Friday, December 11, 2009

Rockin' the Indian food in La Grange

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to attend a fabulous dinner party at a new Indian bistro in La Grange, thanks to my membership on the website Yelp.

And I'm still thinking about the food, so I simply must spread the word about the wonderful Kama Indian Bistro, 8 W. Burlington Ave. in La Grange. It's very easily accessible by Metra line, so those in the city or along the BNSF line have no excuse.

It's a cozy space, not too small but not too big, with great purple walls and interesting artwork - no pictures of the Taj Mahal here! The walls are lined with bench seating with lots of pillows, for an intimate feel. But while it feels slightly communal, the quarters are not too close for comfort.

And the food is simply amazing. I am no expert on Indian food, being a white chick and Indiana native, but I did grow up eating it from a recent immigrant's kitchen, and it is comfort food to me. Everything I tried - even the mushroom pakoras, and I've never been a huge fan of mushroom - was full of wonderful flavors and textures. We were given loads of food and probably tried half the menu, and I thought it was all pretty fantastic.

Especially worth mentioning are the chicken lemon tadka, the chilly crispy potatoes, the chicken tikka, and the lamb biryani. But honestly, I doubt you could go wrong with any of it. The owner and his wife - and the owner's father, a classically trained chef - were delightful and inquisitive and explained their food philosophy to us: authenticity and fresh ingredients. No cans here. They even make their garam masala from scratch, which is pretty amazing.

Prices are reasonable, food is plentiful and the atmosphere is friendly and sophisticated -- great for a dinner with friends or romantic night out. And seeing as I won a gift card from the Yelp drawing to come back, we will be revisiting Kama Bistro in the near future.

I highly recommend this gem of a restaurant - and La Grange is a pretty cute little town, too.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Holiday fun at the zoo

Christmas is such a great distraction from the fact that the weather sucks, isn't it? We put up sparkly lights and Christmas trees and buy a lot to distract ourselves from the short days and gray skies.

And three area zoos do fun, festive things for the holidays -- because who would ever want to go to the zoo in December otherwise?

But if you bundle up, and bring a few extra dollars for hot chocolate, you can have a lot of fun at these holiday events.

Festival of Lights at Cosley Zoo
1356 N. Gary Ave., Wheaton
630.665.5534, Wheaton Park District
Price: Free
Time: 3 to 9 p.m. daily through Dec. 30
Features: 2,200 trees for sale, plus wreaths, animal-related gifts and ornaments; decorative lights; holiday music; hot chocolate. During the weekends of Dec. 5 and 12, kids can visit with Santa and make a holiday-themed craft project from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for a $2 donation.

Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
3300 Golf Road, Brookfield
708.688.8000, Chicago Zoological Society
Price: $12; $8 for seniors and kids ages 3 to 11
Time: 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 20 and daily Dec. 26 through 31
Features: More than 1 million lights; a light show synced with music; ice-carving demonstrations, a train ride, live music, dance performances, storytellers, magic acts, caroling and visits with Santa, and much more.

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
2001 N. Clark St., Chicago
312.742.2000 Lincoln Park Zoo
Price: Free
Time: 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 13 and daily Dec. 18 through Jan. 3
Features: Mix of indoor and outdoor attractions; 1.5 million lights outside; hot chocolate and spiced wine; ice carvers; musical light show on the zoo's south lawn; free visits with Santa in the lion house through Dec. 23; more.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Rockin' Oak Park

I've been a bad blogger. Work has been busy, our trips out haven't been as frequent, and I've often put off or forgotten to talk about the cool places we've been.

But I wanted to highlight a great suburb I'd not previously spent much time in: Oak Park. The surrounding area of River Forest and Forest Park (how confusing is *that*?) is also quite nice.

Bordering the city, Oak Park's downtown runs along Lake St (US 20) and a few blocks north and south, starting at and continuing east from Harlem.

There's a great variety of shopping, restaurants and stuff to do along this stretch. Just on the other side of Harlem is a shopping center with grocery, chain restaurants and more, and free parking (always a bonus in this area). And downtown Oak Park has bookstores, a movie theater, plenty of restaurants, shoe stores, clothing, crafts, food and more.

A few highlights of places to go:

Ten Thousand Villages, 121 N. Marion St.: a fantastic store full of home goods, crafts, accessories and more made by artisans in developing countries and sold at fair trade prices.

Pumpkin Moon, 1028 North Blvd.: A funky store jam-packed with creative gifts and odds and ends from Pez dispensers to political t-shirts.

Barbara's Bookstore, 1100 Lake St., and The Book Table, 1045 Lake St.: Two locally-owned bookstores offering new and used titles -- and a great local alternative to the third bookstore on the block, Borders.

Bleeding Heart Bakery, 1010 North Blvd.: A "punk" bakery started in Chicago, and made famous on Food Network Challeges, this cozy place offers fresh, local, sustainable baked goods including a wide variety of cupcakes.

Wells St. Popcorn, 1119 Lake St.: Serving the quintessential Chicago snack food guaranteed to turn your fingers orange, with cheese corn, caramel corn, kettle corn and buttered.

There's plenty more in Oak Park and the surrounding area to explore, including a very cool-looking forest preserve, but there are a few highlights. Take note, suburbanites: Most parking is metered, except on Sundays. You can park in the Whole Foods shopping center lot on Lake for free for three hours; there is also a Metra and Green Line station on Harlem.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Anniversary in the suburbs -- Francesca's Amici

My husband and I recently celebrated our second anniversary, and I left it up to him to decide our activities for the evening. (I wanted him to flex his creative muscle and see what he could come up with!)

I must say, he came through. We started our afternoon by picking up a bottle of wine we'd ordered from Cabernet & Company in Glen Ellyn, a wonderful little wine shop. After perusing the area for a little while, we went on to dinner at the wonderful Francesca's Amici, 174 N. York Road in Elmhurst. I have never had a bad meal at a Francesca's (there are 15 in the suburbs and four in Chicago) and this was no exception.

We love the look of Francesca's, with warm wood, simple white tables and black and white photos on the brick walls. And we really love the food. We shared a sausage pizza with delightful thin, crispy crust and just enough cheese. I drooled over every bite of my gnocchi con ricotta, which combined tender dumplings with fresh ricotta, basil, spinach and a spicy tomato sauce. And my husband enjoyed his linguine with pancetta.

Service was quite good as well. I love Francesca's, have I mentioned that? :)

After dinner, the rest of the evening lay before us. Normally you might think we would go see a movie, or a play, or perhaps go to a nightclub. But no, my husband had a little fun-loving exercise in mind for us. And so it was that we ended up at the Lombard Roller Rink, 201 W. 22nd Street, Lombard, for an evening of flashbacks to middle school, minus the terrible '90s clothing. It was a lot of fun. The rink is well-maintained, with friendly staff. We were among the older people there, but who cares? We had a blast. (Okay, so I wished for more rock and alternative and less rap, but hey. Can't win 'em all.) They even had the place decorated for Halloween.

And so it was that we celebrated our anniversary in quirky style. I would recommend any of these businesses for great wine, wonderful Italian food, or a fun afternoon or evening of exercise!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Not just for Christmas...

A quickie: Love Christmas lights? A guy in Forest Park does it up high-tech for Halloween, too. Check out all the info you need at that link.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

More fall fun in the 'burbs

Some of these are repeats, but others are new... big thanks to the Juice Box!

Every weekend through Nov. 1, Stade’s Farm and Market, McHenry
Experience a day on the farm with corn maze, pumpkin picking, barrel train, crafters, pedal cars and more.
Information: or 815-675-6396

Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in October, Navy Pier, Chicago
Explore as a traveling sideshow overtakes Navy Pier with a spectacle of circus feats and living human wonders.
Information: or 800-595-PIER

Oct. 2-4, downtown Long Grove
Festival features “make your own taffy apple” booths, apple martinis, caramel apple lattes and other apple-inspired treats, kids’ activities and live music.
Information: or call 847-634-0888

Oct. 3-4, Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe
Visitors will find a marketplace of baked goods, roasted nuts, cut flowers, handmade soaps and vegetables. Enjoy activities, such as “guess the weight of the pumpkin,” a straw bale maze and leaf rubbing crafts.
Information: or 847-835-5440

Oct. 3-31, Gurnee
Great America is transformed into a Halloween playground. Shows, street entertainment and haunted houses featured.

Oct. 4, Union
Musical entertainment by “Charlie B. and Friends” as well as apple head doll crafts, a barn raising, harvest demonstrations, blacksmithing and old-fashioned cider making.
Information: www.mchs or 815-923-2267

Oct. 9-11, downtown St. Charles
Three-day fest includes a children’s carnival, craft show, live music and more than 100 hand-crafted scarecrows.
Information: or 800-777-4373

Oct. 8-12, Marengo
Parade as well as arts and crafts, petting zoo, carnival rides, antique tractor display, car show food and entertainment.
Information: or 815-568-6680

Oct. 10, downtown Algonquin
Event features farmers’ market, children’s games, pumpkin contest, craft fair and more.
Information: or 847-658-4184

Oct. 10-11, Boone County Fairgrounds, Belvidere
Juried arts and crafts show will offer hand-crafted items. Event benefits the Mental Health Resource League for McHenry County and includes hundreds of booths, as well as food vendors.
Information: or 815-385-5745

Oct. 10-31, Lambs Farm, Libertyville
Event features Train of Terror, transforming the farmyard with frightening activities, including the CreatureWalk, Graveyard Golf, an Enchanted Carousel and the Monster Midway.
Information: or 847 990-3750

Oct. 16-18, Garden Valley Road between Woodstock and Marengo
Annual event offers the chance to drive a real country road to a dozen rural McHenry County farms. Various stops offer antiques, arts and crafts, pumpkins and other surprises.

