All posts by Mark Loehrke

D.I.Y. Oktober fest

By Mark Loehrke | Calligraphy by John Kenzie

93 Octane Brewery

St. Charles

Alex Makowski took over as head brewer this past summer, introducing some new flavors while continuing the auto-themed tradition of the family that also runs Pride gas stations.
1825 Lincoln Hwy.,


“Doppelapfelstrudelweiss is our most unique beer right now. It is an imperial apple strudel Berliner Weiss, made with Waldmeistersirup. It’s a delicious take on an apple cider beer we did in collaboration with Elmhurst Brewing Co.”


“Our newest beer is called Wingman: a gluten-reduced golden ale. A portion of the proceeds support Folds of Honor, an organization that provides scholarships to the children/family of fallen or disabled service members.”

Afterthought Brewing Company


Old World tradition meets New World sensibility at this family-run upstart, where scratch-made farmhouse-style saison beers are the focus.
844 N. Ridge Ave.,

Alter Brewing Co.

Downers Grove

The crew at Alter has built one of the most respected brands in the ’burbs over the past five years, cranking out ever more creative and sought-after brews from its comfortable, unassuming taproom.
2300 Wisconsin Ave.,

Alter Brewing + Kitchen

St. Charles

All the tastes and techniques that Alter fans have come to love from the Downers Grove taproom get a shiny riverfront showplace in the Tri-cities, accompanied here by an ambitious new food menu.
12 S. First St.,


“Heavy Squeeze is an unfiltered lemon wheat ale that combines the refreshing zing of lemon with a balanced sweetness for the perfect summer beer drinking experience.”


“If we’re talking year-round offerings, probably our Hopular Kid extra pale ale, or Alterior Motive IPA. These two core beers and have been pillars of our tap list since near the beginning of Alter.”

Arrowhead Ales Brewing Co.

New Lenox

Named for the subdivision in which founder Mike Bacon got his start as a home brewer, Arrowhead is now a destination for beer and food lovers alike.
2101 Calistoga Dr.,

BBGB Brewery & Hop Farm

North Aurora

The notion of “locally grown hops” takes on new meaning at this sustainable concept from the folks behind Hardware restaurant, given that the majority of those little buds (six species) are growing next door at the onsite farm.
2000 W. Orchard Rd.,


“Misty’s Cream Ale was a summer seasonal that became a year-round offering due to popular demand. It’s a very light easy drinker that has become as popular as our flagship Earl the Pearl American pale ale.”


“Our Saison Marilyn, named for the brewer’s late mother, is considered a ‘super saison,’ weighing in at around 8.3% ABV. It’s brewed with orange peel and three kinds of peppercorns to lend extra complexity to the bold aroma and flavor.”

Belly Up Beer Co.

Western Springs

Joe Fornari’s small operation follows the blueprint of
the scrappy craft brewing story to the letter, epitomizing the slow climb from hobby homebrewer to wider recognition.

Black Horizon Brewing Co.


The classic three-buddies-just-brewing-some-beer concept is personified in Black Horizon’s laid-back taproom, where the trio’s creative craft concepts provide the refreshment to complement an evening of old-school board games and foosball.
7560 S. Quincy St.,

Brother Chimp Brewing

North Aurora

Opening a new taproom just in time for the onset of the pandemic wasn’t exactly an auspicious start to Steve Newman’s brewing journey, but with the beer-loving community showing up over the past few months for patio pours and growler refills of his English-style ales and German-style lagers, the future looks bright.
1059 W. Orchard Rd.,


“Although, our West Coast IPA For the Masses is extremely popular, our brown ale with coffee and a touch of vanilla is fairly unique and well balanced.”

D and G Brewing Co.

St. Charles

This off-the-beaten-path labor of love from brewer Alex Drayer and his crew has built a steady, loyal fan base in the Tri-Cities over the past two years.
303 N. Fourth St.,


“We just brewed a Grodziskie. It’s a Polish oak-smoked wheat ale. It kinda reminds us of smoked sausage. But it is somehow refreshing, light, and delicious. We just brewed it for our second anniversary. It’s definitely a style you don’t see much with a flavor unlike many beers.”

