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America’s best roadtrips: route 66

Today, a co-worker and I were talking about an upcoming trip of mine and he mentioned he would like to use one of my guides. We started opening up some files (San Francisco, Scottsdale, Alabama and Route 66). Our cross-country roadtrip in 2008 is one of my favorite family memories. The sunsets we witnessed driving along route 66 were breathtaking. Some of the highlights include the tourist traps (world’s largest – just about everything…), random art installations (cadillac ranch) and mountain vistas that help you see the fingerprint of God.

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We are headed to Arizona in less than a week and a couple of things I can’t wait for:
1. The view looking over the grand canyon. I think I am going to cry, again.
2. A hug from my mom. I dream about the safety of her hugs. I really have missed her since Christmas and I hope Maggie will love my hugs as much as I love my moms.
3. Seeing my dad look at Maggie with love that only a grandpa can give.
4. Doug and I enjoying a beautiful Arizona sunset together, building more memories and experiencing another adventure as a family.

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a coffee and craft beer weekend

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We had a great weekend away exploring Grand Rapids, Michigan. Now named “Beer City, USA”, they have more breweries than you can count and an incredible food culture. I love it when the environment offers as much of an interesting experience as the flavors and this city does not disappoint. They have an appreciation for design (after all they do hold Art Prize) and their city symbol is a Calder sculpture in the square in front of City Hall. He is perhaps one of my favorite sculpture artists and I loved seeing Maggie run around the organic steel structure, mesmerized by how the light created shadows. It was a beautiful family moment.

Some of our favorite spots not to miss:

Founders Brewery
(not pictured in these) – you can’t go to GR and explore their beer culture without making a trip to the flagship.

Perrin Brewing Company
A great atmosphere with tasty bar food. They have a fantastic patio for the summer and offer some great lunch specials.

Brewery Vivant
Located in East Town, this brewery serves up belgium style ales and is located in a renovated church. They serve elevated bar food (can you say duck confit nachos?) and they have a good kids menu with ergonomic crayons. It’s the little things that make for a memorable experience.

Marie Catrib’s
You can’t go to East Town without stopping by Foo’s place. Even though we didn’t eat there this time, we did pick up some fantastic items from the deli. I literally dream about their chocolate pudding.

MadCap Coffee
Located downtown, this coffee shop is for someone who values the simplicity of coffee. They have a small menu, specialize in pour over, roasting their own beans and hand-crafted espresso drinks. If you like sugary drinks – this isn’t the place for you. But if you like a minimalist experience with people who care about their craft, don’t miss it.

Grand Rapids Brewing Company
Our last stop of the trip, this restaurant offers an elevated menu and makes decent beer. The prices are a little high, and while the food is good, it isn’t something I will be thinking of tomorrow. The most memorable thing about them is the atmosphere. It is well designed and they have thought of just about every detail when it comes to the brand experience.

As you can see in the final picture, weekends away with a 2 year old sometimes need the support of an ipad – and we give props to everyone on the list here for having wifi. You are loved.

What is your favorite Grand Rapids experience?

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Chicago: Top Chef Guide

So I am a big fan of Top Chef. I have watched it from the original episode and have found that the talent on the show delivers when you visit their restaurants. I put together this guide for some friends about a year ago and was reminded of it when I had the chance to visit a Rick Bayless restaurant on a recent layover in O’Hare. This is a city that loves it’s food and has seen a number of chef-testants over the years on Bravo’s hit show Top Chef and Top Chef Masters. Here are a few of my favorite characters from the show and their restaurants:

Chicago Top Chef Restaurant GuideGirl and the Goat 
season 4 winner: Stephanie Izard
809 W. Randolph

Hours: Sunday – Thursday 4:30pm – 11:00pm . Friday – Saturday 4:30pm – 12:00am

Girl & the Goat has been serving fun foods, craft beers, and making wine in a rustic and bad ass environment since summer 2010. The restaurant opens at 4:30 every day, and stays open until 11pm on weeknights and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays (until those last late night eaters scrape their fork across the plate for the last time, or finish licking their plates until they’re shiny and clean). The Goat’s menu is divided into three categories: Vegetable, Fish, and of course Meat–while vegetable, fish, or meat are respectively the main stars of their categories, there are crossovers in each area so you’ll get a little bit of everything. Bread is baked daily, and there are always new creations on the menu.

