Monday, December 23, 2019

Flying through the air in Chicagoland


The Acme Hotel Company in Chicago offers many convenient and unusual amenities, as I had discovered when I arrived with friends the nightbefore. I was ready to try out one of their most interesting in the morning.

Morning Joe is the complimentary coffee delivery provided to each guest by Acme Hotel. We took advantage of this, along with their Knock and Drop Bakery delivery.

The West Town Bakery is at the front entrance of the hotel. It is open to guests and the public, but guests can request their room service from a limited menu.

We decided to try some different things and all of them were fresh and delicious: a chocolate croissant for me; a blueberry muffin for Brittany; and the Breakfast Sammy (bacon, cream cheese and sliced tomato on a bagel) for Scott and Amanda.

I wish we had longer to linger at the hotel. It’s not just my opinion that the Acme Hotel Company is a fun and eclectic hotel, it was voted the No. 1 Hotel in Chicago in the Reader’s Choice Awards by Conde Nast Traveler.

We were off early to Ottawa, Illinois, in the Starved Rock area. Brittany, Scott, and Amanda were going skydiving for the first time. I think I was more nervous than they were!

Six years ago, Scott and I had actually had a discussion about going skydiving. We never got around to it. It was definitely not something I’d consider any more, with my back and joint issues.

We arrived at Sky Dive Chicago about a half hour before our scheduled time. 

I accompanied them as they went through the registration process, which included a weigh-in to make sure they didn’t have to many people in the plane.

After a short wait, they each met their partners for their tandem ride. Each were well-trained.

There was a class a didn’t get to attend but was told they were given instructions on what would happen and safety issues.

When they came back up, I watched them with their partners, putting on their gear and getting last minute instructions.

There are different groups waiting so there aren’t a bunch of planes in the air with people jumping all over.

The group for Brittany, Scott, and Amanda was called. They actually looked pretty calm and I tried to stay that way while I wished them good luck.

They boarded the plane and I watched them go up in the air. That part was easy for me as I’ve been a frequent flier since I was a kid.

It was hard to see exactly who was jumping as they weren’t the only ones in the plane. Once Brittany and Scott came down, I was told Amanda was next, so I was able to watch and film her landing.

Sky Dive Chicago was generous in not only providing the dives, but giving us photos and video. This one is from the plane:


For more information and gift certificates, visit the Skydive Chicago website, who provided the three dives.

It was an experience none of us will forget. I have a feeling my friends will be back when Skydive Chicago re-opens in 2020.



Monday, December 16, 2019

Tons of Fun at Acme Hotel Company

I had passed the Acme Hotel Company on a previous trip to Chicago and it looked really interesting, even from the outside. I was excited when they invited me to visit with my friends.

From the moment we stepped inside I know we were someplace fun.

The check-in at Acme Hotel Company was quick and I boarded the elevator to our suite with my friends. It was filled with music albums from a lot of my favorite artists.

We had the one-bedroom suite, and it was spacious enough for a family or group of friends, with a large pullout couch in the living room and two queen beds in the bedroom.

The music theme continued into the room, where we had our own guitar in the living room! 

We also had modern art out the window and in the room, including a Rolling Stones’ style kiss on our mirror.

An Amazon Echo, with Alexa waiting to play our favorite music or tell the staff if we needed anything. 

We even had a DIY cocktail kit so we could mix our own drinks if we didn’t want to go down to the bar.

Scott, Brittany, and Amanda had a concert to go to (Catfish& the Bottlemen), but I had plenty of time to enjoy the hotel.


First, I headed down to The Berkshire Room for drinks and a light dinner. I always love to sit at the bar when I am alone, and this is especially true when there are interesting drinks to be made. 



The Berkshire Room at Acme Hotel prides itself in its unique and handcrafted cocktails. 

They have some that are Barrel Finished, while others are old favorites with a twist.
These include the Old Fashion turned into “Old Money,” with bourbon, Aperol, Walnut Liqueur, and Allspice (it was delicious).

I also tried the Banana Cognac Cocktail. The concoction of cognac, banana brandy, banana cordial, Falerium, and Angostura bitters was flavorful, but not too sweet.



The selection of spirits, and even bitters, at The Berkshire Room bar is huge, so the bartenders can create anything you want.

While chatting with the staff and customers – the crowd grew as the night went on – I also sampled the Charcuterie plate, filled with interesting cheeses, some from the Midwest. There’s also a menu of mini desserts to end with.