Dry City Brew Works


The tucked-away location off Main may be hard to find for first-timers, but a few hours at the bar, on the sofas, or out on the back patio will make almost anyone feel like a regular.
120 N. Main St.,


“Pumpkin Pyro is a porter we brew each fall. Partnering with our friends at Steamboat BBQ, we smoke pumpkin over sugar maple for several hours before adding it to the boil kettle. This imparts a subtle smokiness to a solid porter and a smooth mouthfeel with no pumpkin spices added. The beer was used in Steamboat BBQ’s award-winning chili at the annual Wheaton Chili Cookoff in early November.”


“Providence Coffee Milk Stout utilizes coffee beans roasted by our neighbors at Five & Hoak Roasters and has been on tap since the day we opened. A light bodied stout with a smooth—never bitter—coffee flavor and aroma, that is a customer favorite and has proven a solid gateway beer for people hesitant to try dark beers.”

Elder Brewing Co.


Andrew Polykandriotis and his wife, Melissa, run this three-year-old operation which helped bring the craft beer party to Joliet, offering live music and fresh popcorn alongside its rotating selection of brews.
218 E. Cass St.,

Elmhurst Brewing Co.


Local owners Frazer Donaldson and Pete Dolan are passionate about not only brewing great beers, but pairing those creations with a food menu full of creatively delicious selections.
171 N. Addison Ave.,


“The Schwartz, our German black lager, because it’s rare to see this style these days, and ours is very dark, malty, and refreshing, with low alcohol.”

Emmett’s Brewing Co.

Downers Grove

Founded in West Dundee in the late ’90s by Andy Burns, the Emmett’s empire has since expanded to multiple locations, including this mainstay of Downers Grove’s main drag.
5200 Main St.,

Emmett’s Brewing Co.


The Wheaton outlet of this west suburban minichain features the same wide-ranging food menu and rotating selection of interesting brews as its brethren.
121 W. Front St.,


“We use a variety of hops from the New World in our World’s End IPA that impart notes of tropical fruit. The hop aroma and bitterness is balanced with malty sweetness.”

Energy City Brewing


There’s always something new and different coming out of Batavia, thanks to a shared dedication to the science and experimentation of craft brewing from brewmaster David Files and wife/co-owner Heidi. Pick up a constantly rotating selection of specialty beers via drive-through pickup on Saturdays.
917 First St.,

Foreign Exchange Brewing Co.


Few local places are as committed to the industry’s well-known spirit of collaboration as Foreign Exchange, where everyone from fellow brewers to local bakeries stand as potential partners on the next great concoction.
New brewpub due in early 2021,

Garageband Brewing


You’re just as likely to discover a new favorite band as a new favorite ale at this music-friendly taproom situated inside an historic renovated firehouse.
15025 S. Des Plaines St.,


“Our Coffee Nitro Milk Stout is made with Guatemalan coffee roasted by our neighboring business Krema Coffee House.”

Goldfinger Brewing

Downers Grove

Named for the Polish brewer and great-great-grandfather of owner/brewer Tom Beckmann, this newcomer has found a pandemic breakout star in its highly sought-after original lager.
513 Rogers St.,

Granite City Brewery


The Freedom Drive corridor outlet of this national chain is known for its four made-on-site signature brews and rotating seasonal options.
1828 Abriter Ct.,

Hickory Creek Brewing Co.

New Lenox

Many hops and fruits that find their way into owner Gary Meyer’s creations come from the New Lenox homestead where he nurtured his homebrewing hobby over more than two decades before getting into full-time brewing in 2016, opening the current taproom in 2018.
1005 W. Laraway Rd.,

Hop Butcher for the World


As the name implies (a change from the original South Loop Brewing Co.), the focus in Darien is on the almost endless possibilities to be found in the humble hop—and these guys seem intent on pursuing every flavor and aroma in the IPA realm.
1000 N. Frontage Rd.,

Hopvine Brewing Co.


