Dec 7, 2021

Embrace your inner Mongol at Mazalae Mongolian Restaurant, Morton Grove, Ill.

Ask any one of my 13 faithful followers, and they’ll tell you I will probably try any type of food at least once.  Much like Andrew Zimmern, if it smells tasty and at least looks edible, I’ll give it a go.

I’ve been fortunate enough in my travels as a commoner to sample a pretty wide variety of fare that’s fairly uncommon to my Midwestern roots – from Cuban to Ethiopian, from Eastern European to Middle Eastern.  And, thanks to a work assignment to the northside of Chicago, I can add Mongolian cuisine to my ever-growing list with a memorable meal at Mazalae Mongolian Restaurant in Morton Grove.    

Nov 11, 2021

A commoner drinks at Meier’s Tavern, Glenview, Ill.

There’s certainly no shortage of neighborhood drinking establishments in and around the Chicago area that have been faithfully serving its customers since the days of Prohibition (or even before).  But I doubt many are left that have a pedigree quite like Meier’s Tavern on the outskirts of Glenview, Ill.

If you’re thinking Meier’s looks like any other old corner dive bar in Chicagoland, you’d be wrong.  Location on the south side of Lake Avenue just west of Interstate 94, Meier’s looks like a wonderful combination of roadhouse, dive bar and supper club.  And it should, as it’s been serving locals and travelers since 1927, according to the tavern’s website.

Oct 20, 2021

A commoner lands at the Little Island, Evanston, Ill.

As I’ve blogged about numerous times, whenever work takes me to the Chicagoland area, I like to resume my ongoing quest for the best Chicago-style hot dog I can find.  My “research” has taken me to places like Weiner’s Circle, the now-defunct Hot Doug’s, Nicky’s and Windy City Hot Dogs.  But a work assignment in the northern suburbs opened a whole new series of opportunities to go to the “dogs.”  And the first place I landed upon was an odd-shaped shack on an odd triangular lot on the western edge of Evanston.  It’s appropriately called the Little Island

Oct 1, 2021

A brief return to LD’s BBQ, East Troy, Wis.

If there’s one thing this commoner has learned in my never-ending quest to find the best possible barbecue, it’s that you can find top quality ‘que practically anywhere and in any place.  So, I was not surprised when I discovered what may be Wisconsin’s best barbecue several years ago being run out of a deli counter in a gas station convenience store in East Troy, Wisconsin. 

Sep 23, 2021

Roots delivers Latin fare – and flair – to Springfield, Ill.

When it comes to finding restaurants specializing in top-notch tapas, my hometown of Springfield, Ill., is probably not the destination that first comes to mind. 

But Roots Latin Grill, a small eatery in a west side strip mall of all places, somehow manages to excel at bringing the signature dishes and cocktails of Central and South America to my hometown … one small plate at a time. 

Sep 14, 2021

Lola’s brings tapas tradition to NOLA’s food scene

With a recently developed taste for tapas, it was only a matter time before Punky and I found a restaurant in my favorite travel destination of New Orleans that brings the traditional tapas-style cooking to the Big Easy.  And, as fate would have it, we learned of Lola’s through our friend, Ali, who we had met frequenting the neighborhood bar Finn McCool’s in Mid-City.  Ali had started working there and highly recommended we check it out. 

Aug 8, 2021

Embracing Jaleo’s total tapas experience in Orlando, Fla.

I love to cook.  I love to eat even more.  It’s probably because of people like me that we have so many celebrity chefs in our culture.  One of my current favorites is Jose Andres, partly because my culinary tastes have been going through a phase where I can’t get enough of the tapas, or small plate, dining that is so synonymous with Andres’ cuisine and Spanish heritage.

With this in mind, when Punky wanted to spend a couple of nights in Orlando as part of this year’s spring road trip, she knew exactly how to get me to go along with it.  She booked us a dinner at the Disney Springs location of Andres’ signature restaurant, Jaleo.

Jun 14, 2021

Surviving American Airlines’ ‘cancellation culture’

I should have known to expect problems with our return flights from our most recent trip to New Orleans. 

Flying for a quick Memorial Day weekend seemed like a good idea for a while, especially since we already had an Airbnb lined up and paid for.  The renter had been kind enough to allow us to rebook after we cancelled an earlier trip scheduled for February this year because COVID-19 effectively cancelled Mardi Gras.  If only American Airlines had the same customer service ethics.  As it turned out, cancellations became somewhat of a theme for the trip.   

