Dec 20, 2012

Little things I love to do in New Orleans’ French Quarter

Last month, when I joined several of my friends on what we dubbed the Illinois Street New Orleans Road Trip, part of what made the trip so enjoyable was being able to share my love of the Big Easy with both people who were going there for the first time and those who are veteran travelers to the city. 

As such, we spent much of our four days simply exploring – or re-exploring – the French Quarter without an agenda.  And aside from a few aggravations over car troubles, the overall lack of schedule really made the trip incredibly relaxing and enjoyable.  So, rather than provide a day-by-day log of how we went from Point A to Point B, I decided to focus this entry on the many things about the French Quarter I love to experience and share with others every time I go.  For example ... 

Making my first stop of the trip at Pat O'Brien's to enjoy a hurricane while sitting by the flaming fountain in the courtyard.   
It's pretty even in a light rain.

Dec 16, 2012

Scenes from the Place d’Armes Hotel

View of the French Quarter courtyard at the Place d'Armes Hotel

I’ve stayed at the Place d’Armes Hotel in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter more times than I can count.  It has to be my favorite hotel in the Big Easy, and it’s my first recommendation for any first-time visitor to the city or anyone who plans to spend most of their time in the Quarter. 

Dec 11, 2012

A commoner reviews Blue Plate Café, Memphis, Tenn.

Whenever I stay in downtown Memphis, I never seem to be too far to walk to the Blue Plate Café.  I don’t always make it there on every trip there, but it’s usually on my short list of places to eat.  Last month’s layover was no different, and before my group of friends and I hit I-55 for the drive to New Orleans, we decided to fill up with a good southern style breakfast. 

Dec 3, 2012

Dyer’s Burgers – a late night Beale Street tradition

Before I move on to reviewing the many highlights from last month’s New Orleans trip, I have some unfinished business left over from our one-night layover in Memphis, which ended, as many of my nights on Beale Street do, at Dyer’s Burgers, a classic – and world-famous – burger joint that tests your grease endurance.

Nov 27, 2012

A commoner reviews Pig on Beale, Memphis, Tenn.

With the Thanksgiving holiday behind us, I decided to start catching up on blogging, particularly since I had an extensive road trip to Memphis and New Orleans that brought me many new ideas for posts.  One idea came from the dinner my group and I had our first night on the road at the Pig on Beale. 

Nov 18, 2012

A 12th Edition of Things Discussed At the Brewhaus

Sometimes great conversations starters for nights (or days) of drinking just come naturally.  Sometimes they stem from topical events of the day.  Other times, they are thrust upon you from someone’s entirely twisted imagination.  With that in mind, I dedicate this blog entry to Cory Hoedebeke, without whom many of these discussions would have never gotten off the ground. 

In recognition of the 12th edition of “Things Discusses At the Brewhaus,” here a dozen items pondered over several pints.  Ok, it’s actually ten, but one is a three-parter:

Nov 2, 2012

Road back from Wrigleyville

It was pointed out to me last night that I have been quite neglectful with my blog lately, so here’s my attempt to get a little caught up before I hit the road once again to New Orleans.  Fresh blogging material awaits!

Anyway, much like my friend Kent and I did on the drive up to Chicago last summer, we devoted part of the trip back to Springfield, Ill., to exploring a few more bars, taverns and watering holes along the way.

Our first stop, though, was back to the Stonehouse Pub for their Sunday Bloody Mary special.  I stated earlier that they sold us on making a return trip when we stopped on the way up, and yes, it was worth it.  Kent also refueled his recovery with a very tasty Reuben sandwich. In fact, I believe his exact quote was, “Man, that’s a tasty Reuben sandwich!”  I may be using a little artistic license here. But he did boast about it.

Onward to Lockport, Ill., which we ran out of time for on the way up.  Lockport is just north of Joliet, nestled on the Des Plaines River.  It always seems like a nice town for a pit stop whenever I drive through and am avoiding the interstate.  Based on some kind words on the Internet, we decided to try Jackie’s Pub.

