JAMAICAN STAYCATION

The temperatures are anywhere from 5F to 35F these days, dusted with snow or a touch of blistery cold winds. Sounds lovely, right? Winters in Chicago can really take a toll on your good spirits, and while it’s easy to just hibernate {read: chibernate} until the Spring, why not get creative and do something fun instead?

Cue the Jamaican Staycation vibes at the Hard Rock Hotel on Michigan Ave. Staycations are an awesome way to not only break up the dreary days in winter, but also to explore your home city and add some fun into the usual routine.

Not only is an overnight stay in a swanky, comfortable and cozy hotel suite just a fab treat for yourself, the added bonus at the Hard Rock is the built-in island vibe courtesy of Mr. Brown’s Lounge. Sign me up.

The suites are modern, spacious and have awesome artwork centered on popular musicians. We were booked into Suite 1004, and had this amazing view of the Mag Mile.

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{awesome photo by the bf}

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Now, to what makes this staycation so awesome. A few steps past the reception days, you’ll walk into an island retreat. Mr. Brown’s has successfully made the space welcoming in the best possible way – tons of Jamaican record covers and old music event flyers on the wall and a bar stocked with essentials for delicious punch cocktails. One step inside the restaurant and you smell the seriously delicious, and authentic food coming from the kitchen. Sweet, spicy, comforting aromas. We checked in for our 8:30pm reservation at Mr. Brown’s. We also found out that a reggae band would be playing later that evening, so I was pretty excited. Love those reggae/dancehall beats!

ISLAND RUM PUNCH | Wray & Nephew Jamaican Rum, Myer’s Dark Rum, Cointreau, Island Juices, Ginger, Lime

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Yes, please! This punch is sweet, fruity and has just the right amount of rum. It’s definitely a crowd-pleaser, because there were plenty of these seen at other tables.

JAMAICAN JERK WINGS | grilled, pita bread

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Um… SPICY! I started off slowly, but then realized that really, the spice hits towards the end. Upfront you get awesome flavor from the spice marinade and grill. The bf and I love wings, though, so these were right up our alley! He definitely could eat more of them than I could. Thank goodness for that delicious Island Punch to sip on while snacking on these!

{Pro tip: wings are 50c each on Sundays! Check out all of their happy hour specials, though – great deals for each day of the week.}

CARIBBEAN FLANK STEAK | Jamaican marinade, cilantro garlic sauce, with rice, cabbage, plantains

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OXTAIL | brown sauce gravy, broad beans, with rice, cabbage, plantains

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The bf went with the flank steak for his entree, and I had the Oxtail entree. Listen. Mr. Brown’s does not play around when it comes to flavor! The steak itself was marinated first, then grilled and topped with a chimichurri-like sauce that had a good kick to it. The bf thoroughly enjoyed his steak, while I was silently savoring the seriously yummy Oxtail dish in front of me. My Mum makes a great oxtail stew, and I love the fattiness that comes from slow-cooking the meat on the bones until it releases all of it’s unctuousness into the supporting sauce/gravy. Mr. Brown’s oxtail dish is perfect. The meat is tender and falls off of the bone. The sauce is rich, but not overpowering, and the beans are a great touch! I mean, I just loved it. That entree is comfort on a plate. When the temperature outside of the restaurant is ~25F, this is the type of dish that you want. Plus, the flavors of it make you feel like you’re on the island itself. I have to note the sides as well. Each entree comes accompanied with rice & peas, cabbage and plantains. “Rice & peas” sounds simple, but theirs is not. It’s cooked with spices and coconut milk, and the resulting “side” dish could very well be a vegetarian’s main dish. It’s that good. If you love rice dishes like the Indian biryani or the Cuban congri, you’ll love this one. The cabbage is the mildest side on the plate, and is a good flavor combination with the spicy foods. The plantains.. of course, they’re great, and again add a contrasting flavor to the entree as a whole. While this plate of food seems like it’s straight out of your grandma’s kitchen {if she was Jamaican}, the flavor profiles of each are complex and layered. Really well executed.

As you can tell by the photos, the entree portions are large. By the time we had worked our way through most of our entree plates, there was only a little room left for dessert. Who am I kidding? We always save room for dessert! We decided to share the Banana Pudding.

BANANA PUDDING | banana bread, fresh banan, caramel, plantain

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This was a perfect sweet ending to a full-flavored, spicy meal. The dessert isn’t heavy at all, and has lightly-spiced banana bread, fresh bananas, a pudding/cream and syrupy plantains to top.

Towards the middle of our meal, I’d say around 9:30pm, the restaurant started to fill up with couples and large groups. Around the same time, the reggae band arrived to start setting up for their set. By 10:30pm, Mr. Brown’s was filled with a great mix of people, all enjoying the island-like getaway over great rum cocktails and the reggae beats from the stage.

If you’re looking for something new, something different, something that makes you feel like you’re on a vacation while still being here… I highly suggest checking out Mr. Brown’s on a weekend evening. It was great! And if you’re looking to really enjoy those cocktails, book yourself a room too and make it a Jamaican Staycation 😉

 HARD ROCK HOTEL CHICAGO | 230 N Michigan Ave, Chicago IL 60601

MR. BROWN’S LOUNGE – LOOP | 81 E Wacker Place, Chicago IL 60601 {inside the Hard Rock Hotel}

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