I left Berkshire Room and headed upstairs to change into my bathing suit. I had been anxiously waiting for my next stop, the Bunny Slope.

The Acme Hotel Company has a downstairs with a large fitness center and a room they refer to as a Bunny Slope. The room can be rented out for parties, but, on this night, it was empty.



It was the ultimate in relaxation, with a fireplace, a flat screen tv, and crystal-clear water in the whirlpool.

My friends were back from the concert by the time I returned up to the room. We all chatted for a while, and Amanda played the guitar a bit for us.

It was then time to get some rest before an active following day as we were heading to the Starved Rock area to satisfy some bucket lists.



Friday, October 11, 2019

24 Hour Girls’ Getaway in Chicago, Part 2

It was a very comfortable night at the Hyatt Centric the Loop in Chicago.

We were able to take our time in the morning and I was excited to find out my friend and fellow writer, Kristine Hansen, was in town. We met for breakfast at Cochon Valent Brasserie, just downstairs from the hotel.

Their blueberry pancakes were loaded with fruit and as delicious as everything always is there.

My Joan picked something up to eat and relaxed in the room. and we met up to head over to the Art Institute of Chicago.


I have been to the Art Institute many times. I try to check out all of their special exhibits as well as some of the smaller ones. The exhibition that brought me here this time was Manet and Modern Beauty. 

Edouard Manet was a late 19th century painter known for what was a modern style at the time. He especially flourished when painting women.

The collection, the first of its kind in 50 years, was well worth a trip, but we decided to spend some time looking around. I stopped at some of my favorite classics, including Edward Hopper’s “Night Hawk” and Georgia O’Keefe’s “Cow’s Skull with Calico Roses.” We also saw a temporary exhibit dedicated to artist Jeanne Spring.

Before we left the museum, we stopped to take a look through the powerful display, “The AIDs Crisis Is Still Beginning.” It included newspaper clippings from around the world, showing the history of the crisis. George Bordowitz, I want to Be Well (after 1977 Ramones song) artist 30 years, spent half of his life with AIDS Professor at University of Chicago. Many pieces were from his own collection.


We checked out of the Hyatt Centric Loop. I wish we had been able to check out the Aire Rooftop Bar, but it had been closed before we got back the night before and hadn’t opened yet when we left. Next time!

We chose a very unusual place for lunch. Pinstripes in Chicago is a welcoming place for families or adults to have a lot of fun at, while enjoying good food. Think Chuck E Cheese for gourmets!

You can start here with the activity, food, or drinks. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time for the fun, but we did get to watch other people.

Pinstripes has bowling, even offering shoes for rent. There’s also bocce ball.

As for the food, we loved everything we had. The Stuffed Mushrooms were served warm and gooey, just out of the oven, and were stuffed with goat cheese, spinach, and zucchini.

For the main course, the wood fired oven, which is visible to guests, looked to good to pass up and we ordered pizzas.

I had the Eggplant Flatbread, which had pistachio sprinkled on top for extra flavor, and Joan went for the Margherita. We had plenty left to take home.

Joan agreed with the popular opinion that the Strawberry Shortcake, served in a jar, was fantastic.

Pinstripes Chicago has a full bar that includes many local beers, a selection of wine, and handcrafted cocktails. I sipped a Riesling while Joan thought the Limoncello Martini was great.



Thursday, October 3, 2019

24 Hour Girls’ Getaway in Chicago, Part 1


No matter how many times I go to Chicago, the minute I see the skyline there is an excitement that runs through my veins. I know I’ll always have a fun time in the Windy City.

This trip was for a 24-hour getaway with my friend Joan. We had the perfect mixture of food, activity, and chill time.


We started with lunch at Cantina Laredo. It had been years since I had been there and it was even more welcoming than I remembered, with our seats in front of a gas fireplace.

The waiter brought us tortilla chips and immediately suggested some of their famous margaritas with the current month’s guacamole. It was as delicious as it sounded, with cotija cheese and tomato, for a combination of sweet and a bit spicy.


I sipped one of their fruitful Pineapple Infused Ritas, a mixture of pineapple infused Avion Reposado Tequila and Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur. Joan had the current margarita special, which was Jalapeno.

