Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Swanky steak time -- 94 West, Orland Park

The husband and I are not normally fancypants steakhouse sort of people. We appreciate finer dining when we get it, but are not the sort to seek out a restaurant where the average entree is $25 or more.

But  when it's Christmas and your in-laws want to take you out for a lovely dinner after Christmas Eve mass, you put on a nice top and go with it.

94 West (15410 94th Ave., Orland Park) is a swanky suburban steakhouse with dim lighting and high prices. It's a special occasion sort of place. I have heard that it didn't use to include much with your meat, and I can see why that would be really off-putting, since the prices are high enough as it is, but entrees now include choice of potato (or veg) and soup or salad, plus complimentary bread and "green noodles" (an Italian-dressing flavored pasta salad heavy on the neon aqua food coloring).

Service was very good and in the two years we've gone for the holidays, there was nothing I ate that wasn't delicious. Besides an assortment of steak choices, they offer shrimp, multiple fish choices prepared to your liking, ribs and chicken.

Last year I had a wonderful mahi mahi with a plate-lickingly good red pepper sauce; this year I stepped it up a notch and ordered a 6 oz filet and shrimp (three HUGE fried shrimp) with a delicious Bearnaise. The filet was cooked perfectly, completely tender and so good. The potato selections are pretty standard (baked, double-baked, fries, sweet potato fries, etc) but done well.

While chances are good we won't be back until/unless it becomes a Christmas Eve tradition, I would recommend 94 West to anyone looking for a fine dining experience in the southwestern suburbs.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Burgers done right -- Tom & Eddie's, Lombard

After much anticipation and a few missed opportunities, we finally got to try one of the newest suburban burger hotspots -- and unlike Meatheads, Five Guys and the like, this one is no chain.

Tom & Eddie's, 348 Yorktown Shopping Center, Lombard (located in the Shops at Butterfield next to Yorktown Mall) is an upscale fast-casual burger joint started by two retired McDonald's executives who decided to start making good burgers.

It's probably the nicest "counter service" restaurant I've ever seen, or at least the fanciest burger joint. It includes a lot of thoughtful little touches, from salt & pepper mills at each table to a variety of sauces to adorn your burger or dip your fries into. It's got lots of woodwork and fancy cushy seats and your food is brought out to you on big modern square plates.

The menu includes both "reciped" burgers and a huge variety of choices for building your own -- from bun to meat choice to sauces and toppings. It can be a little dizzying. I went with a standard beef cheeseburger on a ciabatta roll, with cheddar, pickles, tomato, caramelized onions, garlic aioli and brown mustard. DEE--wait for it--LICIOUS. I had standard fries as a side but you can also choose from sweet potato fries (which my husband tried -- fab), chips, onion straws, soup or salad.

Other patty choices include chicken, ahi tuna or edamame, and the menu also features salad, hot dogs, soup, hand-made shakes, ice cream, floats, cane-sugar soda, craft beer and wine.

While it is a bit pricy ($8.50 to $10 per sandwich, which includes a side), you're paying for high-quality ingredients and, let's face it, the location. It's essentially a sit-down restaurant without tips and with minimal waiter service -- though each table does include a locater dealie with a button you can push should you want to order dessert belatedly or need anything else

This won't be a weekly stop for us, but we will absolutely be back when the craving hits for a high-quality, hand-crafted, customized burger.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Baked delights - La Blondina Bakery Cafe, Wood Dale

I rarely write about brand-stinking-new places because I figure new businesses should have a little time to get settled in, find their niche, develop their website...

But I'm pretty jazzed about this one. There's a small storefront on Wood Dale Road, just north of Irving Park, that previously housed a bakery, then sat vacant for over a year. I pass this place at least twice a week, and was excited when I saw new signs of life. This past Saturday, I was driving home from spin (yes, this is a little ironic) when I saw that the new bakery -- La Blondina Bakery/Cafe was open. And since it had a large sign advertising FREE COFFEE, I had to stop.

The space is not very big, but there's enough room for a large case advertising their many baked delights, plus a few small tables for enjoying your goodies in-store. It's nicely decorated and very cute.

So far, baked goods for sale included HUGE cookies, somewhat smaller cookies, quiche, croissants, chocolate croissants, tarts and much more. I was told they expect to have a lunch menu soon and will also offer custom wedding and birthday cakes. I walked out with two chocolate croissants and a piping hot cup of Lavazza coffee.

The croissants were *awesome* (and of course the coffee was too) and now I'm really excited about this place, I must say.

Their website is not very functional yet, but you can call them at 630-595-5500.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Spooky fun

Looking for some last-minute Halloween plans? Want something scary to do this weekend? Check out these suburban ghost tours for some eerie entertainment:

Historic Ghost Tours of Elgin:
Where: Meet at Mel's Pizza, 728 W. Chicago St., Elgin, (847) 695-8180, historic-ghost-tours-elgin.com
Price: $30
What: Nobody under 16 allowed. Van travels to some of Elgin's scariest spots, including a haunted elementary school, a cemetery and the Elgin State Mental Hospital. Tour participants can carry an electromagnetic field sensor, a tool used by paranormal investigators. Three hours; ends at Mel's for a hypnotism demonstration. Tarot readings are available at the restaurant for an extra fee.

Ghost Tours of Naperville
Where: Meet at Central Park, 36 S. Washington St., Naperville, (630) 205-2664, naperville-ghosts.com
Price: $20, $15 for students and seniors
What: Led by paranormal investigator Kevin Frantz. Two-hour tour through the city's downtown area. Stops can vary, but typically include Central Park, the YMCA, the city's old library and the Red Geranium, Naperville's most notorious haunted house. Visitors are encouraged to bring cameras to snap pictures looking for ghostly images.