Meh … nothing special here.  It seemed like a nice enough locals’ hangout, but we just weren’t feeling it.

Oct 22, 2012

Murphy’s Bleachers and a crawl down Clark Street

I’ve been long overdue in completing my Wrigleyville rooftop game series of blogs.  Chalk it up to a long, brutal week in the real world and my real job.  At any rate, to continue where I left off last time …

If there’s one “must stop” place for me after a Chicago Cubs home game, it’s probably Murphy’s Bleachers at the corner of Waveland and Sheffield.  Appropriately enough, it’s right behind the bleachers and across from the Harry Caray statue.  And between Murphy’s Bleachers and the Cubby Bear (across from the main gate), most people have the same idea when it comes to congregating after the game. 

Oct 10, 2012

Scenes from a Wrigleyville rooftop

Well, I finally covered all the pit stops my friend Kent and I made on the way to Chicago for our Wrigleyville rooftop party.  You’d think we would have been ready to call it a day and get some rest before the next day’s festivities.  Well, we weren’t that smart. 

We stayed the night before at the Holiday Inn Chicago-Mart Plaza, which is located right on the Chicago River where the Loop ends and the River North neighborhood begins. Here’s a morning view of downtown Chicago from our room; the Loop is on the left. 

Oct 8, 2012

Loafing through Lemont

I’m continuing my road to Wrigleyville from last summer with our final stop before we hit Chicago – historic downtown Lemont, Ill. 

Lemont is actually one of the oldest communities in northeastern Illinois.  It’s been around since 1836 and prospered early because of its position on the Des Plaines River.  Because of the small town charm it’s retained through the years, along with its historic significance in the development of the nearby Illinois and Michigan Canal, Lemont is more thriving than surviving again.  In other words, the suburbanites are discovering it. 

Oct 3, 2012

Going on the road to Wrigley (aka Crawling up I-55)

As we conclude the regular season in Major League Baseball, what better time to reminisce about one of my more adventure-filled weekends from this past summer when I somehow joined a pharmacy school alumni group on a Wrigleyville rooftop to enjoy a midsummer game in the classic St. Louis Cardinals-Chicago Cubs rivalry.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself.  After all, getting there is half the fun, right?  That’s what my friend Kent and I thought when we planned a multi-stop small town bar crawl along Interstate 55 from Springfield, Ill., to downtown Chicago.  The game was on a Saturday, so we left noonish Friday to allow plenty of time at each stop we chose.  And, of course, some “small” towns were larger than others.  Case in point:  our first stop at the Alley-Bi Saloon in Lincoln, Ill.
Kent is pumped to go into the Alley-Bi.

Sep 19, 2012

An 11th edition of Things Discussed at the Brewhaus

In recognition of my 11th blog posting devoted to the various conversation topics that have consumed many happy hours (to say nothing of the drinks consumed as well), here’s a list of 11 recent conversations:

Sep 17, 2012

Big Muddy Blues with Dr. John

If you’re tired of reading about the music I enjoyed last summer, I guess I owe you an apology up front.  However, I would be derelict in my blogging duties if I did not cover Dr. John’s performance at the Big Muddy Blues Festival at Laclede’s Landing in downtown Saint Louis. 

Dr. John was the headliner for the main stage on Sunday, Sept. 2.  With him on my short list of performers I’d never seen in concert but always wanted to, I was not going to pass up the opportunity, especially for a mere $10 admission!  You have to love the bargains you sometimes get at outdoor music venues. 

Plus, I had never been to the Big Muddy Blues Festival, which showcases not only national and international blues acts – many playing for free on the two street stages – but also the eclectic Laclede’s Landing area on the riverfront, which is full of restaurants, entertainment and nightlife  in its own right.  It may be time to do something about the brick and cobblestone streets, though.  I get the historic significance, but I’m surprised I don’t see more people twist ankles or take a tumble down the streets, which can also slope severely toward the water. 

