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Fury Room Chicago; woman holding a bat

Fury Room: De-stress by Breaking Things

Bad breakup? Overwhelmed at work? Having a crummy week? Stress and rough patches are inevitable no matter who we are. Perhaps things have moved beyond stress, and you’re dealing with anger from divorce, loss of employment, or another trying situation.

What do you do when you need to breathe?

Would throwing a bottle against a wall or taking a bat to a television help? Maybe the thought crossed your mind but you thought the better of it.  What if I told you that there’s a place where you could destroy things for fun?

A single bat in a room with graffiti on the walls
Fury Room in Chicago’s Lincoln Square Neighborhood invites people to decompress by breaking things.

Individuals are seeking new ways to escape from day-to-day pressures. As a result, anger rooms are gaining popularity and appearing in cities all over the world. Chicago’s newest addition to the scene is the Fury Room in Lincoln Square.

Of course, a strenuous workout may do the trick for some. But others may need a release on a grander scale. Plus, let’s be honest, it’s more fun to break things. You can even scream while doing it!

Woman beating a body opponent training bag with a sledghammer
Blow of some steam by beating things at Chicago’s Fury Room

The owners of Chicago’s Fury room want visitors to de-stress and release anger and frustration while destroying things in a safe environment without judgment.  Although it named Fury room, you don’t need to be angry to take advantage of it.  It’s a great release for everyday stress and quite a workout.  After I smashed a table and television, I experienced a certain calmness.  It was therapeutic. 

Giving it a try is simple.

Video footage of Fury Room

Safety Gear

First, you gear up.  The protective gear covers you from head to toe.  Although, it’s a chore getting dressed you’ll appreciate the safety measures once you see glass flying at you.  Knowing you’re fully protected gives you the confidence to let loose and go crazy.

Choose your weapon: 

Your selections include a baseball bat, crowbar, and sledgehammer.

Woman covered in protective gear holding sledgehammer
Participants must gear up from head to toe before entering rooms

Select Your Package:

Brown Couch
Themed living room

Select your package based upon the type and amount of items you’d like to break. There are three themed rooms to choose from with two rooms accommodating up to four people.  I’m sure the favorite will most likely be the space that resembles a living room.  Several people who watched my Instagram stories from my media sneak peek mentioned that they’ve always dreamed of trashing an apartment.

Select Your Song:

Get your adrenaline pumping by having your favorite tunes blaring during your tantrum.  You can either bring your own music or select something while there.

I admit, I initially felt a bit awkward smashing things.  I mean purposely damaging things is taboo.  Plus there’s jail if you do it in public, lol. I felt as if I was misbehaving, but after I loosened up and got into, I had a blast!  It’s fun destroying things without consequence.

The Fury Room opens in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood on March 11th.  Visit them and blow off some steam! 

Remember to capture all the glory on video!

Click here for other fun things to do in the Midwest!

woman holding a crowbar over her head
Choose from 3 themed rooms at Chicago’s Fury Room

Women Effecting Change in the Automotive Industry

Inspiring women changing the auto industry from the inside was the focus of the 3rd annual What Drives Her luncheon and panel discussion. I was so looking forward to this event sponsored by A Girl’s Guide to Cars, Women in Automotive, and The Chicago Auto Show.


 Scotty Reiss , founder of A Girl’s Guide to Cars

The diverse group of women sharing candid stories of overcoming challenges and excelling in a male-dominated field stirred and motivated everyone in attendance!

What Drives Her Luncheon and Panel Sign
3rd Annual What Drives Her Luncheon and Panel Discussion

They urged each of us in attendance to use the drive and passion in our possession to create a path that leads to happiness!

Women are a Force

There’s something to be said about the energy in a room full of women championing other women to be the best version of themselves.  That spark drives you as you excitedly contemplate how you’ll make an application. It stays with you. You’ll later draw from that same incitement in those moments where fear and doubt creep in. This event hit the spot for me!

The speakers bought to light sobering statistics regarding the under-service of women in advertising and the automotive industry. For example, it was revealed that women account for or influence 85% of car purchases and hold the keys to 450 billion dollars a year in spending.  However, additional figures indicate that women account for only 25% of jobs in the automotive field. 

Leah Marshall, director, influencer marketing, with the Association of National Advertisers

We learned about the #seeher initiative. A movement bringing about needed changes in the way females are portrayed in advertising and the media. Many women feel underrepresented in advertising or negatively portrayed. I know I do.

Having open honest discussions regarding the imbalances is the beginning of change.

Four women sitting on a stage discussing women's integral role in the automotive industry while an audience with mostly women look on
Women changing the automotive industry from the inside

The array of influential women speakers in leadership roles from various backgrounds debunked the myths that automotive careers belong to technicians or salespersons.  There are many doors of opportunity.

Panel Discussion: Females driving change in Automotive Field

Autotrader’s Michelle Krebs moderated the topic involving change. Panelists included Jessica Petty, manager of customer data analytics, Hyundai; Jeneen Rippey, vice president of global quality, electronics division, ZF; and Edie Wines, instructor, National Automobile Dealers Association.

Wines, an instructor for the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) has been in the business for over 33 years.  She began with a temporary assignment in the automotive service department.  Eventually, Wines learned all but one job in the service department including service adviser.  This was unheard of in the majority-male field in the 1980s. 