The first hint that things were not destined to go smoothly came in an email two months before our scheduled trip. 

Jun 8, 2021

A commoner drinks (and dines) at Bibinger’s Bar & Restaurant, Cedar Creek, Wis.

Every time work takes me to Wisconsin for an extended period of time, sooner or later I find the local spot that makes the best version of Wisconsin’s signature cocktail – the Old Fashioned.  In Madison it was, appropriately, the Old Fashioned restaurant downtown.  In Sheboygan it was the cozy Frankie’s Pub & Grill.  In West Bend, though, I had to look a little harder … actually, about 15 minutes south of the city in the unincorporated rural community of Cedar Creek.  There, in a building dating back to 1846, is Bibinger’s Bar & Restaurant.     

Apr 27, 2021

Doing NOLA the Airbnb way

As any of my handful of faithful followers can tell you, there’s no place this commoner would rather travel to than New Orleans, La.  It’s a city with a culture like no other – from great food and drink, to great music, to great parties – where “Laissez les bon temps rouler” is a way of life.   

With the French Quarter at the heart of the city’s tourist activity, I’ve stayed in more memorable historic and boutique hotels than I can count.  But what do you do if you really want to immerse yourself in New Orleans, or any vacation destination for that matter? 

In November 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic burst onto the scene, Punky and I tried something different for a planned Thanksgiving week in the Big Easy.  We decided that we truly wanted to experience New Orleans as much like a local resident as we could.  We wanted to immerse ourselves in one of the city’s diverse neighborhoods.  The solution was a vacation home rental through Airbnb.     

The experience was so successful that I haven’t booked a hotel in New Orleans since.  Not only did we love our first Airbnb in New Orleans’ Mid-City neighborhood, we booked three more Airbnb stays in 2020 in Mid-City and the Garden District.  Yes, during the COVID-19 pandemic.  As it turns out, it was the perfect way to stay in and explore New Orleans while practicing safe social distancing. 

So, what can you expect if you decide to book a homestay or vacation rental through Airbnb, Vrbo or another online marketplace? 

Apr 6, 2021

Tupelo Honey Café blends Southern comfort with modern style

After working up an appetite exploring Ruby Falls and Lookout Mountain, where does one go for a nice dinner in Chattanooga, Tenn.?  Punky decided the city’s revitalized downtown was the place to look, and that’s where the Tupelo Honey Café caught her eye.

Mar 2, 2021

Scenes from Ruby Falls, Chattanooga, Tenn.

If someone ever decides to research the types of tourist attractions most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, I’d have to believe the classic cave tour would be near the top of the list.  By their very nature, they’re crowded and cramped.  But I’ve loved them since I was a kid.  Punky?  Not so much. But she good naturedly agreed to one as part of our last family summer road trip.  The stopover was in Chattanooga, Tenn.  The tour was Ruby Falls.  The falls – inside the cave – were worth the trip.  

Feb 10, 2021

Neon Pig shines bright in Tupelo, Miss.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, my travels have, with good reason, been much more limited.  The only exceptions I made in 2020 were to places near and familiar, and even then trips were made with an acute awareness of local health protocols.  In a roundabout way, this provides a reason for why Punky and I found ourselves in Tupelo, Miss., one night last November.  We were returning home from New Orleans, and I had insisted on driving back the “old way” my grandmother used to take (she was never fond of the four-lane highway).  Tupelo seems like a logical place to stay for a night to break up the trip.  

While in Tupelo, I had every intention of finding a fun local barbecue or soul food restaurant for dinner.  But the one I had in mind was surprisingly closed by the time we got there.  Fortunately, Punky has become an expert at advance scouting travel destinations in her own right and suggested the Neon Pig Cafe.  It turned out to be a great call in every way.

Jan 8, 2021

A commoner dines at Southern Soul Barbeque, St. Simons Island, Ga.

The never-ending quest for the best barbeque a commoner can find in the United States took an unexpected but highly rewarding turn during our trip last year to Jekyll Island, Ga.  It was Independence Day, appropriately enough, and the family and I were craving some ‘que (and me specifically some Brunswick stew).  So, we ventured off the island, through Brunswick, Ga., then onto the F.J. Torras Causeway to see what the Golden Isle of St. Simons had to offer. 

Our search was rewarded when, at a roundabout on Demere Road, we spotted a cluttered wooden shack, a crowd of people both standing and seated at picnic tables in front of the entrance, the billowing smoke from a nearby smoker, and a food truck in the parking lot.  We had arrived at Southern Soul Barbeque

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...