Sep 11, 2012

Party like it’s 1979

Steve Miller Band and Dave Mason at the 2012 Illinois State Fair

First, I must give credit to my friend Kent Argenta, who was also in attendance at this concert, for coming up with the title of this blog entry.  Kent is more famous for his patented balancing beer bottle act.  It’s my belief that everyone should be famous for something.

The 2012 Illinois State Fair closed with a late addition to its grandstand line-up, but it was one that got a lot of people talking – the Steve Miller Band, with Dave Mason opening. I don’t know if it was because the show was on a Sunday or because it was added late in the game, but this concert deserved much better attendance than it had.

For those who are unfamiliar with Dave Mason, he has an impressive classic rock pedigree and showed off much of his resume during an hour-long acoustic set to open the concert.  Still, I was impressed that he joked about his relative obscurity these days when he said, “I am very glad to be here.  Actually, I’m very glad to be anywhere these days.”

Dave Mason does look happy to be there.

Sep 6, 2012

They came from the 70s (and 80s)

Classic rock revived at the 2012 Illinois State Fair grandstand

Not long ago I looked back at the 2012 Illinois State Fair, but I didn’t cover the unusually strong grandstand line-up they featured this year.  From Miranda Lambert and Eric Church to Creed and Train, there seemed to be something for most musical tastes.  Still, imagine my surprise when not one, but two, nights were booked for an old-school arena rocker like me in mind.

Perhaps the most interesting booking on paper for the fair was Friday, Aug. 17 – a four-bill of Georgia Satellites, Blue Oyster Cult, Night Ranger and Cheap Trick – and admission on the track (closest to the stage) for just $30.  Think about that … that’s $7.50 per band.  And we sometimes pay a $5 cover in Springfield on weekends to hear crappy cover bands (ok, most aren’t really crappy, but you get the point). 

Georgia Satellites
The Georgia Satellites opened with a clean, concise 45-minute set in which they crammed everything you’d expect to hear from them.  For instance, I was happy to hear “Battleship Chains” early in the set; it’s a song most people have probably long forgotten, but I think it’s one of their best. 

Sep 4, 2012

Of blues and barbecue – 2012 edition

As my four faithful followers have come to expect, I’m more than a week behind in blogging about events I recently went to.  The good news is that this commoner keeps on traveling, so there’s plenty of material to reminisce on to carry me into the fall. 

The purpose of this entry, however, is to recap the 9th annual Old Capitol Blues and Barbecue Festival, held Aug. 25-26 in downtown Springfield, Ill., appropriately enough at the old capitol.  It also coincided with my friend Big Don’s going away weekend before he spends two years working in Doha, Qatar. So, how appropriate we send him off with a bunch of beer and smoked pork since both will be in short supply in the Middle East.  The blues, of course, can be found anywhere.

And, for no particular reason, here’s a picture of Big Don starting the night off wearing a sombrero. 

That's more like it ... Big Don, me and Eric "SOHO" Welch (left)
Now if that doesn’t put you in a festive mood, what will?  Perhaps these pictures of the culinary stars of the weekend …

Aug 26, 2012

Random reflections on the 2012 Illinois State Fair

It seems like I’m always at least a week overdue on posting about recent events.  For instance, just as Springfield’s annual Blues & BBQ Festival ends this weekend, I’m just getting around to putting down my thoughts on our city’s biggest annual event of the year – the Illinois State Fair.

The main gate of the Illinois State Fair

Aug 21, 2012

A commoner’s recap of Eduardo’s, DeKalb, Ill.

I still have a lot of catching up to do to cover the various places I visited this summer.  For instance, I tagged on a little side trip to DeKalb, Ill., on my way back from the Algonquin Art Fair around July 1.  Why DeKalb, you ask?  Because a former travel companion attended Northern Illinois University there, and I thought it would be a nice bonus to check out the place on our way back.  I like to think I do have some nice qualities that manifest themselves once in a while.

Anyway, this posting is not about NIU or other points in DeKalb, although I did find a great bargain on Tito’s Vodka and stocked up on Old Style beer at American Liquors near the campus.  Actually, most prices there were pretty reasonable.  College kids have a limited budget, you know.     

