Latest Posts

Boar's Head Cafe

Best Fast-Casual Restaurants in Chicago’s Loop

Fast-casual restaurants are the bridge between fast food and full table service restaurants.  These days options in The Loop are much more exciting than in years past.  Finally, there are more unique offerings where one can sit down for a quick meal or pick up food to go without sacrificing quality instead of the usual chains.

Here’s a list of my ten favorites to visit when looking for a quick bite in the middle of the workday or when in need of refueling while shopping.

1.  Gayles Best Ever:

Gayles was recently ranked in the top 20 of grilled cheese sandwiches in the country by the New York Post. The grilled cheese is simply amazing!  She uses freshly baked sourdough bread and sources fresh locally made cheese, butter, meats, jams, and vegetables for her sandwiches.  Trust me; you can taste the difference!  You can find Gayles Best Ever in Block 37 in the Pedway Monday-Friday 7:00-6:00 p.m.

2.  Boar’s Head Cafe:  210 W Lake St

I only recently discovered Boar’s Head Cafe even though it’s only a few blocks from my office and has been open for two years. Boar’s Head, a family-owned company, has been in business for 110 years!  Plainly stated, they believe in high service and high-quality ingredients without the use of fillers or msg.  Two local Chicagoans own the café in The Loop.  The sandwiches are made fresh and packed with flavor.  Everything in here screams quality, from the gluten-free kettle chips to the locally made, all natural cookies. I was majorly impressed with how clean the restaurant is; I mean it’s pristine!  Food is much more enjoyable in a clean environment.  Hang out for a while or grab n go.  This place is excellent, get in there already! Monday-Friday 6:30-6:00 p.m.

 

3.  Roti Modern Mediterranean, 80 E. Lake St.

Roti’s purpose is ‘ to serve food that loves you back,’ it’s nice to have healthier fast-casual options in The Loop! Roti sources the best ingredients and prepares them straightforward so that all of the tastes come through.  They practice sustainable sourcing.  Their chicken is antibiotic free, their beef is grass-fed, and their salmon is always fresh, never frozen, and filleted by hand in the mornings.  The lamb meatballs are the bomb!  Open Daily  11-9 p.m. weekdays and 11-8 p.m. weekends.

4.  BienMeSabe:  29 E. Adams St.

BienMeSabe is a Venezuelan fast-casual restaurant that recently opened its Loop location.  The original location is in Ravenwood.  The interior is small, so you may do well to get your order to go.  It packs up pretty fast.  I darn near broke out in song and dance when I bit into one of their Arepas named the After Party.  It was stuffed with roasted pork, Gouda cheese, and avocado slices.  Holy SMOKES!!! Love at first bite is correct!  On Wednesdays, you can get their arepas for $5.99!  BienMeSabe is open Monday-Saturday 11-10 p.m. weekdays and 11-7 p.m Saturdays

IMG_2756

BienMeSabe

5.  Sweetgreen:  1 N. Dearborn St.

Uncomplicated, seasonal, healthy food is what Sweetgreen is all about.  It’s probably my favorite fast-casual place for salads near the office.  I love the premium options offered, not many fast-casual places where I can get shrimp on my salad.  Sweetgreen is the place to go when you want to know exactly where your food came from.  This place gets pretty crowded, I usually order through the Sweetgreen APP and grab n go.  Monday-Friday 10:30-8:00 p.m.

46082771_2116405325078376_3870129794167341056_o

Sweetgreen: 1 N. Dearborn

 

6.  Revival Food Hall:  125 S. CLARK ST.

46120864_2116405301745045_6261427959488315392_o.jpg

Revival Food Hall

Revival Food Hall is your fast-casual fantasy; a massive, 24,000 square foot gourmet food hall that’s sure to overwhelm you with choices on your first visit.  I can’t even begin to convey the excitement I felt when this spot opened in 2016!  It features 15 fast-casual stalls of Chicago restaurants in a grab-and-go setting.  It’s perfect for groups of picky eaters.  My co-workers and I don’t always agree on where to lunch; Revival makes us all happy.  Options include Nashville hot chicken, Detroit style pizza, Ramen, seafood from Brown Bag Seafood, desserts from Mindy’s Hot Chocolate and much more!  Open Monday-Friday 7-7PM, Bar open til 9 p.m.

7.  Frontera Fresca: Macy’s 7 on State, 111 N. State St.

Frontera Fresca dishes fresh gourmet Mexican food.  The quick-service restaurant, located on the 7th floor of Macy’s on State St is the creation of acclaimed chef Rick Bayless.  Hungry customers can choose from tortas, tacos, soups, salads and a fresh-made guacamole bar with a choice of toppings.  Monday-Saturday 11 a.m to 3 p.m.  

08562042-29FA-43A3-8ECA-942FCB7F807E.jpg

Frontera Fresca

8.  Beatrix Market:  23 E. Jackson Blvd

The offerings at Beatrix Market consists of self-serve salads, hot food bars, deep dish pizza, grab-n-go sandwiches, fresh fruits, snacks, coffee, and a pastry counter.  There are 2 Beatrix Market locations in The Loop.  I prefer the DePaul location on Jackson St. since a full-service bar and pizza counter are unique to that location.  There’s also a Happy Hour from 2-5 p.m.   Monday-Friday 7AM-7PM

9.  Halal Guys: 172 N Wabash Ave

Halal Guys began as a hot dog cart in New York City and expanded into 2 NYC restaurants.  Chicago is the first market outside of New York to experience Halal.  The menu is simple.  Halal certified beef and chicken, and basmati rice with special spices.  Every day their chicken is seasoned with spices, marinated for 24 hours, and grilled. Their gyro meat is cooked on a cone, sliced, chopped fine, and then grilled to a golden brown.  Customers can choose from either a sandwich or a platter, select their protein, and pack with toppings of choice.  There are also 3 sauces to choose from including their famous white sauce!  I tried to get the scoop on their seasonings but their lips were sealed.  Halal Guys is open daily from 11-10 p.m. 

10.Brightwok: 21 E. Adams St.

A newer addition to the Loop, Brightwok is a healthy, fast-casual, Asian restaurant that’s vegetable-focused.  The restaurant marinates and grills their meats, prepare and mix sauces, and chop their vegetables every morning to deliver the freshest flavors.  I usually go for the build-your-own bowl of stir-fry with a bit of heat.  Their menu is gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free and all of their homemade sauces are vegan.

Brightwok in Chicago's Loop

Brightwok

There you have it, don’t sleep on these spots!

5 Instagrammable Places in Chicago

When it comes to Instagrammable places around Chicago, Cloud Gate and the Skyline backdrop come to many minds, rightfully so. It’s no secret that Chicago has a beautiful skyline that’s deservingly photographed by millions each year and appears all over social media, namely Instagram. However, there’s plenty of other Instagram worthy places to snap and post from around the city.

I joined Chicago Safaris for a tour of Instagrammable places in Chicago along with a few of my blogger friends and local 219 out of Northwest Indiana. We had a ball, and I discovered a few new spots. Here’s a recap of 5 Instagrammable places we visited throughout the day.

 

1.  Bottled Blonde

I was told this place gets pretty lively at night. However, our tour stopped in late Saturday morning for appetizers and cocktails. Space is plentiful and cozy with a large fireplace as a focal point for photos. The wall of greenery makes a beautiful backdrop too. Not only is the interior Instagrammable but the cocktails are too. They make a delicious Bloody Mary;  the Jalapeno Passion Margarita is also a winner. Bottled Blonde would be a fun spot to gather and chill with friends. There’s also plenty of TVs for sports lovers. You must try the Mac N Cheese; it’s fantastic. All of our appetizers were good. We munched on the burrata, Tartufo fries, chicken wings, and as mention mac N cheese. If their other menu items are as good as the appetizers, you can’t go wrong.