Oct. 17-18, Long Grove
Celebration of Long Grove’s German heritage with ethnic food, dancing, live entertainment and shopping.
Information: or 847-634-0888

Oct. 21-25, Sycamore
Fest features a pumpkin display, scary stories, carnival and craft show.
Information: www.sycamore

Oct. 21, McHenry County Historical Museum, Union
Listen to stories told by interpreters portraying Union veterans who formed the Grand Army of the Republic Associations after the Civil War.
Information: or 815-923-2267

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fall festivals in the suburbs

Yes, this weekend is Labor Day weekend, the unofficial end to summer. But have no fear! That does not mean the outdoor fun is over! Quite the contrary, it just means that the festivals are shifting to more of a fall theme...

Here's a small selection of suburban fests. Got more? Post them in the comments or shoot me an e-mail at suburbanawesome [at]

Labor Day Weekend (Sept. 5-7)
Buffalo Grove Days
50 Raupp Blvd., Buffalo Grove

Long Grove Irish Days
Downtown Long Grove

Naperville's Last Fling
Riverwalk, Naperville

Sept. 6-7
Folk Music & Storytelling Festival
Island Park in Geneva
$15 per day for adults, $10 for teens and elders, free for 12 and younger

Sept. 11-13
Festival of the Vine
Downtown Geneva
Free; some samplings cost money

Itasca Oktoberfest
Downtown Itasca

Sept. 13
Scandinavian Day Festival
Vasa Park, Route 31, South Elgin
Traditional food, crafts, games, gifts and entertainment.
$10 adults. Children 12 and younger admitted free. Free parking. Rain or shine.

Sept. 18-19
Naperville Wine Festival
523 S. Webster St., Naperville
$20 in advance, $25 at the door for adults, $10 in advance, $15 at the door Designated Driver; under 21 admitted free when accompanied by an adult

Sept. 25-27
Fall Fest Des Plaines
Lake Park, Des Plaines

Itasca Art & Wine Festival
Downtown Itasca

Oct. 2-4
Long Grove Apple Festival
Downtown Long Grove

Oct. 9-11
St. Charles Scarecrow Festival
Lincoln Park, Main and Fourth streets, St. Charles

Oct. 16-18
Long Grove OktoberFest
Downtown Long Grove

Monday, August 31, 2009

Emmett's Ale House, from Cook to Kane County

One thing must be said -- I love, love, love breweries.

That also means I hold them to a higher standard than your average pub or bar.

Luckily, a locally owned option called Emmett's Ale House exists. Also referred to as Emmett's Tavern and Brewing Co. in West Dundee, the ale house has locations in both Downers Grove and Palatine. And soon, they'll be expanding to Oswego in Kendall County.

(Special thanks to That Girl, for letting me know after a recent trip to the Downers Grove spot that there was another one closer to where I live in McHenry County.)

A couple weeks ago, my boyfriend and I met a friend for a few drinks at Emmett's. My friend had raved about Emmett's homemade microbrews, and I was eager to give them a try.

Three beers later, I walked away completely happy and ready to come back again.

I tried the Double Barrel Oatmeal Stout, the 1 a.m. Ale, and the Munich Light. All three were delicious and distinct in flavor, though the best was probably the Double Barrel. It tasted close to a Guinness, but better. The 1 a.m. Ale was probably my second favorite because of its sharp bite. The Munich Light mostly resembled somewhat of a cross between a good light beer and a Belgian lager, like Stella. A refreshing tang coupled with a smooth body.

My boyfriend and friend tried the two remaining beers on their handcrafted list, the McCarthy Red Ale and the Victory Pale Ale. I had a sip of the Victory and it was a little bitter for my taste, and I'm usually not a fan of red beers so I didn't try the other one.

As for the food, we ordered a couple appetizers that were just OK: the potato skins and the nachos without meat. But, my visit wasn't food-oriented, anyway.

In any case, I'm sure I'll be back at one of these locations again, as it's becoming that time of year to bring out the seasonal brews. I look forward to Emmett's new creations.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Love your hair - Effigy Salon, Elmhurst

Back in March, I visited Flight 112 Wine Bar in Elmhurst for my birthday.

As I mentioned in that post, the wine bar shares the building with three other businesses. This past Saturday, after giving up on my chain-salon stylist who was good with the hair but wildly inconsistent in her hours, I visited the salon in that building for the first time. Effigy Salon is at 110 W. Park Ave., with the door between Flight 112 and an ice cream shop.

Like I said, I was fed up with the chain I'd been going to, but I didn't want to break the bank -- after all, it's just hair, and mine is fairly short so I need a more frequent cut than some. Effigy's website handily lists the price points for all of their stylists, so you can pick out a range that's comfortable for you. I had gotten one suggestion on Yelp, and asked for her, but when it was discovered that she wasn't available this past weekend, the receptionist offered to find me someone else who cost about the same.

So I ended up in Kourtney's very capable hands. And it was a great salon experience. I was offered a refreshing drink (I went for the lemonade) and waited only a few minutes (and I WAS early...) for Kourtney to come greet me. She led me up to the second floor, a bright and sunny space, and after we went over my hair, she gave me a great wash and cut, all the while chatting pleasantly about life in the suburbs.

I was thrilled with the haircut and the service, and I will absolutely be going back to Effigy. And it's awesome to know that I could get a quick bite or a glass of wine while I'm there, too. :)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Yep, still alive

Dear blog readers,

Yes, I am alive! As far as I know, so are my co-authors, though I have not heard from them recently.

Work has been busy, family stuff has gotten in the way, and I have been remiss in blogging. Which is a shame, since there is still so much going on in the warm weather!

I would like to highlight an event next weekend: The Wood Dale Prairie Fest. They've rebranded their "Family Fun Days" as a more traditional summer festival. It runs next weekend, Aug. 14-16, at the "town square" area next to the police department and the town pool.

We went to this event last year, and honestly weren't that impressed, but it promises to be bigger and better last year, with a decent array of food vendors, music, fireworks and other entertainment. So if you're looking for a smallish, family-friendly festival, the Prairie Fest should fit the bill.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Small pub, great grub -- Stockholm's, Geneva

I'm going to repeat what people in Geneva and the tri-cities already knew, I'm sure: Stockholm's, 306 W. State St., Geneva, is a great little pub.

It's small -- some of those restaurants on State St are bigger than they look, but not Stockholm's, but we found a seat table pretty easily -- good timing. It's got a lot of dark wood and a local bar sort of feel, even though it's actually not that old. And while it looks more like a bar, they have a decent amount of tables and some darn good food, much better than your average bar food.

Shared the Papas Italiano as an appetizer which are totally delicious and seriously fattening, I'm sure -- they are homemade chips with a load of cheese sauce, bacon and scallions. Yum.

I had the buffalo chicken wrap, which was tasty and cheesy and large, though not quite as spicy as I might have liked. The husband had a burger, which he said was quite good and nicely medium. And our friend with us had a Reuben he declared adequate (he is a Reuben connoisseur) and tried the Aiger Ale, which he very much enjoyed.

My husband and I aren't really beer drinkers, though we did both try his, and it was pretty good. So maybe next time I'll have to try the LoRazz.

It being Swedish Days, it was pretty busy; we got good service and a lot of checking in, though it wasn't effusive. We didn't linger because there were people waiting for tables.

But the next time we venture out to Geneva, I'll say we'd definitely hit up Stockholm's again. Good stuff.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rockin' the Farmers Markets

It's mid-summer already (how did that happen?!) and so all around the suburbs, farmers markets are in full swing. I love me some good farmers markets. The whole idea delights me -- fresh, local produce that wasn't trucked in from California or Mexico. That recently touched dirt or was on the vine. Sold by people who know what they're talking about. Usually at good prices.

Last year we went a few times up to Mt Prospect's farmers market; it's pretty nice, not huge but with a decent variety and selection. We went a bit later in the season, so I think what we got wasn't quite as peak as it might have been.

This year we were hoping Addison would be up and running again, since that's very close to us, but there are no signs of life there. So we ventured a bit farther west, and ended up at the Wheaton French Market.

It is a delight. Tightly packed into a Metra parking lot are two-plus rows of garden-fresh vegetables, tempting fruits, plus cheeses, fresh-baked breads and pastries, farm-raised meat, gourmet goodies, artsy stuff, clothes, and more.

I noticed that some vendors did take credit cards, but I think it's nice to have cash on hand at places like these, especially smaller bills. Many of the tables offered samples, from bread bites to pickles, and when I was eyeing some cherries I was invited to take a taste.

We ended up with a pint each of blueberries and cherries, plus a package of Wisconsin cheese curds (mmmmm) and big plans to go back on a regular basis.

Wheaton French Market, corner of Main St. & Liberty Drive. Saturdays, 8 am to 2 pm. April to October. Plenty of parking in the area including a garage 2 blocks away. Kettle corn, Thai food, coffee and more offered for eating while browsing.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Itasca Fest, bigger than you might think

Well, we checked out the Itasca Fest, and I'm pleased to say it's a pretty good-sized festival. Parking was a little difficult to figure out, but there were plenty of spaces; the carnival was a lot bigger than you would expect for such a small town. Tons of rides and games, plus traditional carnival food and offerings from local eateries. It was a lovely day outside, too. The 4-year-old with us had a great time on the multiple kid-friendly rides, and there were fun ones for adults, too.

The NASA exhibit was neat. It was basically just a trailer, but had multiple interactive computer exhibits, trying out dexterity with big gloves on, and a scale to tell you how much you would weigh on the moon, Venus or Mars. Plus a genuine moon rock to stare at for awhile. :)

For good old-fashioned carnival rides, local eats and something to do on a summer day, Itasca Fest fit the bill.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Itasca Fest -- Small-town fun

Tomorrow (not tonight, since unfortunately I'm guessing it will be rained out) we'll be checking out the 20th annual Itasca Fest. It runs Thurs-Sun, and features free entertainment, kiddie rides, food, displays, a flea market and more. What I'm especially looking forward to is a 50-foot NASA-sponsored trailer that purports to feature a nifty exhibit.