She offered instruction to women coming into the industry or moving up the ladder “If you find yourself in an environment where you’re the only woman, don’t focus on that…it’s about performance level and not about the numbers…..show them your abilities and follow your dreams.

Large audience of women eating lunch at a banquet
Approximately 200 were in attendance at the luncheon and panel

Tanya Wingfield, vice president of engineering for Borg Warner concurred, reminding the room that there are many male-dominated industries, not just automotive.  She exhorted attendees “don’t put yourself in a box or allow anyone else to….be yourself ,work hard; As a result, opportunities will follow.” She also advised all to find a mentor whether it be a male or female.

From left; Zelda Robinson, Jennie LeFlore, Me, Michelle Lee, and LaToya Wright

Young girls and women were cautioned in regards to overlooking options.  Explaining, one need not be super interested in cars to be in the automotive industry. Design, Engineering and computer science are exciting ways to get involved.  There is a major need for qualified technicians and women were encouraged to consider this field.  It’s not the grease monkey, dirt under fingernails job of the past and it can be highly lucrative.

A group of women standing and smiling at the camera
Panel and Attendees of What Drives Her Luncheon at Chicago Auto Show

Panel Discussion: Work/Life Balance

The second-panel discussion moderated by Cars.com Editor-in-Chief, Jennifer Newman, centered around work, life, and creating balance while building or sustaining a career. Speakers included Kathy Gilbert, global director of sales & business development, CDK; Laurie King, SVP, global operations & strategic solutions, Turtle Wax; Subi Ghosh, senior director of dealer strategy, Stream Companies; Lauren Brandt, Facebook client solutions manager and Returnity Project co-founder; and Kerri Wise, vice president, industry education and relations, TrueCar.

2 African American women smiling at the camera.  They are standing in front of a red car.
Kerri Wise (right),
Vice President of industry education and relations for TrueCar

I appreciated how the ladies kept it real by stating that they’re not perfect and each day they’re learning more about balance. We women sometimes have a difficult time admitting this. Oftentimes, we strive for perfection to prove to the world that we have it all together all of the time. This actually is the opposite of balance and is quite unhealthy. The candid dialogue taking place on stage hit home with me.

What Drives Her luncheon and panel discussion

10 Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Work Life Balance

When asked for advice on finding balance, the ladies had much to day. The following statements resonated with me.

  • Know your strengths and surround yourself with people that can help you build in the areas where you need strength.  Do this in your personal and business life- Laurie King
  • Find outlets to prevent burnout….find the balance whether it’s friends, traveling, or a fast car -Kathy Gilbert
  • Keep your guilt in check; as women we are guilty about everything from weight, being a good wife, parent, working…we worry too much about trying to be perfect and it’s stifling- Kerri Wise
  • Use Time Efficiently-Kerri Wise
  • Ask for help from your village and take a step back when needed -Lauren Brandt
  • Know your abilities and what it takes to get the work done.  Don’t lose confidence over 1 bad day-Laurie King
  • It’s all about Ebb and flows in a career, some days are necessarily long and require 120% and then there are days to take time off and enjoy.  Understand, recognize it and plan for it -Kathy Gilbert
  • Realize the world will revolve without you, delegate and trust the abilities of your team of supporters.-Kerri Wise
  • Communicate with your spouse, partner, and teammates-Lauren Brandt
  • Become comfortable with saying no in your personal and professional life-Lauren Brandt

Solid advice to carry in life.

I truly enjoyed the insightful conversations that occurred at the What Drives her panel as well as the networking afterward during the wine reception. I connected with many wonderful women and left feeling enthused and motivated.

Be sure to catch the Chicago auto show during its run at McCormick Place!

*Sponsored post; all opinions are my own.

How career women successfully balance work and life
Tips on balancing work and life

Green Lamborghini on an auto show floor

Chicago Auto Show: Fun Time for All

The Chicago Auto Show kicks off Saturday, February 9th and runs through February 18th. Attendees are in for a spectacular display of what’s new and hot in the world of automobiles. As the largest auto show in the nation, the Chicago Auto Show spans more than 1 million square feet of production, concept and exotic vehicle exhibit space.  Throw in engaging interactive displays, music, and live entertainment and you have a recipe for fun times!

Blue Polaris Slingshot with woman sitting in drivers seat
Polaris Slingshot

This year the Chicago Auto Show will host the first indoor Chicago Friday Night Flights, a craft beer sampling event. The affair takes place on Friday, February 15th and features over a dozen local Chicago breweries. Tickets are $30 and include access to the auto show. Considering my tab when the hubs and I go out for beers, that’s a steal! For other special show days and deals, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Ford F-150 Truck with Chicago Bears decal
Ford F-150 the official truck of the Chicago Bears

Nearly 1,000 automobiles will be on display during the show. Vehicles include domestic and imported passenger cars, trucks sport utility vehicles, minivans, and concept cars.  Additionally, visitors can admire a series of competition, antique, and collector cars.

Cherry red 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz
1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz

You don’t have to be a car enthusiast knowing all the latest specifications to enjoy the Chicago Auto Show. If you’re someone like me who just appreciates beautiful art and details, the Chicago Auto Show is the place for you. The experience is something the whole family can enjoy!