Tartufo Fries Bottled Blonde Tartufo Fries
Bottled Blond Bloody Mary Bottled Blonde’s Bloody Mary

2.  Flamingo Rum Club Mural

You’ll find the Flamingo Mural in Chicago’s River North neighborhood on the corner of Wells and Ohio St.  I’ve been an admirer of this mural for a long time.  Its fun and colorful, with fanciful detail.

601 N. Wells St.

Flamingo Rum Club Mural in Chicago Photo courtesy of Amanda Elliot (right) of Windy City Cosmo Blog

3.  Paradise Park

Paradise Park in Wicker Park is a trailer park themed pizzeria and an Instagrammers paradise!  Everything about this place screams snap and post on Instagram!  The outdoor garden has a trailer parked with the same folding chairs that made appearances at all of my family picnics growing up, lol.  The astroturf and flamingos add to the nostalgia vibe.  We learned that the patio would be covered soon so that guests can enjoy the outdoor garden year round.  The interior has an eclectic flashy feel while still being cozy.  Can’t go wrong with a blinged out wall and neon lights. The cocktails are clever with names like Dirty Like your Mom, Trashy Tea, The Hooch, and Pink Flamingo.  Do yourself a favor and order the Mercenary pizza, it’s outstanding!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mercenary Pizza at Paradise Park

4.  Greetings From Chicago Mural

One can’t list Instagrammable spots of Chicago without mentioning the Greetings From Chicago Mural in Logan Square!  Created to resemble a postcard, this famous street art captures the essence of the city beautifully and is one of my favorites.  Creators, muralist Victor Ving, and photographer Lisa Beggs travel the country designing artwork that captures the pride of locals for their hometowns while sparking the interests of visitors.

Letter Guide:

  • C – Deep Dish Pizza & Chicago Style Hotdog
  • H – Gold Coast / Downtown Skyline
  • I – Chicago Flag & Illinois Centennial Monument in Logan Square
  • C – Abstract artwork by Amuse126 depicting the extremes of Chicago weather
  • A – Chicago Professional Sports Teams
  • G – Muddy Waters & Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Water Tower
  • O – The Bean Sculpture

Logan Square:  2226 N Milwaukee Ave

45986883_2113845658667676_7535325764971921408_o (1).jpgSteven Bautista of Straight Function Blog

5.  Robin Williams Mural

The mural of Chicago native Robin Williams results from a collaboration of artists Jerkface and Owen Dippie.  I’ve desired to pay a visit to this touching tribute for a while. Robin Williams was a genius who made us laugh while battling inner darkness due to mental illness.  His death is heartbreaking and a reminder that more discussions need to take place to build mental health awareness and remove the stigma associated with it.

The mural is located in Logan Square:  2047 N. Milwaukee Ave.

45866268_2113845445334364_690894903160340480_o (1)Robin Williams Mural
Robin Williams mural located in Chicago's Logan Square Robin Williams mural located in Logan Square

Just a glimpse into the treasures located in some of Chicago’s neighborhoods.  Chicago’s downtown is terrific, but there’s much more to see beyond there. It’s very walkable here. I stumble upon many new spots just strolling or biking through the numerous city neighborhoods.   Hope that you’ll visit some of the other communities and get a peek.

If you’re looking for a tour that allows some walking along with driving while visiting the city, check out Chicago Safaris.  The fun starts as soon as you step into one of their luxury vans!

All The Pretty Things

IFONLY: Curators of Unique Experiences

IfONLY’s curated activities are perfect for those of us always on the lookout for new experiences when traveling or playing tourist in your hometown.  When in a city like Chicago, it’s a disservice, in my opinion, to eat at the same restaurants over and over or visit the same places.  There’s too much to see and learn here.  I have that same attitude when I travel, oftentimes reaching out to travel bloggers or locals via connections or social media to see where they recommend I go during my visit.

IFONLY

I learned of IFONLY when they reached out encouraging me to try one of their unique experiences. They arrange one of a kind activities in some of the best cities in the world. Experiences tailored to the adventurer, foodie, wine follower, music lover, an admirer of fine art, fitness lover,….the list goes on and on. There’s an assortment of experience and prices, so it’s affordable for most everyone. For example, there’s multiple tours and private experiences in cities like New York, Boston, California, and Chicago for less than $50! Or if you want to splurge, you can select to have a private wine session with a sommelier, meet your favorite band or celebrity or live like a local in Paris for four days with your very own personal stylist for the experience of a lifetime!

Also, a portion of proceeds from each of IFONLY’s experience gives back to a worthwhile cause! We spend money on things every day, good feelings flow when you know that some of the money you’re dropping is benefiting others in need. I prefer seeking out businesses and organizations that give to others.

It took a while for me to settle on a choice.  I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t select something to do with food though, lol.  I’d decided to try the 4-course Spanish dinner prepared by Chef Ashlee Aubin of Salero located in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood.  It’s not too often that I get Spanish food and I love paella.

SALERO

I thought Salero’s rustic-chic interior was gorgeous! It would be a lovely spot to meet up with girlfriends for drinks or date night. The restaurant serves Spanish cuisine with a modern twist.

Interior of Salero Salero restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop

Committed to eating whatever was put before me no matter what, I was quite excited for what was to come!

Salero’s 4-Courses

Here’s a picture story of our dishes; it felt more like an 8-course meal.  We were bursting by the end; although there were plans to go out after dinner, the food coma put us to sleep by 8:30 pm, lol.  For the amount of food you receive and the price, you can’t beat it.

My stand out favorites from the evening were:

  • El Bulli, I had no idea what it was and was totally taken off guard. I loved the salty burst of olive.

  • Pan Con Tomate: I don’t like anchovies and it took a minute for me to put this in my mouth. It was delicious!

  • Halibut with sweet corn soup and roe; I hope that they add this to the regular menu

  • Flan de Queso Fresca: It was amazing!  I don’t like flan and would never order it; this was the first time I enjoyed it and ate it all!  I even recommended it to the couple sitting at the table next to us.

Got my paella fix too! So good and packed with seafood!

 Look into IFONLY if you’re up for a new endeavor, I’ll surely be looking them up again!

Quimet y Quimet: Smoked Salmon, fresh cheese, truffle-hone, balsamic and crisp bread

 Smoked Pork Croqueta: mojo verde and pickled peppers

Smoked Pork Croqueta: mojo verde and pickled peppers

Salero Restaurant: Pan Con Tomate

Pan Con Tomate-heirloom tomatoes, marinated white anchovies, shallots, and garlic aioli on grilled country bread

 Grilled Shishito Peppers: sherry-honey, fried shallots, Espelette, sea salt Grilled Shishito Peppers: sherry-honey, fried shallots, Espelette, sea salt

 Salero Restaurant: Paella Mixta-Bomba rice, Gulf shrimp, mussels, calamari, chicken, chorizo, saffron, sofrito, roasted sweet peppers and lemon aioli

Paella Mixta-Bomba rice, Gulf shrimp, mussels, calamari, chicken, chorizo, saffron, sofrito, roasted sweet peppers, and lemon aioli

 Churros y Chocolate

Churros y Chocolate

Salero Restaurant: Flan de Queso Fresco

Flan de Queso Fresco: soft custard infused with fresh cheese & annatto seed, blood orange gelee, Saba caramel

Flan from Salero Restaurant in Chicago's West Loop

Flan de Queso Fresco

 Peach Ice Cream Pie-saffron cookie crust, peach ice cream, olive oil ganache, pistachio

Peach Ice Cream Pie-saffron cookie crust, peach ice cream, olive oil ganache, pistachio

15 Minute Molletes-Mexican Open Faced Sandwiches

Need a quick meal or appetizer for yourself or family?  These no-fuss open-faced Mexican sandwiches or Molletes are easy to make and tasty!  I discovered Molletes while observing Chef Diane Davila prepare them during a 15-minute chorizo challenge with Chef Rick Bayless during Chicago Gourmet.   Mexican food is the BEST and this challenge was one of my favorites moments from the day.