Itasca is small, but it's a cute little town, and their downtown is worth seeing. I'll report more on the festival in a couple days; if you want more info on the fest, visit the Itasca village website.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Get your park on

Over the weekend, I visited the in-laws for some burgers and fireworks. And while we were there, I once again was impressed by a fantastic park in the southwest burbs.

Centennial Park, at 15600 West Ave. in Orland Park, is one of the best parks I've ever seen, anywhere.

What makes it so great is the use of the space -- it blends natural areas with attractions and activities for all ages. It's huge. Included are soccer fields, baseball diamonds, fishing piers, a playground, volleyball courts, picnic areas, a large and elaborate aquatic center, and even an ice skating rink for winter. (And more.)

I'm sorry I don't have any pictures to post -- we were there at night for a fireworks display and then again the next day to let a 4 year old run rampant -- but it's a really lovely, well-kept area with tons to do for the whole family. If you live in the SW burbs, or find yourself down in Orland Park for a day, I can't recommend a better park than Centennial.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The summer concert season

If you're seeking a great summer concert at an outdoor suburban arena, look no further than Chicago's South Side.

Although Bridgeview and Tinley Park aren't thought of as the city's typical suburbs (like Rosemont, home of the indoor Allstate Arena), they shouldn't be forgotten. Chicago itself may be known for its small and intimate venues, but big experiences are to be had in the aforementioned neighborhoods, which house Toyota Park and First Midwest Bank Ampitheatre, respectively.

Toyota Park is the Chicago Fire's soccer field, transforming into a 28,000-seat venue for concerts and other events. I recently joined a crowd of Top-40 kiddies there at the B96 Pepsi Summerbash, and previously got my jam band on with Dave Matthews Band last summer. Both were fun (if completely different) experiences.

The park recently celebrated its third birthday and you can tell -- one of the best things about it was its cleanliness. Others include the great view from every seat in the house (plus, in case you're sitting a little far back, a huge big screen behind the stage clearly depicts all the action).

Word to the wise: Don't buy into the neon wristband crowd for floor seats. The stadium seating actually provides a bit of a better view because it's raised, and you won't feel any closer to the performer by fighting to stand taller than the drunken idiots in front of you.

Upcoming shows: Windy City Wrestling Presents "Legends Under the Stars" - July 10; Miller Lite Presents Bridgeview Music Fest: Country - July 24; Korn - July 31; Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band - Aug. 8 and 15; Phish - Aug. 11.

Here's a rundown of all other pertinent information, on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the worst:

Parking: 3
Traffic flow to and from event: 3
Seating/view: 5
Audio/video system: 5
Concessions: 4
Restrooms: 4

Overall: 4

Meanwhile, First Midwest Bank Ampitheatre (formerly known as Tweeter Center and World Music Theater), is a bit larger of an arena, popular for its cheap lawn seats and "rain or shine" status for events. I recently saw The Fray here with Jack's Mannequin, and it was a pleasing fan-filled time.

For the best seats, pay close attention to the "obstructed view" areas on the seating chart and plop yourself down at least a few feet away. I'd suggest the 200-level seats, which are usually mid-price and provide a happy medium between being up close to the stage action to being up high on the lawn. Try for tickets closer to section 205 as well -- the sun likes to set right in your eyes if you're more stage left.

Word to the wise: Tinley Park is a bit of a hike, whether it be from the 'burbs or the city. So if you're planning on attending a show here, make sure you give plenty of time for when parking opens as you'll want to get there early. The pre-teens directing traffic actually do know what they're doing.

Upcoming shows: No Doubt with Paramore - July 11; Def Leppard with Poison and Cheap Trick - July 17; Vans Warped Tour - Aug. 1; Brad Paisley with Dierks Bentley and Jimmy Wayne - Aug. 7; Blink-182 with Fall Out Boy - Aug. 15.

Again, the rundown:

Parking: 4
Traffic flow to and from event: 4
Seating/view: 3
Audio/video system: 4
Concessions: 3
Restrooms: 3

Overall: 3.5

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sushi in the suburbs

After eating at Bistro Wasabi in Lake in the Hills last night, I've decided I want to become a sushi connoisseur.

I've never been hugely into fish in general, but somehow I took a liking to sushi a few years ago. Unfortunately, I still haven't tried a lot of it and I don't really know what I'm doing, so a group of my co-workers kind of just giggled at me as I fumbled around with my chopsticks.

Despite what I'll call a "fancy" ambiance at Bistro, I felt surprisingly comfortable being the outcast and was never met with sushi snobbery. At first, I thought I was walking into some sort of West Coast mirage, as Bistro Wasabi is confusingly set in the middle of a strip mall at 4590 W. Algonquin Rd. (there's also a Hoffman Estates location, I'm told).

But the intimate table settings and dim lighting were a warm welcome, as well as the friendly and helpful servers. They explained what was in each roll, and came out with new plates promptly.

Our group of six ordered edamame as an appetizer (deliciously warmed with a hint of salt), then split a variety of rolls we handpicked from the menu. We had a little bit of everything, but my favorites were the Avocado roll and Alaskan roll.

One of my friends best described the food at this place as "like butter" before we ventured there. And he was right. The sushi was exceptionally fresh, and I could've kept eating past my eight to 10 rolls.

Although the prices on the menu are a bit intimidating at first, you get a lot more than you expect. The rolls are huge, and you get a few for each separate order. For the six of us including 18 percent gratuity already added, it came out to a little under $20 each. Note: most of us did drink only water, so if you plan to imbibe in sake or other cocktails, it'll cost a bit more.

I will definitely be back here again for some more samplings. It was an exciting meal, and we each enjoyed trying new things and talking about our food.

Now, I'm ready to try a new place and keep on truckin' on my sushi journey through the suburbs. If you've got any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comment section below!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Stuff to do this weekend

Looking for something cool (and I mean that figuratively, not literally) to do this week or weekend? Geneva's Annual Midsommar Festival (Swedish Days) is now underway in the charming far-west suburb.

Check that website for a list of events and vendors, but basically, it's a big street festival. Carnival rides, food booths, Swedish crafts, music, you name it. Good stuff. Authentic Swedish food, too.

A few tips, though: If you can take the Metra, I strongly suggest it. Parking is not normally a problem in Geneva, but it sure is during Swedish Days. The train station is right on the edge of the festival action, and makes getting to and from much easier. And trust me, you won't find a parking space that's any closer than the train unless you actually live in downtown Geneva.

Also, it will be HOT this week and weekend. Take some frozen water bottles. Drink plenty, dress appropriately, and pace yourself. There are plenty of air conditioned shops, bars and restaurants to stop into to cool down a little. Sunscreen is also highly recommended.

That said, this is one of my favorite festivals -- it can get a little crowded, but it's well organized and there's plenty to see and do. And if you happen to see three 20somethings walking around, including a guy in a Lost bucket hat, that's probably my husband and I'll be right beside him :)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Great suburbs to visit this summer

Looking for some fun this summer? Like to explore new towns, visit cool shops, maybe see a movie or have some dinner? Here's a list of seven great towns to visit this summer that you may not have been to:

1. Geneva: This far western suburb has top-notch restaurants and shopping, not to mention several great festivals, including Swedish Days, which starts Monday the 22nd. It's right on the Union Pacific West line, and the historic downtown stretches along Third and State for about 4 square blocks north. Noteworthy: Riverside Park, Bien Trucha restaurant, Kernel Fabyan's popcorn, The Little Traveler, Graham's 318.

2. Mount Prospect: Tucked into a corner of Cook County, Mount Prospect is a quintessential suburb, with coffee shops, restaurants and stores galore. On the Union Pacific Northwest line. Noteworthy: Farmer's market held on Sundays from May - October.

3. Arlington Heights: The next stop up the UP-NW line, Arlington Heights has big box shopping, a horse-racing track, and a fairly fancy downtown with great nightlife. Noteworthy: Fuego, Peggy Kinnane's.

4. Glen Ellyn: Halfway between Chicago and Geneva lies affluent Glen Ellyn and its adorable downtown. With a fantastic mix of stores (from bike shops to bookstores to wine bars), and an eye toward revitalization, there's something for everyone in these tree-lined streets. Noteworthy: Glen Art movie theater, Cabernet & Co. Wine Shoppe, Shannon's Irish Pub, Bells & Whistle's Snackery.

5. Elmhurst: Another favorite of mine -- on the same train line as Geneva and Glen Ellyn -- Elmhurst has great restaurants, a large and modern movie theater, museums, and some stellar shopping, all in a pedestrian-friendly City Centre. Noteworthy: Lizzadro Museum, Flight 112 Wine Bar, Sushi Nest, SereneTeaz.

6. Itasca: Small but nice, Itasca is compact and easy to love. In a few square blocks, there's wine, ice cream, parks, pizza and more. Noteworthy: Wine With Me, Delia's Deli & Ice Cream, Tree Guys Pizza Pub.

7. West Dundee: Not a lot to West Dundee -- it shares a downtown with East Dundee -- but in a few blocks there's a candy store, a lovely park, and several great restaurants. Noteworthy: Emmett's Brewpub, Francesca's.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Downtown Itasca, like small-town America

I for one had never heard of Itasca until we started looking for apartments in northern DuPage County. While we ended up in the next town over, we've been to Itasca several times now, and I'm realizing I'd like to spend more time there.

As people who've read this blog know, I like towns with some character, and with a centralized downtown business district that has an array of unique, local stores. While Itasca has a large office park right off I-290 and several large corporate headquarters, it also has an adorable, small downtown just a couple miles away.

