Picture Book: Illinois

Visited the state of Illinois for a few days, here's a glimpse of what I did:

 My first meal in Illinois was technically a Meat Eaters pizza from  Hungry Howie's  imported from the Detroit airport. I gobbled it in-flight (and chugged a Sam Adams beer) while descending into Chicago Midway Int'l Airport.

My first meal in Illinois was technically a Meat Eaters pizza from Hungry Howie's imported from the Detroit airport. I gobbled it in-flight (and chugged a Sam Adams beer) while descending into Chicago Midway Int'l Airport.

Next to the baggage claim was this welcome display. The counter was overflowing with pamphlets & brochures about all there is to do and see in Chicago (sorry, no strip club coupons).

Rented a car and was upgraded to a new 2015 Chrysler 200 (push-button start, you know what it is!). This innocent-looking whip would later end the life of a drunk raccoon crossing the road.

There was a Steak n' Shake next to the hotel I was staying at in the city of Peru. You see towels in the picture because I decided to channel my inner 3-year-old and spill half of the cookies n' cream milkshake.

The next day I went to Starved Rock State Park because that was pretty much the only thing one could do while staying in the area of Peru (unless you want to go to Steak n' Shake again).   

At the welcome center there were so many cool things to see (great for kids!) about the history of Starved Rock and all the nature surrounding it.

Like this guy, Hootenburg, who is still undefeated in staring contests.

At noon there was a free hiking tour which took visitors to all the important parts of the park. The Illinois area has a lot of Native American history and our tour guide Ray knew more about it than Pocahontas and Cherokee Parks combined.  

Hey it's a flying V! DUCKS! DUCKS! DUCKS! Oh wait, actually those are pelicans...

Here is Ray describing step-by-step how the Illinois dam can foam up like a snail in a salt-storm (just kidding, I don't remember what he was passionately explaining here). 

This baby waterfall was the most beautiful sight of the tour. In order to reach this spot, people have to step up wet slabs of rock with water running through them (it was like nature's version of American Gladiators).

After the tour, I enjoyed some homemade artisan (ooOooh) ice cream back at the welcome center. There were only 8 flavors and Brittnay informed me that the ice cream is made at the lodge nearby. A sweet way to end my visit to Starved Rock State Park.

On my way to a wedding in Streator, a small city in the middle of nowhere 80 miles southwest of Chicago. No billboards, no shopping malls, no...civilization. 

A beautiful venue for Mark & Calli's special day.

Now THATS what I call a drumstick.

Laughter, drinks, and grannies gettin' DOWN on the dance floor. Twas a pleasure being at a lovely wedding and meeting new friends, thank you M&C.

Next morning on my way to CHICAGO! Took the Orange Line from Midway Airport straight into downtown. The CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) is so awesome.

Looking out of the train you will see lots of tall things and colorful painted handwriting.

At one of the stops I witnessed a biker gang discussing the plot twists in Furious 7.

After wheeling luggage several blocks on rocky sidewalks, made it to the Thompson Hotel situated within the Gold Coast Historic District

The decor inside is fun, like "whoa where am I & what year is it?" kinda fun. There is a playful mix of vintage & modern design scattered about in the lobby areas.

It continues into the room, where I was welcomed by this very unique illuminating gizmo.

These are three separate photos I took of the art displayed on the room walls (hey it's a big, round face!).

There were fancy magazines with beautifully photoshopped people on the covers.

The TV had a channel where you can see flight information from the Midway/O'Hare airports. Also I watched the Clippers/Spurs game (late night tipoff @ 10:30 PM!).

Mmm $6 waterrr...

Their pen and pad were smooth, very smooth...

Apparently C.O. Bigelow is an upscale brand, it was pretty nice I guess (I still prefer Pert Plus).

A creepy-looking photograph of the oh-so marvelous waterfall shower head. 

After I finished settling into the hotel room, I went out to get some eats in the Fulton Market District.

There are 3 DO NOT ENTER signs outside of Publican Quality Meats, but I ignored them and went in anyways.