It was quite enjoyable watching the banter and interviews conducted during the demonstration.  The passion both chefs have for food intertwined with their recollections of family meals in Mexico took me back since I too have tons of family memories centered around food.

My fondest are those feelings I’d get when I’d hear my grandparents moving around the kitchen and the smells that followed.  My grandparents made everything from scratch and with love and meals at their home were my favorite!  As a child though, those meals seemed to take forever to make, lol.  I rarely prepare the kinds of dishes that my grandparents made, only on special occasions.  Quick and easy is my route nowadays.  Therefore, when the chefs stated that they wanted to show families how to make simple meals without sacrificing taste and quality, I was all for it.  I’ll share Chef Bayless’s 15-minute black bean soup recipe with fried plantains on a later post.

Chef Davila

Chef Davila was very personable and all smiles as she spoke about mollettes, referring to it as the original brunch dish of Mexico.  Both chefs chose to use Mexican chorizo in their dishes because, as Chef Davila recalled, whenever she’d awaken to the smells of chorizo cooking in her home, she knew it was going to be a good day; chef Bayless concurred.  I don’t remember having chorizo when I was growing up, however, I could relate those happy feelings to waking up to the smell of bacon!

Chef Davila spoke about her desire to convey those same feelings she had as a child at her restaurant Mi Tocaya Antojería in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood.  It was named as one of Bon Appetit ‘s best new restaurants of 2017!  Describing the atmosphere and cuisine she stated “it’s home, something that you need…a mother’s nurturing food…it reminds me of my fondest memories growing up, it’s a small place that opens the door for everybody to enjoy what they’re eating, relax, and have a glimmer of what it’s like growing up Mexican.”

Since it was my first event of the day, I was pretty hungry and salivating over the smells.  As a result, I couldn’t wait to make them.  It truly was easy.  My husband requested that I make them for breakfast every Sunday and I’m fine with that.  You can also make them as an appetizer or dinner. This recipe is a keeper.

IMG_1505

Ingredients

Molletes Ingredients: 

  • Mexican chorizo
  • Black beans
  • Mexican Bread (I used French bread)
  • Butter
  • Cilantro
  • Pico de gallo
  • Queso Chihuahua

Steps

  • Heat Skillet on Medium
  • Cut bread in half and butter
  • Sear bread in the skillet
  • Smear black beans over bread
  • Add chorizo over black beans
  • Top chorizo with Pico De Gallo
  • Cover sandwich with cheese and melt
  • Top with cilantro and sour cream (optional)
  • Enjoy

Bon Appetit’s Chicago Gourmet: Rock the Fork

I came, I ate, and I rocked the fork at this year’s Chicago Gourmet, the nation’s premier culinary experience!

 Chef Rick Bayless Chef Rick Bayless

The festival, sponsored by Bon Appetit, is aimed at promoting Chicago’s dynamic culinary scene and takes place every September in Millennium Park.

The best of the best throughout the city show why Chicago is called the culinary capital of the United States.  This year’s theme ‘Rock the Fork’ combined two of my absolute favorite things; food and music! Incredible food and great music to dance to, what could be better?  Well, celebrity chefs, flowing wine, and bomb cocktails take it to the next level.  A friend aptly described it as ‘Lallapalooza for foodies!’

 Millennium Park Millennium Park  Chef and Author Carla Hall Chef and Author Carla Hall

No wonder, the event, now in its 11th year, attracts passionate foodies from all over the country who travel to Chicago specifically for the culinary festival.

The celebration kicked off with ancillary events leading up to Saturday and Sunday’s main event.

On Wednesday guests partook in the Italian Feast, a one-of-a-kind Italian dinner on the Chicago Symphony Center stage prepared by top chefs. Thursday’s Blues, Brews, and Bites highlighted another Chicago gem, the Blues, celebrated by musically talented chefs who can get down on the stage and the kitchen. Hamburger Hop on Friday had guests grooving to throwback jams while chefs competed for the title of best burger in Chicago! There were even after party events and a morning yoga brunch. The ancillary events created many opportunities for everyone to take part in the festivities, especially if one couldn’t make the weekend’s main events.

The main event at Millennium Park featured two stages with live cooking demonstrations, two spaces featuring expert seminars, over 250 gourmet tastings, Book signings by internationally renowned chefs, master sommeliers, and winemakers and over 600 different wines and spirits for guests to enjoy throughout the park.

I started the day off at the chorizo cookoff with chefs Rick Bayless and Diana Davila, They both showed that easy 15 minute meals could be delicious, and impress the family. I made Chef Davilla’s molletes for my husband and son for brunch, and my husband requested that I make it every Sunday. I’ll be sharing that recipe here soon. Her restaurant Mi Tocaya Antojería is located in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood and was named one of Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants in 2017.

 Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and ABC 7’s Steve Dolinski Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and ABC 7’s Steve Dolinski

 Kamehachi: Smoked Kanpachi Nigiri, Oshinko Maki Kamehachi: Smoked Kanpachi Nigiri, Oshinko Maki

If you attend Chicago Gourmet, I recommend that you have a plan mapped out. The lines can get pretty long, but with a little pre-planning, you can hit all of your favorite spots. Pro Tip: Get there early and head straight to the seafood tent. That was my plan, but I got distracted and didn’t make the first tasting. I did, however, make it for the changeover later in the day though. The sushi from Kamehachi was incredible. Also, a wine lanyard is a must! It got tricky balancing my wine glass with a plate of food, although the plate design was smart. At the end of the day, I realized that I didn’t have ANY dessert all day! I will plan better next year.

Even for the most enthused foodie like me, it was impossible to hit up every booth, but I’m proud to say I put forth my best effort and created a beautiful food baby.

I had an amazing time, and I highly recommend adding Chicago Gourmet to your foodie bucket list! This was my first year in attendance at Chicago Gourmet, and I’m already planning for next year! Save the date for Chicago Gourmet 2019 Sept 27 – 29, 2019!

 Top Chef Alumn Katsuji Tanabe and Chef Carlos Gaytan Top Chef Alumn Katsuji Tanabe and Chef Carlos Gaytan

An Evening at The Ashburn Restaurant

I spent a lovely evening taking in the fall menu at The Ashburn restaurant inside of Loews Chicago O’hare hotel in Rosemont, IL.  My experience led to a conversation with a few friends as to whether restaurants located inside of hotels should be obvious choices or only last resorts when there aren’t any other options readily accessible.  The views were mixed.

One piped up to say hotel restaurants had some of the best culinary delights.  Another stated that the best steak she had in her whole life was at a random hotel restaurant in Florida.  Most of the table stated that hotel restaurants were misses.  My opinion was while there have been a few hotel restaurants where I’ve enjoyed an exceptional meal, more often hotel restaurants were overpriced, and the food wasn’t great.