Climbing netting for kids suspended above a white Ford truck
Ford Kid Zone

Chicago Auto Show Tickets and Dates

The show runs at McCormick Place from February 9th through the 18th.  Tickets are $13 for adults, $7 for seniors aged 62 and older, and $7 for children 7-12.  Children 6 and under are free when accompanied by a paying adult family member.

Media Preview Details and Favorites

I attended the 2-day media preview to catch the news, introductions, and in-depth information on the new vehicles and technologies.  Some of the unveilings included the new Range Rover Evoque, “an SUV built for consumers in great cities with challenging weather conditions”, according to CEO Joachim Eberhard, the 2020 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider Italia, and 2020 Kia Sportage.  In all nearly 20 vehicles made their debut during the media days.

Blue sportscar

2020 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider Italia

There’s an array of interactive displays to engage with and fun vehicle experiences in addition to the exhibits.  Here are a few highlights not to be missed!

Test Track Experiences:

Jeep Wrangler on a driving test track coming down a hill
Jeep Test Track

Guests will find a total of 4 test tracks offered from Jeep, Land Rover, Dodge, and KIA.  Children can ride on the test tracks. However, some have minimum height restrictions while others require kids to be at least eight years old.  The best track belonged to Jeep. But you have to request the Wrangler, it gives more thrill than the Cherokee. The Land Rover track was a close second.  

Chevy Silverado LEGO TRUCK

Red Chevy Silverado truck built out of LEGOS
Chevy Silverado constructed with LEGOS

Stop by and peek at the Chevy Silverado built from LEGOS.  During the show, there will be a LEGO station for guests to try their hand at building the truck.  Who doesn’t love LEGOS?!?!

Ride Similators

Woman sitting in a car simulator
Toyota Racing Simulator

Don’t miss the Toyota racing simulator, it’s a fun, fast, smooth ride.  Hyundai and Acura also invite you to put yourself in the driver’s seat with simulated challenges. I crashed and didn’t even finish half the course, yeesh!

Woman suspended in the air in fun photo op

Speaking of TOYOTA, they bought their A-Game with their interactive demonstrations and photo ops. I spent quite a bit of time playing around in their exhibit area. There are plenty of Instagrammable opportunities so be sure to scope them out!

Gray Infiniti 10 concept car on showroom floor
Infiniti 10 Concept

I had a fantastic time previewing the Chicago Auto Show and drooling over the vehicles. There were clear standouts for sure.  I swooned over all of the colorful, fast cars with impressive specs but in the end, I fell in love with the Nissan Envy Camper Van!

Gray Camper van with woman standing inside
Envy Camper Van

This van was designed for me! It comes equipped with a refrigerator and freezer, ample storage, kitchen sink, hot water shower, 10-gallon freshwater tank, 5-gallon gray water tank, insulated paneling and floor, pre-wired for solar, and sleeps 4. Above all, it fits in your garage, so there’s no need to worry about RV parking! I’m in love. This van is perfect for campers, travelers, and weekend warriors.

Gray Camper Van that sleeps four and is equipped like an RV
Nissan Envy Camper Van

Chicago Auto Show’s Money Saving Days

The Chicago Auto Show is an entertaining way to spend a day out in the city without busting the wallet. If you’re like me, always looking to save money, here are a few days to keep in mind:

  • Sports Team Pride Day: Monday, Feb. 11. Wear your favorite Illinois team jersey to the show on Sports Team Pride Day and receive $6 off of adult admission.
  • Women’s Day: Tuesday, Feb. 12. Women are offered a discounted ticket at $7.  The show will also offer an engaging series of events including panel discussions, workshops and networking opportunities geared towards females.
  • A Safe Haven Food Drive: Wednesday, Feb. 13 – Friday, Feb. 15. Show patrons who bring three cans of food will receive a coupon for a $7 adult admission. All food will be donated to A Safe Haven Foundation. 

Other Special Days:

  • Hispanic Heritage Day: Friday, Feb. 15. The Chicago Auto Show partners with Hispanic media outlets to program various activities throughout the day. Now in its 12th year, Hispanic Heritage Day honors and celebrates the Latino history and culture with a full-day lineup of special events and programs throughout the show. 
  • Chicago Friday Night Flights: Friday, Feb. 15. Produced in partnership by the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild and Choose Chicago, the new craft beer event will feature 16 local breweries and offer a tasting pass for attendees to sample pours while accessing the show. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $30 which includes tickets to the Chicago Auto Show and the beer tasting experience.
  • Family Day: Monday, Feb. 18. The Chicago Auto Show will host family-friendly events on Presidents Day to wrap up the last day of the show

Hopefully, you’ll have the opportunity to visit during the Chicago Auto Show’s 10-day run. Tell me your favorite cars or experiences in the comments!

For other Chicago activities click here!

Dablon Vineyards: Changing Perceptions of Michigan Wine

Set aside plenty of time for your visit to Dablon Vineyard’s tasting room during your wine tasting tour of Michigan. Because once you step inside the stunning space and take in the vineyard views, you won’t want to leave!  The style and design encourage guests to unwind, socialize, and linger. Whether gathered around the cozy fireplace, hanging at the bar or sharing a table with friends.

People wine tasting gathered around a bar
Dablon Vineyards Tasting Room

Recalling my first visit, I couldn’t get over the beauty of the space!  It was a snowy winter day, and it was a welcome escape from the cold. The view of the winter wonderland through the many windows inside the gorgeous space gave my friends and I the feeling that we were at a ski resort.