Doug and I loved this place. We sat outside with Maggie and enjoyed our community table style experience. Mag’s was a fan of the goat (we got an incredible pasta dish that was a special that night). The bread was a “I will remember this for years” flavor experience, so make sure to make room for carbs when you visit! 

 

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season 1 winner  Top Chef Masters: Rick Bayless
449 North Clark Street (enter on Illinois St.) 

Hours: Tuesday – Thursday: 8am–9pm, Friday & Saturday: 8am–10pm, Sunday & Monday: Closed

Part of Mexican street food’s allure is it’s rustic immediacy—experiencing the aromas, sights and sounds of each dish being crafted, interacting with the cooks, customizing your choices. That’s why your first step into XOCO is a step into our kitchen, where each torta is built, each baked good is fashioned, each hot chocolate is whipped to a froth as you watch. Just as street food stalls attract passersby with the rustic allure of wood fires and boldly aromatic offerings, the centerpiece of XOCO’s kitchen is its wood-burning oven where tortas get crisped and suckling pigs for cochinita pibil and lamb for barbacoa are braised overnight in banana leaves.

Tortas Frontera
O’Hare International Airport:
Terminal 1 / B11 – 5:30am-9:30pm **
Terminal 3 / K4 – 5:30am-9:30pm **
Terminal 5 / M12 – 6:00am-9:30pm **
** Depending on flight schedules. Restaurants will remain open until the last scheduled flight.

Tortas Frontera features hand-crafted tortas, fresh-made guacamole and hand-shaken margaritas. Now, the type of quick-service gourmet you expect to find in a downtown hotspot is available (to go!) at the nation’s busiest airport.

I will now gladly stop over in O’Hare (which used to be one of my least favorite airports in the country). This has got to be the only time I have ever seen a chef tasting on the line at an airport restaurant. They have a dedication to quality flavors here that makes it clear that this is not just a celebrity chef endorsement (like the wolfgang puck stands). The housemade chips and guac was some of the best I have ever had. Can’t wait for my next trip! 

 

GE Bistro
season 1 Top Chef Masters: Graham Elliot
841 W. Randolph St.

Hours: Sunday: 11am-4pm, Tuesday – Thursday: 5pm-10pm, Friday -Saturday: 5pm-11pm, Monday: Closed.

A host stand made from a Marshall amplifier. Devotional candles dedicated to “saints” Johnny Cash, Lou Reed, Anthony Bourdain, Charlie Trotter and many more. A cocktail named for Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah. Background tunes recognizable by their bass lines — which is good, because when the restaurant is full, subwoofer sound is all one can discern. It’s fair to say that G.E.B. revels in its rockin’ inclinations. The monogram stands for Graham Elliot Bistro, and by all appearances it’s the casual counterpart to Graham Elliot’s eponymous two-Michelin-star restaurant in River North. In reality, G.E.B. is the restaurant the chef had in mind in 2008, when he opened Graham Elliot after leaving Avenues, at the time one of Chicago’s most experimental restaurants.

Haven’t been here yet, but it is on the top of my list for our next trip to Chicago. If you make it here – let me know!  

What are some of your favorite foodie places in Chicago?

Invincible Summer

Invincible SummerThis is the 5th snowiest winter in Michigan’s history. When the cold seems too much it is always good to remember that this is a season and if you think about it, summer is only a sweet memory away. This state is one of the best ones to experience the beauty of every season but there is nothing like a Michigan summer. So when the next inch of snow falls, let us all remember that within each of us is an invincible summer. Thanks to Candice for sharing those words of wisdom with me today!