My dinner at The Ashburn restaurant located inside of Loews Chicago O’Hare hotel in Rosemont had me singing a different tune; it was exceptional and I can’t stop speaking on it!

The Ashburn

I was invited along with about 15 other Chicago foodies to preview the fall menu.  The Ashburn, inspired by Chicago’s first flying field, serves Classic American Cuisine with a twist.

Chef Jose Garay, affectionately referred to as Tiny, was born and raised in Mexico City and firmly believes in farm to table from-scratch food. The restaurant partners with many local farms and companies to provide the highest quality and freshest ingredients for dishes. He’s very proud of his team at The Ashburn and raves about working with them. Chef Garay stated that he’s a bit shy and not the best at speaking in front of a room of people. I felt that his presentation was great, he spoke from the heart and his enthusiasm for the evening and dishes was contagious. He was tickled as he gave us the inspiration behind his dishes.

 Executive Chef of The Ashburn Jose Garay Executive Chef of The Ashburn Jose Garay  Chef Jose Garay says being a chef is in his blood Chef Jose Garay says being a chef is in his blood

Chef Garay says being a chef is in his blood and credits his family with encouraging him to take up the culinary profession. His father is a chef and his mom and sister sold food on the streets of Mexico. He absolutely loves what he does and it shows! Fun fact: Chef Garay is also a musician who played in a Mariachi band before coming to the U.S. from Mexico. He occasionally sings and plays guitar at local gatherings.

Regarding diners at The Ashburn Chef Garay states:

Every single guest brings a different experience…..I look at their faces, if I see a smile from my guest, that’s my best experience!

There were a lot of smiles in the room that evening and EVERYTHING was fantastic! I took home leftovers and couldn’t wait til the next day to tear into to them. I actually ate the Guinness beer braised short ribs, one of my favorites dishes from the evening, for breakfast the next day. Another favorite was the Cajun Shrimp and Cheesy Grits; that dish was perfection! Seriously, start to finish, I don’t think there’s a wrong choice here.

Take a peak at the fall menu and stop in at The Ashburn! Tell me about your experience in the comments.

 Firewood Roasted Trout Firewood Roasted Trout  BBQ Style Shrimp BBQ Style Shrimp

Culinary Fight Club’s Final Plate

 Chef Josh Reeves

Chef Josh Reeves

Culinary Fight Club is a lively, interactive cooking competition that brings chefs together to duke it in the kitchen. Each event is unique as various themes are explored.

I had the pleasure of attending the Final Plate here in Chicago where 20 Culinary Fight Club champion chefs from 9 cities battled for the title of Final Plate Champion and the prize of $10,000.

The high energy 2-day competition held at the gorgeous Morgan MFG in Chicago’s West Loop Neighborhood did not disappoint!

The best part about Culinary Fight Club events is that 20% of proceeds from the competition benefit Fight 2 Feed a 501(C))3 charitable organization whose mission is to reduce food waste by partnering with chefs, food trucks, and restaurants to provide food for the hungry.

During the first day of competition, Culinary Fight Fest, the chefs presented their best bites to guests who cast their votes for their favorites; the top 4 chefs from the day advanced to day 2, the Final Plate.

The finalists included:

• Chef Ryan Rondeno, Los Angeles: Chef-Owner Rendeno Culinary Designs

• Chef Kris Schoenberger, Chicago: Chef-owner bbq’d productions

• Chef Josh Reeves, Atlanta: Executive Chef River Club

• Chef Gregg Brackman, Boston: Chef-Owner of G Bar and Kitchen

 Cheferees made sure the chefs were following competition rules. Cheferees made sure the chefs were following competition rules.

The Final Plate

The chefs were given a basket with secret ingredients and forty-five minutes to prepare their best dish. If that wasn’t enough pressure, guests and judges were in the mix firing off questions while they cooked. It was quite intense for the chefs.

It was exciting to watch! I especially appreciated how friendly the chefs were and the camaraderie shared between them. Although they were competitors they were each supporting the other. Great sportsmanship!

 Spectators were questioning the chefs as they created their dishes Spectators were questioning the chefs as they created their dishes  Wonder what’s being discussed here, lol! Wonder what’s being discussed here, lol!

The evening’s judges included

  • Mark Nureddine:  CEO/Founder Bull Outdoor Products, Inc.

  • Bo Jackson, All-Star in Baseball and Football as well as the founder of Bo Jackson’s Signature Foods

  • Mike Fucci:  owner of Chef Mike’s Catering

  • Lance Avery:  Chef/Owner Big Fork Brands

  • Wade Fortin:  Marketing manager Bull Outdoor Products, Inc

After each of the chefs presented their creations, the judges gave comments and scores. The scores from the judges counted towards a large portion of overall points. However, the next phase involved a four-course meal with each chef serving a course with the audience casting votes for their favorite. The votes from the audience were then tallied along with the judges’ scores to determine the winner.

Final Plate Courses

 Course 1 Chef Kris Schoenberger: House rubbed butter and cream roasted potatoes topped with tomato bruschetta, balsamic glaze, and fried chicken skins Course 1 Chef Kris Schoenberger: House rubbed butter and cream roasted potatoes topped with tomato bruschetta, balsamic glaze, and fried chicken skins  Course 2, Chef Greg Brackman: pork and pepper salad, brined pork tenderloin with pickled beet and pepper sauces served over red oak and romaine with apple vinaigrette and finished with crispy potato Course 2, Chef Greg Brackman: pork and pepper salad, brined pork tenderloin with pickled beet and pepper sauces served over red oak and romaine with apple vinaigrette and finished with crispy potato  Course 3, Chef Josh Reeves: Bi-Bim Bop Bulgogi beef knuckle, garlic rice, bok choy, kimchi, fresh cucumber kimchi, emoji egg, and garlic pickled beets Course 3, Chef Josh Reeves: Bi-Bim Bop Bulgogi beef knuckle, garlic rice, bok choy, kimchi, fresh cucumber kimchi, emoji egg, and garlic pickled beets  Coure # 4, Chef Ryan Rondeno: apple fritter served with a charred blueberry compote, rose gastrique, finished with apple chips Coure # 4, Chef Ryan Rondeno: apple fritter served with a charred blueberry compote, rose gastrique, finished with apple chips

I was torn between Chef Greg’s Pork and pepper salad. And Chef Ryan’s Apple fritter. In the end, I went with Chef Ryan’s Apple Fritter. The fact that he could get me to fall in love with a dessert over a savory dish is a big deal. I was blown away by the fritter. It was excellent with a perfect balance of sweet along the tart of the blueberries!

In the end Chef Greg was crowned winner of the night!

My son and I enjoyed the evening and new experience; I’d definitely recommend others go if the tour comes to a city near you!

  • Remember that 20% off proceeds benefits Fight2Feed

  • Access their calendar here to see if they’ll be in your hood

  • Use CLUBCFC2018 for $50 off events!

 Culinary Fight Club Winner’s Trophy Culinary Fight Club Winner’s Trophy  Final Plate Winner Chef Gregg Brackman Final Plate Winner Chef Gregg Brackman

360 Chicago: Breathtaking Views, Thrilling TILTs

When looking for things to do in Chicago, look no further than 360 Chicago!

360 Chicago

360 Chicago has everything; stunning views, interactive experiences where visitors can learn about the city’s rich history, and the thrilling TILT!  It’s one of the coolest things to do in Chicago!  Before visiting, be sure to check the online schedule for the day’s activities as there’s always something fun happening on the 94th floor!

Before I give you the scoop on the happenings, here’s a bit about the 360 Chicago Observation Deck.

