Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best of the year

With '08 wrapping up and this blog settling into a groove, I was thinking about good end-of-the-year posts.

I've tried a lot of great restaurants this year, seen a lot of cool things and explored some great towns.

But picking out the best isn't that hard, when it comes down to it.

Best restaurant discovery:
Bien Trucha, Geneva
This tiny restaurant reinvents the tacqueria into a classy, cozy restaurant hiding in plain sight in downtown Geneva. I have loved every bite I've eaten and every sip drunk at Bien Trucha, and hope there are many, many more to come.

Best downtown discovery:
Elmhurst, easily. There are a lot of great downtowns in the suburbs, and I could name a few more I love off the top of my head, but Elmhurst was only (sadly) discovered by me this year. With its excellent mix of food, public areas, and unique stores, it's a place I can't wait to walk around in again.

Best store discovery:
This is a little harder. I do love Funky Things in Algonquin something fierce, but I discovered that when it first opened in 2007. So this year's winner is probably SereneTeaz, again in Elmhurst. A fun and funky tea shop with samples galore and all the tea options you can imagine, plus some great clerks to help you find whatever it is you're looking for.

Best town-run discovery:
For a town as small as Wood Dale, they have a great pool/waterpark, known as "The Water Park," complete with big slide, adult hot tub, kiddie area and more. It was well showcased at National Night Out -- which is a great event in and of itself, complete with free swimming, free food, music, raffles and mosquitos. I mean more.

So tell me -- what were YOUR favorites of '08? I'm always looking for tips, suggestions, ideas, you name it! Comment away!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Nana's hot dogs and beef, Addison

A new hot dog joint opened on Lake St. recently, and on a cold Monday the husband and I decided we needed a quick, inexpensive lunch. So we decided to try Nana's out. It's on Lake St. just east of 355, in front of the Marcus cinema.

A bright, no-frills store, it's both cheery and a little stark. Counter and seats, that's pretty much it. The menu is equally low on frill -- hot dogs, beef, tamales, chili, fries, shakes and a couple desserts. I think there were two or three salads, as well.

The husband and I both had hot dogs. All of their sandwiches automatically include fries, which are stacked on top and rolled and smushed into them. The idea may be to try to snarf it all down together, but my mouth is not that big so I picked off the fries, which were great by the way -- handcut, fresh and hot.

The hot dogs were of the red hot variety, a bit smaller and snappier. Their "everything" is onions, relish, mustard and peppers -- no pickle or tomato. Which is a shame, since I love pickles. But it was still quite good, and I have no real complaints.

We also shared a pineapple milkshake, which was light, frothy and full of real pineapple bits. Delicious.

The only real problem with Nana's is that there are already a number of good hot dog joints in the area, and now we have another one! Truly, there is no shortage of hot dog places in northern DuPage County.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Apple Villa in Hoffman Estates

Apple Villa is one of those places that we would see and say, "We should try that some day."  We tried it this weekend and it lived up to our expectations.  

Located at 3101 N. Barrington Rd in Hoffman Estates, Apple Villa seems to be a local favorite for those in the Barrington, Hoffman Estates, Schaumburg area. The atmosphere is so comfortable and the best I could describe it would be to say it is simply warm. The service is fabulous here. My fiance and I both ordered hot tea and our waitress told us to inform her when we needed more hot water or another tea bag. We did and she was so quick to get us more and make sure we were happy. When you order hot tea, you're given the choice between regular or flavored teas. Even if you lean towards regular tea, check out the flavored tea. They bring out a briefcase full of fun flavored tea bags!

Our food came out quickly and was absolutely delicious. I ordered the Vegetarian Skillet with scrambled eggs and jalapeno mozzarella. The skillet was full of fresh mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and broccoli on top of hashbrowns. I was really impressed with it. I suppose I'm used to diner skillets like IHOP or Denny's where it's pretty obvious the veggies are frozen. But the veggies were so fresh and flavorful at Apple Villa and were such a delight. My fiance ordered the South of the Border omelet and was equally impressed. It contained fresh onion, green pepper, tomato, jalapeno cheese and what seemed to be homemade salsa.  His omelet came with hashbrowns and both our meals came with the option of toast or pancakes. The portions here are huge. We ended up taking about half of our meals home and warming them up for today's breakfast. 

I definitely plan to become a regular at Apple Villa. I am so impressed with their breakfast selection (served all day) and even their sandwich selection looked delicious. I plan on trying The Duchess next time I am in, which is one of their specialties that involves some sort of pancake recipe with vegetables and havarti cheese. Sounds interesting to me! Also impressive is the fact they brew Kona coffee and squeeze their own orange juice. 