Couch and fireplace inside of a winery
Dablon’s cozy tasting room

The Baroda, Michigan vineyard and tasting room sits in the middle of Southwest Michigan Wine Country and is only a 1 1/2 hour drive from Chicago.

A group sitting at a table playing cards
Dablon’s tasting room is a great place to chill and socialize

The vineyard provides entertainment every weekend with live music or films from Music Box Theatre to enjoy with your wine.  Fun fact:  The owner of Dablon Vineyard, William Schopf, is also the owner of the Music Box Theatre, one of Chicago’s oldest theatres built in1929.

Man and Woman smiling at camera
Caitlin Terwilliger and Owner William Schopf

Story Behind the Dablon Vineyard Name

Large wine tasting room with bar and fireplace
Dablon’s spacious bar and tasting room

The land the vineyard sits on was once part of New France and is named in honor of Claude Dablon, a 1600’s French explorer and Jesuit priest who was one of the first Europeans to arrive in Michigan while it was still part of New France.  According to history, Dablon made wines out of wild grapes he found in the woods for sacrament and communion.

Dablon vineyard’s goal is to create exceptional wine by marrying European varietals with Southwest Michigan terroir.

Picture of the exterior of a building
Exterior of Dablon’s tasting room
Vineyard at Dablon
Dablon’s Rolling Vineyards

Dablon Grapes and Wine

Specializing in dry reds and whites, Dablon is changing the perception of Michigan wine. Therefore, Forget the old way of thinking that the state only produces a sweet wine.  The vineyard produces beautiful, quality, wines in the tradition of the French regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux France. Winemaker Rudy Schaffer states “ the belief that all Michigan wine is sweet wine is false; Michigan can grow many of the varietals that a warmer climate can grow due to the proximity to Lake Michigan.” The grapes grown on the estate include Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Malbec, and Syrah among others.

map showing where grapes are planted at Dablon Vineyard
Map of the vineyard’s Grape Varieties

Everything from spacing to shoot positioning is adopted, with positioning, grape harvesting, and sorting all done by hand.  The process can be very labor intensive and expensive, however, the winemakers feel their methods ensure better quality and set them apart from their competitors.

Sign saying trail to winery
Trail leading to vineyard

I can’t think of anything better than enjoying delicious wine with friends in lovely surroundings, can you? Be sure to add Dablon to your list of places to check out when you’re in Southwest Michigan!

Hand holding a bottle of Cabernet Franc
My Favorite!
Rack of Meadow Lamb “off the bone” and Crépinette of Lamb Sausage, “Fondant” of Fingerling Potatoes, Swiss Chard, Ashed Flora Goat Cheese, Charred Peppers and Bermuda Onions

George Trois Named Restaurant of the Year at Jean Banchet Awards

The Chicago culinary scene gathered in celebration and recognition of the city’s culinary excellence at the 2019 Jean Banchet Awards.  The prestigious honors are named after Chef Jean Banchet, a Chicago Chefs Hall of Fame inductee instrumental in making Chicago the culinary destination that it is today.

The ceremony presented by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is the only Chicago-based awards ceremony that recognizes culinary originality and talent throughout the region.

The top honors of the evening went to George Trois for Restaurant of the Year and Chef Jason Hammel for Chef of the Year.

Restaurant of the Year

George Trois is a French-influenced restaurant located in Winnetka. Chef/owner Michael Lachowitz is a third-generation chef who trained under great chefs, including famed chef Jean Banchet at Le Francais in Wheeling, IL. Each guest who books an experience at George Trois is treated to a 12-course chef tasting menu with each course delivered and explained by Chef Michael.

Chef of the Year

Jason Hammel of restaurants Lula Café in Logan Square and Marisol in the Museum of Contempory Art is known for spearheading the “farm-to-table” movement. Chef Hammel was among the first chefs to source local, organic ingredients, and build close relationships with Midwestern farmers.

The complete list of winners is listed below and with Restaurant Week running January 25-February 7, 2019 you have the perfect opportunity to visit some of the winners for great deals. I look forward to Restaurant Week every year because it’s the only time I feel like I’m getting a deal on food prices in the city (click here for my recap of last year). The prix fixe menus allow for diners to have several courses at one set price, starting at $24 for brunch and lunch, and $36 and/or $48 for dinner (excluding beverages, tax, and gratuity)

Creme Brulee
Creme Brulee

This year’s Chicago Restaurant Week will be the largest ever, with nearly 400 local restaurants participating, including over 100 first-time participants and 45 suburban restaurants.

I’ve included the links to each of the winning restaurants participating in Restaurant Week.  Don’t miss your chance to get in on the fun celebrating Chicago’s excellent culinary scene!

Jean Banchet Complete List of Winners

Restaurant of the YearPresented by the Illinois Restaurant Association: George Trois

Chef of the Year Presented by S.Pellegrino® Sparkling Natural Mineral Water & Acqua Panna Natural Spring Water: Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe, Marisol) Marisol Restaurant Week Menu

Rising Chef of the Year: Alisha Elenz (mfk. restaurant) Restaurant Week Menu

Best Chef-de-Cuisine Presented by Sparrow Coffee Roastery: Ryan Pfeiffer (Blackbird)Blackbird Restaurant Week Menu;

Pastry Chef of the Year Presented by Cacao Barry: Nicole Guini (Blackbird, Avec) Avec Restaurant Week Menu

Rising Pastry Chef of the Year Presented by Nielsen-MasseyVanillas: Elaine Townsend (FatRice)

Best Neighborhood Restaurant: Pizzeria Bebu

Best Heritage Restaurant: APlace BY DAMAO

Best New Restaurant: S.K.Y.

Best Sommelier Presented by Champagne Henriot: Jill Gubesch (Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Leña Brava) Restaurant Week Menus: Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Leña Brava

Best Mixologist Presented by Breakthru Beverage Illinois: Stephanie Andrews (Billy Sunday)

Best Restaurant Design: Pacific Standard Time Restaurant Week Menu

Best Service: Temporis

Best Bar: Moody Tongue

NEW* Best Counter Service Calumet Fisheries

Cocktail in spotlight

Dinner and a Show at The Promontory

Dinner and a show at The Promontory in Chicago’s Hyde Park Neighborhood is a MUST. It’s the whole package for Chicago nightlife;  A sophisticated hearth-driven restaurant with dishes from Executive Chef Carlos Cruz, solid cocktails, and live entertainment in an intimate venue paying homage to the legacy of the music and arts scene on Chicago’s South Side!

Signage outside of the Promontory restaurant in Hyde Park
The Promontory located in Hyde Park

As a result of my recent evening at the Promontory for dinner and a show, I’m already planning a return! The space and vibe are right up my alley!

Interior of The Promontory restaurant showing floor to ceiling windows and diners
Restaurant Interior
Bar inside of The Promontory restaurant with patrons sitting all around
Bar

Promontory Restaurant

I was treated to all of the action happening in the kitchen from my seat at the Chef’s counter and the smells permeating the air along with my observations of the chefs had my mouth watering in anticipation.  My friend and I started with cocktails and appetizers.  The cocktail list is creative with flavor profiles for many palates.  I ordered My Darling Clementine, and it was bomb delicious!  When you sip and pause to contemplate, you know it’s a good cocktail.

Hearth used for cooking at the Promontory restaurant
Hearth
Cocktail Fall Sgroppino
Tito’s Vodka, Roasted
pear sorbet, Bubbles
Fall Sqroppino Cocktail

The Promontory Menu

Appetizers of smoked feta, hearth roasted sweet potatoes, hearth roasted beets, oysters Rockefeller,and hearth blistered shishito peppers followed. 

I favored the smoked feta, sweet potatoes, and shishito peppers.  I’m a bit obsessed with olives and the combination with the creamy and smokey taste of the feta along with the crunch of the hearth bread was divine.  The hearth roasted sweet potatoes were smack yo mama good!  This dish could be a side dish as well as a dessert in addition to an appetizer.  The texture of the hearth roasted sweet potatoes was perfect, and popcorn and miso butter added a perfect balance of sweet and savory.  I’m still dreaming about this.  The shishito peppers were tasty with a slight fish flavor from the bonito! So Good! 

Plate with moked feta, marinated olives, hearth bread
Smoked feta, marinated olives, hearth bread
hearth roasted sweet potatoes, miso butter, popped sorghum
Hearth roasted sweet potatoes, miso butter, pooped sorghum
oysters Rockefeller, grilled oysters, creamed poblano, parmesan, herb bread crumbs
Oysters Rockefeller: grilled oysters, creamed poblano, parmesan, herb bread crumbs
hearth blistered shishito peppers, miso mayo, cilantro, bonito flakes
Hearth blistered shishito peppers, miso mayo, cilantro, bonito flakes

I shared a video on my Instagram of the shishito peppers covered in bonito flakes, and many people commented asking if my food was alive.  In case you’re wondering too, no. The movement was from the bonito flakes which are dried, smoked shavings of bonito fish; they’re so light and wispy the steam from the hot food makes them dance. 

Shishito peppers with bonito flakes

We moved on to the entrees by ordering the scallops, lamb shank, and salmon. Watching as the chefs prepared scallops prompted me to order my own.  I wasn’t disappointed.  The lamb shank also stood out, it was tender and flavorful.  

Promontory Music Venue

After our wonderful meal, we headed up to the 2nd-floor venue to catch the show featuring New Orleans brass band, the Abney Effect, part of the monthly Fat Tuesdays at the venue. 

The Promontory Music Venue

The energy, stage presence, and musicality had me in awe!  It was spectacular!  The crowd loved it; everyone was dancing and having a good time.  FYI, my cocktail in the upstairs venue was again delicious.  The Promontory has a plethora of culturally diverse shows for you to jam with. Click here for their full lineup and be sure add Dinner and a Show at The Promontory to your list of things to do in Chicago!   

*The dinner and show was complimentary, however, all opinions are mine and genuine.

New Orleans Brass Band, the Abbney Effect

The Abney Effect
The Abney Effect at The Promontory

Click here for another great place to spend your evening in Chicago.

Tempura fried shrimp, arugula pistou, cauliflower, Fresno chilis, peanuts, crunchy quinoi, baby greens

Best Chicago Restaurants: Girl’s Night at Cafe Robey

With so many fantastic restaurants in Chicago, especially in Wicker Park, it can be a challenge to stand out as one of the best. 