"

Located on the 94th floor of the iconic John Hancock building, 1,000 feet above Michigan Avenue; the observation deck offers stunning 360-degree views of the city’s famous Skyline and scenic Lake Michigan to guests the moment they step off the elevator.  On a clear day, individuals can see as many as four states and as far as 55 miles. Marvelous!  Aside from the views, guests can also learn facts about Chicago neighborhoods and architecture through 18 stations of interactive touchscreens and info kiosks.

The biggest attraction that will get everyone’s heart racing is the one-of-a-kind TILT experience!

View of Chicago from 94th floor of the John Hancock Building

View of Chicago from the observation deck

 360 Chicago 360 Chicago

360 Chicago TILT

TILT is an enclosed moving platform that tilts you out and over the edge of the John Hancock building, 1,000 feet above The Magnificent Mile! The movable platform holds up to eight visitors per cycle.  Although my heart was racing from fear and excitement, I took the plunge!  It was both thrilling and scary! I did it a second time, still scary!  Not a third time, though, twice was enough, lol.  It’s a unique, fun-filled experience that is worth the try.

 Photo: 360 Chicago Photo: 360 Chicago

 TILT TILT  Photography enthusiasts are encouraged to take advantage of tripod Mondays, the only days tripods are allowed at the observatory. Photography enthusiasts are encouraged to take advantage of tripod Mondays, the only day tripods are allowed at the observatory.

The new 360 Sky Series offers guests bonus activities, seven days a week, free with paid observatory admission.  So for one admission, guests can take in the stunning views, experience TILT, interactive education, plus the bonus activity for the day. Residents of the city of Chicago will receive a discounted rate as a thank-you from 360 Chicago. Anyone with an ID with a 606 zip code gets into the observation deck for 50% off the regular admission price.

360 Chicago Schedule

Saturday Morning 360 Sky Yoga Class:

$15 includes entry into 360 Chicago Observation Deck plus a 1-hour yoga class for yoga lovers of all skill levels.  Meditation and gentle flow movements will awaken guests senses before being led through a series of stretches, breath-centered movements, and morning salutations.  Advanced registration is required, and classes are limited to 50 participants. You can sign up on 360 Chicago’s website.

360 Sunday Funday:

Fun activities designed for families with free TILT for kids from 9:00 a.m.-4 p.m.

 360 Architectural Tour 360 Architectural Tour

360 Tripod Monday:

Photography buffs are encouraged to visit all day long and invited to bring their tripods onto the observation deck floor to capture shots of the skyline, low-lights, night scenes, stormy skies and more. Throughout the year special classes will be offered along with insta-meets, and social media activations.  Follow the hashtag:  #360TripodMondays and @360Chiviews on Instagram to learn more about upcoming events.

360 Sky Guide Tuesday:

Volunteers from the Chicago Architecture Foundation will provide a birds-eye view tour of the skyline. These volunteers love what they do and are excited to share their knowledge of Chicago as they guide you through all four views from high above the city.

360 Sky Art Wednesday:

Artists are invited to bring their easels, materials, and creativity to capture the view of the city from above.

 My contribution to the arts.  This canvas painting will be hanging on the observation deck upon completion.  Let me know when you see it. My contribution to the arts.  This canvas painting will be hanging on the observation deck upon completion.  Let me know when you see it.  Chicago artist DeMarcus Chicago artist DeMarcus

Thursday Hoppy Hour Presented by Revolution Brewing:

 360 Hoppy Hour 360 Hoppy Hour

Guests will find new releases and favorites from Revolution Brewing on special while listening to a live DJ from Mode Events. Revolution Brewing is the largest independently owned brewery in Illinois and in 2016 was named one of the top 50 brewing companies in the United States by the Brewers Association.  We were among the first to try their new beer Sun Crusher Hoppy Wheat Ale at the event.  It was literally canned the day before at the brewery.  I must say; I’m a fan!

360 Sky Trivia Fridays

Trivia runs every Friday from 6-8pm during the months of March-June and September-December.  Be sure to pre-register to secure your spot.  Registration is free and includes admission to the Skydeck.

With so much to offer, 360 Chicago Observation Deck is a win for the whole family and a must for Chicagoans and visitors alike. Afterward be sure to check out some of the other neighborhoods in the city.

Feel free to tell me about your visit in the comments below!

John Hancock Building Facts

  • It takes two men 40 hours each to change all the light bulbs in the Crown of Lights, on the 99th floor.
  • With the nation’s fastest elevators, you’ll arrive at the Observatory in 39 seconds
  • There are 1,632 steps from the main lobby to the observatory on level 94.
  • The observatory has the only open-air viewing deck in Chicago.
  • The building has 1,250 miles of wiring, with enough power to supply a city of 30,000 people
  • Guests can see four states from 360 CHICAGO – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin!

 Only open air viewing deck in Chicago Only open-air viewing deck in Chicago  360 Chicago 360 Chicago  360 Chicago 360 Chicago

The Great Chef’s Event Chicago: Eating for a Good Cause

More than thirty of the country’s finest chefs gathered for The Great Chef’s Event at Revel Fulton Market in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood to showcase their culinary creativity in the name of charity.  The result was an evening full of exceptional bites and most importantly monies for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation!  This was the first I’d heard of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and I was deeply moved by Alex’s story.

 Photograph courtesy of Steven E. Gross Photography Photograph courtesy of Steven E. Gross Photography

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation or (ALSF) is a national childhood cancer foundation dedicated to raising funds for research of new treatments and cures for children battling cancer.  They also provide emotional, financial, and logistical support for the families of these children.

Services such as these are a source of refreshment for families during extremely worrisome times.  I’ve seen firsthand the relief that provisions from such charities bring to families in need.

Founder, Alexandra “Alex” Scott was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer, shortly before her first birthday.  It was doubtful that she’d ever walk again even if she beat her cancer, but she proved to be a determined and courageous child who was an inspiration to others.  By her second birthday she was crawling, able to stand with leg braces, and working towards gaining the strength to walk.  Unfortunately, within the next year, her tumors were growing again.  During a hospital stay shortly after her fourth birthday Alex told her mom that she wanted to start a lemonade stand once she got of the hospital so that she could raise money to help other children going through the same thing. Her first stand raised over $2,000.  Alex and her family continued to hold yearly lemonade stands and by the time she passed away at the age of 8, Alex, with the help of others raised over $1,000,000 to aid in the fight for curing childhood cancer. Her family and supporters around the world continue her legacy through Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.

 Photo courtesy of Steven E. Gross Photography Photo courtesy of Steven E. Gross Photography

Great Chef’s Event Chicago

Over 700 guests attended the hugely successful event hosted by Chef Paul Kahan, Restauranteur Donnie Madia Gianfrancisco, and Chef Tony Mantuano.

My favorite bites from the evening included:

 Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation

I’m so happy that I learned about this admirable foundation and the work they’re doing.  If you’d like to support Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, you can start here

You can also spread the word about this important cause.

 Chef Stephanie Izard of The Girl & the Goat Chef Stephanie Izard of The Girl & the Goat  Top Chef Season 15 Winner Joe Flamm, right Top Chef Season 15 Winner Joe Flamm, right

Sightseeing With Chicago Safaris

One of the best things about visiting Chicago is all of the choices! Theater, world-class dining, sports, shopping, music….I could go on and on. I’ve created so many amusing memories here.  Hanging out in the city comes with its challenges though, most aren’t particularly fond of the traffic, parking, and driving!