Of all the places I've reviewed thus far, I believe Apple Villa is the best yet. If you're out at Woodfield Mall or heading home from church through Barrington, seek this place out for breakfast anytime. The service, the fresh food, and the atmosphere make it an A+ in my book.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Onesti Dinner Club, St. Charles

Recently, I attended a holiday party at the Onesti Dinner Club in St. Charles. I've only visited St. Charles a handful of times but I love the charm of the city. 

Onesti is located downtown at 18 N. 4th St. I was told that it is a renovated old church and it is absolutely beautiful on the inside. (The weather was too rotten to take a good look at the exterior.) We began with cocktails in the basement lounge/bar which was furnished with big, comfortable couches and a few booths and end tables. The candlelit ambience was cozy and sultry at the same time. They served my date's Blue Moon just right, in a tall glass with orange and my riesling was cold and delicious.  After cocktails, we headed upstairs for dinner. After a salad and dinner rolls, I enjoyed tilapia with steamed asparagus and mashed potatoes. The tilapia was a bit on the fishy side, but the rest was great. Because it was a large catered party, our choices were limited to tilapia, chicken, or steak. Though I am not a big fan of red meat, the steak looked really good and received rave reviews. After dinner, we were treated to a small dessert spread with bite sized cheesecakes (the raspberry was a hit!), brownies, cookies, and coffee. I would have liked to have seen a little more variety on the dessert table, but what I had I enjoyed.  Later we headed back down to the lounge/bar for more drinks and a Frank Sinatra impersonator.  I was told they host live music in the basement lounge regularly. I would love to check out a good jazz band there when it might be a little less crowded!

If you're looking for a place to host a holiday party or event, Onesti Dinner Club is definitely something to consider. If you're headed out to a nice dinner, Onesti Dinner Club will treat you to it.  If you want to dine in a beautiful old church, bedecked with trees, candles, and fabulous architecture, try Onesti Dinner Club!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A little taste of home -- Rooster's Barn and Grill, Bloomingdale

We tried out a place Friday night that we've passed numerous times -- Rooster's Barn and Grill. Honestly, we didn't have super-high expectations; it seemed like a good basic sort of restaurant and we were curious about their hot sauce bar, but weren't expecting a lot.

Well, it surpassed our expectations. The building is an old converted barn, complete with rafters and lots of woodwork. It's currently seasonally decorated, with "gifts" on the walls and stockings hung up.

The waitress was funny and friendly and brought us plenty of water; we explored the hot sauce bar and brought back six different selections to try at our table. We got nachos as an appetizer; they were sufficiently cheesy and chili-covered and the guacamole was really tasty. I had a pot roast sandwich, which was totally delicious and tender and smothered in cheese and grilled onions; the husband had a burger which he said was quite tasty. The fries were hand-cut and really tasty.

We did not have room for dessert, but their options looked delicious. I'd like to try some of their dessert (bread pudding, yum!), and maybe see what their wine list looks like. It's a fun neighborhood option with pretty darn good food, if you ask me.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Love popcorn? Kernel Fabyan's, Geneva

I will unabashedly admit to adoring Geneva and St. Charles. They are wonderful towns with a ton to offer. Geneva's Third Street is one of my absolute favorite suburban spots, and there are so many cool shops and eateries, I could write for hours.

But today I'm going to focus on a great little snack shop: Kernel Fabyan's. A clever little play on words (Colonel George Fabyan is a historic Genevan figure and has a bunch of stuff named after him), this cute little place mostly just offers fantastic popcorn and assorted drinks to wash it down. (They also have a Naperville location, but I have never been there and didn't know it existed until today.)

Now, I love popcorn. Mmmm. Buttery, cheesey, caramelly, however you make it, chances are I will eat it. But I'm a bit picky, too -- it has to be fresh, not fakey tasting. Garrett's in Chicago is probably the zenith of popcorn, but since most of us don't want to trek downtown just for some popcorn, Kernel Fabyan's is a completely acceptable substitute.

Located just a block north of the Geneva Metra station, the shop smells intensely of popcorn, cheese and caramel. They offer caramel, cheddar, white cheddar, kettle corn and "movie" aka buttered.

The caramel corn is light, crispy, sweet and buttery; the cheesy pop is turn-your-fingers-orange delicious, with tons of cheesy-buttery flavor that will keep you licking your fingers.

The next time you're in Geneva and want a little treat -- check out Kernel Fabyan's. (I'm making myself hungry just thinking about it...)

CJ's Coffee House, Zion

Hey all, it's Another Suburbanite again with another Lake County gem! If you're in the Zion area, you've got to stop at CJ's Coffee House at 2352 Sheridan Road.