I continue to digress, because after we drove around the campus, we waited out the opening of the restaurants along the main drag of downtown to grab an early dinner and, since I was still feeling my Mexican restaurant mojo, decided to try Eduardo’s.  

Eduardo’s is apparently on offshoot of an older Mexican restaurant standby from DeKalb’s past, Rosita’s.  They’ve made Eduardo’s a more modernized version of the original, with a large, well decorated formal dining area as well as a nice spacious bar area off to the right when you walk in.  Guess where we sat?

A nice spacious seating area in the bar room, with several TVs for a sports bar feel.  Cater to the masses, I suppose.

Aug 14, 2012

A Commoner Reviews Gumbo Shop, New Orleans

I’ve had the idea for this blog posting in my mental archives for a while, and it recently sprung up again when a friend asked me to provide a list of “must do” experiences in the Big Easy.  Who knew people actually thought I know what I’m talking about? 

Anyway, if you’re going to try one of New Orleans’ signature dishes, why not consider a place that names itself after it?  Talk about putting your reputation on the line … And in the case of the Gumbo Shop, their reputation is well deserved. 

Aug 11, 2012

Scenes from the 2012 Downhome Music Festival

Well, I’m back to full blogging capacity, which means I have my computer fully operational again and Internet in my new place, so I can post from home.  And with the Downhome Music Festival already a week behind us, I figured I’d better post about it before it was too late. 

In its second year, the event was expanded to the Downhome Music, Beer & Arts Festival for 2012, with all the action taking place between the two sponsor bard – Brewhaus and Celtic Mist.  And while they’re still working some of the kinks out from an organizational standpoint (as a volunteer this year, I experienced some of this first-hand), the music and beer really provide a full day and night of fun. 

Since I was working a gate the first half of the festival, I decided to devote much of this blog post to what’s really at the heart of the festival – the bands.  That’s because the proceeds from the event go to the local musicians who play in it. 

Aug 7, 2012

A perfect 10th edition of Things Discussed At The Brewhaus

While I await the technical capabilities to do more complicated blogging, here’s the tenth and most recent offering of topics that have been hotly debated – or at least somewhat mulled over – during the consumption of our favorite beverages:

Jul 24, 2012

Five memorable Mexican restaurants

In recognition of National Tequila Day July 24, I decided it was time to get back on the blogging bandwagon and go back in time to relive some of my all-time favorite Mexican restaurants from my travels as a commoner.  Plus, I’ve been on a Mexican food kick lately anyway, so that only stirred my memory more for these places, which I may never get back to.  So, here are five of my favorite memories, in no particular order …

Jul 18, 2012

As fate would have it …

If you’re one of my three loyal followers, you’ll know I’m long overdue on several blog entries I promised.  To be honest, I haven’t had much desire to blog lately for personal reasons, as if you’ve followed my blog, the title kind of gives it away. 

Jul 3, 2012

5 Weird Roadside Attractions I’ve Visited

Nothing says summer like the great American road trip. Cram the car full of luggage, and hit the highway (noisy kids are optional). While I don’t plan to make any extensive road trips this summer (although I will be posting about accompanying a mysterious and exotic Gypsy to an art fair in Algonquin, Ill., soon), every trip leaves some everlasting memories, and often those memories come from the unusual site you encounter along the way. For better or worse, here are five I can’t get out of my memory bank.

1. World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, Collinsville, Ill. – Collinsville is part of the greater Saint Louis metro area. If you drive just south of downtown on Illinois Route 159, you’ll see a water tower decked out like a giant Brooks catsup bottle. According to the catsup bottle’s official website (yes, there really is one!), it was built in 1949 for the Brooks bottling company in town. After bottling operations left town in the 1960s, the tower fell into disrepair until it was saved in 1995 and, believe it or not, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

Jun 21, 2012

Things Discussed at the Brewhaus, No. 9

Have you ever looked across the table at your fellow barflies and wondered what you were going to talk about next? Well, at the Brewhaus we never seem to have that problem. But if you do, here is a list of topics recently pondered over many a basket of burnt popcorn:

Jun 18, 2012

Irish Days in Farmersville, Ill. (or one more reason to drink)

I’ll chalk this blog entry up to another in the category of “What I did this weekend.”  I’ve long heard my mysterious and exotic Gypsy talk about what a great time it is at Irish Days in Farmersville, a small farming community (go figure) about 30 minutes south of Springfield, Ill., just off Interstate 55.  So, we made plans to meet friends who are from there and check it out.