 Cloud Gate Cloud Gate

For those who want to experience Chicago without the unwanted extra stress, sightseeing tours are a hassle-free option.  You only need to relax and take in the many sights.

 Chicago Safari Tour Guide, Lisa #2 Chicago Safari Tour Guide, Lisa #2  Chicago Safaris offers 3 package levels Chicago Safaris offers 3 package levels

Chicago Safaris

Chicago Safaris is a new company offering luxury sightseeing tours of the Windy City.  The owner, Seyi Arokoyo, came up with his business plan ten years ago while living in Chicago and working in an industry which allowed him to meet and host visitors in the city.  Realizing that most barely scratched the surface when it came to all that the city had to offer, his goal was to expose others to the hidden gems, restaurants, and rich history that he cherished.  I can appreciate his vision; there’s so much to discover beyond the Magnificent Mile and Navy Pier.

Based out of Northwest Indiana, Chicago Safaris affords individuals in the region the opportunity to visit one of the best cities in the world with ease and convenience. The company also offers wine tours to Michigan and transportation services to local events.

 The Crew ready for departure! The Crew ready for departure!

There are three levels of customizable packages; Silver, Gold, and Diamond. I was invited by Chicago Safaris to try out one of their tours along with my friends.

My crew and I decided on the Gold package.  You select a sightseeing activity and a food tasting activity.  We chose the movie scenes of Chicago for the sightseeing portion and a visit to Little Italy for out tasting tour!  Everything from the booking to pick up was a breeze.  Our group met at a central location, for our scheduled transportation.

First pre-trip drinks!  Priorities!

 Pre Trip Priorities Pre Trip Priorities  95th St. Bridge, Chicago 95th St. Bridge, Chicago

Our guides for the day were the 2 Lisas.  We liked them straight away.  Two down to earth ladies ready to deal with a group of crazy adults.  The bus was very comfortable with plenty of room.

The first leg of our tour focused on locations of movies filmed in Chicago.  Each year the number of films produced in the city continues to increase; 2017 saw an all-time high with over 580 film and media projects.

During the drive, Lisa divided the van into rows by teams and quizzed us on our movie history knowledge.  There’s nothing like a van full of competitive adults, you would’ve thought we were playing for money!

Our first location drive-by was the 95th St. bridge on Chicago’s far southeast side.  This drawbridge was famously jumped by Jake and Elwood in their Bluesmobile in Blues Brothers, a movie credited with putting the city of Chicago on the map as a venue for filmmaking.  I can’t tell you how many times that movie played in my household growing up!  It was one of my father’s favorites!

Continuing on, we got history and facts on a few additional locations before making our first stop at Skylark bar in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.  Skylark is a spacious dive bar with an impressive beer selection and cheap prices; it’s also cash-only.  This bar was the location of the Jennifer Aniston, Vince Vaughn movie The Breakup.  Its also been the filming site for several Chicago based television shows and is a local favorite.

While driving to the next spot we made a pit stop at Firehouse 51, the filming site of tv show Chicago Fire. The building is the location of real-life fire station Engine 18 on the Near West side of Chicago.   As a fan of the show, it was cool to see.

 Firehouse 51, Chicago Fire Firehouse 51, Chicago Fire

2nd Half

Food was the focus of the second half of the tour and centered around Little Italy, home to some of the city’s best Italian restaurants.

We stopped in for our first tasting at Al’s Italian Beef, a family business celebrating 80 years! The original recipe developed in Al’s home kitchen so many years ago is still in use at all Al’s Beef locations today.  It was my first time trying Al’s; the beef was tender and well-seasoned…I’d return.  The fries were the bomb!

 Al's Italian Beef Al’s Italian Beef  Soooo good! Soooo good!

Our next stop in Little Italy was at Pompei, one of Chicago’s oldest eateries, where we feasted on pizza and their famous strudel.  I favored the strudel.  It reminded me of a calzone but much lighter, and it was STUFFED with flavorful ingredients.

 Pompei Pompei

My crew and I enjoyed a full day of hilarious memories and learned a great deal! I especially liked how we combined some walking and exploring along with the driving.  We’d surely roll with Chicago Safaris again. If you’re searching for a sightseeing company with great customer service and attention to detail, give them a try.

*Although my sightseeing tour with Chicago Safaris was complimentary, the opinions and thoughts are my own.  I’d definitely recommend them to anyone looking for a special experience in the city.

 Sharing is caring.  If you enjoyed this post, please share! Sharing is caring.  If you enjoyed this post, please share!

Living a Beermiscuous Life in Chicago’s Lake View

Beermiscuous

My friends and I were having brunch one Friday morning in Lake View and decided to forego the mimosas and Bloody Mary’s in favor of a beer after our meal.  The only issue was the breweries in the immediate area didn’t open until late afternoon, early evening.  We remembered spotting Beermiscuous on our walk to brunch and checked to see what time it opened…1 p.m… Score!

It took me a few minutes to comprehend the pronunciation of the beer café I stood in front of but once it clicked it was on!  I laughed about the name alone the remainder of the day!!!

Beermiscuous [beer-mis’ kyoo-uh s] adj.: characterized by casual and frequent enjoyment of a wide variety of craft beer

That’s ME; I’m Beermiscuous and proud of it!  You’ll often find me moving from one craft brewery to the next.  So many breweries, so little time!

 Map of Breweires in the Chicagoland area Map of Breweires in the Chicagoland area

However, Beermiscuous is not a brewery but a beer café.  They have over 350 beers to select from with a heavy concentration on the Chicagoland area.  The beers represent almost every style, so there’s something for everyone.  Grab one out of the cooler to try or do a pour of their draft selections.  Unsure, what to try?  Just talk to one of the beeristas who’ll guide you through the selections or maybe utilize the beer information board to aid in your decision.

 4oz draft pours available for sampling 4oz draft pours available for sampling  Beer information board Beer information board

The atmosphere was relaxed and welcoming as a gathering spot should be.  Its obvious space was designed to encourage patrons to linger as you would in a coffee shop.  I spend hours in coffee shops; I’m just saying.  I saw a few people walk in with their laptops.  I never thought of that but why not, clearly I need to get with the program. They offer free wifi, comfy couches and a pleasant noise level, you can actually focus and work here.  I fell hard for this place….it was made for me, and oh yeah, they have lots of beers for experimenting.

They’ve even given thought to the nonbeer drinkers with options of red and white wine, ciders, gluten-free beer, and non-alcoholic drinks.

It’s worth noting that Beermiscuous is a bring-your-own-food (BYOF) establishment.  You can also order delivery.

I recommend this spot to anyone looking for a lowkey place to gather for great beer and conversation.

Beermiscuous is located at 2812 N. Lincoln Ave., in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood.

 Comfortable Cafe Comfortable Cafe  Warm Cafe Interior Warm Cafe Interior  Beermiscuous retail and cooler area Beermiscuous retail and cooler area  Snacks available or BYOF Snacks available or BYOF

Keep in Mind

  • Free Wifi
  • Pet friendly in retail and cooler area
  • BYOF
  • Kid friendly with parent

Cedar Point Amusement Park: Thrill Seekers Playground!

 Cedar Point's Skyhawk:  Kiss the sky! Cedar Point’s Skyhawk:  Kiss the sky!

No exaggeration; whenever I put a trip on the books to Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio, I start getting nervous and anxious!  The reason being, I know that I’m going to have to put my big girl pants on to face my fears and conquer some serious roller coasters.  I have yet to experience an amusement park that measures up!

