Dec 27, 2019

An unbeatable breakfast at Jimmy J’s Cafe, New Orleans

Foodies and travel enthusiasts like me have likely heard of the television show, “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” which features various celebrity chefs and other famous personalities discussing their all-time favorite dishes from restaurants all over the world according to each episode’s theme.  If they ever ran a version of this show featuring commoners like me and my wife Punky, I’m fairly certain she’d want to be on the breakfast episode talking about this …

… the cochon du lait eggs benedict at Jimmy J’s Cafe, a small but crazy popular breakfast and lunch spot in New Orleans’ French Quarter. 

Dec 16, 2019

Get the buzz about the Green Beetle, Memphis, Tenn.

Imagine you’re hanging out in the heart of Memphis in want of an adult beverage and maybe a bite to eat, but you’re burnt out on Beale Street and barbecue.  Where do you go? 

For my money – and thirst – I’m walking a few blocks south on Main Street until I reach the Green Beetle. 

First established in 1939, the Green Beetle claims to be the oldest tavern in Memphis, and it certainly looks the part.  (I say that endearingly, of course.)  Before long, everyone who was anybody was going there to hang out.  But as the decades dragged on, like so many similar taverns, the Green Beetle apparently slowly transitioned from trendy hangout to classic dive bar.  Since 2011, the Green Beetle has been back in the hands of the original family who owned it, and from my brief experience there I think it’s safe to say the place has its groove back.     

Dec 8, 2019

A commoner dines at Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty, Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

Allow me to take you back in time for a tall tale of one unforgettable family road trip deep in America’s northwoods and a legendary meal with a legendary lumberjack. 

In other words, let me tell you about the time Punky, the Kiddo and I went to Wisconsin Dells and ate at one of the town’s best-known tourist trap restaurants – Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty. 

Nov 19, 2019

Paladar dining perfected at Buenaventura, Havana, Cuba

It’s hard to believe almost a year has passed already since Punky and I completed our cruise to Cuba and scratched off one of her premier bucket list items.  I guess the best memories you make in life stay fresh with you always. 

From the daylong tour of Havana in a classic convertible car and our pit stop in the funky Fusterlandia neighborhood to the cruise itself, much of that trip has already been documented on this blog, but there’s one more memorable occasion I promised to blog about last year.  Promise kept, as we look back on an unforgettable lunch at Buenaventura. 

Nov 12, 2019

A commoner dines at Peaches and Pears Restaurant, Chicago

If you’re looking for perfect Polish grandma food in Chicago and you don’t happen to know an actual Polish grandma who lives there, I can give you three reasons why Peaches and Pears Restaurant on Archer Avenue may be your next best option. 

First, when a restaurant boldly claims to have the best homemade soups in Chicago on a sign directly over its entrance, how can you not be intrigued enough to find out for yourself?

Oct 31, 2019

A commoner dines at Windy City Hot Dogs, Chicago

A commoner’s quest to find the best Chicago-style hot dog in and around Chicagoland takes a turn east of Midway Airport, more specifically onto West 63rd Street between Cicero Avenue and Pulaski Road. 

Just look for the red metal sign in front of the small shack on the south side of the road, and you’ll be at Windy City Hot Dogs. 

Oct 17, 2019

The name says it all at Best Shawerma, Burbank, Ill.

If there’s one perk I love most about traveling for my job, it’s being able to experience cuisines that are simply hard to find in and around my home base in Central Illinois.  So, when my work took me near a fast food style restaurant reportedly serving some of the best authentic Middle Eastern cuisine on Chicago's south side, it didn’t take me long to try it.  After all, with a name like “Best Shawerma,” how could I go wrong?

Oct 7, 2019

An exercise in authentic German fare at Kegel’s Inn, West Allis, Wis.

Every year when summer turns to fall and Oktoberfest celebrations abound, it seems like everyone is eager to satisfy their cravings for authentic German beer and food.  I’m the type of person, however, who has a fondness for both year-round.  Fortunately, my travels have helped me discover quite a few excellent German restaurants (and let’s be honest, if you can’t find good beer and sausage in Wisconsin, you’re probably not really trying), and for my tastes, one of the best can be found just 10 minutes from downtown Milwaukee in the suburb of West Allis …

… let me introduce you to Kegel’s Inn.      

Sep 24, 2019

Scenes from the Grant Hills Motel, Galena, Ill.

Galena, Ill., has long been one of my favorite nearby destinations for a weekend getaway.  It’s tucked into the northwesternmost point of Illinois, just four hours from my hometown of Springfield.  And it seemingly has something for everybody:  history, small town charm, shopping, good food and drink (the nearby wineries in particular are very popular), and spectacular scenery more reminiscent of Vermont than Illinois. 