Along with their offerings of boutique ingredients, sandwiches, soups, and salads, Publican also has an exquisite variety of meats and cheeses from their butcher shop (that's a giant tongue in the lower left).

Lots of sausages & charcuterie (there's one more section like this). I asked one of the friendly butchers for a sample of the house prosciutto which was selling for $80/lb (it was super salty).

Across the street is the restaurant counterpart Publican.

They proudly display their James Beard accolades in the foyer.

The restroom area has individual relief stations and a communal sink with healthy soaps and lotions.

I had the chef's choice of oysters (thankfully the chef didn't choose 6 of the same kind, whew!).

Half plate of charcuterie with the usual sides (the messy presentation pre-mixed some of the flavors). Also had a fragrant (cough, cough) cheese plate and a beet salad.

Finished the night with a meal at Ruxbin where I met up with my friend Chef Scott Sax. Check out the write-up I did for Ruxbin in the PHOOD section (or simply click HERE).

Last day in the city so I hung out in this empty bus (best time to pick boogers and recite haikus).

When heading into downtown you can see notable places such as the Chicago Theater.

Met up with Lozo for a bite of deep dish pizza at Giordano's off Jackson Blvd. We were the first ones seated that day (the TV's weren't even turned on yet).  

Look at that depth! Worth the wait for this Chicken Sausage Deluxe deep dish pizza w/ mushrooms & spinach.

Not too heavy, not too light, scrumptious close up of a yummy bite.

Just a couple steps away is Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower). I liked this photo so much I put a black border around it (black is my favorite color).

Once you're in it's like a mini museum of Chicago with interactive exhibits and factoids galore.

From North...CARRROLINA, at guard, 6'6'' (if you grew up watching the 90s Bulls like I did, here you go).

As you ride up the elevator, a screen above shows how high you are relative to other world landmarks.

All I could think of was the Tower of Terror ride at Disneyland. 

It was a gloomy day when I went up, but still managed to get some amazing views of the city from every direction. For a small fee you can even use those sight-seeing binoculars and try to spot an old man in his polka dot underwear. 

Now where is tha—, oh...thank you arrow.

Approaching the Skydeck Ledge where there is no shortage of shrieks or selfie-sticks. How do these tiny kids and grannies do it!? Okay Jay, breathe...breathe... 

I DID IT! If you keep your head up and don't look down the entire time, SO CAN YOU!

Before you can exit the building you are forced to walk through this souvenir shop selling all things Chicago. There was a TV monitor showing old Michael Jordan highlights so naturally I watched (motionless with my mouth agape). 

The Shops at North Bridge on Michigan Avenue has a nice selection of retail stores (if shopping is your sort of thing) including a chocolate shop called Vosges Haut Chocolat

Pronounced like "vogue" except the G-sound is a soft vibrating J-sound (did that make any sense?), Vosges is super duper fancy where they display their truffles under a glass case as if they were jewelry. 

So many varieties of flavors available to purchase, but how do you know which kinds you'll like?

YOU SAMPLE THEM YA DUM-DUM! You can try a featured flavor in any one of these glass jars, or ask nicely and try any flavor chocolate bar in the entire store (no truffles though). 

After sampling a million different chocolate bars, the associate Steve let me try a sample of this Caramel Marshmallow (zoom in and just read that description!) – it tasted like bliss.

Across the street next to the Chicago Tribune building there was an exciting display of NFL helmets (the 2015 NFL Draft is being held in Chicago). 

I have a fairly large head, but this helmet was still slightly too big for me.

My last look of beautiful downtown Chicago.

Before heading to the airport, I grabbed a quick bite at Da Lobsta where they serve a good lobster roll. Also had their Lobster Mac & Cheese and New England Clam Chowda.

Back on the CTA towards Midway. Til' next time Chicago.

*I did not go on this trip alone. I could not have had such an enjoyable trip without Stacy, who is an amazing travel planner (and scrapbooker).