Historic Ghost Tours of Naperville
Where: Meet at Quigley's Irish Pub, 43 E. Jefferson St., (630) 978-7033, historicghosttoursofnaperville.com
Price: $15, $10 for kids younger than 14 and seniors
What: Two-hour walking tour through downtown Naperville runs at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 15. Learn about the Great Naperville Train Disaster and hear local legends and ghost stories like “Charlie Yellow Boots” and the “Weeping Bride” and tales of paranormal encounters. Special trolley tours also are available on a few dates.

Historic Roundhouse Ghost Tours of Aurora
Where: Meet at America's Historic Roundhouse, 205 N. Broadway, Aurora, (630) 978-7033, historicghosttoursofnaperville.com
Price: $13
What: Tours run at 7:30 p.m. Mondays and walk around the historic Roundhouse, which is said to be very haunted.

Ghost Walk of Palatine
Where: Durty Nellie's Pub, 180 N. Smith St., Palatine, (847) 358-9150
Price: $5
What: Tour areas of Palatine said to be haunted and help the Haitian relief effort at the same time. Remaining walks are at 6 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 24 and 31, and start with a short presentation at Durty Nellie's.

Excursions into the Unknown
Where: Westfield Chicago Ridge Shopping Mall, 444 Chicago Ridge Mall, Chicago Ridge, (708) 425-5163, ghostresearch.org
Price: $35-$45
What: A bus tour of south and southwest Chicago, Excursions into the Unknown makes 10 to 12 stops including Jane Addams Hull House, the Glessner House and the Marshall Field Jr. Mansion. Guests are encouraged to bring an open mind and a camera to look for spirits.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cheap, plentiful Chinese -- Hoy's, Bensenville

I drive past Hoy's, 455 W Irving Park Rd, Bensenville daily. It's in a strip mall that's actually one of the bright spots of the Bensenville stretch of Irving Park, which has a lot of auto shops and empty spaces.

This cheery little strip mall contains a taqueria, a Jimmy John's, a Polish deli, a barber shop, a couple other small shops and Hoy's Chinese Restaurant.

So I drive past Hoy's regularly, but I hadn't indulged my Chinese take-out craving for quite awhile -- until the husband was away for the weekend and I wanted something fast and tasty.

The restaurant is not very big, but has a decent-size dining room for eating in. I perused the large menu briefly and selected a small wonton soup and Taiwan Style Rice Noodles, described as "Taiwan style thin rice noodles mixed with shredded pork, pea pods, peppers, carrots, bean sprouts and onions."

About 10 minutes later, I had my piping hot bag in hand and was out the door.

Even though it seemed a touch overpackaged, I appreciated that the soup was in its own small plastic bag and then a bigger paper bag inside the largest plastic bag, so there was no chance of leakage.

The soup was packed with veggies -- unusual for wonton soup -- and instead of one or two big wontons, it contained maybe six or seven small meatball-sized wontons. The broth wasn't quite as flavorful as I'm used to, but I appreciated the tons of cabbage and sprouts.

The noodles were a HUGE portion -- easily enough for two. It was flavorful, with fresh, plentiful veggies. There was also plenty of pork, although it wasn't really shredded. Instead it was big slices and strips, and some of it was a bit on the chewy side. Oh, and it also contained egg, which is not mentioned in the description. That said, it was fresh-tasting and very good, both for dinner and the next morning when I polished off the rest of it.

Given the prompt service, tasty food and very reasonable prices, I am looking forward to trying more of Hoy's huge menu.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Sci Side

You probably fall in to one of two categories:

A) You've never heard of American Science & Surplus


B) You absolutely LOVE American Science & Surplus

I am most definitely a category B!
AS&S is one part mad-scientist toy store and one part educational fun/hobby store. A great place for adults and kids alike...and you don't have to break the bank to get a bag full of fun, interesting, and/or educational goodies.

American Science & Surplus is located in West Chicago at 33W361 Roosevelt Rd. (aka Route 38), just a quarter of a mile East of Kirk Rd. You can also reach them by calling 630-232-2882. They also have two other locations in Chicago and Milwaukee.

If you are babysitting or have children, bring them here- it's worth the drive if you don't live in the area. My husband and I spend at least an hour if not more in this store each time we go, and we don't have children.

It's also great place to gather supplies for Halloween costumes- this year my husband purchased many items for his, go figure, "mad scientist" costume here. We also scored some crazy goggles - one pair is for welding and another is supposed to be Chinese Snow Goggles. Say what? Yup, Chinese Snow Goggles...this place has everything! Rubber insects? Check. Beakers and test tubes? Check. Disco Ball? Check. British Postal Worker Vest? Youbetcha! They have more wires and thingamabobs than you can shake a stick at. And it probably goes without saying, but if there is a science project to do this store is a must.

Their staff is quirky but very friendly and helpful. They also have a fun and informative website for your home browsing pleasure, www.sciplus.com. So come on over and get your sci on!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like...Oktoberfest!

It's late September, October is just around the corner and I have a hankering for German food. But not just any German restaurant will do; it has to be Schnitzel Platz. Located at 729 North Ave. in Glendale Heights, you can reach them by calling 630-942-9900 for reservations (a very good idea to do so) and you can check them out online at www.schnitzelplatz.com.

We LOVE Schnitzel Platz! It's our family's favorite place to celebrate special occasions and to bring out of town guests. Everything is absolutely delicious! We've tried a number of items and our favorites are the Jaeger/Hunter Schnitzel (pork schnitzel with a yummy mushroom sauce) and the sausage sampler plate. Meals come with either a cup of the soup of the day or the German salad plate (a variety of cold German salads). And there is a nice big basket of pretzels rolls, rye bread and crackers brought to the table. The servings are very large and we always bring leftovers home -you can also share a meal for a small fee (though the last time we did this we ordered an additional salad and spaetzle and they didn't charge us the sharing fee). They might seem pricey but they are in line with pricing at other German places and you do get ALOT of food.

