Chicago ‘Top Shelf’ Food on Tour

Pink Peppercorns

Pink peppercorns from the spice house.

Looking for a way to sample a variety of food and learn a little something about Chicago’s food culture too?  A food tour can be a good way to do that, but there are drastic differences between them.

We have the Wicker Park Food Tour under our belt, and a chocolate tour too.  But most recently we were invited to tag along on a “top shelf” tour sponsored by e-mail newsletter.   Aimed at locals and hosted by the director of culinary arts and events for the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, Judith Dunbar Hines, this tour was one of the best we’ve taken. Hines’ insider foodie knowledge and her handle on Chicago food history made the three-stop tour  memorable, educational, and tasty! These tours are sporadic and thematic, so sign up for the Downtown Farmstand’s monthly Intelligensia to get up-to-date information about what tours are available when and how much they cost.

Brewing coffee

Brewing coffee at the factory with Mason Brown.

Our first stop on the Top Shelf tour was the Nicole’s Cracker’s coffee factory on west Fulton, where we got the day started off right with a caffine infusion while we learned all about the coffee brewing process.

Making Crackers

Making crackers at Nicole's.

From there, we made our way to Spice House, where Nicole herself regaled us with tales from her bakery business and plied us with baked goods and lemonade.

Jars of Spices

Add a little spice to your life! The folks at the spice house will walk you through it.

Finally, we found ourselves in the lovely courtyard behind the Spice House on Wells, learning all about pepper and vanilla… how it’s grown, where to find it, how much it costs, etc.

We were shuttled from spot to spot in a comfy bus, and the tour was just the right length — just over three hours. Keep an eye out for the next one… it’ll be worth your while.

We attended free-of-charge as members of the media.


These beautiful breads from Nicole are served all over the city, including at the Trump Tower and the Ritz Carlton.