I have to be honest … I’m not sure what makes Farmersville’s Irish Days Irish.  Perhaps the town was settled by a lot of people of Irish descent.  We do know several Murphys from the area.  But if you’re looking for Celtic music, highland games, Guinness beer and corned beef and cabbage, you’re probably going to be disappointed. 

What Irish Days does appear to be is your standard small town homecoming festival/picnic, and like most of those are, it was very entertaining for what it was.  As you’d expect, the festival was held in the center of town, on the square.  When we arrived, we grabbed a quick bite to eat from the food vendors set up in the park – a pork chop sandwich for me and a cheeseburger for Gypsy.  I added a slice (actually more like a rectangle) of pizza from the Boy Scouts – always nice to support a local cause. 

With a food base to go on, it took us no time to find the beer tent, where we met our friends (yes, the Murphys were among them). 

I found it!!

Jun 12, 2012

Art by day, wine by night

After a long weekend volunteering at the SOHO Music Festival to start the month and a busy stretch at work, I’ve been suffering from a little “blogger’s block,” as I like to call it.  But I figure there’s no better way to get back on track than recapping an eventful and extremely fun Saturday.  

As fate would have it, I served as a roadie for a mysterious and exotic Gypsy selling her wares at the MacART Fest just a few blocks down the road.   The festival is part of a revitalization effort for the MacArthur Boulevard corridor in Springfield, Ill.  In addition to raising funds for the effort, the festival helps brings people into the neighborhood to see the recent surge of specialty shops and businesses taking roots in the area.  And since we live so close by, it was a no-brainer for Gypsy to participate in the arts and crafts fair June 9. 

Jun 3, 2012

Random observations from the 2012 SOHO Music Festival

Another weekend of volunteering at the eighth annual SOHO Music Festival in downtown is on the books.  You may remember my post about last year’s event, so I won’t spend too much time on setting up the festival, but I did want to put down a few thoughts now that the festival has wrapped up what appears to be another highly successful fundraiser for the Mini O’Bierne Crisis Nursery. 

From Friday night, Tom Irwin and the Hayburners
So, if you’ll indulge some extemporaneous babble, here are some takeaways I had from SOHO 2012:

May 21, 2012

An eighth edition of things discussed at the Brewhaus

It’s been an unusually busy time for me and my partners at pontification at our favorite watering hole.  Here are some recent topics of discussion:

May 15, 2012

2012 Beale Street Music Festival recap, Day Three

The third and final day of the Beale Street Music Festival at times reminded me of a day at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, given the 90-degree temperatures and elevated humidity that accompanied Sunday’s action.  But I’m getting a little ahead of myself …

Gypsy and I began our Sunday with a quest to quench another craving for a good Bloody Mary and a filling brunch to go with it.  We remembered the Bardog Tavern last year for both, so we decided to stop by.  Unfortunately, by the time we got to Bardog at 12:30 p.m., there wasn’t a single seat left.  I couldn’t even blame Gypsy’s punctuality issues, either, since they don’t even open until noon.  We tried to wait out the crowd with a Bloody Mary along the back rail, but nobody seemed in a hurry to eat fast.  I guess I can’t blame them.  The omelets are very, very good, as are the Bloody Marys (as long as they go easy on the horseradish).     

No sooner had we finished our first drink when our friends Dan, Trish, Jake and Beth walked in.  After a quick assessment of the situation, our search for breakfast turned into a search for lunch.  We eventually settled for a 30-minute wait at Huey’s.  I won’t go into great detail (Huey’s realy deserves its own blog someday), but suffice to say a Bluez 57 Burger and a large Yuengling on tap did the trick.  And if it didn’t, Dan made sure everyone was stuffed with an order of gigantic potato skins for the entire table.  Gypsy passed on the appetizer but did manage to take down most of her Little Miners sliders. 

