Archive for the ‘Midwest’ Category

It’s been awhile since I posted, and while I do have a huge backlog of subjects, today’s is a really recent jaunt Sam and I took over to Sault Ste. Marie.

Also known as “the Sault” (or, even just the Soo) to Michiganders, Sault Ste. Marie is a neat old town that feels far from its age (which happens to be hmmm, more than 300, since it was founded in the 1660s. Maybe 350-something years old.) The stunning stretch of history of the town is always there, just behind and beneath the new developments and updates.

We go there once in a while for business, and always look forward to finding new, cool things — because that’s what happens every time we go!

The Soo Locks as seen from the air. The shoreline view is pretty good, too.

It’s a maritime town, centered on the St. Marys River and the Soo Locks that allow Great Lakes freighters to pass between lakes Superior and Huron. (You shouldn’t need three guesses to decipher how the town got it’s name.) It has a Canadian sister city on the other side of the river; Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, which is much bigger.

The locks are a big draw, and there’s no doubt it’s pretty cool to watch the giant ore carriers pass through. There’s a phone number to call for a shipping schedule to maximize your chances of catching the show here. Or, if you have some time to kill, there’s Karl’s Cuisine restaurant overlooking the locks. Although it’s nestled next to a mini golf course and sports tourist-friendly decor, make no mistake; the chef is talented and committed to using local ingredients and foods, and it’s well worth stopping.

In the past, we’ve also enjoyed eating at Antlers, which also is by the river and has come under new ownership in recent years. The wild game lasagna is always a favorite.

But this time, it had to be Clyde’s Drive-In, which, like all great drive-ins, opened in the 1940s. Unlike many, it’s stuck around thanks to a loyal following, and burgers and fries raised to perfection. They hand-make the burger patties, use plenty of malt in their malts, and you won’t ever get a soggy or underdone fry or onion ring at Clyde’s. The small burger shack overlooks the ferry to Sugar Island, a little hamlet on the islands in the middle of the St. Mary’s River, and isn’t the easiest to find, but worth the effort.

Clyde's Drive-In. And yes, there is curbside service if you want it!

Speaking of Sugar Island, we also found an awesome new store on this visit to the Sault. It’s called Island Books and Crafts, just opened in the winter, and it’s named that because owner Les Townsend is a Sugar Islander born and bred. He’s also a fun guy to talk to, and knows quite a bit about the store’s home, a huge building on the corner of East Portage Avenue and Ashmun Street that was formerly the Sault Savings Bank. Some of the original bank marble still graces the entry. You’ll find plenty of books there, alongside the work of dozens of area crafters and artists, from handmade jewelry to pine-needle-and-agate woven baskets to gorgeous hand carved wood furniture.

I look forward to going back to the Sault and finding new things each time — It’s at the least a great day trip for U.P. residents (or for northern L.P. residents), but there’s more to do and see than you can ever do in a day, which is what makes it so much fun to keep coming back.

Where are your favorite stores and restaurants in Sault Ste. Marie? What do you look forward to doing or visiting there?



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So I know that this is the third post in a row about Chicago attractions, and I have a whole bunch of restaurant posts coming up from various parts of Michigan and Illinois, so I’m sure it’s not very good blog structure to do them all in great clumps like this. But this one is written, and those aren’t, so I’m gonna post this one 🙂

Who’s been to Medieval Times before? Show of hands!

Yeah, it’s awesome, right? We have been going down to Chicago for years and hadn’t gone to the Medieval Times in Schaumburg, which was a shame.

The Medieval Times castle in Schaumburg, Illinois. It's actually much bigger than it looks here.

To be fair, both Sam and I had been to Medieval Times elsewhere, as has my sister Jen (high school orchestra trip to Florida…ahh, good times.)

Anyway, that leaves among our merry band Shaylyn and Andrea who hadn’t been, and both really wanted to. So on this trip, we decided it really was about time we experience this as a group. Besides, everything is more fun with a 9-year-old.

It turned out we didn’t need Shaylyn to invoke a childlike sense of roleplay and wonder at Medieval Times. We sat in the red knight’s section, which was fortunate, because he ended up being the total badass champion. We cheered him on with many shouts, screams, cheers and boos and hisses for his opponents. We even led a toast to our knight, and waved his flags and pennants around wildly.

The key really was entering into the spirit of the thing, cheering for our knight and suspending disbelief for awhile to enjoy the storyline and the feats of equestrian showmanship on display.