Where you choose to stay in Galena is a matter of taste.  Nearby accommodations vary from cabin retreats to high-end resorts and ski lodges to an abundance of Victorian-era bed and breakfasts.  The B&B rooms are always in high demand for those romantics who want a stronger sense of the town’s historic charm from its 19th Century heyday.  But if you don’t mind your road trip to Galena sending you back to the 1970s rather than the 1890s, may I humbly suggest more suitable – and a lot more affordable – accommodations on the outskirts of town – the Grant Hills Motel. 

Sep 8, 2019

Going for the dogs (and fries) at Nicky’s

Whenever the words “Chicago style” are mentioned in a conversation about food, two things inevitably come to mind – pizza and hot dogs.  And as with pizza, every Chicagoan has their favorite local fast food joint that serves up not only dogs, but other favorites – burgers, Italian sausage, Italian beef, gyros, and even pizza puffs.  The choices are seemingly endless, but I’m always up to the challenge of trying a new hot dog joint every time work takes me to the Chicagoland area.     

Sep 5, 2019

Heavenly hash (and other delights) at Buxton Hall Barbecue, Asheville, N.C.

When Punky and I scheduled a layover in Asheville, N.C., on one of our road trips through the south a while back, I knew we had to stop at two places in the brief time we had – Burial Beer Company and Buxton Hall Barbecue.  I was already aware of the quality craft beer and fun outdoor day drinking vibe at Burial through a friend of ours who had moved to Asheville (Hi, Kristin!).  Buxton Hall Barbecue, on the other hand, stood out on an appearance on “Bizarre Foods” for its real-deal Carolina-style smoke whole hog.  I don’t know Andrew Zimmern personally, but I figured I’d give his strong recommendation a shot anyway. 

Fortunately, both were conveniently located within stumbling distance of each other in Asheville’s revitalized South Slope District just south of the city’s crowded downtown area.  It was a bit of a climb uphill from where we parked, but we followed our noses to the entrance and soon found ourselves taken aback by the restoration job that turned a one-time roller rink into one of the country’s most celebrated barbecue joints in recent memory.   

Mar 11, 2019

Going on hiatus

It is with a little disappointment and a lot of trepidation that I am announcing a “hiatus” of posting to this site.  Frankly, I’m just not feeling it right now, between the time suck it takes to try to keep it even remotely fresh (let alone current) and the lack of motivation.  It’s hard to want to write about your travels when you’re just not traveling like you used to for the time being.

So, as with previous long lapses between blog posts, I will be devoting my energies elsewhere for a few months until I can give “Travels of a Commoner” the proper attention I feel it deserves. I still have a vision for a bigger and better blog someday … just now is not that day.

I am keeping the site “live,” so feel free to visit any old content.  I will also be checking in on the administrative end, so comments (always) are welcome.    

Stay tuned …      

Feb 26, 2019

Brunch at Alcenia’s, Memphis, Tenn.

Memphis has more than its share of famous barbecue joints, and I’ve been proud to share my experiences at a few of them on this blog.  But when it comes to soul food in the “Home of the Blues” the conversation begins with Alcenia’s. 

Feb 12, 2019

A commoner dines at Charcoal Inn South, Sheboygan, Wis.

The Sheboygan Series of blog posts concludes with one that certainly delivers as advertised – the Charcoal Inn.  There are two locations in Sheboygan.  This post is about my visit to the south location, as it was open for dinner.

The Charcoal Inn is not unlike many local diners with a menu focused on burgers, sandwiches and sides (and the obligatory Friday fish fry in Wisconsin).  How it prepares many of the sandwiches is how it stands out.  

Feb 6, 2019

Smelt and the Scenic Bar, Sheboygan, Wis.

Have you ever driven past a business’s sign so often that eventually you couldn’t help but stop and try what they were selling?  It happened to me in Sheboygan, Wis.  The place was the Scenic Bar, an otherwise unassuming little tavern among several others in the neighborhood known as the Indiana Corridor. 

The thing that hooked me in was the smelt. 

Jan 28, 2019

A commoner dines at Sly’s Midtown Saloon and Grill, Sheboygan, Wis.

I chose my next stop in the Sheboygan Series of blog posts for a couple of simple reasons. 

First, despite (or because of?) its name, Sly’s Midtown Saloon and Grill always appeared to me to be somewhat of a dive bar institution in the heart of Sheybogran’s downtown “strip” on 8th Street.  Just walking up to the entrance gives you the impression that the business has been her for a long, long time. 

Second, where are you going to find a better looking and better tasting bratwurst platter in all of Sheboygan?

I rest my case. 

Jan 14, 2019

Feeling right at home at Frankie’s Pub & Grill, Sheboygan, Wis.

We begin 2019 with a return to the Sheboygan Series of blog posts and the place I connected with most during my time working in Sheboygan, Wis.  Between the low-key neighborhood atmosphere, the friendly regulars who remembered me on subsequent visits, the well-made and affordable drinks, the vast beer selection, the welcoming and knowledgeable bartenders, and a good variety of delicious pub grub, Frankie’s Pub & Grill provided everything to make me feel like I had a home away from home. 

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...