I’ve been getting anxiety from Cedar Point ever since I was a kid riding their first wooden roller coaster, the Gemini; I vaguely remember screaming “this is wicked” as a child! Pure FUN! I’ve only seen the park improve and get more daring!

Cedar Point consistently lands on yearly lists as one of the best amusement parks in the country and the world!  It’s hands down the best in the Midwest!  If you’re an adrenaline fanatic, this is the place for you; there’s a collection of 71 rides, including 18 roller coasters!  No worries if roller coasters are not for you, there are beaches, a 164-acre water park, live shows, and lots of entertainment for young kids.  I’ve been bringing my son ever since he was a toddler.  They have a nice arrangement for parents called Parent Swap;  one parent waits with the kids while the other parent rides, once the first parent’s ride is complete, the other parent rides immediately.

Have you been yet?  If not, add it to your summer or fall bucket list!

 Family Fun Family Fun

CEDAR POINT FUN STATS

 Good Eats Good Eats

Their roller coasters are record breakers!  For example, The Valravn set the record for the world’s tallest, fastest and longest dive coaster!  Steel Vengeance, their new coaster for 2018 has been labeled a hyper-hybrid as world’s first steel-on-wood coaster standing over 205 feet tall with a 90-degree initial drop down to the earth, almost 30 seconds of airtime (the most on any roller coaster on Earth!  Don’t even get me started on Top Thrill Dragster which takes you from a standstill to 120 miles per hour in 3.8 seconds, then sprints up a 90-degree incline to 420 feet in the air!  It’s no wonder Cedar Point is named the roller coaster capital of the world!

Saving Money During Your Visit to Cedar Point

To get the most bang for our buck, my family and I usually purchase one of the resort packages offered by Cedar Point for a group of 4.  In this package, you receive a parking pass, four starlight tickets for Friday entry after 4 pm, four tickets for Saturday, and a two-night stay in their resort.  We usually stay at the Cedar Point Express Hotel about two miles away from the park.    The cost of this package varies depending on the time of year you visit.  Of course, summer is peak season so the cost is more but it’s still a great deal.  You can design the package that most fits your needs.

On our last trip, we checked into the hotel then headed right to the park with our Friday evening starlight tickets.  We were able to cover quite a bit of the park and rode many of our favorite rollercoasters several times!  In addition, if you stay in the Cedar Point resorts you get admitted to the parks one hour earlier than the general public.  Pro Tip:  Be sure to list the rides open during the early admission hour and hit the ones towards the back of the park, these will most likely have the longest lines later in the day.

Best Cedar Point Roller Coasters

Here’s my top 5  list of favorite coasters in the park.  Do not miss these!

1.  MAVERICK:

Arguably the most fun coaster in the park!  You seriously feel as if you’re riding a bucking wild horse!

 Maverick Maverick

 On our way to Maverick; my two guys On our way to Maverick; my two guys  Grilled corn is always on my food list! Grilled corn is always on my food list!

2. TOP THRILL DRAGSTER

17 seconds of pure adrenaline!  I can’t get over how smooth this ride is even though you’re going from a standstill to 120 miles per hour in 3.8 seconds.  It’s tough standing in line watching others ahead of you.  It definitely feeds the fear.  The anticipation is the worst!  I was worried that my friend Robea was going to bail but she conquered it!  I’m still proud of you Robea, lol!

 Top Thrill Dragster Top Thrill Dragster  Anticipation Anticipation  Top Thrill Dragster:  Over 420 feet high Top Thrill Dragster:  Over 420 feet high

3.  MILLENNIUM FORCE

Even though I’ve ridden the Millennium Force countless times, I have to again convince myself to ride it each year.

Last year, I even held my hands in the air as we went over the first drop.  The very thought of that has me thinking no way am I doing that this year!  I’m back at square one again.  This coaster is my main source of anxiety!  I think because it only has a lap bar….I’d like for it to have a lap belt, lap bar, overhead bar, duct tape, and anything else that will secure me in the seat!  It’s such a fun ride and ranked as one of the world’s best steel coasters!

 Millennium Force;  My son, husband, and I Millennium Force;  My son, husband, and I

4.  VALRAVN

I recommend riding this coaster in the front row.  It’s worth the extra wait in line…..That dive is no joke!  You linger for what feels like an eternity before you take it though….just adds to the excitement!  I loved this one!

Valravn was introduced in 2016, breaking 7 world records including tallest and fastest dive coaster!

5.  MAGNUM XL200

This coaster debuted in 1989 and it’s still one of my favorites!  I’m always in pain after laughing the whole ride!  It’s just an exhilarating ride and the drops tickle!

For 2018, the park unleashed it’s new coaster Steel Vengeance.  Branded the hyper-hybrid, it’s the world’s first steel-on-wood hybrid roller coaster to stand over 200 feet tall.  It’ll be top of the list when we visit this year.  Who knows maybe my top 5 list will change after I ride it!

Cedar Point is a great place for families.  I hope that you get the opportunity to visit in the near future.  As always let me know your favorite part in the comments!

Where to Eat in Sandusky, Ohio

Our family tradition involves capping off our weekend with Sunday brunch before hitting the road.  Always on the lookout for hidden gems, I was ecstatic to discover Bates Farm Kitchen!

I loved everything about this restaurant!  When we walked in we were greeted by smiling faces who were happy to see us!  You can see right into the kitchen where your food is being prepared.  The restaurant is farm to table utilizing the chef’s garden grown herbs, garlic, tomatoes and other local farms.  They don’t use silverware, glasses, or dishes.  Instead, their plates, utensils, and cups are corn-based compostables.

The food came out hot and was delicious!  One thing to note is everything is prepared to order and the food is brought out as it’s completed.  There aren’t any food warmers here, so some will get their dishes before others.

I can’t recommend this place enough; make sure you stop in before leaving Sandusky.

 Cedar Point:  Sandusky, Ohio Cedar Point:  Sandusky, Ohio

Bluesfest Windsor: Blues With a Side of 90’s Nostalgia

 Windsor, Ontario Windsor, Ontario

I don’t know if I’ve ever let you guys in on my love of Blues music. It’s been a part of my life since childhood.  To this day, whenever, I hear Elmore James playing, I’m immediately back at our first home in Michigan.  My dad used to blast Dust My Broom on the record player.  I didn’t quite get the meaning of the song, but I knew the words.  Our house was where everyone would regularly gather for spades or Bid Whist, and Blues was always blaring over the arguing and laughter over who reneged.  FYI, reneging was the unforgivable sin, lol!  Fun times!!!

As a youngster, I felt it comical to sing about the Blues.  I believed that I had the Blues at the age of 6 whenever things didn’t go my way.

It wasn’t until I was a lot older and learned more about the history and origin of the Blues when it truly had an impact on me. My appreciation for the genre grew.

I happen to know quite a few Blues lovers and musicians, and I can wholeheartedly say that individuals within Blues community are some of the most welcoming and inclusive.  It’s always a good time amongst Blues lovers.  Maybe you can relate to the energy and feeling gathered from Blues concerts and festivals!  If there’s a Blues festival or event, you’ll find me in the midst of it singing and dancing along with a huge smile on my face!

This year was my first time attending Bluesfest Windsor held at the Riverfront in downtown Windsor, Ontario.  My son’s Blues/Rock band The Instinct was invited as a performing act this year for the Sunday of the fest.  Last year this festival attracted over 28,000 attendees throughout the weekend and this year was set to break that record!  I was looking forward to this 4-day festival.  I always enjoy going to Windsor for visits, it’s an easy 3 1/2 hour drive from Chicago.   I’ve met some of the nicest people there.