The downtown area is centered around Irving Park Blvd and Walnut St., which is also where the Metra station is located. There are a few stores, some condos, and multiple restaurants and eateries. We've eaten at -- and I've reviewed -- Tree Guys Pizza & Pub already; tonight we went for some ice cream.

Delia's Deli and Ice Cream, at 100 N. Walnut St., is a small shop in the old Village Hall building. They offer a variety of deli sandwiches (made with Boar's Head meat and cheese), panini, soup and salad. They also have about a dozen hard ice cream flavors, soft serve fro-yo, milkshakes, sundaes and "tornadoes".

The ice cream was delicious, creamy and flavorful but not too rich. The sandwiches sounded tempting and we may have to return for some subs. Service was friendly.

And since we missed the turn onto Walnut, we swung around back and discovered a wine bar and shop in the same building, right behind Delia's, called Wine With Me. Its official address is 111 Line St., Itasca.

We were greeted warmly upon entering the store, which features a wine bar in the center of the room with high-backed chairs and snacks for nibbly. The store is divided into three sections: the "value" wines, all under $12; the pricier wines, mostly from $13 to $30 but with a few high-end selections, and the craft beer. We didn't investigate the beer much. :)

The wine selection was nicely varied, however, with a little something for everyone and a lot of lesser-known labels. Most of this stuff you won't find at Jewel, although you probably could find a lot of it at Binny's -- but prices were good, quite comparable to someplace like Binny's.

They have about 25 wines by the glass, most $6 or $7; they also have a variety of beers by the glass. You can also select a bottle in-store to drink there; they charge a $10 corkage fee. We were told they offer some light snacks (looked like that spicy nut-sesame mix to me) and that you can also bring in food or order some from a downtown business and have it delivered (like Tree Guys, which is across the street...).

While this is at least the sixth wine bar I can name in a 10-mile radius, I love the idea, and I love that it's so close. Downtown Elmhurst is fabulous, but we can get to Itasca in about three minutes instead of 15. So I have a distinct feeling that we will be back in the near-ish future, probably grabbing some take-out from Tree Guys and heading across the street to enjoy a glass of wine with our dinner and support two local businesses at once.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Festival Season in the Suburbs

Finally, a non-review post!

Looking for some great things to do this summer? Chicago itself has no shortage of festivals, all summer long. But so do the suburbs.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you know of more, feel free to e-mail me or post in the comments.

This is starting with June, since May is nearly over...

12-14: Free! Pride of the Fox RiverFest in St. Charles
19-20: Scottish Festival and Highland Games in Oak Brook
20-21: Free! Cantigny Fine Art Festival in Wheaton
20-21: Custer's Last Stand Festival of the Arts in Evanston
23-28: Free! Swedish Days Midsommer Festival in Geneva
25-28: Bloomington Gold Corvette Show in St. Charles
26-28: Free! Long Grove Strawberry Festival
27-28: Fountain Square Art Festival in Evanston
27-28: Free! Glencoe Festival of the Masters

1-5: Free! Eyes to the Skies Balloon Festival in Lisle
2-5: Ribfest in Naperville
3-5: Free! Wheeling Freedom Fest
4: Lake Forest Festival and Fireworks
9-12: Free! West Chicago Railroad Days
10-11: Taste of Park Ridge
11-12: Free! Art in the Park - A Northbrook Fine Arts Festival
11-12: Free! Skokie Art Fair
11-Sept. 7: Bristol Renaissance Fair in Kenosha, Wis.
11-12: Free! Lincolnshire Art Festival
15-19: Kane County Fair in St. Charles
17-19: The Big Greek Food Festival of Niles
18-19: Free! Buffalo Grove Invitational Fine Art Festival
18-19: Free! Ethnic Arts Festival in Evanston
22-26: DuPage County Fair in Wheaton
25-26: North Shore Festival of Art in Skokie
28-Aug. 2: Lake County Fair in Grayslake
29-Aug. 2: Kankakee County Fair
30-Aug. 2: Kendall County Fair and 4H Show in Yorkville

1-2: Free! Evanston Lakeshore Arts Festival
6-9: Free! Mendota Sweet Corn Festival
8-9: Free! Art at the Glen in Glenview
8-9: Free! Kite Festival in Glencoe
14-23: Illinois State Fair in Springfield
15-16: Free! Long Grove Art and Wine Fest
15-16: Free! Malott Japanese Garden Summer Festival in Glencoe
26-30: Will County Fair in Peotone
28-30: Free! Taste of Highland Park
29-30: Free! Port Clinton Art Festival in Highland Park

3-7: Free! Tri-County Fair in Mendota
4-7: The Last Fling in Naperville
5-7: Free! Long Grove Irish Days
5-7: Free! Schaumburg Septemberfest
9-13: Sandwich Fair
11-13: Free! Oktoberfest in Glenview
11-13: Free! Festival of the Vine, Geneva

For more information, towns' chamber of commerce websites or a quick google can be helpful :)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Time for tacos? Taqueria El Sol Del Pueblo, Bensenville

Despite living pretty close to Bensenville, we don't go that direction much. Which is too bad, since I know B-ville has its share of good places to go too.

But on Friday we decided to check out a taqueria we've passed many times -- Taqueria El Sol Del Pueblo, 1221 W Irving Park Rd.

Located just barely east of the Route 83 overpass, at the corner of a strip mall, this taqueria is brightly painted and warmly decorated. Warm reds, yellows and oranges cover the walls, and the ten or so booths are pretty comfortable. There's also a counter for take-out.

It's a taqueria, so don't expect fancy. Each table has two salsa bottles and you get free pickled veggies (gringa that I am, I don't know the name for the marinated jalapenos, carrots, garlic, onions etc that many taquerias serve). Chips aren't free, but since everything is so cheap it's worth ordering a basket if you want to showcase the (fairly spicy) salsa, which comes in two varieties: medium salsa verde (tons of cilantro flavor) and spicy salsa roja (and boy was it spicy, but with great flavor).

The menu is fairly simple; tacos (served the RIGHT way with just cilantro and onions), burritos, quesadillas, tortas, etc. Lots of agua fresca and smoothies. Lots of Mexican soda.

I got one of the few dinners they do offer, a flauta platter (two cheese, two chicken) that came with rice & beans. My husband got tacos, a chorizo and two beef. My flautas were crispy and hot, the rice was delicious, the beans were above average. The tacos looked great and my husband devoured them.

The food was all fresh, hot, and made right. Service was pretty good; though not five-star they were very friendly. They offer some more obscure meats, like tongue, chitterlings and goat (yep, goat). I won't be trying the goat, but I do want to try more tacos, their guacamole, and probably some agua fresca. They also have Mexican breakfasts.

We'll definitely be back to El Sol Del Pueblo the next time a taco craving hits :)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

When life gets Zooey... Cosley Zoo, Wheaton, IL

Like most people around Chicago, I knew of Lincoln Park Zoo (free, but difficult to get to from the 'burbs and parking is expensive). I knew of the Brookfield Zoo (easier to get to, but you pay for parking and admission). I never knew there was a zoo in Wheaton until a couple weeks ago.

The Cosley Zoo, 1356 N Gary Ave., Wheaton, is small, pretty and FREE. Yep. Free. They do accept donations, so if you feel compelled to give a few dollars they will gladly take it.

It's not very big, and it's not very fancy. But it is nicely maintained, with lots of pretty trees and some cool animals. I believe they're all North American -- a rare cream draft horse, various birds of prey, turtles, peacocks, foxes, a coyote, chickens and cows and what not. I liked seeing the owls -- some of them are tiny!

There's a picnic area, and a snack bar/gift shop. Other than that, it's just a nice little walk through the park to look at and read about various animals, plus educational activities for little ones. I would say best for kids 10 and under, though older kids might be entertained for a half hour or so. Which really, you don't need more than an hour, maybe 90 minutes here, unless the kid in your life really loves goats or something.

Still, it's quite pretty, easy to find, and a nice way to kill some time on a warm afternoon in the 'burbs.

Monday, May 4, 2009

We love our chips and salsa -- La Estancia, Bloomingdale

The husband and I are real Mexican food fans. I for one have been devouring salsa at a rapid clip since childhood, and the man of the house never met a burrito he didn't like (well, that's not entirely true, but).

Of course, in the US you tend to get bland, Americanized versions, especially at large chains. Or, you get "Tex Mex," which is a tasty varietal all its own, but not really authentic.

We had passed La Estancia, 237 E Lake St in Bloomingdale, multiple times. And we had a coupon. (Hey, we love a good deal.) So when cravings for tacos hit on Saturday, we decided to give it a whirl.

The restaurant is nicely decorated, with lots of rich wood tones and Diego Rivera-esque paintings full of calla lilies. The waitress was a bit slow to approach our table the first time, but provided us with good service thereafter.

The chips and salsa -- always a good indicator of how the rest of the meal might go -- were a nice surprise, with crunchy, warm, thicker corn tortilla chips as opposed to the thin-and-crispy flour variety. The salsa was thick but not chunky, clinging to the chips well and with just the right amount of heat and a great flavor.

The menu had a nice variety on it, and I was pleased to see arroz con pollo, which every Latino grandma makes but is uncommon at Mexican restaurants. My husband had some sort of combination platter -- I think it included an enchilada and a chimichanga. He reported it all being very tasty. I hemmed and hawed and decided on steak burritos -- naturally I got three slightly smaller ones instead of one gargantuan one. The steak was tender, and it was filled with onions, peppers, beans and cheese. The rice was good enough; the refried beans on the side were nothing special.