Now I'm not a beer fan but my husband and father-in-law do enjoy their large beer selection. You can even have a litre of beer in a glass boot! They also have a number of wines and after dinner cordials which are quite good.

Be sure not to forget dessert! I believe the dessert menu might be smaller during Oktoberfest but normally they have a huge selection of tempting cakes and strudels. Your server might go over the tray of them pretty fast but don't worry, they are happy to repeat or answer any of your questions.

A few notes about their hours- they are closed on Tuesdays. They also are closed for a few weeks in Autumn each year to return to Germany (the owners and some of the staff are from there) so be sure to check. If you go during Oktoberfest(Sept-Oct) the center of the restaurant has rows of picnic tables with table cloths lined up to accommodate the crowds. They do have booths along the outer walls of the resturaunt though. And if you come on a Fri, Sat or Sun make reservations. They are typically packed on these nights year round.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the two-man German band of Bob & Hank who entertain on the weekend nights. They are fabulous and will have the whole crowd singing along. So brush off that Sound of Music soundtrack and come on over. Everyone has a little German in them at Schnitzel Platz!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Swanky in the Suburbs -- Il Poggiolo, Hinsdale

I love Italian food, and I love Yelp, so I couldn't resist the opportunity to combine the two last night at an event held at Il Poggiolo, a Jerry Kleiner fine-dining restaurant in downtown Hinsdale. (8 E. 1st St., Hinsdale)

The theme of the evening was Swanky, so the husband and I put our nice duds on and stepped out in style. Good thing, too, because this is a classy place -- and Hinsdale is a ritzy town.

Il Poggiolo is housed in a former silent theater, and features a lofted area that overlooks the main part of the restaurant (Il Poggiolo means "the balcony" wouldn't ya know?!), and the whole place is done in softly lit warm wood with bright red fixtures and pictures on the wall. We had the loft to ourselves and enjoyed delicious house wine, schmancy cocktails and delectable food -- paper-thin pizzas, gourmet bruschettas and the oh-so-decadent arancini. (What's arancini? Only golden-fried balls of cheesy risotto... drool.)

The food was awesome, the service was friendly and attentive, and Jerry Kleiner himself made an appearance to meet us all and chat a bit. While Il Poggiolo is probably not a place I will return to regularly, if I ever need to impress anyone, this would definitely fit the bill.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fantastic coffee on the Fox - Arcedium Coffeehouse, St. Charles

I lived in St. Charles for a year when I first moved to Illinois. I really loved the Fox Valley and was sorry to have to leave. It's probably a good thing that Arcedium wasn't around then, or it would have made it that much harder -- because this is a great coffeehouse.

Arcedium Coffee, 60 Indiana St., St. Charles, is nestled on the banks of the Fox River in a newly redeveloped section of downtown St. Charles. 

Inside, it's got lots of lovely wood, plenty of tables, comfy chairs and a large bar wrapping around the coffee roaster -- yes, they roast their own coffee here. The menu features tons of drink options, both caffeinated and not, plus light eats including soup, salad, panini and pastry. 

I visited on a Friday afternoon, and it was moderately busy but not jam-packed. I was trying to save room for dinner, so no pastries for me, but I very much enjoyed my iced cinnamon creme latte. Even though it was sweet, I could taste the richness of the espresso and it was quality stuff.

The next time I find myself in St. Charles, I think I'll be making an extra stop at Arcedium....

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Arboretum of South Barrington

I am the first to admit I’m not a shopper and suburban shopping centers can be downright depressing to me. So when there is a place I actually enjoy the shopping experience you know it has to be good. The Arboretum of South Barrington certainly fits the bill. Conveniently located near I-90 at the intersection of Higgins Rd. and Sutton Rd., a.k.a. Routes 72 and 59, so finding it should be no trouble at all.

I’ll give you a hint on how to woo me with you shopping center; make it open-air. I’m not sure if I like to pretend we in Chicagoland aren’t buried under snow with negative wind-chills a chunk of the year or if it is nostalgia from my days living in San Diego. The landscape architects and planners for The Arboretum of South Barrington did a bang-up job. Plenty of greenery with lots of trees, gardens (10,000 grasses, ornamental and otherwise) and flowers (20,000 perennials!) as a nod to the tree farm which used to occupy this same land years ago. For the tree-enthusiasts out there (and really, who isn’t?) “80 species of shade and ornamental trees were selected for their hardiness against snow and the residual salt from de-icing. Over 2,700 trees in all came from local nurseries, varying in size, shape, and age, including maple, oaks, linden and locust. The larger trees include elm, Autumn Blaze maple, Turkish filbert, Kentucky coffee tree, and Golden Raindrop crabapple.” Impressive, eh?

Okay, enough on the nature, let’s talk about the shopping and dining! I love to try unique and independently owned places – and this shopping center has a nice combination of places you don’t see everywhere (they may have more locations, just not plastered all over like Target) and locally owned businesses. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a few of my favorites. For a complete list check out www.shopthearboretumsb.com/store-directory.

Seasons Produce & Specialty Market – think farmer’s market on a smaller scale

Sur la Table – a fabulous kitchen store

Acquisitions for the Home – lovely furniture and accessories

Arhaus Furniture – ditto the above

Amazing Gracie’s Childrens Shoppe – now I don’t have children, but if you want yours (or your favorite nieces, nephews, etc.) to look good for a special occasion, this is THE place to go

Kinga European Children’s Shoes – once again, I have no kids, but love to look at these shoes!

L.L. Bean – yes, I know you’ve heard of them but they don’t have many locations and only one other in Illinois. All kinds of great outdoor gear, active wear and clothing. PLUS they are always having free or cheap workshops on a variety of subjects. Just recently while kayaking my husband and I came upon the LL Bean Kayaking Workshop learning how to paddle in the parking lot prior to getting in the water.

