Friday, September 25, 2015

A Perfect Lake Geneva Farewell

It was the final day in Lake Geneva with my friends Cortney and Amy.

We had been up late the previous night and slept in at Maxwell Mansion. We each had our own rooms and I loved my General Ulysses S. Grant suite.

I took one final bath in my antique soaking tub before we headed back to the Baker House for a fun and delicious brunch.

The Baker House keeps its 19th century image with period dress for the employees and hats for all of the visitors to wear.

We were greeted politely and, after we chose from the hats, were escorted us to our table overlooking the lake.

We were told the brunch came with unlimited champagne. We each had a glass before I switched to tea and received a lovely pot with a glass of honey.

Each downstairs room of the Baker House mansion contained different food items for one of the best brunches I’ve ever had.

The bar was set up as an omelet and eggs benedict station and the bartender was happy to customize your eggs any way you would like.

Every room was warm and comforting. Chafing dishes were set up with everything from Chicken and Dumplings to Bread pudding in the main living room and salads lined the hallways of Baker House.

The desserts were on tiered trays and in antique cups. There was also a chocolate fondue with plenty of choices for dipping, including fresh fruit, marshmallows, pretzels, and cookies.

First, we had salads, then went on to the main course breakfast. Cortney went for the eggs benedict with some bacon, while I went for a veggie-filled omelet.

We both indulged in the potatoes au gratin, which were rich and also delicious. As much as we wanted to try more, we were stuffed.

After we finished eating, we went for a tour of the Baker House rooms. They were all quite elegant and we were told they were adding a small, exclusive spa to give the guests even more of a luxury experience.

When the tour was over, we headed back to Maxwell Mansion to pack up our things and bid our hosts farewell.

It was a scenic drive along the lake to Avani Spa at the AbbyResort and we were ready to be pampered.

Our afternoon started with relaxing massages and then we were served lunch in the private sanctuary suite at Avani Spa

The suite was private and also had a pool and lounge area. We lounged for a while. It was a perfect way to end a girls’ getaway to LakeGeneva, a place I will certainly be returning to.



Thursday, September 17, 2015

Wine, Dine, and History in Lake Geneva

It was day two of my girls’ getaway in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I had brought two friends on this trip, Cortney and Amy, and we were having a blast.

I let them sleep in at Maxwell Mansion and I met with Karen Arthur, Lake Geneva's Convention & Visitor's Bureau Marketing & Communications Manager, for breakfast at Simple Café. It was a bright and friendly spot with an inviting menu.

We talked about everything there was to see in Lake Geneva and I knew this trip would only be the first of many.

It was also probably going to be the first of more trips to Simple as their Pumpkin Pancakes were delicious.

I went straight from breakfast back to the Lunt-Fontanne Project Center for a tour of the Ten Chimneys estate that had once belonged to the acting duo of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.

Maggie and Richard, dressed as Dolcet and the Shadow, were my guides. I received a private tour because I was working on a Midwest Living Magazine story, but public tours are available. It’s fun and informative, and something I definitely recommend for anyone coming into the Lake Geneva area.

After the tour, I drove to the waterfront of Lake Geneva at Riviera Beach. I met Cortney and Amy there for lunch at Popeye’s.

Popeye’s is a Lake Geneva staple. It’s a family-friendly restaurant with a large variety of food.

We started with their Baked Brie. It’s baked in a garlic butter with tomatoes and covered with roasted almonds.

The brie was served with fresh baked rolls. It was quite good, as were our main courses: a Ruben; Pulled Pork; and a Gyro.

We were really full, but the waitress urged us to try some desserts, so we ordered and nibbled on the Banana Cream Pie.

We spent a few minutes admiring the beach before heading into the car and over to Staller Estate Winery.

I could tell as soon as I walked in their store that they had a large selection of wine and we were all excited to taste.

Staller does has wine flights so you can decide what type of wine you want to sample.
Since I consider tasting as much as possible part of my job, I did just that.

I can’t say there was anything I didn’t like, but among my favorites were: the Horizon Cuvee, similar to a moscato, but more citrus and less sweet; Blanc de Crescent, a slightly dry white wine with a vanilla and apricot flavor; Maiden Blush, a fruity blush wine with some floral notes; and Lady in Red, a rich and berry filled red with a hint of white pepper.

We took a tour of the wine production and the vineyards before going to a totally different winery not far away.

Studio Winery combines wine, art, and music in a creative warehouse-like space. It’s the brain child of Kathy & Doug Jackson, who wanted to put together those three loves in one place.

Doug took us through a tasting of the wines. They have about a dozen, with musical names such as Amadeus and Ringo, a semi-sweet red I really enjoyed.

We did a tour of the facility before sitting down to listen to the band and have some cheese, with the wine we had chosen as our favorite, Coltrane, made from the Wisconsin grape, which has a bit of honeysuckle sweetness.

We headed back to Maxwell Mansion for a break before the evening activities.

