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.