We then made the long, slow walk to Tom Lee Park and caught Old 97’s already playing at the Horseshoe Casino Stage.  It was mid-afternoon at this point, and the sun was seriously baking the area in front of the stage.  When I forego shyness and take off my shirt to expose my furry gopher body, you know it’s hot.  I even thought at one point that it was too hot to drink.  But the heat did not take away from an outstanding performance. 

Old 97's attempt to beat the heat.

May 13, 2012

2012 Beale Street Music Festival recap, Day Two

The Beale Street Music Festival is the kickoff event for Memphis in May, a month-long celebration in the city that also includes the famous World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.  This is my long-winded way of setting up the popular nickname for Beale Street Music Festival – Memphis in Mud – because as a rule it rains, buckets, during the festival. 

Well, for the first time in four years attending the festival, we were blessed with abundant sunshine every day, and the weather gods replaced the excess rain with excess heat.  But I’ll take it anytime over three days of wading through mud at Tom Lee Park.

So it was a clear blue sky that greeted Gypsy and me when we left our hotel for Day Two of the festival and lunch on Beale Street with our friends Marc and Aissa.  We met them in front of the King’s Palace Café, which I’m pretty sure got its name long before another “king” became synonymous with Memphis.  The neon sign actually boasts of the fact that it’s air conditioned inside.  Despite how tempting that sounded, we sat, and ate, outside to watch the Beale Street zaniness and soak up the sun.

Marc's brother Chuck, Marc and Aissa

May 12, 2012

2012 Beale Street Music Festival recap, Day One

It’s been over a week since the Beale Street Music Festival began in Memphis, and although our extended vacation lasted through Tuesday and work has kept me busy since, I figured I’d better start putting these blogs in the books before it’s too late.

We left at about 8:30 a.m. for the six hour drive to Memphis, despite a Gypsy’s proclivity for punctuality issues.  We wanted to make sure we got checked in early enough to chill out and catch our breath before the festival began. 

See, we’re ready to hit the road!

May 3, 2012

Fine art, crafts, wine and beer at American Harvest

Before I leave for Memphis with a mysterious and exotic Gypsy, I promised myself I’d get a little caught up on my blogging and in particular do a little summary of Gypsy’s most recent exhibition of her jewelry.    

We have become fast fans of American Harvest Eatery here in Springfield, Ill., and as fate would have it they sponsored an art and craft show for their 1st Birthday Extravaganza on April 22.  Gypsy had been working her networking magic at a previous American Harvest show and was invited to participate in this one. 

May 1, 2012

Munching on a muffuletta

I have to be completely honest. 

As much as I’m looking forward to going back to Memphis this weekend for the Beale Street Music Festival, I really hate to miss the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  This year’s Jazz Fest line-up, especially last weekend’s, was especially loaded to suit my musical tastes.  I had toyed with the idea of doing both (Jazz Fest last weekend and Beale this weekend) but gypsy and I had a wedding to go to, and it really wasn’t economically viable anyway.  But I would have loved to have seen Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Dr. John and Bruce Springsteen, just to name a few.

OK, what does this have to do with a muffuletta?  And what is a muffuletta anyway?  It may, in my humble opinion, just be the best sandwich in the world.  And for anyone who is visiting New Orleans for the first time (and I know a few who are during Jazz Fest), getting a muffuletta and the best place to get one in the Big Easy is a must-do.    

The story of the muffuletta begins and ends at Central Grocery, 923 Decatur Street, in the heart of the French Quarter.  It may be an unusual place to find an old-school Italian grocery store and deli counter, but it’s a New Orleans institution.  And as the birthplace of the muffuletta, they’ve been serving their signature sandwich since 1906.  In fact, it’s just about the only thing you can get at their deli.  But what else do you need? 