Fox Valley Mall (in whose parking lot it resides) may be slowly succumbing to an unforgiving retail landscape, but Doug and Jan Isley’s seven-year-old brewpub is still going strong with its solid food menu and locally influenced beer.
4030 Fox Valley Center Dr.,


“Floyd Morningsides’ Sour Old Ale is one of a kind. Sweet and sour upfront, this mixed fermentation sour finishes clean (and slightly sour). And at 9% ABV, this dark, malty beer stays true to the Old Ale designation.”


“Potentially the most dangerous beer in the western suburbs, our Brew Monkey was named for our brewmaster. When he’s behind the glass, working in the brewery, he often has people coming up and tapping on the windows. And why dangerous? It has a sweet, fruity character to it, but this Belgian Tripel is so smooth that you don’t even realize it has a 10% ABV.”

Ike & Oak Brewing Co.


The creations of veteran brewer Nathan Tertell (Two Brothers, Lagunitas, Baderbräu) complement a food menu that leans heavily on Neapolitan-style pizzas incorporating Ike & Oak’s ale yeast in the dough of their chewy, blistered crusts.
6315 Main St.,


“Chatahoochee Delight (Pastry Sour) has a tart and fruity taste with a peach cobbler flavor, including the tastes and aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. A bit of lactose is added for a creamy mouthfeel.”

Imperial Oak Brewing

Willow Springs

The small-batch operation continues its steady growth trajectory with plans to soon open a full-fledged brewpub in the former Brixie’s in Brookfield to abet its exceedingly popular six-year-old Willow Springs taproom and patio.
501 Willow Blvd.,


“Our anniversary beer Quiet Giant is a 14% ABV barrel-aged beer that we released in June. We brew multiple variants that include different spirit barrel aging treatments, as well as different combinations of fruit, nuts, and spices.”

Lunar Brewing Co.

Villa Park

Lunar definitely gives off more of a dive bar vibe than most taprooms in the area—albeit a dive bar with a very high-level beer selection.
54 E. St. Charles Rd.

Metal Monkey Brewing


The crew at Metal Monkey has built a loyal following of locals and out-of-towners alike at its comfortable, heavy metal-themed taproom over the past four years.
515 Anderson Dr.,

Milk Money Brewing


Thanks to the pandemic, LaGrange may have to wait a little longer to get its first craft brewery. In the meantime brothers Matt and Lucas Bumba and head brewer Erik Pizer have been selling meal kits via an online butcher shop/marketplace while working to polish plans for a fall opening.
75 S. La Grange Rd.,


“While not unique or necessarily unusual, we will have an English Dark Mild in regular rotation on the tap list. It’s not a very popular style, but it’s a great classic that you just don’t see too often.”


“Our LaGrange Lager is a light, crisp, refreshing easy-drinking light lager.”

Miskatonic Brewing Co.


While the inner taproom may be more refined, the outer taproom at Miskatonic is where you’ll find the true beer nerds—chatting up the staff and enjoying their pints of West Coast Wizard with a clear view of the working brewhouse and cellar.
1000 N. Frontage Rd.,


“What we currently have is Soubrette—a wild golden ale (a yeast-fermented American brew with less body, hop and malt) that we age in Chardonnay barrels. We then added different floral elements to give it a unique twist.”

More Brewing Co.

Villa Park

With raves for the diverse food selection matching those for the beer lineup, it seems only a matter of time before More grows into something … more.
126 S. Villa Ave.,

MyGrain Brewing Co.