All in all, prices were reasonable, the food was tasty, and man did I enjoy that salsa. While I'd still choose Laredo's Embassy of Mexican food first, it's a pain to get to. La Estancia, on the other hand, is an easy trip and very good in its own right. If you're looking for quality Mexican in Bloomingdale, I can recommend it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

German in the suburbs: Edelweiss Restaurant, Norridge

I recently ventured over to test out some German delights at Edelweiss Restaurant in Norridge.

Consistently voted Chicagoland's No. 1 German restaurant, the family-owned eatery serves up plenty of authentic cuisine and brews within its highly decorated walls.

But depending on your tastes and your level of comfort with German food, this place could be a hit or miss.

I personally am not one who's into trying tons of new things. I get scared when friends pick up frogs' legs at Chinese restaurants and gnaw away like it's a chicken bone. So, when a pale white sausage arrived at our table, I was flooded with nervous feelings all over again.

Surprisingly (although I didn't try said white sausage and can't remember its actual name), I really enjoyed my meal. We went here for their Easter specials with my family, and we all had a good time jamming out to the live one-man German band, who was rocking on his clarinet and Casio.

Two in our group ordered the gigantic meat platter-type special (possibly called "The Edelweiss") and seemed extremely pleased. Some things didn't have a whole lot of "pow" taste, but I think that's more so the style of particular German food.

My grandmother really enjoyed her roast duck -- something she gets every time she visits. (And yes, many elderly people do dine there.) I'm not a duck fan, so I passed.

However, I couldn't get enough of my ham that I'd ordered; it was sweet and melted right into my fork. The cabbage, German potatoes, and other side dishes I'd picked off my family's plates were also tasty.

Although the prices are a bit steep ($20-25 per meal the day we went), you do get a lot for your buck and you have to chalk it up to authenticity. Plus, they've probably got to pay the German musician for all that polka-ing somehow.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Elmhurst loves wine bars - Wine & Vine

Three weeks ago, I had my birthday party at Flight 112 Wine Bar in downtown Elmhurst. Today, I was part of an event at a different wine bar in downtown Elmhurst.

You see, when I'm also part of the community, a fabulous website dedicated to reviewing all things local. (Which you might think overlaps with this blog, but this blog is about local places specific to the Chicago suburbs, whereas Yelp covers the whole country and everything from hotels to chain restaurants to grocery stores.)

Anyway, as part of being a Yelp member, I was invited to this fabulous wine tasting at Wine & Vine, 105 S. York St. in Elmhurst.

The space is fairly large and brightly lit, with warm wood and a long granite bar that seats about 20. The bar is the showcase of the place; it surrounds the kitchen area, which is totally open. So if you sit there, you can watch your food being made.

I should note that while Flight 112 is strictly a wine bar, with assorted flatbreads and nibblies, Wine and Vine is more of a restaurant that showcases wine. The menu features fresh, homemade Italian fare.

The event we attended included little appetizer bites, including cheese, fresh fruit, pesto-stuffed mushrooms, lemon chicken, and a pasta station. The food was tasty, but of course the wine was the showcase. They had a whites station (including a few sparkling wines) and a more extensive reds. I normally don't drink a lot of red wine, but it was nice to taste some that I might not have gotten a full glass of and discovered I liked them.

While I can't really speak for the menu at Wine and Vine, I can tell you that we got a warm welcome and great service while there, and they had a nice variety of wines to choose from. It would be a good place for a romantic dinner or friends' night out.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Franky's Red Hots, Addison, IL

Here at Rockin' the Suburbs, we are three busy ladies. Plus there's that pesky economy. I can't speak for my co-authors, but aside from my fantastic night out for my birthday, we're cutting back on extraneous spending, including eating out quite so often. And we're looking for good values when we do.

Rest assured, we still have plenty to write about, though. And there will continue to be new posts. With warm weather coming (we hope!) and all that Spring and Summer bring, there will be plenty to review and promote.

In the meantime, the husband and I had a simple but tasty dinner Friday when we finally visited Franky's Red Hots, 1250 W. Lake St. in Addison. Formerly a Tommy's, this is one of those no-nonsense local joints that says it's a hot dog place but actually serves a little of everything. The menu includes burgers, gyros, pasta, chicken, Italian beef, pizza and ribs.

We both went for the simple with hot dogs, fries and a drink. In my opinion, it's a good way to judge the place. The bun was not poppyseed, but it was nice and deep so there was plenty of room for the toppings. The dog was nice and snappy, kind of skinny, more red-hot style. The pickle was a little small, but tasty and the rest of the toppings hit the spot. The fries were fresh and hot.

A really nice part about Franky's, beyond the variety of the menu, is the prices. Tax is included in everything, so everything is a nice round number. And the prices are cheap! Four hot dogs, two fries and two drinks? A mere $9.

The pizza looked really tasty, so we may have to try that next time. And the pizza? Comes with unlimited toppings, no extra charge. Fab.

It's great to find a local place with tasty food that's not only convenient but a great value. Hurray for Franky's.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

McHenry County's version of "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives"

OK, so I really tried to get the "Drive-Ins" part of the popular Food Network show, but we'll just settle with dance clubs.

In the last few weeks, I've been able to get out of the house despite a crazy work schedule and wavering weather.

Here's some of the interesting places I've found in McHenry County. I plan to head out for more, and soon:

Diners -

Mama Rini's -- located at 177 W. Virginia St. in Crystal Lake -- is one surprising little diner.

We've maybe lived right down the street from here for the last nine months and I'm sad to say, have never tried it until now.

If you're on a budget in this economy (and who isn't), Mama Rini's is the place to go. The servings are whoppers, and you get a lot of variety for your buck, too.

We ordered the gyros platter and the Greek chicken, both of which were very good. The meals also came with a choice of potato, soup or salad, vegetables, plus a complimentary dessert. All for $8.95 each.

Also, the inside of the restaurant is clean and nicely decorated. Our server was also extremely kind and always available for refills.

We'll definitely venture back here again, maybe next time for breakfast. I think pancakes and eggs are the true diner's test.

Dance clubs -

Cheesy name aside, Crystal's Party Bar off Rt. 31 and Three Oaks Road in Crystal Lake is a great (and rare) place in McHenry County to get your dance on.

The nightclub has a pretty spacious dance floor, and plays mostly Top 40 and hip-hop hits. We had fun the last several times we went, and the crowd is a good mix of mostly 20- and 30-somethings.

Crystal's isn't foreign to deals either, many in the form of drink specials or no-cover nights. You can also book your own private party here for probably cheaper than you would in downtown Chicago.

Unfortunately, as with much nightlife in the 'burbs, Crystal's shuts it down at 2 a.m. on weekends.

But if you're in the mood to go out clubbing close to home, this dance club fits my standards for a good, booty-shakin' time.

Dives -

In the mood for some premiere people-watching? Then check out Jimmy D's Neighborhood Inn, 3965 W. Algonquin Rd. in Algonquin.

A dive in its finest form, the bartenders here make you feel welcome, but other patrons are a hit or miss. Just a heads up: You could end up being serenaded by a 35-year-old married man's MySpace rap song by the end of the night.

Although there aren't too many pub food offerings aside from the traditional mozz-sticks and fries, Jimmy D's serves as a great starter bar for a night out on the town if you're on the younger side, or an evening of drinking and darts if your bar-hopping enthusiasm has dwindled.

The prices are super cheap for the Chicago area, and again, the bartenders are always pleasant. They even smiled and remembered us by name each time they asked if we wanted another round.

A true "neighborhood" inn.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wine bar in the 'burbs -- Flight 112, Elmhurst

So I turn 28 today. And since it's Sunday, the celebration was last night. I wanted something chill, someplace to gather friends new and old, and Flight 112 Wine Bar fit the bill.

Located at 112 W. Park Ave. in downtown Elmhurst -- across the street from the Metra station -- the space is interesting; the wine bar is deep and not too wide, but it's attached to an art gallery with a salon and I think a chiropractor also sharing the space. So you can wander in and look at the art, and there is also a lot of neat art hanging on the walls.

We spent the evening in the back room of Flight 112, a comfortable loungey area with couches and pillows and small tables to set your drinks/food down on.

There were 7 of us and everyone had a great time. The waitress (?) who helped us all evening kept our water glasses refilled, kept track of our constant orders without a notepad, and even kept our bills all separate without a problem. The wines I tried were delicious and she was helpful with recommendations and advice.

The wines vary hugely from bold, dry reds to sweet whites, plus sparkling and dessert wines. A lot of the wines are organic or "biodynamic" (google it if you are bored); wine flights are also available. They also have an extensive beer list.

They also have a smallish selection of food mostly of the sharing variety, including cheese platters, cold meats, flatbreads, panini and a few desserts. I ordered one of the planks (3 cheeses, 3 meats plus bread and fruit) and everything was delicious. People in our group also ordered panini and flatbread, and they looked and smelled great.

I already loved downtown Elmhurst, and this was a fantastic spot to have a celebratory night out. The prices are reasonable, there's a huge variety of wines and beer, and it's overall just a great space and concept. I had a great time, and I can highly recommend Flight 112 for a great night out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Great food, local brews - Harrison's, Orland Park

This past Saturday my husband and I were treated to a great dinner out with my in-laws at a great Orland Park spot. Harrison's Restaurant and Brewery (15845 S La Grange Rd in Orland Park) is a brewpub with a diverse menu. Neither of us are beer drinkers, actually, so I can't vouch for the beer -- but there are dozens of reviews all over the web that can.

The food, however, I can vouch for. I'd been there a couple times before in years past, and had a few different sandwiches and wraps.

This time, we started -- as we so frequently do -- with nachos. The Brewhouse Nachos at Harrison's are a sight to behold. A huge pile of warm tortilla chips slathered with cheese, beans, pico de gallo and jalapenos (plus sour cream and guac, and optional chicken or beef), these are some of the tastiest nachos I've had -- and we eat a lot of nachos. I'm not sure what makes them special, but they are a medley of deliciousness.

