The crowd gasped at Soldier Field on Saturday but it wasn’t because Kahlil Mack sacked another quarterback. It was surely Bears’ weather outside but inside the toasty United Club, Martha Stewart revealed to her own league of fans that she was readying three 30-pound turkeys for her Thanksgiving spread just a few days away. It was part of the Martha Stewart Wine & Food Experience, presented by USA TODAY, which landed in Chicago as part of a 12-city tour celebrating outstanding food, drink and chefs.
More than 1,000 guests grazed on bites of coffee and cocoa dusted venison carpaccio (courtesy of Travelle’s Jeff Vucko); Tony Priolo’s outstanding sformalttodi zucca (that would be savory heirloom squash flan to the rest of us); and banana cake with foie mousse and banana nut by Steadfast among the 30 participating restaurants. The Grand Tasting sampling experience featured local chefs and restaurateurs in branded booths allowing food fans to taste some of the best of the city in one afternoon.
Chicagoans, Jelian and Terrell Steward attended the food feast “to get some ideas for their catering company.” Kari and Connor Blankenship, professed devotees of the culinary arts, were thrilled to meet Graham Elliot, who signed aprons and posed gleefully for selfies with his fans. The chef, author, restaurateur and television personality has participated in the Wine and Food Experience in other cities, however, the Chicago rendition was particularly exciting. “ I do TV and people assume I live in LA but this is where I live and cook and it’s important for people to remember that. Plus, the palate is super discerning here with people going out to dine and try new things three times a week - it’s very exciting for chefs when you have people who appreciate what you do.”
Other chefs just like to get out of their restaurant, meet fans and see others comrades in cookery. Stephanie Izard, the first female chef to win Bravo's Top Chef and Executive Chef of Girl & the Goat, has a long list of Chicago restaurants yet to sample and the eatery on the top of her list, Etta, was serendipitously placed right next to her booth. “As a matter of fact, I think my husband is going to take me there for my birthday,” she laughed. Izard advised everyone to do pot luck for the holidays (she contributing a couple ducks for the grill and a turkey while guests bring their best side dishes).
Chef/owner Joe Frillman of Daisies, a small indie eatery in the white-hot culinary neighborhood of Logan Square, jumped at the opportunity to participate Wine & Food Experience Chicago to allow attendees to experience what’s cooking beyond downtown. Frillman, who serves as executive chef, office manager, front of the house helper and face of Daisies, won the 2018 Jean Banchet Award for Best Neighborhood Restaurant in Chicago.
Spirits, beers and nearly 40 wine varietals, including three Martha Stewart Wine Co. varietals, moistened the pipes of attendees and there was a conga line of the spiritually curious at the Rums of Puerto Rico booth offering eight aged sipping rums. Interactive elements also kept attendees buzzed from stenciling aprons to learning how to be a proper mixologist.
As pork shoulder with dried fruits perfumed the air, all eyes were on the lifestyle leader preparing a recipe from her latest cookbook, Martha Stewart's Pressure Cooker: 100+ Fabulous New Recipes for the Pressure Cooker, Multicooker, and Instant Pot®. If you’re one of the lucky 40 coming to Stewart’s place for Thanksgiving, know that the favorite hostess gift she ever received was a 14-ounce tin of Beluga caviar. That and a nice bottle of fine White Burgundy.
While the crush of tourists line up at Popeye’s on Lake Geneva and Gino’s East (for the same pizza they can get in Chicago), wily tripsters aren’t fearful of a 10 minute drive to land flavorful finds minus the crowds. https://www.visitlakegeneva.com/
As much as parents seem to need a bar to make it through a family vacay, give kid a pool and everything is copacetic.
Family travelers to Lake Geneva should consider The Cove, a property boasting the largest outdoor pool complex in the resort town with a zero-depth kiddie play area, hot tub and oversized swimming pool. The Cove features live music poolside every Friday and Saturday afternoon as well as daily food service direct from Sprecher’s (a Wisconsin favorite) and a Cabana Bar with snacks, icy drinks and alcohol. Cabanas are available for rent for shade and reserved, comfy seating. Count on various sized suites with full kitchens that are a boon to traveling with a family for obvious reasons.
On Saturdays, push the little miscreants toward the Kids’ Club for craft and game activities. There's also a monthly themed pool party for younger guests - think pirates, mermaids and SpongeBob nonsense. Once monthly, adults get in on wine tastings in the upper lobby, too. The Cove is a few steps from the beach and downtown shops. Book it at http://www.coveoflakegeneva.com.
There are plenty of fancy, schmancy spots in which to dine in the southeastern Wisconsin tourist town but can there be anything more infuriating than dropping serious coinage for a merely mediocre meal? When you want that one elevated dinner in Lake Geneva, try Crafted Americana in the Ridge Hotel and you may revisit before you leave town - it’s that good and reasonable priced. It offers requisite Wisconsin menu items like a slow roasted Saturday night Prime Rib ($26.95-$29.95) and a Friday Fish Fry ($12.95) for two pieces of baked or fried cod, one potato pancake or seasoned fries, coleslaw and house-crafted applesauce and tarter sauce. But Chef Ricky Lund’s technique shines from apps (shrimp n grits with crispy pancetta and stone ground mustard grits for $11 and big enough for two) to perfectly charred Strip steak and a stellar Chilean Sea Bass atop bulgar wheat and charred sugar snap peas dotted with pancetta and a squeeze of lemon for brightness. Entrees range from $15-$38, with big city inventiveness and quality. A winner.