Café Robey situated inside the Robey Hotel is a standout in my opinion.  I recently enjoyed a much-needed girls night there with my friend April a.k.a The Tipsy Housewife.  It was the perfect spot. When it comes to Girl’s Night, the place is almost as important as the company, lol. It’s not something that happens weekly so we choose our places wisely.

Cafe Robey checks all the boxes for food, atmosphere, wine, and excellent service.  Our server was not only a conversationalist; he was also knowledgeable and excited about the menu and recommendations.  The icing on the cake was The Up Room, a cocktail lounge located on the rooftop of the hotel.  It was the perfect way to end a fantastic dinner!

Inside of Cafe Robey's dining area
Cafe Robey Dining Room

I find it humorous that I’ve been introduced to yet another fabulous restaurant located inside of a hotel within a few months span since I’ve stated maybe too loudly in the past that I avoid all restaurants located in hotels because of past experiences with overpriced and underwhelming food. I was first blown away by Chef Caray of The Ashburn located inside of Loews Hotel O’Hare. Therefore, I’m developing a more open mind; perhaps some of the best Chicago restaurants are inside of hotels.

Two women enjoying wine at Cafey Robey restaurant
Girl’s Night

Location

The Wicker Park neighborhood is a great destination for delicious food in Chicago! The Modern American fare restaurant sits at the famous 6 section intersection that gives me a pinch of anxiety every time I drive through it because you can bet your life I will misread the signs yet again and go down the wrong street. I think I’ve gotten it right once, lol.

Ambiance

The stunning interior and intimate lighting inside the cozy space is pleasing to the eyes and relaxing. I was glad that I dressed up! In addition, the seating is oh so comfortable, I swiftly melted into it. Adding wine to this formula made for animated and natural conversation which is what girls’ night should be; real and raw dialogue sharing all of who did or said what to you with your friends and enjoying the moment. We covered everything under the sun; business, loss, religion, family, foolishness, you name it! I intend on introducing more of my girlfriends to this place.

Wine Specials

I recommend ordering a bottle of wine as the restaurant offers a nice variety of reds and whites. In addition, Monday through Thursday you can get full bottles of wine for ½ off. Good incentive to go out for a drink during the week. Our waiter recommended two different bottles for us and though we relished them both, the O.P.P made us stop in our tracks. I’ll be getting that every time.

Monday-Thursday all bottles of wine are half-off!

Menu Offerings

Braised Pork Belly: 5-min egg, piccalilli mustard, paratha bread, ale pork jus, bibb lettuce, Uplands cheese foam
Pork Belly

We ate a large portion off the menu and loved every minute of it.  I’m more apt to remember everything I ate over everything we talked about, especially over 2 bottles of wine. 

Porchini Pappadelle: braised oxtail, glazed mushrooms, creme fraiche, lemon zest, herbs
Porchini Pappadelle

Some of the highlights from the evening were the tempura fried shrimp, it’s always a risk for me to eat anything fried since it usually doesn’t sit well with me, however, the shrimp was so light. It didn’t bother me one bit.  The porchini pappadelle was another favorite.  I savored the flavor of the rich gravy over the perfectly cooked pasta.  The dill gave it a nice refreshing balance.  The seared scallops and beef tartar were my other 2 favorites.  Cafe Robey ranks as one of the best restaurants in Chicago for beef tartar in my opinion, it was definitely the best I’ve had so far.

Seared sea scallops, English pea romesca, potato fondant, fried garlic scrapes, Aleppo chili, Boquerones, pea tendrils
Seared Sea Scallops

The ganache for dessert was the perfect ending to an incredible meal.  I’m not big on overly sweet desserts so this was a good option for me. Loved it!

Beef Tartar:  Diced New York Strip, Stout Gougeres, blue cheese, arugula, seared pearl onions, cherry tomatoes, potato chips
Beef Tartar
Dark chocolate ganach, cookie crumbs, honeycomb, strawberries, almond tuile, vanilla ice cream
Dark Chocolate Ganache

After our fantastic meal, we headed upstairs to the UP Room for a cocktail. The lounge is on the 13th floor of the Robey Hotel.  I had no idea what to expect and was beyond impressed by this discovery.  This rooftop lounge has a spectacular view of the city, so anyone looking for a special night out in Chicago should check it out.

Final Thoughts

Cafe Robey is one of the best choices for restaurants in Chicago when you want the whole package. Hence, I see many girls nights here in my future as well a few date nights with the hubby.

The Up Room Cocktail Lounge on the 13th floor of the Robey hotel
The Up Room
Wine at the Up Room cocktail lounge
The Up Room Cocktail Lounge
Two women toasting at Cafe Robey restaurant
Wine and Conversation at Cafe Robey

Although April and I were hosted for dinner by Cafe Robey, we formed our own opinions and recommendations after an incredible dinner. As a result, I’ll be returning in the near future.

Looking for more casual eating in Chicago? Check out my list for the best spots for fast casual in the Loop.

Utility Box Murals tell the history of Milwaukee

A Weekend Getaway in Milwaukee

Milwaukee is a beautiful city and I can’t for the life of me recall why I’ve never traveled there for a getaway weekend in the past. My husband and I really enjoyed our recent visit there! Dave and I had no idea what to expect besides beer. We were pleasantly surprised during our trip and started planning our next visit to the city while still there.