Although we were starting to get full from devouring every bit of the guacamole, Joan loved the tamales, which were a bit spicy for me, but the Flautitas were amazing. They went especially well with the Passion Fruit Mojito.


Finally, a basket of warm Churros came out, with chocolate and mango sauces, as the perfect finish to our meal. We washed them down with Cantina Laredo’s house-blend coffee, a must try.


I had arranged for us to spend the night at the HyattCentric Loop in Chicago.  We checked in to our large modern room. I enjoyed the large soaking tub and their soft robes before a nap.

Refreshed for the evening, Joan and I headed to City Winery. I had never been there before and was excited to check out this all-inclusive location (winery, restaurant, and concert hall) that’s perfect for dates night or a girls’ getaway.


I had actually heard about City Winery from the representative of AJ Croce. The son of Jim Croce was performing there that night.

The building itself is large and well-appointed, with unique and modern artwork everywhere. The wine is made right here (the only winery in the city of Chicago) for sale and tasting at this location as well as the riverfront venue.

Equally fantastic is the food at City Winery, led by Chef Mark Mendez. Mendez, who previously worked at Carnivale and Vera, put his twists on some standard favorites that we really enjoyed.

I couldn’t say enough about the burrata and the shells and cheese. Joan, who is more of a steak eater than I, raved about the ribeye which was served with gorgonzola butter.

I was impressed with their selection of wine, which included reds, whites, and my favorite, the Riverwalk Rose.

The AJ Croce show, which was opened by the talented Adam Ezra, had the audience singing and laughing. We sipped wine and vowed to check out this newly discovered venue again soon, but that was it for the first half of our getaway, with ore to come in the morning.

For more on the concert and City Winery, read my story on Beat.  



Friday, September 27, 2019

More Cheap Trick, Gardens & Brew in Rockford


When I planned my trip to Rockford, I heard from quite a few people that I must have breakfast at The Stockholm. I was a bit disappointed when it wasn’t on our (very full) schedule, but a twist of fate brought us there anyway. 

The first stop of the day on the Rockford itinerary for Brittany, Amanda, and I was the Anderson Japanese Gardens. We were to have brunch there and then explore. 


Since they were also having an event that day, there was no brunch. That opened up our chance to go to The Stockholm. This restaurant is on the Cheap Trick Trail because of the Rick Nielsen connection. He’s a part-owner and full lover of this restaurant. 

The menu is huge, reminding me of a New York diner, but Swedish specialties where you would see Greek ones. Due to the breakfast mix-up, we were starving by the time we sat down. I ordered a Swedish Coffee Cake for us to share while we waited. 


It was as scrumptious as it looked and certainly whet our appetite for the rest. I always go toward the sweet and I continued with the Swedish pancakes with lingonberries, which are well worth an order at The Stockholm Inn

I also got the potato bake. Although it was delicious, it was a bit too rich for me to have more than a spoonful of. I did pass the rest around the table. 


Brittany and Amanda went for more traditional egg and meat breakfasts and were enjoyed their choice.

The trails were all filled with beautiful plants and flowers and the lakes had colorful fish and ducks. It was a bit warm, but the scenery was tranquil.


We then headed to the Anderson Japanese Gardens. I knew there would be a lot of walking and took my scooter along. Almost all of the garden paths were very accessible. 

With the Japanese Festival taking place there were also booths and additional tea ceremonies taking place (they do have authentic tea ceremonies at other times too). 


The Midway Village is a most unusual place that is a great experience for children and adults. In addition to the recreated 19th century village, representing a typical Northern Illinois town, there is a museum dedicated to the history of Rockford. 

I asked Brittany and Amanda to explore the village while I walked around the much smaller Dollhouse exhibit. We then met up in the museum.

I was really amazed at the history of Rockford after going through the Midway Village Museum. 


There were displays on the Emerson Carriage Company, the immigration to this area from Norway, Sweden, and Italy that was recruited through Ellis Island, and the dedications to the Rockford Peaches, the baseball team you may remember depicted in A League of Their Own. 

Also at Midway Village is another Cheap Trick shoutout, this one a Sock Monkey (Sock Monkeys were also made in Rockford) in their honor. 



We drove through downtown to look at some of the nine murals created in the Rockford CRE8IV project. They are well-worth a look. 

Our last Rockford stop was at Prairie Street Brewing Company, located in the spot Englishman Jonathan Peacock arrived in 1849 with the dream of building a brewery. 



