Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Highlights of Ravinia with ZZ Top and John Fogerty

When I first received an email about Ravinia, I have to confess that I had no idea what it was. I had heard of it, but didn’t think of it beyond being a venue in Chicagoland. I was certainly wrong about that.

Ravinia is actually the longest running outdoor music festival in North America. 

Unlike what you would normally expect from a “festival,” this one lasts for four months and has been taking place for over 50 years. It is also non-profit.

Each year, from June-September, Ravinia Festival schedules 140 musical performances, from classical to rock. 

Among those for 2018 are Diana Ross, Tony Bennett, and Seal.

My friend and photographer, Brittany, and I went through the schedule to decide which event would work best for us. 

We decided on the concert with ZZ Top and John Fogerty, neither of which we had ever seen.

We drove to see the event. I was not feeling my best and was immediately impressed with their complimentary and easy to find handicapped parking, for which I have a permit.

I continued to get even more impressed with the venue. Not only was the parking easy, but there was actually a Highland Park train station right there for those who didn’t want to drive.

Once inside, Ravinia is filled with food and drink – or you can bring your own. That’s something you rarely see at a music festival, but is encouraged here.

The lawn picnic at Ravinia is well-known to those who have been coming here for years with family and friends. 

Some bring snacks and sandwiches with wine and soft drinks, while others have elaborate spreads with bar.  

From the lawn (which is quite reasonable), you can’t really see the musical acts, but you can certainly hear them as you relax and celebrate.

If you are looking for a more traditional concert setting, there is also the (covered) reserved seats for a little more money (prices vary by concert, see the schedule here). The Pavilion has 3,400 seats. An indoor venue is also available for a few select winter concerts.

You also do not have to bring your own food, drink, or chairs to Ravinia. They rent chairs, the food court has a selection of offerings, and The Lawn Bar (just opened this year), offers cocktails, wine, and beer.

The concert we chose to attend was phenomenal. ZZ Top was playing at Ravinia for an unbelievable fifth decade. 

You certainly didn’t feel like you were watching 70-year old’s out there. They were fresh and fun, and the audience sang along to every number.

John Fogerty, though not as anxious to show his age, was also a top-notch performer who has also been around a long time.

He made his support of veterans and those currently serving well-known throughout the show, and it was clear the feeling was mutual.

Highland Park is located about 25 miles from downtown Chicago. Since we are another two hours from there, we decided to stay locally at the Country Inn &Suites in nearby Prospect Heights, IL.

Before we left in the morning, I couldn’t resist the opportunity in Chicagoland to stop at a New York style deli, something I can’t find in Champaign.

I decided on Once Upon A Bagel in Northbrook, and went home with some bagels, a knish, and a corned beef sandwich.

I’m looking forward to seeing at least another concert at Ravinia next year. Even if you don’t live near Chicago, it’s worth making a trip to town to see this one of a kind festival.

Visit the Ravinia website to see the schedule and purchase tickets. Don’t forget to check their special offers.



Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A memorable Meal at Juniors

My dad commuted from Eastern Long Island to Brooklyn for 15 years. He used to bring me a cheesecake from Junior’s original location every year for my birthday.

I was about 12 when he started and it continued until he retired. He would then still make the trip to get me my favorite cake.

After my dad passed away and I moved to the Champaign, my mom started sending one for my birthday, as well as any time I needed cheering-up (like when I had surgery).

It’s now come full circle with over 40 years of Junior’s sharing my life.

I was in Florida for the newly opened of Junior’s in Boca Raton.  Mom and I will shared Junior’s in a third state, with another milestone -- she’s leaving Florida and moving to Illinois, so we can once again live in the same place.

Junior’s in Boca Raton looked just like the ones I was used to, with cheesecakes lining the shelves of the bakery area, red and white stripes everywhere, and walls full of nostalgia.

Photos of famous Brooklyn natives, including Barbra Streisand, Jimmy Kimmel, Neil Diamond, and members of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team, were also all over the walls.

The only thing that made this location unusual was the year-round tables out on the patio.

