spices before smoking it. For this reason, most Montreal Pastramis are more peppery than its NYC counterpart which can be heavier on the coriander and spice rub in general.

Fumare's Montreal-Pastrami-Booth

The Taste:

I can’t be too savvy in comparing the two types of meat directly since I haven’t had a good NYC style pastrami sandwich in a while, but there is a noticeable difference. Because the fat is softer, Montreal pastrami can be cut thicker. This is not necessarily better, but unique in that most American delis slice pastrami as thin as possible. For this reason, one could say it’s not pastrami but brisket. Fumare’s in the Chicago French Market served their sandwich on very thin Jewish-style rye which was underwhelming compared to others I’ve had in the past. My rye soaked up the juice like a sponge and broke apart too easily. You pay to taste the meat, not the bread so I wouldn’t consider this a loss unless you’re out of napkins.

My Final Thoughts:

I love a sandwich full of fatty, smoky meat that costs $8. If Fumare’s is indicative of Montreal-style pastrami, I’m sold. It was one of the most flavorful pieces of “deli” meat I had ever eaten. I understand that at many places it’s possible to order something more lean, but then the desperate act of scraping bits of heavenly pastrami off the wax paper after it falls apart in your hand is lost. If you’ve ever begged to lick the brownie-mix bowl, you understand.

Fumare (and one of the best sandwiches in town) can be found in the Chicago French Market at:

131 N Clinton St
Chicago, IL 60661

Fumare's Montreal-Pastrami-Booth