 Downtown Windsor Mural Downtown Windsor Mural  Downtown Windsor Mural Downtown Windsor Mural

Saturday

The first show I caught was Sugarray Rayford; he also was the ambassador for the 4-day festival.  If you ever have the opportunity to see his band, GO!  I hope to see him at the Chicago Blues Festival; he brought the party!  His vocals are fantastic, and he’s seriously a joy to watch; so entertaining! A true pro at engaging the audience whom he had cracking up!  That man has some serious dance moves too, he was gettin (yes, it’s gettin not getting) down!!!!

He also happened to be staying at our hotel and is just as nice and approachable as he comes across on stage.

 Sugarray Rayford Sugarray Rayford  Moondog Howlers Moondog Howlers

I was most looking forward to seeing Jonny Lang on Saturday night. I’ve seen him probably around 5-6 times, but never this close.  My husband and I were front row!  He’s such an amazing guitar player and vocalist.  The depth of feeling and emotion he plays with is moving.  My friend Carol is probably his number one fan so as any great friend would do; I sent her video of how close I was to him as torture, LOL!

Eddie Money closed out Saturday night.  He had lots of jokes during his set…I was amazed at how much he was moving and shaking while singing all of his hits.  I’ve had ‘Two Tickets to Paradise’ playing over and over in my head ever since.  His set gave the crowd great energy and enthusiasm.  Everyone was just having fun.

All of that dancing and singing makes one hungry.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the burger spot my son and I walked to from our hotel for midnight eats.  When in Windsor stop at Simon’s Prime Hamburgers, the burgers and fries were the bomb!  I learned that all of their buns are handmade by Maple City Bakery without preservatives and the meat is local VG meat; hand packed and never frozen.  I can’t get over those fries too!  Locally produced, fresh cut, and seasoned through and through!  You can taste good quality.  This spot is surely worth a visit and is on my list next trip!!!!

Sunday

My son’s band the Instinct was set to play 4 half-hour sets on Sunday in the Bluestown tent; they were on fire!  I may be a bit biased, but they’re a great band!!!  I was able to catch all 4 sets.

The festival had a nice set-up.  The area was vast but it was easy to get back and forth between the two stages so you wouldn’t miss out on any of the bands.

I didn’t want to miss out on Beth Hart who was set to play on Sunday.  I hadn’t heard of her before seeing the festival lineup.  Once I read her bio, I was in avid anticipation; I’m now obsessed with her.  I told my husband “This chick is BAD!”  Wow, what a voice!  I’m sad that it took me so long to discover this amazing artist!

Beth Hart closed out the Blues portion of the festival.

This year organizers tried something a little different.  It’s no secret that there’s been a steady decline of the Blues and Sunday attendance at festivals are the lowest.   The committee decided to draw larger Sunday crowds a with a 90’s Flashback show.

It was brilliant!  The Sunday portion was completely sold out as I guess there were 8,000 other people as excited as I was to see the show!  We went back in time to our teenage days and grooved to C & C Music Factory, Naughty By Nature, Rob Base, Young MC, and Vanilla Ice.  This portion was LIT!  Words can’t describe how fun that party was!  Took us all way back!  Not even a torrential downpour could curb the enthusiasm of the crowd!  I can’t remember the last time I yelled and danced like that!  I hope they do a repeat of the 90’s show next year!  Maybe a few new Blues fans were made from the massive crowd who came out for the 90’s flashback.

Well done Windsor, I can’t wait for my next visit!

Lake Michigan Shore Wine Fest: The Essentials of Summer Fun

Lake Michigan Shore Wine Festival

 Lake Michigan Shore Wine Festival:  Lazy Ballerina Winery Lake Michigan Shore Wine Festival:  Lazy Ballerina Winery

What do you get when you place over 20 wine vendors on a beach with food trucks and some seriously legit live bands?  A Grand Old Time! Even though the heat index was darn near if not over 100, it didn’t stop the wine enthusiasts from coming out in droves and enjoying our much overdue summer at the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Festival. The campground was even sold out for the weekend!  People were everywhere but not in the too crowded to move situation which can be irritating. There was plenty of space to get around.  Not surprisingly, the most crowded area was the tent where all of the wine vendors were.  I’m sure most stayed under the tent because of the shield provided from the sun that was blazing down on us all.  I only went in the tent for refills;  I’d been waiting a long time for the sun that was present on that day, and I wasn’t hiding from it.  I embraced my three shades darker tan, lol…it’s my natural tattoo signifying the official start of summer.

 Warren Dunes State Park Warren Dunes State Park

Lake Michigan Shore AVA

The festival is put on by the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail; a collection and collaboration of 20 distinct wineries located in the Lake Michigan Shore AVA.  Part of what’s often referred to as the Napa of the Midwest, this regions holds 90% of Michigan’s Vineyards and extends as far north as Fennville, as far east as Kalamazoo, and as far south as the Indiana/Michigan State line with Lake Michigan as it’s western border.  Such a gem right in our backyard!  Lake Michigan provides the ideal climate for growing wine grapes.  The famous “lake effect’ has a positive impact on the growing season and protects the crops. (I’ll try to remember this the next time I’m stranded in a snow storm!)  Most of Michigan’s grapes are grown within 25 miles of the lake.

Warren Dunes State Park

This year the fest was held at Warren Dunes State Park in Sawyer, Michigan.  I’ve attended the festival in the past in Bridgman, MI but I admit, I favor the space of Warren Dunes.  Plus the beach is just beautiful!  I plan on returning before summer is over and climbing those dunes.

 Karma Vista Winery Karma Vista Winery

 Warner Vineyard Warner Vineyard  Pre Steaks Pre Steaks

There were some good discoveries. I’m kind of obsessed with Lazy Ballerina winery in St. Joseph and I also think that Paw Paw, MI needs to be the location of my next winery crawl.

 Karma Vista Vineyard and Winery Karma Vista Vineyard and Winery

Food Vendors

No fest is complete without good food vendors!   The food offerings ranged from healthier to the bad but oh so good!  Let’s be real; I don’t generally go to festivals to eat good, I’m just saying!  However, I was pleasantly surprised by Nosh Village.  I may have tried to start off with the healthy option because I’d been eating badly the whole week leading up to the festival. Nevertheless, my Buddha Bowl was lit, and I could’ve easily eaten another and not felt like I was missing out on the other festival food.  Their food truck can be found at Watermark Brewing company in Stevensville, MI.  Healthy eats while enjoying a brew…that’s a nice balance.

 Buddha Bowl from Nosh Village Buddha Bowl from Nosh Village

The Bahn Mi from Pachama Street Food was also delicious.  My husband did go for seconds on that one.  Others from our party hit up some of the other vendors.  There was something for each of our preferences;  Bar-B-Que, pizza, tacos, and sweets.  I didn’t leave hungry, that’s for sure!

 Bahn Mi from Pachama Street Foods Bahn Mi from Pachama Street Foods

Festival Bands

The music had us moving and shaking even with the intense heat.  Live music outdoors is one of my favorites summer activities.  The Jamiah Rogers Band was on fire!  This young guitar hero is the bomb!  If you make it to the Chicagoland area, you have to look him up; you won’t be disappointed.  The Motown grooves from The Hemispheres was also a delight.  They had the people up and moving for sure!  Hats off to all 5 bands who showed up and showed out!

The festival had a nice balance of food, wine, and musical fun!  This event is put on every year and should be on your summer must-do list.  If you missed it this year, be sure to catch it next year.  In the meantime, the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail is a good idea any time of year!  Check out the map of the wineries here!