Kriser’s – go green for your furry friends with all natural pet food, treats, toys and grooming

L’Eiffel Bistro & Creperie – one of my absolute favorite places to eat with wonderfully delicious crepes (both savory and sweet), fantastic wines, lovely d├ęcor with outdoor dining patio, and they have Sunday brunch.

Anna Shea Chocolates & Lounge – Heavenly chocolates which look so beautiful you don’t want to bite in to them, until you do and discover how orgasmic they are! They also have cupcakes, a small gelato bar, frozen hot chocolate and plenty of chocolate-infused adult beverages and wine to go with your chocolate. Plus there are cutesy little items to purchase and they have a nice little room you can have a small private party in. These people know and love their chocolate!

Nozumi Asian & Japanese Cuisine – Mmmm, sushi. Need I say more? Sleek & stylish as well.

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant They had me at “winery” but also a tasty menu and a gluten-free menu. Bonus points! Carryout and catering available as well.

Froots – smoothie heaven

Like I said, they have lots of other places to shop, eat, and you can even pamper yourself at a few of their spas and salons for hair, nails, facials, etc. And if it’s entertainment you are looking for they have a Gold Class Cinemas – the ultimate in theater experiences and Pinstripes Bocce & Bowling (which also has it’s own bar and restaurant area).

The center itself is always having different events and even antique markets. I hope I’ve inspired you to give suburban shopping centers another try and you will be taken to an entirely different level.

The Arboretum of South Barrington
100 W. Higgins Rd.
South Barrington, IL 60010

Monday, August 23, 2010

Did you just order a $5 milk shake? YES!

Going to Al's Cafe & Creamery in downtown Elgin reminded me of the scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta questions Uma Thurman about ordering a $5 milkshake. I, like John, was skeptical...but upon trying their famous "Burn's Malt" I also exclaimed, "That is one good f@#%ing milkshake!"

Best. Shake. Ever.

Since this life changing experience my husband and I have been back to Al's several times - each time to bring a new person to worship at the foot of their milkshake machine.

And the deliciousness doesn't stop there! Their food is sooooo good. Al's ranks high on my list for "best burgers" - I especially love their Mushroom Swiss Burger but they have several others to choose from, all complete Yum. My husband loves their deluxe grilled cheese but Al's has much more than just burgers and sandwiches. Each month Al's has a themed ingredient for their Specials menu. August is Steaks and boy oh boy, on our most recent visit I had a fabulous steak! I ordered the bleu-crusted steak which came with a delicious sauce and mashed potatoes, as well as soup or salad. My steak was quite large, much larger than I was expecting for $13.95. It was easily two servings and I happily enjoyed it for dinner the next day as well.

Getting back to those shakes...If you are drinking a malt or shake alone I would definitely go for the half-size. A half is basically a normal size beverage. And they make it easy for you to split the half-size because they bring some of it in the soda fountain glass and the other portion in the milkshake machine cup. And don't go looking for a straw, these shakes are so thick you just get a long spoon. How big is the full-size you ask? The "full" version is like having one super jumbo shake. If you are going to order that size may I suggest wearing pants with an elastic waistband?

The inside of the cafe is small but the decor is interesting...the building itself was the old pharmacy in Elgin. You'll be transported back to another era when you check out the old soda-fountain counter. I believe there is seating upstairs as well, but I've never been up there. In the warmer months you can sit out on the patio. This restaurant is typically quite busy and the servers are trying to take care of several patrons so they might not be as attentive as you'd like - but they are certainly friendly.

Al's is located in the heart of downtown Elgin, 43 Du Page Court. Elgin has been working very hard to revitalize their downtown area so if you haven't been there in a while, check it out. There are a couple of free parking garages downtown, one not far from Al's so you'll have no trouble finding a spot. Check out their menu @ www.alscafe.com.

Local in Schaumburg?! Mad Mark's Mystic Pizza

As everyone in the Chicago area knows, Schaumburg is filled with chains. It's the big-box, retail capital of suburbia, what with Woodfield Mall, IKEA, and endless amounts of chain restaurants. It's often cited as a prime example of what city dwellers hate about the suburbs.

Now, not every suburb is Schaumburg, and in fact I've made it a point to highlight the many suburbs with their own sense of culture, with small and local stores and restaurants, unique downtowns, and so forth.

But as it turns out, even Schaumburg is not totally devoid of interesting places. I was recently invited to a free Yelp event at Mad Mark's Mystic Pizza, 871 E. Algonquin Road, Schaumburg, in the former location of the Alumni Club.

Upon entering, I was amused and a little overwhelmed by the decor -- with brightly colored dragons, a tye-dye motif, and random "stuff" everywhere, it looks like a hippie had an acid trip in a ski lodge. There's certainly plenty to look at. The interior has a large dance floor, a big bar, and plenty of seating. Outside features a patio with a good amount of seating, a bar, a bags court and a sand volleyball court (netted, so that patrons don't have stray balls knocking over their beers).

The atmosphere was inviting and casual, a great place for a summer's evening. But the real star was the food we sampled. Featured was pizza (pepperoni, cheese, sausage and the oh-so-decadent mac & cheese pizza!), jalapeno corn mashed potatoes (just a little kick, very creamy), firecracker shrimp (spicy perfectly-fried shrimp served over a bed of julienned veggies and greens, lightly dressed) and some of the BEST broasted chicken I've had in a long time -- a fabulously spiced crispy skin and tender juicy chicken underneath.

We were also plied with some free beverages, and the bartenders and servers were super-friendly and attentive.

Mad Mark himself made an appearance, talking up the food and personally thanking us all for being there.

While yes, our food was free and we were shown a great time, I would absolutely go back as a paying customer -- I want more of that great firecracker shrimp and broasted chicken! And while the place does have "pizza" in the name, their menu is nicely varied with sandwiches, salads and more.