Prairie Street has a large selection on microbrews, with the Peacock, Passion Fruit, and Peach Wheat all getting accolades from Brittany and Amanda. I enjoyed one of their mules, and their house made non-alcoholic root beer. 

The menu is very large and has some interesting things on it. The Poutine was a huge hit and Amanda raved about their creative Trolley Burger, with Applewood bacon, fried egg, provolone, thousand island dressing, and an onion ring. 



For dessert, we shared a rich and chocolatey S’mores Tart. 

Rockford is another Midwest spot that outlived my expectations with so much to see and do. The team at the CVB really put together a great trip for us!


Thursday, September 19, 2019

Food, Discovery, and Wakeboarding in Rockford

The Go Rockford Convention & Visitors Bureau set me up with a full schedule of things to do in Rockford. Fortunately, I had Brittany and Amanda to help me out.

One of the facts we were learning about Rockford is about the large Norwegian and Swedish population that came here. There was a direct link from Ellis Island to Rockford, Illinois, because of the industry here and many of those immigrants established  themselves and remained in the area.
 
Our breakfast was at The Norwegian, known for authentic food, homemade jams, and even their own mocha sauce (delicious in a mocha latte). They also have a stage for music. 

We had our first taste of Æbleskiver, Danish pancake balls. They were quite good, as was the omelet and steak & eggs.
 
After breakfast we drove to Riverfront Museum Campus. We started at the Discover Center Museum. It’s a great family outing as the exhibits appeal to all ages. 

There are also plenty of hands-on activities to keep kids busy, such as a two-story maze and rope climbing.

The Discover Center Museum also honors Astronaut Janice Voss, a Rockford native, and has learning experiences about hospitals and agriculture.


I set Brittany and Amanda to explore the Burpee Museum of Natural History. They are most known for their dinosaur exhibits, some of which were created by skeletons found by the museum’s own researchers.

Rockford’s Museum Campus also has an Art Museum, but we didn’t have time to go there.


Our next stop was the most anticipated of the day: West Rock Wake Park. I had never heard of wake boarding in Central Illinois and this place has it organized for all ages and skills.

The activity is best described as a combination of water skiing, surfing, and ziplining, as you are holding on to a rope as you balance on a board in the water. 

According to my companions, it is easier than it sounds, and I have to agree with their assessment since they were up riding within a short time of their lessons.

Both loved it and definitely want to do it again.  After taking lessons and mastering the ability to stand up on your own, you can by a season pass at West Rock Wake Park and come as often as you’d like. You do not need to buy any equipment as passholders can use the boards, vests, and helmets at the park.

I was impressed with the attention to those with special needs here, as told to me by a mother who  brings her autistic son regularly for lessons. She said he has thrived since the regular wakeboarding.

After showers and rest time back at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center, we had dinner at Lino’s. The family-owned restaurant, which has been in Rockford over 40 years, gave us an amazing, authentic Italian meal, something I don’t get a lot of in the Midwest (unless I cook it).


We started with a liter of their house Chablis and Lino's salad, which included Italian sausage, along with garlic bread. Brittany and Amanda raved over the Shrimp Dejonghe Appetizer, followed by spaghetti and meatballs and chicken parmigiana. I thought the lasagna was wonderful.

It was another full and fun day in Rockford, and we were looking forward to another one coming up.  




Monday, September 9, 2019

Ready for Rockford

I was looking for someplace not too far to go for a last-minute trip. I had never been to Rockford, Illinois, and a quick look at the tourism website showed me there was a lot to do there.

After getting in touch with Andrea Cook, the CVB’s Associate Director of Marketing & Communications, I found out there was more than I ever imagined.

Andrea put together a great itinerary for Brittany, Amanda, and me. It had the right amount of adventure for them and accessible and enjoyable things for me. We also had a big selection of restaurants to try out together.

Our home for the weekend was the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center.  The location was central to the places we were visiting, and our room was big for a standard hotel room.

We had lunch at Mary’s Market CafĂ© & Bakery. The description is in the name as there was plenty to chose from. Everything there was made from scratch, including a variety of breads, and used mostly local ingredients.

The sandwiches were very good and Brittany raved about her fish tacos. I really enjoyed the Watermelon Cucumber Mint Fruit Refresher with my turkey sandwich. We had some chocolate chip cookies for dessert.