Apr 24, 2012

Pub crawl by bus to Fast Eddie's

It started as a relatively innocuous Saturday a couple of weeks back, with no plans to do anything out of the ordinary except get caught up on some rest.  But I don’t do nothing for very long, and I don’t do it well.  At least that’s the opinion of my Gypsy roommate, who I was apparently driving crazy and preventing her from concentrating on making jewelry in her Gypsy workshop.  So, she shipped me off for the evening.  And fortunately, I knew of the perfect time-killer – a pub crawl by bus with the final stop being Fast Eddie’s Bon Air in Alton, Ill.

I had already turned down the opportunity to join several of my friends on this trip, but fortunately they were able to get me on last-minute for a $30 fee.  Consider this:  You’re on a nice comfy motorcoach round-trip, you can BYOB (and everyone did in generous portions), you’re making three bar stops along the way (and a casino if you desire), and you’re entertained for nearly 12 hours (especially if you’re the self-entertaining type).  Yes, definitely worth hoping on the bus and enjoying the ride.  

Here’s the inside of the bus as we pulled out of Springfield.  It didn’t stay that subdued for long.  One of the organizers of the trip (standing) was passing out shots before the left the city limits. 

Don't look behind you, but business is about to pick up!

Apr 21, 2012

A Commoner Reviews Chick’s on the Square, Macomb, Ill.

As I wrote in my last blog entry, I recently accompanied my son, the Young Curmudgeon, to Macomb, Ill., to tour the Western Illinois University campus.  Before we left town, we decided to grab an early dinner.  We chose a place I had not been to, and one that had not existed the last time I was in Macomb – Chick’s on the Square.

The Macomb Square is literally the center of the old downtown and still very vibrant.  Many boutique shops line the city’s square, which surrounds the McDonough County Courthouse.  And currently, the southwest corner of the square has a good variety of places to eat and drink, even more so than when I lived there. 
Chick’s is right off this corner on the south side of the square.  You can’t miss it.  The big yellow awning greets you.

This big yellow awning

Apr 17, 2012

A Commoner Reviews Jackson Street Pub, Macomb, Ill.

It just figures.  After a long drought of not having much to blog about, I suddenly have a glut of subject matter.  At least it’s stuff that interests me.  So, bear with me, as I try to catch up.  We begin with a review of a place that has been around since I can remember growing up in Macomb, Ill. (after moving up from Angie, La.). 

First, a little preface to my review:  Recently, I took a couple of days off work to spend some spring break time with my son, the Young Curmudgeon.  During that time, we planned a trip to Macomb, so he could tour the campus of Western Illinois University.  Yes, he really is getting that old.  Yes, I really am that old.  So, off to Macomb we went.  And as a change of pace, I even let the Young Curmudgeon drive, and we took his car.

We arrived in Macomb right around lunchtime, and since I was taking a little trip down memory lane a lot during the 90-minute ride from Springfield, I immediately thought of a blast to try out for lunch.  The Jackson Street Pub was one of my favorite dives when I was in college for both food and a beverage, and it’s been at the same spot, coincidentally on Jackson Street by the railroad tracks for what seems like forever.  Sure enough, when we arrived, I could quickly tell nothing had changed.

Apr 8, 2012

A lucky seventh edition of things discussed at the Brewhaus

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a new blog entry.  Part of that is due to trying to cut back on my spending; part if simply due to inactivity.  There’s nothing wrong with doing nothing, I suppose. 

Anyway, one thing I will always struggle to cut back on is the time spent at my favorite watering hole, which provides plenty of fodder for pointless discussion.  It is a great excuse to wet the whistle, though.  Here are some of the more memorable conversations I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in from the past few weeks:

Mar 20, 2012

St. Patrick’s Day musings from Springfield, Ill.

We were fortunate enough to have actual St. Patrick’s Day fall on a Saturday this year.  That, along with record warmth in the Capital City, brought out the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration to downtown Springfield I can recall.  And while the powers that be in the city would like to pretend it’s all about the parade, the reality is that’s just an afterthought to the street festival atmosphere that takes over downtown.  Everyone is a little Irish … and a little more inebriated.