If you're spending a long day shopping in Schaumburg, I very much recommend a quick trip up to Mad Mark's - take a break from the chains and enjoy a tasty meal.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Here fishy, fishy, fishy... Sushi Nest, Elmhurst

Since the day in college when I first popped a California roll into my mouth, I have been fascinated by, and later enamored with sushi.

I don't get it often because well-crafted sushi is often a bit of an indulgence. Well, that and the fact that my husband is just not a big fish fan - he eats shrimp and that's about it. Forget the raw stuff.

That said, I do love it when I can get it, and I recently had the opportunity to go to Sushi Nest, 142 N. York St, Elmhurst with a friend. And it was wonderful.

The atmosphere is elegant and cozy, and the service is top-notch. We were offered hot towels to clean our hands and big glasses of water with cucumber slices. After ordering, we received a complimentary bowl of edamame, perfectly and lightly salted, as an appetizer.

We shared two rolls -- a Red Dragon roll, with spicy tuna and crunch and topped with more tuna, and a California roll -- and three kinds of nigiri: yellow tail, white tuna and unagi (eel with barbecue sauce).

Everything was fresh and delicious. The white tuna simply melted in my mouth, and the flavors were great on the rolls. I have to admit the unagi wasn't my favorite, but I'd never had eel before. I'd eat it again, but it mostly tasted like barbecue sauce :)

Prices are good, about what you'd expect for a nice but not super-fancy sushi place. They do offer entrees, noodles, salads and combination platters.

All in all, fantastic fresh sushi at fair prices with excellent service... what more could you want?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Coffee, tea, and me - That Coffee Shop, Elmhurst

I love coffee. And coffee shops. And Elmhurst. There is one block especially has so many businesses I frequent on it, including my salon, my favorite wine bar, a Lou Malnati's, a great ice cream place and a fab tea store. So the addition of "That" Coffee Shop, 124 Park Ave., Elmhurst, is right up my perfect little alley. Street.

The atmosphere is simple and cozy: Wood floors lit by the sun, comfy leather recliners (unusual), tables with comfy benches on one side and a little nook that looked perfect for curling up with a book.

They serve Metropolis coffee, which is awesome in my book, although on my first visit, I had an iced chai, which was delightful and refreshing. They have a variety of coffee drinks, Torani syrups, tea, hot chocolate and Italian sodas.

Edible delights included biscotti, cookies, yogurt parfaits and other tasty-looking treats. Oh, and free Wifi!

I can see myself frequenting this place. Probably with a friend in tow for some good conversation and coffee.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Writers sought

Do you live in, work in, or just enjoy the Chicago suburbs?

Do you like to write?

Do you have time to post more than once a month?

If so, I would LOVE to add another writer or two to this blog. My current co-writers seem to have fallen off the face of the earth (ladies, you are always welcome to start posting again!) and I am just too busy to post as often as I would like to.

My only criteria are thus: No national chains, must be in the suburbs. The end. Parks, festivals, downtown areas, restaurants, bookstores, grocery stores, delis, knitting stores, comic book stores... whatever your heart desires to post about is welcome.

If you are interested in helping me, please leave a comment here or (preferably) shoot an email to suburbanawesome [at] gmail.com.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer suburban festivals 2010

Sorry I haven't put this up before! Please let me know if I missed any... It's festival season in the suburbs!

24-27: Bloomington Gold Corvette Show, Pheasant Run, 4051 E. Main St., St. Charles. $17 One Day Pass ($15 for Corvette owners), $40 Three Day Pass. Kids 13 and under are admitted free. All Corvettes, all the time.
22-27: Free! Midsommar Festival Swedish Days, 3rd Street, Geneva. Crafts, food, parade, music, carnival, more.
25-27: Free! Strawberry Fest, Robert Parker Coffin Rd, Long Grove.

2-4: Eyes to the Skies Balloon Festival, IL-53 & Short St, Lisle. $5, free under age 5. Hot air balloon launches, nationally known music, a carnival (July 30-July 4) and fireworks at the biggest suburban summer celebration.
8-11: Rockin' Ribfest, Miller Park, Lake in the Hills. Ribs, music, more.
8-11: Free! Itasca Fest, Washington Park, Itasca. Carnival, food, music, kids' activities, more.
10-11: Free! Art in the Park, 1320 Shermer, Northbrook. Art, sculpture, jewelry, food, music, kids activities, more.
12: Barrington Microbrew Fest, Main & Barrington Rds, Barrington. $30. 3-7 p.m.
16-18: Free! Art at the Shops, Yorktown Shopping Center, Lombard. Art, live music, food, more.
16-18: Big Greek Food Festival, St. Haralambos Church, 7373 Caldwell Ave. , Niles. $2 ($1 for seniors, free for kids); free for all 3-5 p.m. both days.
17-18: Free! Buffalo Grove Invitational Fine Art Festival, 120 McHenry Rd., Buffalo Grove. Art, food, entertainment, more.
17-18: Free! Ethnic Arts Festival, 1700 Sheridan Rd., Evanston. Ethnic art, food and music in a lakefront setting.
23-25: Free! Pierogi Fest, 1900 Indianapolis Blvd., Whiting, Ind. Pierogis, polka bands, a parade and more.

7-8: Free! Art at the Glen Town Center, Glenview. Art, live music, food, kids activities and more. Ranked as one of the top art festivals in the U.S.
13-15: West Suburban Italian Festival, Centennial Park, Addison. $3-$7. Food, entertainment, merchandise, more.
13-15: Free! Prairie Fest, Wood Dale Rd & Commercial St., Wood Dale. Food, live music, carnival, pet parade, fireworks.