I continued with the Mexican theme and opted for blackened fish tacos. I'm not sure what kind of fish it was, but it was a mild whitefish that was cooked perfectly, in layered soft corn tortillas filled with lettuce, cheese, pico de gallo and guacamole, with salsa on the side and hearty portions of well-seasoned black beans and spicy Mexican rice. I only managed two (of three) tacos and some of the rice and beans before I had to call it a night.

My husband had ribs, which came with potato (fries for him) and a side of grilled veggies (zucchini, cauliflower and carrot). I sampled the zucchini, which was well-cooked and nicely seasoned; he assured me the fries were tasty, and that the ribs were cooked to tender perfection.

I did not sample my in-laws' food, but I can report that the sandwiches they got looked and smelled delicious.

Harrison's also offers a full bar (and all that beer) and a variety of tempting desserts, but we were far too full to indulge this time.

When we get down to Orland Park, Harrison's is a great choice for a delicious meal out.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Great family-owned deli -- Mario's Deli, Addison

Friday we decided we wanted something a little more low-key for dinner, and having driven by Mario's multiple times -- and being told it was really good -- we decided some Italian deli food was just what we needed. So off we went to 1700 W Lake St. in Addison, just east of the intersection of Lake and Route 53/Rohlwing.

(There is a second Mario's Deli in Bensenville, at the corner of Green and Addison Sts. We've not been in there.)

The Addison Mario's is clean and simple, with large cases of homemade pasta, panini and other dishes, and a large bakery case full of tempting goodies ranging from napoleons to tiramisu to cookies and brownies.

They offer homemade pasta, fresh-made deli sandwiches, panini, salads, etc. and a large assortment of baked goods. There are a number of tables to sit and enjoy your food at or you can take it to go. There's also a newly-opened wine bar next door called Bigby's Pour House, where you can apparently gather wine or beer to enjoy with your food. We didn't explore that option, but may have to go check Bigby's out at some point soon.

We went for the simple stuff: I had an Italian sub and my husband had an Italian panini. I didn't get to taste his panini because he ate it so fast! But my sub was delicious, with savory meat and cheese and chewy bread.

We took home two triple-chocolate brownies for later, and I can report that they were fudgy and sensational. We were eyeing the pasta pretty hard, and I can guarantee we'll be back to try more of their awesome-looking homemade Italian food. And those desserts. Mmmmm.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Long Grove Cafe -- a great group-dining experience

I ventured to Long Grove Cafe recently for a bridal shower, sitting in a special side room on the other side of the restaurant.

For such a simple name, it's not a boring place. (But if you've ever been to Long Grove, you know that you're in for a treat with most of the historic shops and cute eateries downtown.)

I was still pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere -- the place is tucked behind the main streets of downtown Long Grove and surrounded by a beautiful duck pond. It was very calm and serene, and fun to watch all the birds. There are also feeding containers near the front entrance, so that's a plus for us kids-at-heart (and actual youngsters).

The food and service are equally charming. The servers were fairly attentive to our party, without being overbearing.

We had two choices -- rosemary chicken or white fish -- for our dinner. Both were decidedly excellent by the group, but I especially enjoyed my chicken, which came with some of the tastiest Russet potatoes I've had in a long time. The hot fresh bread that was served with our salads was also delicious.

I'd definitely recommend this place for a small gathering, such as a bridal or baby shower. Those sort of places probably aren't too tough to find in the suburbs, but this is a top-notch option if you're looking for something different.

I'm sure the restaurant side is also a great choice for a nice, peaceful lunch or dinner. I plan to return to test that section out, and hopefully soon.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Laughing in the suburbs - Laugh Out Loud Improv Theater

So as mentioned in my previous post, my husband and I accompanied my mom and her companion to Schaumburg's Laugh Out Loud Improv Theater for a night of funny.

It's in the Streets of Woodfield shopping center, on Martingale Lane, located underneath the Brides by Demetrios store.

It's not a huge place - seats maybe ... 50? I'm not sure, I didn't count tables, but it's sort of a black-box style theater, with small tables each surrounded by four chairs that face the stage. There's a bar that serves beer, wine, mixed drinks, soft drinks and assorted munchies for fairly reasonable prices.

The great thing about improv is that it's never the same show twice, but the cast and show we saw were pretty funny. If you appreciate humor that thinks on its feet, and like shows such as "Whose Line is it, Anyway?" then you will probably like Laugh Out Loud. They play "games" of a sort, where there's a specific set-up and the audience provides lines for the cast to utter, or a location, or a relationship between characters, that sort of thing.

There's a 7:30 show that is billed as family-friendly (this is the one we went to) and a 9:30 show that is rated PG-13. The show lasted about an hour and 15 minutes, though I wasn't timing it exactly.

While this may not be a regular stop for us, I'm glad to know it exists -- and it's a great spot for a fun night out, especially if you have visitors in town!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Improv in the suburbs

I haven't actually been there yet, but I'm eying a weekend activity -- the Laugh Out Loud Improv Theater in Schaumburg. Located in the Streets of Woodfield shopping center, this looks like a fun way to spend an evening without hassling with Chicago traffic or Second City prices.

You see, my mom is planning to come this weekend (or possibly next, but that's a long story), and she seems to want to go out. Do something fun. She suggested a piano bar, of which there are a few around, but in my experience those can get rather ... bawdy and, depending on your mom, possibly not the sort of thing you want to sit through with a parent.

Improv on the other hand ... Laugh Out Loud promises a family-friendly show at 7:30 and a PG-13 variety at 9:30. Sounds right up the mom alley. Better yet, our phone book has coupons in it.

Has anyone who reads this been there? If so, please let me know your thoughts. I will of course report back if we end up going. :)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Baby's got barbecue -- Sweet Baby Ray's, Elk Grove Village

Shortly after we moved to DuPage County, my husband was lucky enough to win a gift card for the Wood Dale Sweet Baby Ray's restaurant in a raffle. So it was one of the first places we visited in town.

A quick history -- the man who created Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce is from Wood Dale. Back in the '90s, he sold his famous sauce formula to a national distributor but retained the rights to open four restaurants under the SBR banner in the Chicago area. So far he has opened two. The original Wood Dale location is fairly small, with seating for about 30 and a more limited menu; they do a lot of carryout and catering.

The Elk Grove Village location, at 800 E. Higgins Road, is a full-service restaurant with a bigger menu and a bar area. It's a cozy place, with a lot of highly polished wood.

We already knew the food was good, but we wanted to see if it would measure up. And oh, it did. The service was friendly and helpful; the menu extensive. They feature both traditional barbecue favorites like ribs and brisket and New Orleans-style cajun dishes.

Note that this is not a terribly vegetarian friendly place. (They do have one or two meatless salads, some fish, a meatless pasta dish and some vegetarian sides.) The meat is the star here. We started with pulled pork nachos, which sounds sort of weird, but is truly tasty. The meat was sweet, tangy and tender and went well with the cheesy, crunchy chips, beans and pico de gallo.

At this point, we knew we'd probably ordered too much food, but hey, then we had leftovers. Most of the dinners come with soup or salad, two sides AND cornbread. So I had my half a jerk chicken, plus salad, green chile mac and cheese, Tchoupitoulas potatoes, and cornbread. Ooof. The chicken was tender and flavorful (but not hot, actually), and the green chile mac and cheese is awesome.

My husband had soup, ribs, baked beans, french fries and cornbread. He had some leftovers, though not as many as me. :) He loves the ribs there and says they're the best he's ever had.

All in all, SBR is a fantastic addition to Chicago-area barbecue. They do their meat right and the sauce is pretty darn good (and I'm a snob for Kentucky barbecue, which has a less-sweet sauce). If you like your meat done right, SBR is the place to go.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Plentiful produce and more -- Caputo's, Addison

You know what I love, much to many people's bemusement? Grocery shopping.

I really enjoy big grocery stores and supermarkets, where the produce stretches for yards and I can find interesting, exotic and familiar foods that inspire me. I enjoy cooking, too, and sometimes inspiration will hit right there in the middle of the aisle.

So I was thrilled to discover, first in Algonquin and now in Addison, the Caputo's family of stores. They go by a couple different names -- the one in Addison is Angelo Caputo's Fresh Markets, while Algonquin features the Joe Caputo and Sons Fruit Market -- but they are all very similar stores with similar features.

The first thing you see when you walk into a Caputo's is their enormous produce section. They have all sorts of fruits and vegetables you'll never see at Jewel or Dominick's, all at great prices. (They also have fantastic homemade pico de gallo and guacamole in the cold case, at least at the Addison location!)

The second big feature of the store is a large meat/deli/bakery section that stretches across the back. I have not yet tried any of the deli products, but I hear they are delicious, especially the Italian cured meats. We have gotten some great cuts of beef from Caputo's.

The third big thing about this great store is the dizzying array of ethnic products -- tons of imported and fresh-made Italian goods, more kinds of cheese than you can count, plus Mexican, Polish and Asian imports. They even have imported French and Irish butter!

This store can get pretty crowded, so I try to go during off-hours. But it's a great place to get some inexpensive produce, a fresh loaf of bread, some tasty deli treats, and so much more.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Taj Mahal, Bloomingdale -- a taste of India in the suburbs

My husband is not the biggest fan of Valentine's Day. He prefers meaningful gifts to flowers and heartfelt expressions of love to cheesy cards. I don't blame him, but a little romanticism never hurt. (He came through for me this year.)

And while we certainly enjoy the classy Italian restaurant with dim candle light and overpriced wine, we went a less traditional route for our Valentine's dinner -- Indian food.