I relaxed in a bath in my suite before dressing for dinner.

It was a nice night and we decided to walk to Sopra Bistro, about a half mile away.

This quaint Italian restaurant smelled wonderful and we suddenly got very hungry. It was a good thing because there was plenty of delicious food.

We started with a roasted beet salad with goat cheese and a house-made Burrata cheese. I went for the pasta with fresh vegetables while they had seafood. Everything was cooked perfectly.

For dessert, we split the cheesecake and chocolate cake.

We were more than ready to burn off some calories so we walked down to the water to the Baker House.

Bethany Souza, who owns Maxwell Mansion and the Baker House fiancé Andrew Fritz, had invited us to come down for a drink and take a look.

To say I was impressed by Baker House would be a huge understatement. I loved the period pieces, the atmosphere, and even the staff, who dressed the part and made everyone feel welcome.

They even provided unique hats for guests to wear.

We took a tour and enjoyed a drink at the Ringmasters Roost Bar before Bethany met up with us and drove us back to Maxwell Mansion 1856.

It was getting late, but that was the point of our next stop. The Member’s Speakeasy at Maxwell Mansion doesn’t open until late at night.

The set up was quite comfortable, with seating spread out in three small rooms. Although the drink list was filled with classics such as Negronis and Old Fashioned, it was a small place with personalized service and a bartender that was there to please.


It had been a very long day so we just enjoyed one drink in the Speakeasy before heading to our rooms and resting up for our last day in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Discovering Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

It wasn’t long after I moved to the Midwest before I started hearing about Lake Geneva. I honestly didn’t know much about the Wisconsin town before this, but when I met with a representative of their Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) at the Chicago Travel Show, I knew that I had to put it on my trip list.

Finding a friend to come along was an easy task. In fact, my friends Cortney and Amy were both begging to come. I checked with the Lake Geneva CVB who was making all the arrangements, and they agreed that it sounded like the makings of a great girls’ getaway. They weren’t wrong.

The drive to Lake Geneva only took a few hours. We arrived at Maxwell Mansion 1856 late afternoon and were immediately taken with the property.

Chicago Surgeon Dr. Philip Maxwell built this property for him and his wife to move into in 1856. It joined the list of Lake Geneva properties that had become vacation homes for the wealthy in Chicago.

Among those who have stayed at Maxwell Mansion were General Ulysses S. Grant and future First Lady Nancy Davis (later Nancy Reagan).

The property changed hands a few times before being purchased 2012 by Bethany Souza and Andrew Fritz.

The couple had already restored the Baker House mansion into a boutique property and they had similar plans for Maxwell Mansion.

The common rooms were updated and both an Apothecary Bar and Cognac Lounge on the ground floor of this Lake Geneva house, and a Speakeasy Bar downstairs were added.

There are also numerous sitting areas so that guests feel the comfort of a Bed & Breakfast, though no breakfast is served here.

The current Maxwell Mansion 1856 retains the quaint luxury of the original house, but there is now an additional building with more modern touches. The Carriage House at Maxwell Mansion has whirlpool tubs and memory foam mattress, neither of which would have been available in General Grant’s day.

We got to experience it all as I stayed in the grandest suite in the original house, the General Grant Suite, while Amy and Cortney stayed in the Carriage House.

My suite did have Wi-Fi and a flat screen TV, but it was still very traditional. I loved the fireplace, self-standing soaking tub, and antique desk, not to mention the very comfortable king-sized bed.

After we settled in, we changed for dinner. We were heading to the Chophouse at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa. This place had quite a bit of history of its own as it was once a Playboy Mansion.

Aside from some relics displayed from the old “Bunny” days, Grand Geneva is very much a contemporary resort and the Chophouse definitely offered dinner with a view.

The service at the Geneva Chophouse was impeccable from the moment we sat down and they brought the bread and accompaniments, along with one of my favorite wines, Kim Crawford’s Sauvignon Blanc.

Amy and Cortney started off raving about the restaurant as soon as they got the scallop appetizer, which were seared and topped with bacon from Nueske's, a Wisconsin farm.

While I couldn’t eat the scallops, I did love the Caprese Salad, with locally sourced mozzarella and tomatoes, drenched in a balsamic and olive oil.

We all loved our main courses: Sea Bass with capers and lemon for Cortney; Short Ribs for me; and a Pork Chop for Amy.   

It was hard to narrow down the side dishes, but we made good choices by picking the Asparagus in lemon butter, Brussel sprouts with shallots, and Lobster Mac & Cheese.

We had to rush off the a very special performance so there was no time for dessert, but the staff insisted we take some cheesecake to go and that’s something I never turn down.

Our next stop was at the Lunt-Fontanne Program Center, which is a non-profit set up to pay tribute to actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne on the land they once owned and lived in.

This Lake Geneva property not only houses many artifacts from their time on stage and screen, but it has become a learning institute for up and coming actors.

Each year, a celebrity is chosen to lead a group at the school. This year it was Olympia Dukakis and we were honored to be given tickets to see her send off.

