Ah, Chicago. What I find most interesting about Chicago is not the city itself, but how connected with its suburbs I’ve become. My first taste of Chicago was a t-shirt from my cousin who went to Northwestern, but he spent most of his time outside it, in Evanston. Then I watched all the movies by John Hughes which were about suburban Chicago kids, with later additions like Home Alone and Mean Girls. Then in college I met a bunch of Proud Chicagoans who, upon finding out I was from the New York area, would argue why they were cooler because they were “from Chicago” and I was “from New York”. I would then find out none of these “Chicagoans” were actually from the city either, which made us basically the same – just city wannabes from the suburbs. (Interestingly enough, the true Chicagoans, raised in the city proper, were less vocal if at all). Some of them came as far as Zion, Ill. which is basically in Wisconsin, and those people were the proudest and loudest of them all.
I, myself, spent a year in Chicago (Lincoln Park, specifically) studying at Northwestern to become a TV news correspondent, but like that idea, my memory of Chicago has somewhat faded. Then I married a Chicago suburbanite. And now that Jon and I have spent quite some time recently in the northern suburbs of Chicago, it only seemed proper to dedicate an entry to the greater metropolitan area famous for breakfast clubs, sixteen candles, adventurous babysitting or being pretty – in pink. If you’ve got a day off, like Ferris Bueller did, here’s a way to spend it. And now I’ll stop being clever with the movie titles.
(Note: I realize that a large percentage of this readership is from the northern Chicago suburbs, thanks to a certain enthusiastic reader/ mother-in-law. So please, feel free to comment or add your own suggestions!)
Ravinia. Every city has a summer music festival, and Chicago’s is Ravinia (www.ravinia.com), located in Highland Park. Much like L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl, or D.C.’s Wolf Trap, or Boston’s western getaway to Tanglewood, the locals tote their cute wicker picnic baskets, candles, fold-up tables, pretentious cheeses and bottles of wine to sit under the stars and listen to touring artists. This year’s line-up includes the several appearances of the Chicago Symphony, the Gipsy Kings, the BoDeans, Pink Martini, the Beach Boy(s) (I think only one is still alive) and my favorite: Diana Krall. Since Chicago’s rush hour traffic is one of the worst I’ve ever sat through - even next to Los Angeles – there’s a Metra train that stops directly at Ravinia. Take it.
Windsurfing on Lake Michigan: People are so fixated on how ridiculously cold it is in winter in Chicago that they forget to tell you how ridiculously hot and humid it is in summer. I sweated through ten t-shirts a day that summer just by standing outside waiting for a bus. Finally, I gave up on taking eight showers a day and headed to The Northwestern Sailing Center on Northwestern University’s campus to learn how to windsurf. If I wasn’t cooling off by catching breezes off the lake, I did by falling into the water. There are also sailing and catamaran classes available at the center. 2311 Campus Drive, Evanston.
Chicago Botanic Gardens. As beautiful as the architecture and lake are downtown, everyone needs some greenery and pretty flowers, or a great place for engagement photos and that kind of thing. The Chicago Botanic Gardens, located in Glencoe (nearish Ravinia) are a good getaway and a popular wedding spot. Other than that, I don’t know much more since I’ve never been there, although it’s a future destination plan. 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe.
Norton’s Restaurant. I have to mention this Highland Park hotspot because it is always packed and because I never knew there were really places where everyone actually knows your name – I thought it was just a song. Its jolly, reliable neighborhood atmosphere with its classic American menu is a like quintissential American restaurant found only in a comedic movie, except it actually exists. My in-laws play characters in this movie restaurant in that they’re such regulars that the owners were even invited to our wedding. It’s also great for families and large groups, and the burgers and steaks are as tried-and-true as any Midwestern steak joint should be. I also like their logo because it has a hat, too. 1905 Sheridan Road, Highland Park.
Charlie Beinlich’s Food & Tap: This bar/ burger joint is Jon’s insistence, and he does have a holey t-shirt with this logo on it, so I will let him describe. JON: “Well, uh, it’s more of a bar than anything. There’s no menu. The menu is up on a wall. The burgers are incredible. They, like, melt in your mouth. Uh, it’s kind of dark in there, like a neighborhood bar.” ME: “You’ve just made this place sound like a dark bar with no menus and a great burger.” JON: “Well, that’s what it is. It’s a very unique burger.” ME: “Why is it unique?” JON: “Because of how it melts in your mouth. It’s soooo yummy. Where is the peanut butter?” To get more specifics about what Jon’s talking about, you’ll have to go there yourself. 290 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook.