Portillo’s restaurant holds a special place in my heart. Yes, I truly enjoy visiting the iconic Chicago restaurant for the best Italian beef sandwich dripping with tasty gravy, topped with the savory sweet peppers. They recently opened a new location in Gurnee and our lives haven’t been the same since. But that’s not the (whole) reason why I love Portillo’s.
After nearly every prenatal appointment in the last year, my husband and I would go across the street from the hospital and grab a bite to eat at Portillo’s. When you’re pregnant, you first start visiting the doctor once every month, then it cranks up to every other week and finally when you’re ready to pop, every week. We ate at Portillo’s a lot.
You know how after something big happens, it’s nice to go reflect on it? Well, Portillo’s was the place we went to reflect after seeing our baby on the ultrasound for the first time. We heard his little heartbeat at seven weeks and had no idea how that little human would change our lives forever. I remember waiting for our number to be cleverly called by the announcer in a snappy rhyme (“22, there’s food for you!”), starring at the black and white picture the techician handed us. We wanted a baby so badly and now it happened. I still had a disconnect between the photo I held in my hands and the living person growing inside of me. I loved being pregnant. The whole experience was awesome for me. I should add that my side effects were minimal and this made everything a lot easier on me than the women who suffer through morning sickness, food aversions and bed rest. Besides for the very end where my body swelled and my feet became loaves of bread, I had a fun time carrying around my baby.
I distinctly remember one visit to Portillo’s after our 20 week appointment. Doctor’s can tell the baby’s gender at that point and we agreed we wanted to know what we were having. So Eric and I anxiously watched as the ultrasound technician moved the doppler radar scanner over my small belly. I had a hunch that the baby was a boy, but Eric held out for a girl. When the screen showed us boy bits, we held hands as tears flowed down our cheeks in the small, dark hospital room. We were having a boy! We went across the street to Portillo’s to celebrate with dinner and a nice big slice of their famous chocolate cake. I started to cry. I was sad that we weren’t having a girl, even though my bets were on a boy. My mind raced through the years, thinking about how I’ll never go prom dress shopping with my child. I’ll never be able to braid her hair or paint her nails. I’ll never be the mother of the bride. Yeah, I went all the way off the deep end. And my poor husband sat there in the restaurant, trying to consol me. Yeah, I wasn’t having a girl, but I was having a boy. I would be able to play race cars with him and camp with him in the backyard. I’d teach him how to build sofa forts and finger paint. My husband is still so close to his mother and I know my son will grow up like that, too.
Yesterday, we had our final pregnacy-related doctor’s appointment. Everything looks back to normal and I’ve been given the all clear. And you know where we went after the appointment? Portillo’s. Except this time, we had our little baby with us. 6-weeks-old and sleeping in his car seat. As we enjoyed our meal, we realized this is just the start of a new era. We have a healthy, happy baby. It’s been a long year, but we’re here now. We celebrated quietly with tears welling in our eyes as we realized that our dreams came true. And the people at Portillo’s witnessed our crazy little family moment. I didn’t even feel judged.