3-6: Last Fling, Naperville. $10-$12 for Mainstage events; free on Monday, and for kids 3 and under. Live music, a carnival, beer, kids activities and a Labor Day parade.
11-12: Free! Downtown Downers Grove Art Festival, Main Street Downers Grove.
10-12: Free! Festival of the Vine, 3rd Street, Geneva. Wine tastings (free and paid), crafts, food, entertainment.
25-27: Free! Fall Fest, Lee St. from Touhy to Howard, Des Plaines. Food, beer, games (including daily baggo tournaments), car shows, a market and live entertainment in Lake Park.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Patio paradise -- Carlucci's, Downers Grove

I was privileged to attend a Yelp Elite event last night at Carlucci's, 1801 Butterfield Rd. in Downers Grove. As such, please note that I received free food and that the service may have been influenced by my affiliation with yelp.

Carlucci's is tucked in right off I-355 and Butterfield Road, next to office buildings and a hotel. It would be easy to dismiss it as too corporate, too stuffy or too chain-y. But the building and grounds are beautiful, and you really can't hear the traffic at all. Plus, the food we had was amazing.

I am now in love with arancini (risotto, cheese and peas, breaded and deep-fried), and the Caesar salad, pizza, and fish all bear mentioning as extremely tasty.

The star of Carlucci's is really the patio, though -- comfortable, stylish, well-shaded and lush. An excellent place for a night out or a romantic warm-weather dinner. The staff attending to us was super-attentive, constantly bringing out more food and clearing our plates.

If you're looking for a little fancy, Carlucci's might just be the place for you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tacos! Salseria Cantina & Grill, Elmhurst

In the mood for some tacos? Got a hankerin' for salsa? Wandering around Elmhurst and not a Chipotle fan? Try Salseria Cantina & Grill, 116 North York Rd in Elmhurst.

I think the key to enjoying this place is to have your expectations in line. It's not a typical Mexican place, nor incredibly authentic; it's more like a bar with a Mexican-American menu. The booths at the front are all circular so you can stare at the TVs and the large selection of margaritas swirling in dispensers.

Naturally, you get chips and salsa -- and here you are free to go fetch more whenever you want. There's a "salsa bar," which is really just small dishes of various kinds set out, I believe there were 5, with labels. We tried the standard-issue fresh tomato (good texture and flavor), a roasted tomato and garlic (really yummy, my favorite) and salsa verde (a little sweet). The chips are super-greasy but fresh with just the right amount of salt.

The menu has some good options, and I ended up with grilled veggie tacos, and opted for black beans instead of refried. Platters come with rice, beans, pico, lettuce, guac and sour cream. The guacamole was chunky and had some great flavor. My tacos were not the bestest EVER, but they had plenty of peppers, squash and zucchini plus cheese, lettuce and pico. While I am not a vegetarian, I appreciate the option to have any of the platters made with grilled veggies instead of meat, and to sub black beans, which are just a little healthier. My husband had enchiladas suiza, and devoured them.

The waitress did a good job of keeping our waters filled, checking in on us, and teasing my husband about the three baskets of chips we (he) managed to eat.

So, okay, it's a little dark, and it was a little stuffy (warm day out), and the margaritas are swirling around in slurpee-style machines, but if you just want to eat some decent Mexican and salty, greasy chips with plenty of fresh salsa, Salseria seems to fit the bill.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pizza, pizza all over the suburbs

When you think of quintessential Chicago food, pizza inevitably comes to mind. We've sampled quite a lot of deep dish and thin-crust around the suburbs, so I present to you a totally not-exhaustive list of local chains and suburban pizzerias worth checking out:

Generoso's Pizza (1006 E Algonquin Rd; others) has extremely tasty deep-dish that has the most cheese on it of any pie we've tried. Seriously, this stuff was mutant, and the pie weighed about 5 lbs. Good crust, nice sauce, but what I remember most is the cheese.

Aurelio's (1455 W Lake St.; others) is some of my favorite thin crust. The sauce is zippy and a little sweet, the cheese is just right, and the crust is crispy around the edges with an excellent flavor.

Home Run Inn (1480 W Lake St.; others) is neck and neck with Aurelio's for great thin crust. Their crust is a little butterier. the sauce a little more garlicky.

Zio Tony's (613 W Lake St., carryout only) has great deep dish (called "pan" on their menu), with some of my favorite deep-dish sauce -- lots of garlic, a little spice, excellent.

Lou Malnati's (1050 East Higgins Rd.; others) is possibly my favorite deep dish. The sauce is excellent and the crisp, wonderful garlic-butter crust can't be beat.

Tree Guys Pizza Pub (101 E Irving Park Rd) has great food all around, but their pizza definitely merits a mention. We've had thin, thick and stuffed here and you can't really go wrong. The sauce is chunky and zippy on the deep dish; smooth and savory on thin-crust.

Palermo's on 95th (4849 W 95th St) has my husband's all-time favorite thin-crust. (This is also an Italian restaurant where everything is excellent.) Their sauce is a bit on the sweet side, the crust nicely browned and crispy around the edges with a hint of caramelizing on the cheese.

White Cottage Pizza (350 N Wood Dale Rd) is a solid local choice for thin crust, with plenty of cheese. I also recommend their garlic cheese-stuffed breadsticks. :)

Also worth mentioning:
• Marino's Pizza, 136 E Irving Park Rd., Wood Dale
• Barraco's Pizza, 7926 W 159th St., Orland Park
• Gino's East, 15840 S Harlem Ave., Orland Park (and others)
• Beggar's Pizza, 11329 West 143rd St., Orland Park (and others)
• Giordano's, 1323 W Lake St., Addison (and others)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mmmm, breakfast-- Moondance Diner, Burr Ridge & Westmont

With locations in Burr Ridge (78 Burr Ridge Parkway) and Westmont (844 Ogden Avenue), the Moondance Diner is not exactly around the corner from us. But oh, I wish it were.

We had a wonderful brunch here last weekend, and I am still thinking about it. That should tell you something. :)

We ate at the Burr Ridge location, which is in a swanky upscale "lifestyle center". AKA strip mall for rich folks. It's really cute inside, with moon-themed decor and fiestware cups, mugs and dishes.