We only scratched the surface during our exploration as we discovered there’s an abundance of activity to get involved in. We’re going to need several visits to really take in the history, arts, breweries, and culinary scene.

Here are a few highlights from our weekend.

Utility Box Murals tell the history of Milwaukee

Utility Box Mural

Utility Box Murals tell the history of Milwaukee

Utility Box Mural ‘Al McGuire and Marquette University’

Hilton Downtown Milwaukee City Center

Our visit was due to a business trip. Therefore, my husband’s company selected the hotel.  We were both pleased with the choice of the Hilton in downtown Milwaukee.  The hotel was built in 1927 and was originally the Schroeder hotel.  It’s currently the city’s largest hotel. I was obsessed with architecture as there were so many attractive features and details!  I can just imagine the lavishness of the guests who frequented the hotel in the 1920’s and 30’s.   The preservation and balance between old and new are perfect!  Also, the rooms were clean, spacious, and quite comfortable.

Friday Evening

Friday evening after check-in we headed out to dinner at Red Light Ramen, a local favorite in the east side neighborhood of Milwaukee.  My husband was a bit skeptical when we arrived, but two of my Chicago foodie friends recommended this spot, and I trust their taste.  The inside is intimate and seats 20 people at most.  I enjoyed the vibe and the Hip Hop coming through the speakers whiled we dined.  I even started chair dancing at one point much to Dave’s embarrassment!  Whatever I gotta be me.

Our server recommended that I try one of their slushies as it’s a cocktail favorite and I’m so glad that I did.  It was a Bourbon slushy, and it was incredible!  I wanted a second, but I could only handle one, didn’t want to be asleep under the table.    My husband did order a second bowl of ramen though after happily devouring the first one.  The ramen was delicious so I couldn’t blame him.  I made him share some of that second bowl with me.

Foundation Tiki Bar

Desiring an additional cocktail after dinner, we headed to a tiki bar named Foundation in Milwaukee’s River West neighborhood.  This place was the real deal!  My amazing cocktail only topped the ambiance!  We relaxed as if we were on an exotic vacation. It’s a great gathering spot and on the list when we visit again.

Saturday Brunch

No matter where I go, I’m brunching somewhere!  We decided to hit Blues Egg to fuel up.  Blues Egg is known for their pulled ham that’s pickle brined 21 days and slow roasted for 12 hours, stuffed hashbrowns, and monkey bread that allows you the option get it “crunk.”  Crunk Monkey bread comes with a sinfully delicious Bourbon sauce that also goes well in your coffee.

Our server’s name was Peter, and he was delightful from start to finish.  It’s obvious that he loves people and enjoys what he does.  Peter offered to order for me.  I don’t mess around with my food, but feeling adventurous, I handed him the reigns.  He asked me a few questions and told me that he knew just the thing for me.

Dave had the Creamy Polenta; poached eggs, roasted mushrooms, braised kale, sauce fonduta while Peter chose the Far-Flung Wrap for me:  scrambled eggs, house-made turkey sausage, aged provolone, curry tortilla, sour cabbage, avocado, chili hollandaise, and mushroom stuffed hashbrowns.  Although I’m not big on wraps because they’re just meh to me, the flavor of this tortilla got me. It had a slight bit of heat to it and was tasty.  The sour cabbage was yummy; if it were pickled, it would’ve been kimchi.

Overall, I was very happy with Peter’s choice for me and the combination of flavors.  Blues Egg was my favorite meal from the weekend.  In addition to the food, the atmosphere just gave me happy feelings.  It could have something to do with the Motown sounds that were coming through the speakers. It just reminded me of our large family gatherings; always centered around food and music.  I can’t recommend this place enough.

Blues Egg Far Flung Wrap

Far-Flung Wrap

Blues Egg's Creamy Polenta

Creamy Polenta

Saturday Afternoon

Looking to get a bit of sightseeing in before heading to work meetings we rode over to Miller Town to peek around.  Miller Brewery began in 1855 and is one of the oldest breweries in the United States.  Driving along the roadway through Miller Town feels like you’re going back in time.  We didn’t have enough time to do the brewery tour; it’s on the list for our next visit.  I did pop in at Miller Inn, a Bavarian-style stein hall, to glance around.  There’s a lot of history in there, and the interior is beautiful, with stained-glass windows, and artistic woodwork.  The historic Miller Caves are located right behind the inn.  The caves were dug in 1849 and were originally used to keep the beer cool.  Nowaday’s the space is used to host beer pairing dinners.

Miller Inn

Historic Miller Inn

Miller Caves

Historic Caves at Miller Inn

Seeing as Dave and I are both art lovers, we sought out a few of the cities murals.  My favorite stop was in Black Cat Alley in the East Side neighborhood.  Once an empty alley, this destination is now filled with 30,000 square feet of artist’s murals, therefore, you’ll want to spend some time there admiring the work.

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Black Cat Alley

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Black Cat Alley

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‘Fly Boy’

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‘Jazz Goat’

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John Kowalczyk

Several times throughout the weekend Dave or I would comment how good of a time we were having in the city and wished that we could stay another day to take in more of the sights.

Because we were so fascinated with the architecture in our hotel, we decided to stop and peek at another hotel in a historic building. The Hilton Garden Inn is housed in the 1846 built Loyalty building, and the staircase, details, and skylight are stunning!