I have to confess that we overdid it when confronted with the Junior’s menu we hadn’t seen in a long time, as well as few extras at this location.

We started with one of their Spiked Shakes, a concoction of a chocolate milkshake and Tito’s Vodka.

With those, the waiter brought us Junior’s complimentary starters, sliced beets and pickles, to eat while we were trying to decide what to get.

The Junior’s menu is a bit overwhelming as it’s filled with comfort food you’ll especially appreciate if you are a New Yorker.

We were guests of the restaurant and they were happy to bring us a selection of their best: a corned beef sandwich with steak fries, potato pancakes with apple sauce, and a turkey Rueben with Cole slaw.

Mom also had a shrimp cocktail. Everything was as good as we remembered from New York.

The hardest part, of course, was deciding which cheesecake to get. 


As a kid, the strawberry (with a delectable almond crust) was my favorite. I had since developed a strawberry allergy so that one was replaced by the Devils Food Cheesecake.

Devils Food Cheesecake puts all of my favorites together: chocolate cake and cheesecake, layered with fudge frosting and topped with chocolate shavings!

Our waiter encouraged us to try a second and we went with the plain cheesecake, topped with cherries.

Needless to say, we were stuffed when we walked out of Junior’s, but felt like we had just left a big meal “at home.”

Unfortunately, the Junior’s in Boca Raton closed soon after I was there. I guess it’s just not understood outside of New York.

If you can’t get to one of the New York locations (which I strongly recommend if you are ever in the area), I am happy to say that they still have cheesecake for sale online -- or you can try to make it yourself. 




Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Fun Day in the Sun at Knights Action Park

As the weather warms, it’s always a great time for an outdoor day trip. I had never been to Knights Action Park in nearby Springfield, Illinois, before and I was anxious to check it out.


For a small amusement park, Knights Action packs a lot in.

They have a waterpark, amusement rides, miniature golf and a golf range, and a racing track.



I had a teen and a pre-teen with me who were anxious to hit the long slides, while I am always happy to grab a tube an relax in a lazy river.

I enjoyed that for a while and ten hit the wave pool, where I met up with Brittany, Jacob, and Kyler.


We walked around for a while and saw the Seal Bay area for younger kids, as well as the river, where they have paddle boats.

Unfortunately, the paddle boats weren’t available the day we where there. It’s something I’d definitely enjoy next time I’m back.


There is a snack bar inside at Knights Action Park, but the consensus was to go outside and take a short drive to Chick-fil-A, which we don’t have in Champaign.

We had gotten the all-inclusive bracelets so we were able to come back in with no problem and continue our activities.




First, I played photographer (and videographer, check out my YouTube video), while the others tried out the go cart racing.

We decided to skip the Ferris Wheel as it was starting to get dark.

It looked like a lot of fun as I watched them go around a few times. Then, we all played a round of miniature golf on the 18-hole Putt Putt course. 
I definitely recommend purchasing an all-inclusive pass at Knights Action Park.

If you live nearby, it’s also worth getting a season pass as only the waterpark closes after Labor Day. 
The passes are also discounted if you buy them before the start of the next May season. (Check their website for details.)

Another thing I didn’t have a chance to check out that I need to come back for is the Route 66 Drive-In Theater, which is under the same ownership as Knights Action Park.




Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Fun Day Trip to St. Louis

I always enjoy my trips to St. Louis. There is always so much to do there. I try to stay over, but sometimes a day trip is better than not going at all.

I headed west with my friend Brittany and her brother, Jacob.

We picked up Amanda on the way and we were
ready to have some fun.

The first stop was City Museum.

I was a City Museum once before and was extremely impressed.

It’s nearly impossible to see everything on one trip, plus they do change some of the exhibits, so I was more than ready to go back.



You know at the beginning your in someplace different because the ticket counter was actually a teller’s box from the St. Louis Title Company.


I think the Caves at City Museum is my favorite spot. The formations inside are fascinating. You just have to keep track of where you are – and watch your step. I wouldn’t let any small children wonder in there by themselves.

The artwork is also fascinating. A lot of it is just pieces of what was referred to as “junk,” reappointed into a unique design.