Like any good diner, they have a large menu covering the breakfast bases, plus salads, pizza crisps, sandwiches and wraps. Service was friendly and attentive.

Among the many small touches that make this place great: First, a big ole pitcher of ice water to pour into your adorable little fiestaware glass. Second, a big carafe of delicious coffee, served with real cream. Real. Cream. I don't know about you, but I am always wary of those little shots of half-and-half that may never get refrigerated.

I ordered the veg out omelet (subbing bell peppers for the mushrooms); others at the table got the Yacht Club (a club with avocado and cheddar), the Legal Alien (breakfast burrito with chorizo) and the Clucker (chicken salad sandwich).

My omelet was huuuge. It was cooked perfectly. The veggies were fresh and scattered throughout and it had tons of cheese. The hash browns (cubed home fry style) were AWESOME. Perfect. Just the way I want my taters, crispy on one side, flavorful and soft inside.

Everyone else at the table raved over their food as well, and everyone cleaned their plate.

Worth noting: This place is strictly breakfast and lunch, and closes at 2:30. It was fairly busy at 11:30 on a Saturday, but we were seated right away.

In the mood for a great breakfast or brunch? I can't recommend Moondance enough.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Farmers Market time!

Yes folks, it's that time of year. With a few already going, and most set to start in May and June, suburban farmers markets are springing up all over.

For a complete list, visit The Sun-Times website. But here are a few highlights (thanks to the Sun-Times for info):

Barrington Farmers Market
South Cook Street and Lake Cook Road
Barrington, IL
(847) 382-3829
Hours: 2-7 p.m. Thursday

Now in its seventh season and running June 19-Oct. 13, The Barrington Farmers Market will offer fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, meats, cheeses, honey, breads, dog treats and pasta.

Deerfield Farmers Market
Deerfield Road & Robert York Avenue
Deerfield, IL
(847) 945-5000
Hours: 7 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday

It's a cinch to get to this market, conveniently located in the Metra train parking lot. Running June 14-Oct. 11, you'll be able to purchase seasonal vegetables and fruit locally grown by farmers in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin; fresh-cut flowers, potted flowering plants, annuals and perennials; freshly baked breads, muffins and cookies; hand-crafted Wisconsin cheese, maple syrup and honey, and other specialty products.

Elk Grove Village Farmers Market
1000 Wellington Ave.
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007
(847) 228-3511

Hours: 7:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Wednesdays

Of course there's fresh produce, but you'll also score homemade items such as salsas, jewelry, flowers, and dog treats. The market runs June 4 to Sept. 24.

Mount Prospect Farmers Market
Corner of Northwest Hwy & Rte. 83
Mount Prospect, IL
Hours: 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday

The Mount Prospect Lions Club Farmers Market runs June 8-Oct. 26 at the Mount Prospect Train Depot West Commuter Parking Lot, where it offers a bounty of fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers and other goodies.

Naperville Farmers Market
N. Loomis St. & E. 5th Ave.
Naperville, IL 60563
(630) 369-5638
Hours: 7 a.m.-noon Saturday

Held every Saturday morning from the first Saturday in June through the last Saturday in October in the parking lot of the 5th Avenue Station Shops, you'll find locally-grown produce, cut flowers, potted plants, crafts and gourmet foods. Leave Fido at home; this is a pet-free market.

Oak Park Farmers Market
460 Lake St.
Oak Park, IL
(708) 358-5780
Hours: 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday

The Saturday market, which runs June 7-October 27 at Pilgrim Church, is an Oak Park tradition that has been selling the good stuff since 1974. Described as a "gastronomic event," you'll find the air full of bluegrass tunes and the scent of freshly made old fashioned cake donuts, whose wafts of doughy goodness have proven potent enough to rouse even the most determined sleeper. You'll also find a wide variety of just-plucked-from-the-tree produce, flowers and plants, artisanal cheeses, honey, vinegars, herbs and more.

Wheaton French Market
200 S. Main St.
Wheaton, IL 60187
(630) 260-2000
Hours: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday

Running Saturdays through October, you'll find fresh produce, flowers, plants, cut flowers, local crafts, cheese, meat and more at this French Market.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Rolling in the fun--Pinstripes, Northbrook

I recently attended a Yelp event at the fabulous Pinstripes, at their Northbrook location (1150 Willow Road, Northbrook; a second location is at 100 W. Higgins Road in South Barrington).

Pinstripes is a unique destination, as far as I know--there are plenty of bowling alleys around, even fancy ones, but I've never seen an indoor bocce court before!

This place is big. About 50,000 square feet with 18 bowling lanes, a bar, restaurant seating, and 10 indoor and outdoor bocce courts (plus a big patio). It's also very pretty, with a rustic Italian feel to it.

While there, we sampled the menu's extensive list of pizzas and flatbreads. All were delicious, with toppings ranging from fig and prosciutto to truffled cheese to pepperoni. Staff and bartenders were very attentive and friendly.

And we had a lot of fun playing bocce and bowling. I'd never played "real" bocce before, and the staff patiently explained it to us.

This seems like an excellent place for an event, or just a night out with friends. There's plenty to do, great food and a lovely atmosphere.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Steak, sports and more -- Prime Time, Hickory Hills

My husband's grandparents are the sweetest people ever. And they are stereotypically good at the Old Folks Stereotypes. As in we eat dinner with them at 4 p.m.

Last weekend visited them again, and Prime Time, a lunch-dinner-late night sports bar-meets-steakhouse (7750 W 95th St in Hickory Hills) was suggested. I was really glad it was, too. It's nicer looking than you might expect, with lots of stone and wood, though it does have a sort of steak house meets sports bar confusion to it. Feels sort of like a Champps, but a little nicer. The owners also run the breakfast/lunch spot next door, so there's plenty of parking.