So much to see so little time!  As much as I love beer, it was interesting that we didn’t hit up as many breweries as we could. But we did drink beer, just to be clear, lol.  We just hung at the pub.  We’re planning a brewery crawl for our next visit.

Miller Pub

Sunday

On our way home we stopped for breakfast at Mad Rooster Cafe in West Milwaukee and it’s another culinary winner!  I had the Mad Omelette, and I wasn’t mad about my choice :).  Add it to the list of breakfast places to dine at during your visit.

I can’t say enough about our weekend in Milwaukee, who knew!  Not many!  When I shared portions of our trip in my Instagram story, I received comments along the lines of “wow, I didn’t know Milwaukee was so nice!”  Now you know!  Tell me, have you visited Milwaukee?  Where should I go next time? Inform me in the comments!

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Mad Rooster Cafe

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Mad Omelet

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Utility Box Mural

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Civil Rights Utility Box Mural

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Hilton Garden Inn Interior

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Cudahy Tower

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Cudahy Tower Built in 1907

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Hilton Downtown Milwaukee

Miller Inn

Stained Glass inside Miller Inn

Utility Box Mural, Downtown Milwaukee

Best Things to do in Chicago During December

I look forward to December in Chicago every year; not because I like the cold and snow but because of all of the activities packed into the month.  There’s so much to do in the month of December with many events being free or low cost so most can take advantage of them!  Here’s a list of can’t miss activities happening during December in the city!

Christkindle Market

Inspired by the Christkindle Market in Nuremberg, Germany, this free outdoor market takes place in Daley Plaza.    Explore German food, drinks, shopping, and entertainment thru December 24th.   You can also catch the market in Naperville.  Entry into the Christkindle Market is FREE.

One-of-a-Kind Show at The Mart

Browse hundreds of handmaid one-of-a-kind items from over 600 artists at The Mart December 6-9th!  Tickets start at $12 or choose from ticket packages starting at $18.  Pro Tip:  If you sign up for emails from some of the featured artists you can score free tickets. Shoppers will have the opportunity to meet and engage with participating artists to learn about them, their creative process, and their work while shopping art, fashion, jewelry, wood, photography, glass, furniture, home goods, pet products, bath & body, and so much more!  Everything you’re looking for in one place!

Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon

Take in the skyline as you skate the ribbon at Maggie Daley Park.  This family-friendly activity is always a highlight of winter in Chicago.

Art on The Mart

This free display happens Wednesdays-Sundays from 7-9pm.  Hang out on the Chicago River Walk as the Merchandise Mart turns into the largest digital art projector in the world.  Thirty-four projectors will showcase the works of four renowned contemporary artists during the 2-hour shows.  The Mart spans two city blocks and is over 25 stories high, don’t miss this spectacular display

West Town Winter Fest’s Jolly Trolley

Hop on the Jolly Trolley to shop the Blocks of West Town during Winterfest on December 8th.  Over 20 retailers will feature special promotions, one-of-a-kind items, and trunk sales.  The guided tour lasts 3 hours, features all the shopping blocks and provides a “checked shopping bag” service, so you don’t have to worry about your gifts while you shop. Receive a $20 Gift Certificate when you purchase a $10 Jolly Trolley ticket.  Adult beverages are provided during the trolley ride.

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo

The one-of-a-kind experience offers fun, free, family-oriented festivities, and hundreds of dynamic displays all under the glow of 2.5 million lights.  Zoolights is free entry.

Lincoln Park Zoo Lights

Photo courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo

Ride the Polar Express

Hop on board AMTRAK’s Polar Express taking off from Chicago’s Famous Union Station! This is the only time it’s acceptable to wear your pajamas in public, since guests are encouraged to come dressed in their PJs, lol.    Each 3-hour memorable ride includes live entertainment, delicious hot chocolate, a cookie, and a keepsake.

Navy Pier’s Winter Wonderfest

Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier is an annual Chicago winter event, featuring 170,000 square feet of carnival rides, giant slides, holiday-themed activities, and Indoor Ice Skating Rink, and more.

Illumination:  Tree Lights at Morton Aboretorum

Walk a mile long paved path amid a multitude of colors as interactive lighting effects highlight the beauty of trees in winter. Enjoy seasonal music, stare in amazement at the ever-changing, interactive lighting designs, and warm up by a crackling fire with a cozy drink or roast marshmallows for s’mores. Purchase tickets here.

Check Out the Winky Lux Experience

The WINKY LUX EXPERIENCE is a pop-up inside The Shops at Northbridge There are seven Instagrammable rooms waiting for you to let loose and get creative in.  I think the guys enjoyed it just as much as us ladies. The tour is free but you may want to pick up some of Winky Lux’s cruelty-free beauty products while you’re there.

Navy Pier Fireworks

Take in the New Years Eve Fireworks Show over Lake Michigan on December 31st starting at 12 a.m.  This event is free!

Navy Pier Fireworks

Photo courtesy Navy Pier

ChicagoDec

 

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

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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.

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Sweetgreen: 1 N. Dearborn

 

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

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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.  

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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!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

IMG_0109Quimet y Quimet: Smoked Salmon, fresh cheese, truffle-hone, balsamic and crisp bread

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Smoked Pork Croqueta: mojo verde and pickled peppers

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

 

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

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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.

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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