That first bite of thick, cheesy Chicago-style pizza is comfort food at its best.
Deep-dish pizza is a hallmark of Chicago, and groups visiting the Windy City can grab a bite in one of hundreds of restaurants around town. But for a behind-the-scenes Chicago culinary experience, a deep-dish pizza cooking class will give travelers a new appreciation for this iconic food.
This experiential event and other exclusive group experiences create ways for groups to discover Chicago’s burgeoning culinary scene. For a local experience, groups can play high-tech darts at a popular bar and restaurant.
To add extra value to a Chicago tour, group travel planners can choose from any of these fun and innovative culinary experiences.
Cooking Classes at Pizzeria Uno
Groups can get their hands dirty making and eat deep-dish pizza at Pizzeria Uno. Believed by many to have invented Chicago-style pizza, Pizzeria Uno developed its trademark recipe 74 years ago. The restaurant is now revealing all its pizza-making secrets.
“Group dining tends to be something really quick,” said Naomi Hattori, director of global development at Choose Chicago. “Something like cooking a deep-dish pizza is a really interesting interactive experience. People learn why it is so different and why it takes so long to cook. I think it makes a more memorable way to have a dining experience.”
Participants learn to shape their own dough in a deep-dish pan, crush tomatoes to create the sauce and layer the cheese with their choice of toppings. The classes include a pizza lunch or dinner with a salad and a beverage.
Ike Sewell created his Chicago-style pizza with its buttery crust and shape like a fruit pie in 1943. Pizzeria Uno has been packed with diners ever since and now has over 100 locations across the country.
In 1994, Uno broadened its menu to include other dishes. Even still, the deep-dish and thin-crust pizzas remain the most popular dining options.
Darts at Flight Club
In most bars, a dart board is an afterthought hidden away in a corner. At Flight Club, the dart board takes center stage.
Flight Club has elevated the basic game of darts into a fast-paced, multiplayer game with dart-tracking technology that encourages novices and experts to play a game together. Each high-tech dart station has multiple throw lines to ensure that even an absolute beginner could win a game.
The programmed games provide instant scoring and an intuitive user interface. The restaurant and bar offers 14 dart board areas. Each of those dart boards can accommodate 20 players. A video screen shows novices how to play. Hosts can help unsure players as well. Participants can order food from the dart stations with a touchscreen call button.
Flight Club divides into two levels. An 80-seat formal dining experience happens downstairs, while the bar-style menu and darts games occur upstairs.
The user-friendly dart club originally opened in London. This first U.S. location uses similar designs with carnivalesque fixtures, such as vintage circus objects hanging alongside sports trophies and medals.
“When you have a big group that sits at a large table, you can’t really interact with everyone,” said Hattori. “I think activities can foster relationships in the group with people you might not know well. This organized darts experience gives people a chance to interact. Chicago has a lot of other interactive dining experiences. We have everything from pingpong to shuffleboard.”
Live Music at the Tortoise Supper Club
This year has been designated by the city of Chicago as the Year of Chicago Music. The Windy City’s musical influence touches a wide variety of genres, including rap, hip-hop, blues, rock and jazz.
To listen to some of Chicago’s well-known music, groups can relive the 1940s and 1950s experiences, when supper clubs frequently included stars like Dean Martin singing long into the night. The Tortoise Supper Club has updated the experience but kept the live entertainment and classy vibe with live jazz music every Friday and Saturday night.
“People know we are known for our music, but they don’t know what live music we offer,” said Hattori. “We are known for our Chicago blues and jazz. As a group leader, you are looking for added value. You can be very effective and efficient with your time by combining music with dinner.”
The Tortoise Supper Club serves traditional American fare made from scratch and farm-fresh ingredients. Groups can order steak or seafood while surrounded by a cozy yet stylish restaurant with white tablecloths and a leather-and-wood ambiance.
The Tortoise Supper Club is like a love letter to the city, with local art and historic artifacts. Diners can cozy up to the fireplace with historic books loaned from the Newberry Library. On the walls, the owners commissioned caricatures of colorful Chicagoans from the 1900s with the inspirational aid of the Chicago History Museum.
Groups from five to 275 can find accommodation in several private rooms in the restaurant.
Elevated Dining at Pie in the Sky
Diners can take a bite and then look out on one of the most famous views in the city at Pie in the Sky. The restaurant serves exclusive meals to diners for VIP access to the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower’s Skydeck.
“We have a lot of restaurant experiences that are high above the city,” said Hattori. “People think of Chicago’s skyscrapers, but they don’t think of how they can dine in higher spaces as well. Having a private meal in a skyscraper is a great way to take pictures and enjoy the views.”
Groups can book a meal just a few feet from the Skydeck’s walkout ledge. The glass ledge juts out so people can look straight down 1,353 feet to the streets of Chicago.
The venue welcomes groups for a breakfast before the Skydeck opens to the public or after the attraction has closed for a late-evening dinner. Pie in the Sky uses Giordano’s to cater the restaurant’s three-course meals. Giordano’s has been making deep-dish pizzas since 1974. Getting a bird’s-eye view of the city without crowds of other tourists makes the event unforgettable.
Groups that don’t want to arrive early in the morning or late at night can book a VIP lunch on the 99th floor before heading upstairs to the 103rd floor for a fast-track entry.