The menu was also sports bar meets steakhouse, with a good selection of appetizers, sandwiches, steaks, chops, and chicken. I know now not to order appetizers there unless that's ALL we're getting. Oh, the nachos we had were good, very good, but then we got bread and soup before our main meal (me: fish tacos - husband: chicken parm sandwich) and could barely eat them!

Okay, so the nachos were good. The bread was crusty but soft, with a lovely whipped cinnamon-sugar butter. The soup, oh my god. We both got the chicken dumpling and it was out-of-this-world velvety and delicious. I don't even want to think about how much cream and butter was in it.

By the time I got to my fish tacos, I was nearly full. I did eat one, and it was good though not the best I've ever had. The homemade chips were cooked well and had that great crunchy outside while still tasting like potatoes.

Service was good, not perfect maybe but I have no complaints.

They have an extensive drink menu, and a decent beer and wine list, not amazing, but Woodchuck on tap is always welcome.

All in all, a great choice for dinner, and we would come back, hopefully after 5 p.m. :)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bowling and beverages -- Lucky Strike, Yorktown Mall, Lombard

Looking for some enjoyable, classy bowling? A nice night out with friends in the 'burbs? Lucky Strike Lanes, located at the Yorktown Mall in Lombard, was a great choice for our pre-New Years celebrating.

We visited on a Wednesday night, and on a weeknight, at least, the prices for bowling are fairly reasonable - 4.95 per bowling game, 3.95 for shoes. We had a friend from NYC along and she said "so cheap!!"

So we got our lane and our games -- minor bit of awkwardness when we had to shoo away the people sitting on "our" couch -- and looked over the menu. Because this isn't your typical bowling alley; it's got a great upscale vibe (but still fun, not snooty, and still a bit loud) with modern decor, great lighting and great loungy couches all over.

Our waitress was friendly and not at all pesky (hey, we're trying to get our bowl on here) and was available whenever we needed her. The food, honestly, was pretty delicious. We ordered cheese fries, nachos, Key West chicken skewers and tomato-n-cheese "s'mores" to split among the four of us, plus a couple beers (them) and a glass of wine (me).

The fries and nachos were slathered in a delicious artery-hardening cheese sauces, with nice seasoning on the fries and a scatter of tomatoes and some zippy salsa with the nachos. The "s'mores" were like little caprese toasties, with crunchy bread rounds, ripe tomato, melty mozzarella and fresh basil. Yummy. And the Key West skewers seemed to be the biggest hit of the night -- they had a flavorful seasoning enhanced by both the squeeze of lime juice and the sweet chili dipping sauce.

A quick note on drinks: the beer enjoyed by my party was said to be quite tasty. My pinot grigio (selected because they 'didn't have' the riesling and I hate chardonnay) had no real body to it at all. But, it got the job done I guess. They have quite a selection of cocktails as well.

The bowling itself, well, it was bowling! There are no cute animations between frames, but the lanes are well-maintained, there's some fun blacklighting for the neon balls, and a good time was had by all.

One thing I noticed and found interesting was the fairly large proportion of kids around. Seeing as it's a loungey atmosphere I wouldn't have expected that. I guess it's 18+ after 9 on weeknights, 21+ after 9 on weekends, but we were only there till 8:30 or so, and saw a fair number of families. I guess if your kids like to bowl, great, but it just seemed a bit incongruous with the atmosphere.

All in all, you wouldn't expect this inside a suburban mall, and I'm glad we tried it out. It would be a fun place to come for a bite to eat, a drink, or another round of bowling with friends.

Brews and burgers at The Lucky Monk, South Barrington

Something interesting happened to me last week.

I drank an entire glass of beer.

I never touched the stuff in college. I would go alcohol-free for the evening before I had a drop of beer. Of course, that wasn't helped by the fact that the de facto beer at my alma mater was Natty Lite, but still. No beer for me.

I attended a great event at The Lucky Monk, 105 Hollywood Blvd. in South Barrington, and among the offerings were house-brewed beer. And to find that I actually liked the porter The Lucky Monk offered up? Shocker. Hints of chocolate and coffee, went down smooth with very little bitterness. I still would generally prefer a hard cider or glass of wine, but it was pretty tasty stuff.

On top of that, the food I sampled was really good -- tiny perfectly cooked burgers, thin-crust pizza, awesome chili and sweet-salty nuts. The staff was super-attentive (even handing out multiple large bottles of water and glasses at the end of the night to hydrate everyone), and I had a fantastic time overall.

The restaurant is very near the AMC 30, making it perfect for a bite or a drink before or after a movie. It's nicely decorated with a sleek wooden motif. All in all, definitely recommended and a place I'm likely to make the trek out to again.

Monday, February 15, 2010

How sweet it is - Uncle Harry's, Addison

I've been a bad blogger. I know. In my defense, my co-bloggers have fallen off the face of the earth as well. But still. I hope to start posting more regularly again soon. :)

In the meantime... it was a sunny, cold Valentine's Day. We had a special dinner out Friday, so no need to cram in with 150 other people in a cramped restaurant. But I was getting a little stir-crazy and my sweet tooth was on in a major way. So we decided to go out for ice cream.

There are a lot of options in our area, but most of them are nothing special - Dairy Queen, Baskin Robbins, etc. And then there's Uncle Harry's. Relocated in the last year to the Green Meadow Shopping Center (48 W. Lake Street, Addison), it's a cozy shop with 4 or 5 tables and hand-written chalkboard signs everywhere. They feature about 30 flavors of luscious ice cream for your perusal, plus shakes, baked goods, hot chocolate, and an extensive coffee/espresso menu if you just want some caffeine. They even make their own waffle cones - the scent is wonderful and my husband's cone was still warm. I enjoyed a hot fudge sundae made with Turtle Temptation ice cream. Creamy, sweet, fudgy and divine.

I try not to indulge in such decadence too often, so when I do, I want it to be worth it-- and Uncle Harry's is definitely worth it.