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.