We had an awesome server, who said his name was Jelly. Sam took on the role of lord of the table quite readily, calling out for Jelly in a booming voice and hamming it up with medieval-inspired quips throughout the fighting. What fun!

A Medieval Times photo of the "Lord Chancellor," or announcer. I didn't get any good photos during the show; they're all dark and hard to see. But I am pretty sure this is the same guy.

As for the rest of us, we were hoarse from cheering on our knight at the end of the night, and pleasantly full with what was actually a decent meal for being served to hundreds of people at once. They’ve really got the particulars down at that place. Of course, you have to eat it all with your hands, but there are plenty of napkins.

For the more macabre-inclined among us, they also have a medieval torture gallery off the main hall, but it cost extra, and we didn’t feel great about taking Shaylyn through it anyway, so we opted out.

All in all, a worthwhile experience, and—I forgot to mention—we got a great buy one admission, get one free deal on the tickets, which is actually what put it on our radar for this trip in the first place.

If you can get a price break on the tickets, it becomes a pretty good deal, but for medieval enthusiasts or if you have kids who are really into knights or medieval stuff, it’s probably worth the admission whenever you go.

So, what was your Medieval Times experience like? Were you as delighted as we were? Which Medieval Times did you go to? If you haven’t been, are you interested?

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One of the loveliest days of our recent trip to Chicago was the one spent at the Lincoln Park Zoo. The Kid and I went, along with my sister, Jen and her partner, Andrea. Sam took advantage of the time to work at a cafe.

Shaylyn and Andrea with gorilla statues, I believe. They seem to be fitting in well.

The Lincoln Park Zoo is in downtown north (Ed.: This is why I don’t navigate.) Chicago, easily accessible by car, bus, cab or el train. Most remarkable for a major zoo: admission is freaking free, people!

Sure, you’re going to spend $30 on lunch (at least we did with four people) and probably as much in souvenirs (at least you will if you have kids along), but you would in any zoo or similar attraction, and this is a serious attraction.

You might think a free city zoo means aging enclosures, animals you’ve seen a million times, and poor hygiene or signage, but that is nothing like what you find at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

The animal enclosures are mostly very modern, the buildings have the historical elegance of the Chicago Parks District architecture, and the zoo paths and outdoors signage are clean, well-kept and informational.

The barnyard and petting zoo section wasn’t very well populated, because it was so early in the spring, but I bet in summer it’s really great, especially for kids.

One of the lovely Lincoln Park Zoo buildings. (Don't blink!)

We did enjoy the chickens and cows that were out and about, although it was a little surreal to see something we have wandering around in our backyard behind a fence at a zoo. (Did I ever mention we have chickens? Probably not; this isn’t quite the venue. But now you know.)

The one downfall of the place? We seriously did not have enough time in a day to see it all.

Next time, I would take a few minutes at the outset of the visit and plan out what was most important to us to see, because our approach of wandering around from place to place casually inspecting everything meant that when the zoo closed at 5 p.m., there were still things we would have liked to see, but didn’t get to, like the African animals exhibit.

Of course, if you live in or near Chicago, that’s probably not such a problem, cause you can just go back. For us, it was a little disappointing, but on the other hand, we’ll think about going back again next time we’re in town.

Shaylyn is somewhere in this photo... This is the kid play area in the Lincoln Park Zoo. Pretty cool, hey?

Obviously, much of the zoo is outdoors, so walking shoes and comfortable clothes are a must, and choosing a day of nice weather probably can’t hurt. We were lucky to have a nice, cool but sunny spring day, which was really about perfect for walking around the zoo.

Finally, when the kids get tired of walking and listening, and would rather just run and play, there is a whole children’s section to the zoo that has interactive exhibits, and a giant, organic-looking play structure that kids can wind their way through, like a cooperative maze, as far as I could tell from the ground.

Why didn’t they make it big enough for adults to fit? I would totally climb around on that thing, it looks awesome!

Ever been to the LPZ? Will you go now that you’ve read this stellar review of it? Just kidding!

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I’ve mentioned before that we’ve made multiple visits to the Field Museum in Chicago, but that doesn’t stop it from making a good subject; quite the opposite.

I don’t remember the first time I personally went to the Field Museum, but it seems like it was a while ago. Maybe in high school or college. Anyway, in recent years, we’ve made it a regular destination whenever we visit Chicago for any length of time.