By the way, save more money and hitup the Crafted Happy Hour, Monday to Thursday 4pm to 7pm for half price drinks
Mars Resort has existed since the 1920’s and although it isn’t a “resort” with cabins or rooms for visitors, the restaurant oozes old-fashioned Wisconsin campiness from the woozy elderly couples at the bar to its mid century renditions of the catch of the day. The traditional Friday Fish fry offers a variety of options (bluegill, walleye, perch, potato pancakes) and others make the short trek from downtown Lake Geneva for the house specialty - slow roasted beef ribs. It’s dark, dated and fabulous. There’s live music weekends, well-poured cocktails, two-fisted burgers and pretty sunsets on the shores of Lake Como.
The building which housed the first version of Fried Green Tomatoes Restaurant in Galena, IL was an insane asylum. It was torn down (much to the chagrin of ghost hunters) and the Italian eatery now serves insanely good food to conga line of customers on Main St. After ingesting your full pound of mussels plus warm bread dipped in butter and dusted with Parmesan, walk up to the second floor dining area and notice the stained glass fragments and wooden door hanging on the brick walls - artifacts snatched from the asylum. The Main St. locale has plenty of its own historic mojo previously serving as a small town pharmacy.
It seems as though everyone orders the titular app - breaded green tomatoesfried in olive oil and capped with cheese and marinara. It’s most def Italian and not a southern Paula Deen construct. Chilean Sea bass was expertly pan seared alongside tenderbroccolini and the smoked Gouda mac ’n’ cheese dotted with discs of sausage was a comfort food standout. Main St. dining in a tourist town is often disappointing but winning service and fine food at Fried Green Tomatoes will have you humming “Love Her Madly” on the way out.
Not too insane downtown
Insanity starts here
Lay back, the doctor will be right with you
The Famous Fried Green Tomatoes
South Dakota Rocks
Many of us, from middle school kids to senior citizens, have felt a reawakening about our country - and not via the perfunctory flag waving and barbecue on the Fourth of July - but deeper feelings about what it means to be an American.
Perhaps this is the year to forgo manufactured fun at theme parks, Hollywood tours or the Jersey shore and instead fill our hearts as well as out eyes with the salt of the earth. The splendor of the Black Hills that blister from the surrounding plains; canyons, ravines and the other-worldly nature of the Badlands; miles without strip malls or billboards but bison and meadows; and the incredible visual testaments of Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. It’s the All-American vacation in the middle of the country in South Dakota that’s brimming with history, wild geography, Native American culture, iconic monuments and beautiful American nvistas all short drives from one another.
Hill City (www.hillcitysd.com), in the heart of the Black Hills, has a dual history of miners who came to prospect for gold and later the small mountain town became a paleontological and geological center for exploration and discovery. It’s definitely worth visiting for the excellent Museum at the Black Hills Institute ofGeological Research (www.everythingprehistoric.com)
Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial
Nearly three million people from across the planet make the trip to see the 60-ft.- high granite faces of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone (about 24 miles from Rapid City). Celebrating it’s 76th birthday in 2017, the monument is mesmerizing in its grandeur but kids will definitely need a little more than staring at it from afar. Walk the Presidential Trail, an easy half-mile in length to get a tad closer to the sculpture. Breakfast or lunch at the on-site Carver’s Cafe, the only three-star Certified Green Restaurant in South Dakota! A 25-minute drive deposits you at the stunning Crazy Horse Memorial that sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began in 1948 after Lakota Chief Standing Bear.
Custer State Park
The 71,000-acre Custer State Park is also home to one of the world's largest bison herds and if you can wait until late summer to take your bucket list trip to South Dakota, you’re in for the visual treat of a lifetime when the 52nd Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival takes place. Cowboys, cowgirls and crews star in the saddle to move the 1,300 herd. The annual roundup, held the last Friday in September, is free and open to the public and it roars in on Sept. 29, 2017. Following the roundup, there’s a weekend full of fun via an arts festival and dutch oven cook off.
Badlands National Park
It’s hard to choose between sunset and sunrise at Badlands National Park because each offer different visuals that are equally disarming. One is a lavender and peach settling of the day among the buttes and canyons; the other a glorious awakening to mesas, spires and gullies afire with red volcanic rock. Either way or both, your camera will be clicking to capture the changing colors over the mystic wonderland carved by wind and water over countless years. You’re bound to spy bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs and other wildlife.
(800) 4686564 www.columbus.in.us
There IS another town in the Midwest known for its stunning architecture: Columbus, Indiana, boasting buildings designed by the likes of I.M. Pei, Richard Meier, Deborah Berke, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, Harry Weese and others. Don’t miss the Eero Saarinen designed Miller House and Garden, called “America’s most significant modernist house,“ which will catapult you to the 1950s with its conversation pit, fanciful interior decor and checkerboard plantings of native flowers.
Have a Green River at the restored turnofthecentury ice cream parlor and museum, Zaharakos; and don’t leave without trying a Hoosier fave — the pounded pork tenderloin sandwich at The Columbus Bar.
Stay at the boutique Hotel Indigo and walk to everything or sleep amid history at the Inn at Irwin Gardens B & B, an Edwardian mansion built in 1910.
If you’d like to astonish the next hipster bartender you encounter with your knowledge of his favorite drink, get to the Bourbon Capital of the World, Bardstown, Kentucky. You can travel the area’s bourbon trail any time of the year, but spring also brings Bardstown’s inaugural Cocktail Week featuring creative cocktails, distillery/restaurant pairings, the Kentucky Bourbon Festival’s Mixed Drink Challenge and a Spring Sampler
Bardstown offers 16 B & B’s, including some that are kid friendly (put ’em in the jail cell room at The Jailer’s Inn). Couples and girlfriends will go for Springhill Winery & Plantation B&B. Shelbyville, American Saddlebred Capital of the World, is just a half hour north and a dream away for horse lovers. Take a horse farm tour to see how the magnificent animals are trained, enjoy horseback riding lessons or embark on a trail ride in the fresh spring air.