Climbing is a big theme at this museum and it’s something kids love to do.

It’s nice that there are places you can sit and take a break while you can still keep an eye on the climbers.

City Museum also offers places to get something to eat or drink, including the restaurant Samwhiches in the City, which continually has chocolate chip cookies coming from the oven to go with kid-friendly meals, and Cabin Inn for snacks.

When the Rooftop is open, you also have the options of Grill Master Tony’s Outdoor BBQ and the Roof Top Cantina.

The specialty restaurants aren’t the only things worth going to the Rooftop for.

It’s certainly the most unique outdoor space you’ll see for kids to play in, with a real Ferris wheel, a school bus, and slides.

As a kid, I would go to the St. Louis Zoo when I was in the city visiting family. I hadn’t returned as an adult before this trip.

Like many other attractions inn Forest Park, the Zoo is free so there’s no excuse not to visit.

You can easily fill a half day and it wouldn’t be hard to find things to do to spend the entire day there.

We did get the Adventure Pass. I think it’s well worth it.

For $12.95, you get admission to just about all the extras at the Zoo: Zooline Railroad, the Children’s Zoo, the Carousel, the 4D Theater, petting Stingrays at Caribbean Cove, and the Sea Lion Show.

Throughout the park we found interactive signs to keep us involved and informed about the creatures there.

The Zoo is very spread out so be ready for a lot of walking. We took a break by boarding the train.

Before we headed home, we stopped at the Peacock Diner.

It was my first time there and it’s a cool place to check out for a family-friendly meal.

It was a great day for any time of year. That’s the thing about St. Louis: you’ll always find plenty to do without having to spend a lot of money!

Check out some of my videos from the St. Louis Zoos on my You Tube Channel. 



Monday, May 14, 2018

Lincoln Park Zoo and Patio at Café Brauer

I’ve never been to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. I confess I’m always the one that goes far away before near to see things. 

I lived in New York over 40 years and I never went to the Statue of Liberty (I did take the Circle Line boat ride around it a few times).

Two things brought me to finally plan a trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo: the opening of the Patio at Café Brauer for the season, and a toddler who I knew would be mesmerized by her first experience with the animals.

The drive to Chicago with a toddler was definitely different. 

It had been a while since I had a little one on a long car drive and it was her first long car ride, but Brittany and Jessie, Andrea’s mom, helped keep her occupied from the front seat while I entertained her with phone videos. 

We also put a few extra stops into the ride that was usually two hours straight.

When we arrived at the zoo, I think I was the most excited. I love zoos and couldn’t believe I hadn’t been to this one before. 

A free zoo on the lake of the Chicago skyline? It should be on the list of everyone within a few hours.

The zoo did not disappoint inside either. They had a great selection of animals and we were sure to check out all of them.



Andrea seemed to love anything in the water, especially the turtles.

I was enthralled in the penguins, seemingly performing on demand for us, and the Polar Bears in the Arctic Tundra.

Then, of course, the faithful Leo in me always gravitates toward Lions, as well as tigers and leopards.

I also thought the dwarf mongoose were adorable as they huddled together.

We also spent a little time in the Goat Yard, the Small Mammal-Reptile House, and the Regenstein Center for African Apes, all of which have personnel on hand during the day for talks and public feedings (you can check the schedule on the website).


Café Brauer is on the edge of the Lincoln Park Zoo. From their patio, which has music on certain nights during the warm months, you have a great view of the Chicago skyline.
We were quite hungry by the time we got to Café Brauer and started with two of their most popular appetizers, the Mini Beef Tacos and the Tomato Mozzarella Twists.

I was partial to the tacos, but both were quite good.




For a main course, I’d highly recommend the Cuban Sandwich and the Buttermilk Fried Chicken sandwich. Both were favorites at our table.

We also had a little room left for dessert and the Cookie Skillet, served with ice cream, was the perfect choice and big enough to share.

I will definitely be back to the Lincoln Park Zoo, which is open 365 days a year, as well as Café Brauer, open most of those days and evenings, with specials on holidays.

Check for the best hotel prices in Chicago now at TripAdvisor.