I had always been a fan of Olympia Dukakis and especially loved her character in Steel Magnolias Listening to her speak was a pleasure as she was fun and informative about her experiences with other actresses – especially Shirley McClain – and her life as an actor.

The show was wonderful and I was excited about coming back in the morning to tour the Ten Chimneys estate. In the meantime, we headed back to Maxwell Mansion.

Although we were all exhausted and ready to head to our beds, we did manage to finish off the dessert we had brought from the Geneva Chophouse. As expected, it was delicious.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

24 Hours in Palm Beach, Florida

It was a short trip, but I had some time before meeting my mom for her birthday celebration, so I decided to go for it.

I had flown into West Palm Beach Airport more times than I can remember. 

From there I always headed straight into Delray Beach without even exploring the area, even though I never actually got to the “beach,” the area didn’t disappoint.

This time, with an invitation to stay at The Chesterfield, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, I decided to stick around Palm Beach – at least for 24 hours. While I was there I decided to check out a few restaurants.

The Palm Beaches include many towns, including Ocean Ridge, Palm Beach Gardens, South Bay, West Palm Beach, and Riviera Beach.

The area has its own airport so I was able to fly right in from Chicago. 

Palm Beaches Tourism arranged for a car to pick me up and take me to Avocado Grill for lunch, where I would learn more about this region – while enjoy a fantastic lunch.

I knew I would have to come back here when I had more time to see more of the beaches, boutiques, and attractions. I also found a restaurant I wanted to return to.

Ashely, Director of Public Relations and Communications for Discover The Palm Beaches, and her Colleague, Veronica, arranged for my pick up at the airport and took me to Avocado Grill.

This bright restaurant was a dream for a flexitarian like me, with a ton of vegetarian (and even vegan) options.

We decided to go for a bunch of small plates and I bowed to their tantalizing suggestions as I sipped a fruity mule.

The Grilled Avocado Wedges were filled with a mango and watermelon salad and I could have made a meal on these alone, but there was so much else to eat.

I loved the Mushroom Fricassee with cheddar grits, truffle oil, and chives, and the guacamole was perfectly tasty and not too spicy – the way I like it.

My favorite of all were the Stuffed Crispy Zucchini Blossoms. They were stuffed with goat cheese and topped with walnuts, tomato jam, and mints. I highly recommend the trip to Avocado Grill in Palm Beach for these alone.

Dessert was even more satisfying. You can never go wrong with peanut butter and chocolate and Avocado Grill’s Brownie deliciously satisfied my sweet tooth.

I checked into The Chesterfield after lunch. It is a boutique property with a feeling of welcoming luxury.  

I especially loved the courtyard patio and pool, both offering privacy and comfort.

My room was large and comfortable. It felt a bit like an old fashioned B&B, but had updated touch-ups like a large soaking tub. (I was glad to see this hotel had not given way to the awful trend of eliminating bathtubs.)

I finished up some work before my friend Susan, who lives down in Florida, came to meet me for dinner.

The choice for dinner was the opposite of what my lunch had been. 

The Meat Market was a sophisticated nightspot that reminded me of South Beach. And, as you can tell by the name, the menu was a lot different than Avocado Grill.

Meat Market is a high end steakhouse with a few surprises and we were anxious to try as many as possible, starting with the salads.
We also shared the Roasted Beet Salad, which was quite flavorful. It had herbed goat cheese and was covered in a truffle honey vinaigrette.

For entrees, Susan thoroughly enjoyed the Buffalo Tenderloin, with a chili and a coffee rub, topped with a mole butter.

I got the fantastic Short Rib, which is usually served with a Lobster Risotto, but they let me get a full short rib order since I’m allergic to seafood.

We loaded the table with side dishes as making a decision was difficult. With the help of the waitress, we ordered the best, only regretting that we couldn’t finish any.

You can’t go wrong with any of these. In fact, I wouldn’t mind making a meal of just the side dishes at Meat Market:

Asparagus grilled just right and topped with an herbed butter;
Absolutely delicious Gouda Tator Tots;
White Truffle Mashed Potatoes;
Mac and Cheese, which was prepared with linguine in a rich sauce;
Lobster Risotto.

The dessert menu was tantalizing and it was difficult to narrow down the choices. We went with The Palm Beach Sampler and the S’Mor.

The Sampler included small tastes of the Mango Cheesecake, Crème Brulee, Sorbet, and Dulce de Leche Brownie. All were very good.

The S’Mor was a warm brownie, topped with graham cracker ice cream and marshmallow, than drizzled with a brandy filled caramel sauce. Yes, it was as good as it sounds.

Susan dropped me off at The Chesterfield, where I had a good night’s sleep, followed by a fresh and fruity room service breakfast.

My daughter, Sam, picked me up and we headed to surprise Mom with a birthday girls’ weekend.

I couldn’t have as asked for a better introduction to the Palm Beaches.