I'm a huge fan of coffee and doughnuts. It's hard to find a good place in the suburbs that ISN'T a Dunkin' Donuts. That's why I was so excited when a friend recommended CJ's. It's reminiscent of a diner, with a counter and a few tables and lots of windows. The staff is so friendly and accommodating. But the highlight is definitely the doughnuts.

I'm going to assume these doughnuts are homemade, but I could be wrong. It doesn't matter because no matter what you get, it will be delicious. My personal favorites are the apple fritters and the vanilla iced sweet rolls. I only visited CJ's in the afternoon, but I'll bet if you show up early in the morning, the doughnuts will still be warm... and that's a fabulous way to start the day!

Aside from doughnuts, CJ's also offers a variety of coffees. They brew regular coffee but also offer espresso options. I'm a bit of an espresso snob after having worked at an independent coffee shop in my hometown in Indiana, so I'm hard to please. However, CJ's espresso drinks are a pleasant surprise! I hesitantly ordered a regular latte on my first visit and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you're a coffee snob like me, don't fret at your visit to CJ's. Order your usual and they'll do it up right.

Next time I'm in the Zion area, I intend to bring home a dozen of these delicious doughnuts. Check them out and you'll understand why!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Stav's Kitchen -- great food, fast in Addison

There are, seriously, so many restaurants around here that we could try a new place every weekend for probably 2 years. And I love that so many of them are local.

Friday evening we braved the chill to try a place in Addison that we drive by constantly. I'm not sure what to call it - it's sort of a diner-fast food hybrid. Stav's Kitchen is a counter service restaurant, but with high quality, diner style food that is served in real dishes with real silverware.

The focus is Greek and diner-y food, and on that front, it's similar to Shorty's in Wood Dale, although the menu is a bit bigger. But they have the usual suspects -- burgers, assorted sandwiches, gyros, spanakopita, salads, soup, etc. They also have ribs, broasted chicken, and a few other "dinners".

I was in a Greek mood, and went for the gyros dinner. It was a ton of food for the price -- choice of soup, salad or slaw (I went for the lemon rice soup), fries, a huge pile of gyros meat and warm pita, plus tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce.

The gyros meat was delicious, the pita warm and fluffy, and the lemon rice soup possibly the best restaurant soup I've had in ages.

My husband had the ribs dinner, which came with Greek-style rice, garlic bread, and the same soup/salad/slaw choice. He had lentil soup; he said the ribs were quite good and really enjoyed his soup as well.

Honestly, while the atmosphere is nothing special, the food was great and it came pretty fast. We will absolutely go back for a quick meal; heck, I would go back on my own and just have a big ole bowl of lemon rice soup and a grilled cheese.

Something's Brewing, Grayslake, IL

Hello fellow suburbanites! I'm Another Suburbanite and I've joined up to spread the word about how awesome Chicagoland is, even without the city. I just moved to the 'burbs in August with my handsome fiance and we've already done quite a bit of exploring. That said, here we go...

My most recent job required quite a bit of travel around Lake County. Though this was often a pain in the neck (especially when gas hovered around $4 per gallon!), it allowed me to enjoy some of the finer establishments unique to that area. I would like to share with you all one of my favorite places in all of Lake County: Something's Brewing in Grayslake.

Located in the Washington Square shopping center on East Washington directly across the street from the College of Lake County, this café is probably the area's finest. I was a very loyal patron when working in the area, visiting for lunch or dinner or just grabbing a quick coffee and muffin. The menu has so much variety that I doubt I tried the same thing twice on purpose.

The atmosphere is inviting and, because you're surrounded by homemade treats and sweets, also genius. After a sandwich and their famous bagel chips, I almost always craved something sweet. Whether you're in the mood for a sugar cookie, chocolate covered Oreo, or even an elephant ear, you can get it at Something's Brewing.

If you're in the area for breakfast, stop in for a latte and a cranberry nut muffin. The muffins are dense and filling and their espresso? Much better than Starbucks. For lunch, be prepared to wait behind a line of college students, but if you don't mind a short wait, I would recommend chicken and rice soup and the chef's salad. The salads include a great assortment of crisp veggies and come with fresh garlic bread, which is a delight. Try the honey sesame dressing. If you're stopping in for dinner, you can't beat the French melt with a side of bagel chips and spinach dip. Ham served warm on a croissant with lettuce and melted cheese is a favorite of mine. And if you're just in the mood for a snack, stop in for an everything bagel and an iced coffee. I promise you this combination will make any sour day good again.

I can't sing the praises of Something's Brewing enough. Be sure to stop in for sweet and original stocking stuffers!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I'd like to welcome a new co-author to the blog, who will go by "Another Suburbanite." (Hey, nothing wrong with a little anonymity in the blogosphere!) A fellow 20-something suburbanite like myself, she has plenty of experience with blogging and exploring... welcome! :)