I love Indian food, having been practically adopted by an immigrant family in our church as a kid. The mom loved to feed me naan and whatever else she had on hand, and the smell of curry takes me back to sitting in her kitchen, 8 years old. My husband is a recent convert, but as a lover of spicy food and rice, he has taken to it well.

We chose Taj Mahal (111 E Lake St., Bloomingdale) based on its proximity and good reviews on Yelp. I guess nobody else had the idea to eat Indian food on Friday the 13th, because we were basically alone for our meal, with a few takeout customers coming in and two women coming to eat in as we were leaving.

The service was very good, as you would hope. We chose cashew nut rolls as an appetizer -- these were a delightful combination of mashed potatoes rolled in a crispy finely-ground nut mixture. Think mozzarella sticks with potato inside instead.

My husband chose chicken vindaloo, a spicy dish that had just enough heat for his tastes, and I had a tandoori chicken dish that had been marinated in ginger, garlic and yogurt with onion, tomato and green bell pepper. We shared saffron rice and it came with a basket of naan.

The food was delicious, with incredibly tender chicken and perfectly-made rice. The flavor was great on my dish, and my husband's managed to be both very flavorful and quite spicy at once. We had plenty left over and finished it for lunch on Sunday.

Decor-wise, Taj Mahal is basic but nice. Everything was clean and there were a variety of motel-style landscapes on the walls. The strip mall it's in (at the corner of Lake and Bloomingdale) is very quiet, so parking is unlikely to be any problem. The menu features a variety of vegetarian, chicken, lamb and seafood dishes. (Notice that no Indian restaurant ever serves beef?:))

Taj Mahal features a buffet during lunch hours and has a decent wine list and variety of imported Indian beers. We'll absolutely be back to this quiet spot, and I hope they do enough business at other times to stay open!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Fire Bar & Grill, Crystal Lake -- sports bar fun for (nearly) everyone

Being a relatively new Crystal Lake resident, I'd heard a lot of things about Fire Bar & Grill.

None of them were really good. But after having a late dinner there Friday night, I'm not sure what all the negativity was about.

As a former server at a bustling sports bar, it felt a little like home. It's spacious and dark, with flat-screen TVs, Big Buck Hunter Pro and plenty of pool tables in the back.

The vibe there felt more bar than restaurant, but the food tasted great.

A group of co-workers and I ordered from a very pleasant server, who gave helpful suggestions to the half of us who are vegetarian. The menu had tons of stuff: sandwiches, wraps, appetizers, salads and more.

One friend ordered the spinach-artichoke dip and chips and said it was tasty and filling enough as an entree. A couple others ordered different sandwiches and quesadillas, also giving nods of approval. Meanwhile, I ordered the buffalo chicken wrap, and my only complaint was the sauce was medium or hotter, when I thought it was mild (I'm kind of a wuss when it comes to heat). But the steak fries were so fresh; the best I've ever eaten.

We also had a few rounds of beer and other drinks, all decently priced.

Surprisingly, we saw a few families with kids later on around 9 p.m. Probably for the game machines and food, but again, it's a little bit more on the bar side. One cool thing I noticed was a sign for free pool between noon and 5 p.m. every day.

They also have karaoke on Tuesdays, live bands on Thursdays and a guest DJ spinning on Friday and Saturday nights. Sundays are typically devoted to NFL games, with prizes and giveaways.

I think the group of us would definitely go back, probably for the drink specials and the atmosphere. It's somewhat hard to find a variety of late-night hangouts in McHenry County -- outside of your corner pub -- but I'll be adding this to my list.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A taste of Ireland - Peggy Kinnane's, Arlington Heights

I had a busy weekend last weekend. In addition to spending over two hours at the Freddo Cafe, I had lunch with some friends in charming downtown Arlington Heights, at Peggy Kinnane's Irish Pub (8 North Vail Ave.). I'd actually been there once before, but since it was the night of my bachelorette party, let's just say my memories are a bit fuzzy.

On a Saturday around 11 a.m., downtown Arlington Heights is pretty quiet, but there's a lot to see and explore. (Someday, I am going to Fuego. But that is neither here nor there.) Peggy Kinnane's is what you expect an Irish pub to be - lots of wood and signs about whiskey and green. The menu is a bit broader than more chain-like places, though, with more authentic Irish dishes including boxty, shepherd's pie, fish and chips and even an Irish breakfast. Of course, they also have more typical pub grub, including wings, nachos, burgers, sandwiches, etc. I had the fish and chips on my previous visit; on this one I went for a wrap, looking for something a bit lighter. I'm not sure that what amounted to a buffalo chicken wrap qualifies as Irish, but it was tasty.

They also have a wide selection of beers and whiskeys, along with a full bar and decent wine list.

Service was very good, and while we were the only people in the place, I remember our waitress being stellar when I was there in August of '07. So it's good to know they're still hiring good people.

Peggy's is one of those places that serves several functions. It is equally good for a lunch with friends, a nice dinner out with the family, or tearing it up late at the bar. They have an outdoor seating area for use in nicer weather, and it would be fun to sit there and people watch when it's warm.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Freddo Cafe, Addison - A touch of Europe in the 'burbs

I can't quite tell what part of Europe the Freddo Cafe, at 1250 W. Lake St. in Addison, is supposed to represent. But it's definitely European. With rich wood, a flat-panel TV showing European football matches, paninis, Greek coffee, espresso and more, this is a cute and quality choice for a coffee break in Addison.

The cafe has about eight tables and a comfy leather couch with a table. It's not big, but it doesn't feel cramped. The menu includes the typical assortment of lattes, cappuccino, espresso macchiato and iced drinks. They also have frozen blended drinks (you know, frappes) that are called Freddoccinos. Cute, huh? My friend and I each had one, and they were tasty, thick with a nice coffee flavor and not too sweet.

And, although my friend and I didn't try them, they also have paninis, thin-crust pizza, pastries and ice cream.

The staff was very friendly and kept checking on us, offering napkins and water. It's a great option for a snack, a great cup of coffee or a light meal. I'm sure to be back.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Slacking in the Suburbs

I don't have much to report because we haven't been as active lately in going out and exploring. I mean, we had Popeye's for dinner last Friday. Nothing wrong with that, but it's not exactly local or original.

But. This weekend, my husband will be out of town and I am going to take the opportunity to meet with friends at a few points. So I may well have new places to write about.

One place I'm really looking forward to trying is the Freddo Cafe in Addison. The Freddo, in case you're wondering, is a cold coffee-based drink with whipped cream. I think. (The menu makes it sound like an iced double-shot latte with whipped cream.) The Cafe is a European-style cafe that advertises Greek coffee, paninis and pizza, pastries and ice cream. The pictures make it look cute, and we drive by it all the time, so I'd love to have a local hangout where I can go get a good cup of coffee.

There are also a few other area places I'd love to visit, and they're on my list:

# Mitsuwa Marketplace, Arlington Heights: This is a Japanese/Asian wonderland, from what I hear. Tons of imported groceries, health food, books, bakery, videos, and fresh sushi and ramen.

# Solace 601, Addison: This looks to be a cozy, Northern Italian/Southern French restaurant, suitable for a romantic dinner or special occasion. We passed it last weekend and were intrigued.

# Schweppe Inc., Lombard: A restaurant supply wholesaler that is also open to the public. I watch and love Alton Brown, and he recommends restaurant supply stores as fantastic places to find quality kitchen equipment at good prices.

I know there are plenty of other places I'm curious about, but I think that's a good list for now. I'll report back over the weekend if I go anywhere interesting!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

For beer lovers: Barley House in Algonquin

During my undergraduate years in central Illinois, I thought trying to complete a 110-beer "World Tour" at a local bar and grill was challenge enough.

I found out Tuesday night that I was dead wrong.

Anyone with an eclectic taste in beer – or others willing to try new brews at a cheap price by Chicago standards – may find home in one of the many bar stools at Barley House in Algonquin. That's because it offers nearly 250 different beers spanning the globe.

Barley House, 1520 S. Randall Rd., was recently opened this month by local restaurateurs in place of the former Claddagh Irish Pub. After some remodeling and the addition of a hefty drink menu (more like a map), patrons seem pleased as they sip their cocktails and brews next to a fireplace or flat-screen TV.

At Barley House, rarities and new choices are abundant, as well as the drink specials for January and February. We stopped by on a Tuesday, when all micro pints (sans "Delirium") were $3 – a repeating discount on Thursdays. There's also a "beer nerd" club, where members receive 25 percent off beer purchases on Wednesdays.

Aside from the mind-boggling amount of drafts, bottles, hard ciders and wines, Barley House vibes a cozy, upscale atmosphere. They certainly don't serve most of the typical bar fare, but instead a large variety of food of a finer note. Appetizers range from coconut onion rings to steamed oysters, while entrees feature "The Best Chicken Sandwich Ever" to filet mignon.

And every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., diners can eat all they can of salad, soup and artisan bread for $7.50. On Mondays, the "Flip for your Food" special is as simple as it sounds. Your server returns the check with a coin, you pick a side and he or she flips once for every entree on your order. If you're lucky, you'll get half-off every entree every time you're right.

But despite all the good deals, I don't think we'll be returning to Barley House for the food. Our choices – an Ahi steak sandwich and a seafood stew – were fancy and fun but not entirely satisfying, taste-wise. But the great service and tasty beers made up for that tiny glitch, ten-fold. For that, we'll be sure to stop by again soon.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Little Owl, Geneva

On Saturday evening the husband and I met two friends of ours at The Little Owl, located at 101 W. State St. (Route 38) in Geneva.

It's a historic bar and restaurant, with lots of dark wood and American food including burgers, chicken, lots of fish options, and your standard bar staples.

The bar options looked pretty good, too, and I was tempted by the martini menu, but decided to stick to food. They brought out a bread basket full of a small loaf of sliced bread, garlic toast rounds, and crackers. We shared cheese nuggets as an appetizer, which is every bit as bad for you as it sounds, but in a delicious way.