One of the things that surprised me about Rockford is all the parks and beaches they have. We couldn’t possibly go to all of them. A stop at the 3,000-acre Rock Cut State Park satisfied a kayaking urge for my friends, and Brittany even saved a little girl’s plastic unicorn boat while on one of the lakes.




After a break at the hotel and a chance to change, we took a walk through the Downtown City Market, which is open Fridays, from June 5th through September 25. The market has some hot food, but also products from nearby vendors such as Raines Honey Farm, Rockford Art Deli, and Bear Moon Soap.

We then went a few blocks to the very popular restaurant, Octane InterLounge, which has been in Rockford for 20 years. This would be the first of many Cheap Trick related stops in Rockford, the place the band got started.

Robin Zander’s son, Ian, worked here for a while. They are also well-known for the Budokon Burger. I concur that the concoction of a beef burger with pineapple, roasted onion, and white cheddar, with teriyaki aioli, was delicious.

We also loved the Pork Dumpling appetizer, which we paired with some of their specialty cocktails, including the Espresso Martini and Ginger Pineapple.

Brittany and Amanda liked their flank steak and seafood pasta choices too.

When it came time for dessert, the choices made it tough, so we decided to get three different ones and share.

The Chocolate Crepe Cake, Nutella Peanut Butter Bao, and Chocolate Nachos (Do you note a theme?!) were all fantastic.

We were pretty tired and had a very full day coming up, so we headed right back to the Radisson Hotel in Rockford for a good night’s sleep.



Sunday, September 1, 2019

Fairmont, Kayaking and BBQ in Chicago

Brittany and I were heading to Chicago for a quick getaway. We had an early morning adventure with the team at Shedd Aquarium so decided to stay over the night before.

I had never stayed at the Fairmont Chicago before and was excited when they decided to host me. It is a luxurious hotel in an ideal location, overlooking Millennium Park and Lake Michigan.

As someone with allergies, I also loved the idea of their “Pure Room,” which are hypoallergenic, using sanitizing technologies to improve the air quality.

Our room was great, and we enjoyed dinner and cocktails at The Bar, the hotel’s lounge.

In the morning, we headed to the Kayak Chicago location. It was a beautiful day for a trip on the Chicago River and I was a bit jealous that I was not longer able to do anything like that.

I did get to watch and photograph, as Brittany learned about the Kayak for Conservation program through the Shedd Aquarium.

This was just introduced in 2018 and is rapidly expanding. Its purpose is to teach visitors about the waterway while working with the non-profit Urban Rivers to build a new habitat.

Through this program (which you can sign up for on the Shedd website), guests kayak along the river and collect water and plant data that can help bolster future biodiversity.

While you do this, you also learn about the birds, wildlife, and vegetation that can grown here.

Eventually, the end result will be a mile-long eco-park.

After Brittany returned from her kayaking, we headed over to another place I had been wanting to try for a while, Jake Melnick’s Tap. We were not disappointed.




This family-friendly restaurant has been named the “Top Chicken Wing Spot in the U.S.” by the Today Show. While the wings alone are worth a trip, this place has plenty more to offer.

Jake Melnick’s Tap graciously brought us a selection from the menu that turned into  scrumptious feast, with plenty of leftovers to take home. Everything that came out was so good!

We started with drinks, Peach Sangria (made with sauvignon blanc) for me and Ace Pineapple Craft Cider for Brittany, while we nibbled on the Loaded BBQ Nachos.

Then, a platter of wings arrived. We were able to try everyone of the nine sauces and decided the Firecracker, a sweet Thai chili with siracha, the Nashville, which is hot and sweet at the same time, and the PB&J, Thai peanut sauce with raspberry chipotle jelly, were our favorites.

We had a lot of wings left, but we had a feeling there was a lot more to come. That is when Jake’s Ultimate Feast came to the table.

The platter is easily enough for six and includes brisket, hot links, baby back ribs, and pulled pork. It came with cornbread, coleslaw, baked beans, and mac & cheese.

It was all tender and flavorful.

We were pretty stuffed and couldn’t even imagine dessert but tasted the Fried Oreos when they arrived at the table. They were done in a sweet funnel cake batter and worked perfectly with ice cream and chocolate sauce.

It took a while to get up from that table after such a meal. We took our bag of leftovers and vowed to come back. Jack Melnick’s Tap is definitely at the top of my Chicago restaurant list.