That’s because it has the distinction of being the museum that got Shaylyn, a.k.a. The Kid, into Egypt, and history in general. Before that, she would have much rather seen dinosaurs and natural history than archaeology exhibits.

There she is, Sue, the T-rex.

The day was just Sam, Shaylyn and I, although we met up with Jen and Andrea later on. One of the nice things about the Field Museum is that when Sam needed to answer work emails or do a little writing, there’s great Internet connectivity throughout the building, which isn’t always the case in big museums. And, there’s lots of little nooks and quiet areas to sit down in when you need a rest, as you well might.

There’s no shortage of amazing artifacts and information on all of those topics at the Field Museum, which is often known for their Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, affectionately named Sue (She has her own Twitter, people.)

So, Sue and the ancient Egypt exhibit (thankfully a permanent display) are two of the must-see stops at the Field Museum, but there are certainly others, too.

The massive collections of animals make up whole wings of the museum, and deservedly so. It’s easy to get lost examining all the different birds, reptiles, and animals of every continent.

We spent a good chunk of the day doing just that, and took a break for lunch in the museum café, which is surprisingly well-priced considering they have something of a captive audience.

The Kid took a ton of animal photos at the Field Museum, of which this is one. I would say what they are but I really don't know, other than they appear to be some kind of goat.

Later, we made sure to hit the current special exhibit, about horses, which was packed with people, so a little hard to get through, but worthwhile. It explored the historical bond between horses and people, in a scientific yet heartstring-tugging way, which was not lost on The Kid one bit; she’s been campaigning for a horse since then. Ummm, thanks, Field Museum! Anyway, that’s running through mid-August, so check it out if you get a chance.

The special exhibit Underground Adventure also was pretty cool, especially for kids interested in bugs and plants. We had to rush through it a little in order to have enough time in the gift shop, sadly.

Anyway, the other note I have to make here is that they had a spring break membership discount that actually paid for itself on the day, with shopping discounts and a break on the admission price for our little group.

If they offer similar deals at other times of the year, don’t just assume it’s not worthwhile and walk by—do the math! It was a great value for us, and would be for anyone who visits the museum more than once in a year.

What’s your favorite Chicago museum? We might have to expand our repertoire onward from the Field in the future.

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Anyone who’s ever played Monopoly knows Park Place means high-class (or at least high-rent), and the Park Place Hotel in Traverse City, Michigan doesn’t disappoint.

We were there on a recent weekend to check out some area wineries and story ideas, and get a taste (hehe) of the TC foodie scene while we were at it. (More on the food and wine, later!)

The Park Place Hotel in Traverse City. It was cold and rainy, but still lovely.

We stayed at the lovely, downtown Park Place Hotel, and found it to be a very friendly place, with a few exceptions.

The rooms were well-designed (two sinks, YAY!) and large, with plenty of room to stretch out and unwind after a day of exploring the area. Ours even had a balcony, which would have seen more use if the weather hadn’t been so cold and rainy. (Actually, it started to snow as we were leaving.)

The front-desk service was immaculate and helpful, although the service at the attached restaurant, Minerva’s, wasn’t quite as impressive. It’s not in my nature to be picky with service employees, but I’ve also never been told that a restaurant couldn’t seat anyone else in the next half-hour because they had a very large party of guests that had just been seated. Hmm…

Moving on. The other complaint we had at the Park Place Hotel was that upon returning to the hotel Saturday night, there was a sign up in the parking lot saying it was full, presumably from restaurant or event patrons at the hotel. That’s kind of disappointing when you can’t actually park at the hotel where you’re staying. I’m not sure what the downtown Traverse City parking situation normally is, but it apparently could use some improvement.

But in all, the hotel was a great base of operations for a Leelanau or Old Mission Peninsula wine tour, or an exploration of Traverse City’s many shops and restaurants.

Where would you stay in Traverse City? We’ll be headed back down soon, so your recommendations are welcome!

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So I already mentioned our afternoon spent in the Hyde Park neighborhood, but I would be really remiss in not covering the awesome lunch we had.

As some of you may know, The Kid also has a chicken wing review blog, which, while it’s not updated currently, has been a big pastime for her and her dad, and she usually won’t turn down a chance to eat some new chicken wings. When we asked my Chicago-dwelling sister, Jen, where we should get some stand-out wings, she led us straight to Harold’s Chicken. (Also called Harold’s Chicken Shack, I gather.)