I had fish and chips, substituting the chips for their "sour cream and chive sticks", which turned out to be french fries coated in a ranch-dressing-like powder before frying -- which was pretty tasty. The fish was nicely fried, though some of it did come out in a chunk away from the batter. My husband had a chicken wings basket, which he reports were very meaty with a delicious batter.

Our friends had a fish-wich and an Italian beef sandwich with mashed potatoes, and reported that those were good as well.

I do have one small complaint: our waitress was a little flighty and took a while to take our orders; after she brought the appetizer out we had to actually tell her we were ready to order. The check also took awhile to come, although she did keep our drinks refilled nicely and took our credit cards promptly.

Prices were pretty good, although portions were not huge, but I was nicely full and not stuffed when we were done.

While there are a huge variety of restaurants in downtown Geneva, I think the Little Owl is a good option if you want a cozy tavern-y sort of place, with solid comfort food, drinks, and a place to sit and talk with friends.

Friday, January 16, 2009

State of the blog


I've been thinking about this blog lately and where it is and where I want it to be. For the most part, I'm pleased. What started as an experiment in writing about cool things in the Chicago suburbs has gained two more writers and an audience - albeit a smallish one - which is great! I'm indebted to Another Suburbanite for really helping me kickstart things, and glad to have The Juice Box on board for more content and input.

What I haven't been doing much of lately is writing about things besides restaurant reviews and the odd store or spa. Which I'm going to blame on a few things: the recent holidays (busy, busy) and the weather - because really, who wants to go exploring when it's 17 below out there?!

But as the weather warms up I'm hoping to get back out there. To write about festivals and parks and ice cream parlors and more.

I also want to encourage my audience to give us feedback. Recommend places for us to try -- we live in McHenry, northwest Cook and DuPage counties and often travel through Lake and Kane for work or life, so if there's someplace in your neck of the woods you're curious about -- or that you've tried and think is great -- pass it on! Alternatively, if someone wants to submit a single review (or even several) without joining the team, just drop me a line. My blog-related e-mail is easy: suburbanawesome [at]

In the end, I want this blog to be useful, fun, and for the people who read it. I welcome all manner of feedback, questions, comments, whatever!

Thanks, and keep reading and rockin' the suburbs!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

On the Border ... of authentic

Hi, Rockin' the Suburbs readers.

Before I get into my mini-review of the On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina in Algonquin, let me introduce myself.

My online alias is The Juice Box and I found my way here through the amazing online network of Twenty Something Bloggers. After checking out this blog and enjoying its content and theme of helping Chicago suburbanites find things to do around town, I was happily given the approval stamp of becoming a new contributor.

A little about me: I'm in my 20s, live in McHenry County and grew up in Cook. I've been around the suburbs a minute or two, but don't define myself by them. I eat my hot dogs Chicago style -- absolutely no ketchup! I enjoy getting out to local places to check out new movies, restaurants, bars and all other entertainment spots in between.

So without ado, my first review.

After craving margaritas and bottomless chips and salsa, the boyfriend and I decided to head over to On the Border in Algonquin tonight. And when we got there, we were pleasantly surprised.

We were expecting something along the lines of Chili's (sub-par food, brightly colored trinkets on the walls, chipped tiled booths), and though we caught a whiff of corporate flair, this spot was "on the border" of authentic.

As soon as we sat down to our table, our server Matt was extremely courteous and joked around with us. Granted, the place was dead, but he was spot on with helping us out with menu options and keeping our giant margarita and Dos XX tumblers full.

A single bottomless chip was about the size of a half hard-shell taco, and dipped in a spicy tequila lime salsa, tasted crisp with just the right amount of salt. We enjoyed looking around the place while we munched and waited on our meal, too. A nice ambience, despite some heavy Menudo playing in the background. Can't remember the last time I sang along absentmindedly to Ricky Martin and actually enjoyed it (shh, don't tell anyone).

Our orders came up quickly. I chose the Dos XX fish tacos. For $9.99, I got three hefty portions of beer-battered fish wrapped in a soft tortilla stuffed with cabbage lettuce, pico de gallo and a chile cream sauce. Rice and beans on the side. The whole meal tasted fresh and didn't need seasoning; plus, I could really specifically taste the Dos XX on the fish.

The boyfriend chose the endless enchiladas special, where, you guessed it -- endless enchiladas of the beef, chicken or cheese variety and a side of rice and beans were served for $8.99. He only lasted for four, but our server noted that the record there was 26. Yikes. Although the enchiladas were tasty enough, I've had better at smaller, hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants. Maybe it's something in the water.

Overall, we had an enjoyable experience and plan to go back again soon to try out all the other enticing stuff on the menu. They have a great "create your own" section for burritos and fajitas, all down to specific details so you can come up with nearly 100 different combination possibilities.

The prices are also decent, especially for drinks: $4.25 for a large 22 oz. house (strong) margarita, and $3.25 for Dos XX on draft in the same size. They have about a dozen different Mexican imports available in bottles, and also another "create your own" menu for premium margaritas that I'd put to good use.

The bar and grill also has Chicago-area locations in St. Charles and Vernon Hills, so if you're not near Algonquin, you can plan an outing at one of the others.

Looking for something quick to satisfy your cravings for Mexican food and drink? Your next trip should be to On the Border.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Entourage Salon & Spa, Elmhurst

A different sort of review today than we've been doing, although I would like to note that this is intended to be for all sorts of places around the suburbs and not just restaurants!

Today I redeemed a gift card that was a Christmas present from my dear husband: enough for a massage at Entourage Salon and Spa in Elmhurst. It's at 111 Second St. (in the City Centre) and on the web at

I'd been in want of a good massage for quite awhile, and let me tell you, Entourage got the job done.

My massage therapist was Mary Ann, a cheerful woman in scrubs who had a sort of mom/aunt vibe about her. She asked me a few questions about where my tension was, what I did or didn't want, that sort of thing. Then I was shown into the massage room to undress and left.

The room was nicely appointed but simple, with hooks for my clothes, wood-paneled walls and dim lighting. There was soft nature-sounds music playing, enough to set a relaxing mood and drown out any sounds from the salon.

Mary Ann did a wonderful job, asking for feedback on pressure and a few other things but largely working quietly to let me enjoy. And I did. The tension in my neck and shoulders is gone and when she was done I lay there blissfully, wanting either a nap or more massage.

The salon itself is very nice, with lots of light and comfy chairs and a cool transparent waterfall behind the front desk.

While I certainly can't afford to indulge every month, I think I will be returning to Entourage for a massage... and maybe a haircut or pedicure now and then!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Christy's Restaurant & Pancake House, Wood Dale

Christy's Restaurant and Pancake House ... the name pretty much says it all. Located at 200 E Irving Park Rd. in Wood Dale (basically in front of the Metra station), this Greek diner/pancake house has something for everyone.

They serve breakfast all day, as well as an extensive lunch and dinner menu. Because we live so close to Christy's, I have now been there twice, once for breakfast and once for dinner.

It is a small, cheerfully crowded place where the waitresses are both friendly and sarcastic and you can tell they have a lot of regulars.

The food is not out of the ordinary, but it is tasty, and there is a lot of it for the price. For breakfast, for instance, I got a spinach and feta omelet that was HUGE and came with sesame toast and hashbrowns. I took half the omelet home. My husband had a bacon waffle (the man never turns down bacon) and was quite pleased; the friend we were with enjoyed her pancakes immensely.

(I must say that I was a teeeeny bit disappointed in the hashbrowns -- they were quite dry and lacked onion. In my opinion, the best hashbrowns are a bit greasy and have onion with them.)

When we returned for dinner, my husband had a frankencheese (a hot dog wrapped in cheese and bacon ... what did I say?) and I had a gyros sandwich. Both came with soup and fries, and we were given a bread basket when we sat down. Combine that with the appetizer we shared and I again took most of my actual meal home. The gyros meat was delicious, nicely cut and tender with tons of flavor. The fries were tasty too. My chicken noodle soup hit the spot; my husband said his black bean soup was yummy.

Christy's is not gourmet, it is not expensive, and it is not fancy. What it is is good food, done right. Exactly what you want in a diner/breakfast place. I should also note that the service we had both times was very good. And even if a restaurant is only above average, good service will keep us coming back.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Blu Razz in South Elgin

A few days ago, I met up with a couple friends for martinis at Blu Razz (558 Randall Rd) in South Elgin.  It was a weeknight so the place was quite empty for 9:30 pm. 

We sat in a huge corner booth and took in the trendy atmosphere. A sleek bar, fish tanks with Grey Goose bottles in them, and low lighting made me feel like I should've put heels on. Our waitress lit a candle on our table and give us the drink menu.  The martini selection is overwhelming! They also have quite the selection of mixed drinks and beers, but it was a girls' night out so we opted for martinis.  All martinis are $8 and they have just about any combination of flavors you can imagine. I ordered the Blu Lemonsicle: Blu Razz vodka, Bacardi Limon, razzberry liqueur, and lemonade. It was strong and more raspberry than lemon flavored, but I liked it enough. My second martini was the Milky Way and that was a treat. It is made with vanilla vodka, chocolate liqueur, and Irish cream and the glass is drizzled with chocolate.

Our waitress was friendly and knowledgeable. There was only one downside of our evening at Blu Razz. On the door, they advertise being open until 1am weeknights. However, it was obvious they were trying to close around 11:30pm. The lights came on, the music stopped, and last call was called around 11:00. It was slightly rude and we wrapped up our chit chat and left, though we probably could have used another hour!

All in all, Blu Razz seems to be a suburban hotspot for weekends, but don't try to enjoy your day off by staying late during the week! The martini selection is great and I'd definitely go back.