Mar 7, 2012

Things Discussed at the Brewhaus: Vol. 6

I had started the second half of the Saint Louis/Soulard Mardi Gras blog, but work obligations and unexpected turns in life have kept me from finishing.  But all in all, I can’t complain.  Beside, other than a mysterious and exotic Gypsy, who would listen? 
Plus, it’s probably the journalism major in me, but I’m a stickler for details and want to make sure I get everything right before I hit the dreaded “send” button.  For instance, it takes forever for my archaic computer to upload any pictures, and then it takes me more time to fix and screw-up in spacing that resulted from me posting the picture.   
Anyway, here’s the latest list of Brewhaus conversation starters to tide everyone over.  These are actual topics discussed over the past few weeks.  Maybe you were involved, but in all honesty, even if you weren’t, you probably didn’t miss much.

Feb 16, 2012

A Commoner Reviews American Harvest Eatery, Springfield, Ill.

This is my second straight restaurant-related blog about a place to dine that would normally be out of a commoner’s price range.  Go figure.  But in both instances, a special occasion was involved.  As fate would have it, I was blessed by the company of a mysterious and exotic Gypsy for Valentine’s Day dinner at American Harvest Eatery. 
First, a little about the restaurant for the uninitiated or those who aren’t from the Land of Lincoln.  The concept of American Harvest is to showcase locally and regionally grown food as much as possible and incorporate it into a fine dining experience.  The focus is on fresh ingredients from locally owned and family operated farms.  And, the menu features some creative spins on classic dishes. 

Feb 8, 2012

A Commoner Reviews Muriel’s, New Orleans

It’s well into February, and the two big Mardi Gras 2012 weekends are fast approaching.  For the first time in about eight years I will not be hosting a Mardi Gras party to commemorate it, nor am I able to make it back to my favorite city to celebrate.  So, one way I’ve been getting my Mardi Gras fix is through the Facebook updates provided by Muriel’s, an outstanding restaurant nested on the corner of Chartres and St. Ann, diagonally across the street from Jackson Square. 

Jan 29, 2012

Things Discussed at the Brewhaus, Take Five

Gather ‘round once again, as we review the diverse subjects discussed at that classic Springfield, Ill., watering hole, the Brewhaus, in recent weeks:
  • Great places to visit in California
  • The underappreciated songwriting brilliance of Hoyt Axton
  • How do you score a drop kick in football?
  • Is “Smoky and the Bandit” the redneck “Citizen Kane?”
  • How “Ancient Aliens” commentator Giorgio Tsoukalos’ hair completely destroys his credibility
  • Would you rather be called Mitt or Willard?
  • Programmable thermostats
  • The etiquette of buying rounds
  • Ways to improve the Illinois state pension system
  • The college scoring records of “Pistol” Pete Maravich
  • Jesus gets an iPhone
  • How to react when you discover the occasional nipple hair
That’s all for now.  I hope to have something new posted in the next few days.  Thanks for following!

Jan 10, 2012

A commoner reviews Olympia Steak & Seafood, Blytheville, Ark.

Before I begin my review of this restaurant, I want to say a little about the town of Blytheville, Ark., itself and the experiences I have traditionally had there. 

I have nothing against Blytheville per se, but for some reason bad weather and bad experiences have a way of finding me here.  For example, on my way to New Orleans for wedding #2, our car broke down on the Missouri-Arkansas state line.  We got towed to Blytheville, and our trip was delayed by a day.  And nine times out of 10, or so it seems, I drive through downpours in Blytheville on my way to Memphis (well, maybe it’s the Beale Street Music Festival itself that is cursed with massive rainfall). 

On to our drive back from New Orleans last month (it was the first day of December), and on a clear evening we approached Blytheville eager to find something to eat.  And if you’ve ever driven Interstate 55, and you miss your chance to stop in Memphis, you know there’s a whole lot of nothing between Memphis and Blytheville.  We were trying to avoid the chain restaurants and fast food, and although it wasn’t easy to find it after we saw it on the other side of the interstate, something made us decide to try Olympia.

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...