I didn't take any pictures at Harold's, so here is a sign that may or may not be at the one we visited.

Another bonus to this trip was that when Shaylyn got a chance to cover President Obama’s visit to Marquette earlier this year, she really wanted to ask him where his favorite chicken wings are. We still don’t know the answer to that for sure, but Harold’s is pretty close by to the Obamas’ residence in Hyde Park, and rumor has it that the President had been known to stop in there when he lived in town. (Blame Jen if that’s not true, that’s just what she said.)

So, our visit served to fulfill, at least partly, Shaylyn’s need to answer that question. And if not, she still liked the chicken!

We ordered a good selection among the group, with boneless chicken, wings, white and dark meals all putting in an appearance at the table. Pair that with cold pops, fries and some hot and mild sauces, and all the walking we’d just done, and it was an about perfect lunch. Harold’s fries their chicken simply, with flour and salt and pepper, and simple is good in this case. I’d eat more of that any day. For those who like chicken livers and gizzards, you’re in luck, because unlike a lot of fried chicken places, Harold’s serves those up too.

Mm yum. All that for $3? No complaints here.

The only offputting thing about Harold’s was that the cashier left out several things we ordered, and it was difficult to communicate through the thick glass windows that wall off the kitchen. Typical in urban areas but that doesn’t make it any easier.

There’s nothing fancy about the food, and there’s nothing fancy about the restaurant, but there’s a reason there was a continuous line of take-out customers as we ate. Harold’s Chicken is really good, and really cheap (for us it was right around $3 each) and you can’t ask for a lot more than that.

Afterward, we walked down to see the Obamas’ house, which was quite well posted and patrolled by black SUVs (Secret Service, I suppose), and worked off some of the grease with a stint at a little playground around the corner. (Why are playgrounds away from home always so much better than the ones at home?)

I’m sure there are other great chicken places to eat in Chicagoland — Got any recommendations for us for next time?

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I have a lot more post subjects to write about in Chicago, but I’m going to add in a few from our Traverse City jaunt in between, so the blog isn’t all Chicago all the time. Don’t worry, I have plenty more topics from both trips that should last at least until we go somewhere else 🙂 I’ve been collecting posts as we wander around the U.P., as well. So here’s a peek at one of the discoveries we made down in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

On our recent weekend trip to Traverse City and environs, we had the pleasure of a lazy, rainy drive through the Leelanau Peninsula wine country.

Of course, that was the reason for the business trip: To get more familiar with vintners, chefs and others in the TC area, because one of the publications we work for, Northwest Michigan Second Wave, covers a lot of things happening in those fields, and of interest to those in the food and wine business. If you have ever been to Traverse City, you know food and wine is a major pastime there, and heck, you probably know that even if you haven’t been there.

It appears that fascination with food extends up the more rural and agricultural Leelanau, as we were looking for a nice place to breakfast before heading out to wineries, and found the somewhat aptly named Cedar Rustic Inn, in Cedar. Now, Cedar itself is a nice, very small town, with not much more than a few stores, the inn, and a sprinkling of houses before the countryside gives way to farms and orchards again.

The Cedar Rustic Inn opened in 2006 and was a great stop to eat on the Leelanau Peninsula.

The Cedar Rustic Inn is right next to the Longview Winery tasting room, and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner for those passing through, perhaps on a wine tour.

From the photos in the foyer, the restaurant has been the subject of quite a restoration project, having opened in 2006. In past lives, it’s been a roadhouse, a foundry, a gas station, and a pool hall. Now, it’s run by Chef Aaron Ackley and his wife, Nikki.

We were greeted with friendly service and good coffee, and decided on a late breakfast of pretty traditional fare; bacon, eggs, potatoes, corned beef hash, et al. We were told the breakfast sausage comes from Cedar’s own butcher shop, Pleva Meats, and it certainly lived up to its reputation.

Examining the menus for lunch and dinner showed that the prices are pretty nice all day, which isn’t always what you get in a heavily tourism-centric area, so that was good to see.

The dinner menu departs a little from traditional American fare, bringing in more global influences, but sticking with coastal Michigan favorites of seafood, fresh fish and local ingredients.

We’ll be  visiting the area again this summer, so do you have any other breakfast, lunch or dinner recommendations? We know there are lots of great places near Traverse City to eat!

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