Until Vince Turrise and Greg Lesiak opened MyGrain in 2017, Joliet was one of the most populous cities in America without a brewery. Also unusual? This brewpub is situated in one of the most unique locations in the western ’burbs—the lower level of Joliet’s old Union Station.
50 E. Jefferson St.,

Noon Whistle Brewing


Brewing in Lombard since 2014, the Noon Whistle crew recently expanded the original taproom, shifted the bulk of production to a new facility in Naperville (dedicating the Lombard site to more experimental brews), and added a kitchen with a variety of appetizers, sandwiches, and flatbreads. 800 E. Roosevelt Rd.,


“We are known for our NEIPA Gummy series (Gummypocalypse, Squishy Gummy) and Sour Smack series (Smack That, Swanky Smack). The selection rotates throughout the year so customers always have a new variation to try.”


“Cozmo Pale Ale is our flagship beer and is a must-try any day of the year. The crisp and balanced beer features Falconer’s Flight hops and gives off a grapefruit nose and light orange hue.”

Oswego Brewing Co.


A prime downtown location makes this taproom a convenient spot to grab a brew after a stroll along the river or a ride on the nearby trails. Try Oktoberfest, a traditional German-style Märzen, available in the fall.
61 Main St.,


“We brewed Snap Cocoa Pop as an experimental “pastry” stout a couple of years ago, and folks loved it. It is an extremely full-bodied imperial milk stout with chocolate rice cereal, cocoa nibs, lactose (milk sugar), and vanilla, ringing in at 12% ABV.”

Penrose Brewing Co.


This passion project from two Goose Island veterans has grown into one of the most popular and widely respected brands in the western suburbs over the past six years.
509 Stevens St.,


“Every year, we brew a ‘Spontaneous’ beer here at the brewery and then take the wort in a coolship (a stainless vessel) to a local farm where the wort sits outside all night to be naturally inoculated with yeast from the air. We then transport the beer back to the brewery and age it in oak barrels for the next one to three years.”


“Our go-to amongst staff would be our Dryft Mosaic IPA, a subtlely hopped and nice crushable IPA to get you through the day.”

Pollyanna Brewing Co.


The recently expanded taproom will help absorb the crowds when Mother Nature eventually shuts down the popular patio overlooking the I&M Canal. 431 Talcott Ave.,

Pollyanna Brewing Co.

St. Charles

The newest of Pollyanna’s locations features live music, large garage doors that open to the outdoor patio, and—of course—a wide selection of the brewery’s signature creations.
106 S. Riverside Ave.,


“The Fun Size Milk Stout is brewed with peanuts, vanilla, cocoa nibs, and sea salt.”

Riverlands Brewing Co.

St. Charles

The recent pandemic-inspired addition of an outdoor beer garden gives fans of this Tri-Cities up-and-comer a new fair-weather option for enjoying their favorite brews.
1860 Dean St.,


“Yellow Kayak, our house German Pilsner, is without a doubt our Head Brewer’s beer of choice. Light and well-balanced, he’ll tell you that he drinks this more than any of our beers.”

Rock Bottom


The Bolingbrook outlet of this national chain is a nightly draw for hungry and thirsty visitors to the Promenade complex.
639 E. Boughton Rd.,

Rock Bottom


The craft brewer of choice for the shopping mall set has been a mainstay at Yorktown for nearly a dozen years.
94 Yorktown Shopping Center,

Rock Bottom


If the Candy Bar Brown Ale don’t satisfy your sweet tooth, you can always move to the food menu and try a brownie topped with stout-infused fudge sauce.
28256 Diehl Rd.,


“Twelve is a nitro-poured Scottish 70 shilling session ale at 3.7% ABV. Very few brew this style of beer in the U.S., so it is rarely seen on tap.”

Skeleton Key Brewery


Nothing says “paying it forward” like expanding your operation to offer classes and a hands-on incubator for aspiring craft brewers.
8102 Lemont Rd.,


“Our popular ‘Migratory’ Toasted Coconut Golden Ale is unusual because you most often find coconut in dark beers, but the light golden ale base really helps it shine. We toast our coconut by hand and add it to the fermenter within a day for maximum freshness. The result is a nutty, toasty coconut aroma and flavor.”

Solemn Oath Brewery


John Barley has spent the better part of the past decade steadily building Naperville’s original homegrown craft brewery into one of the area’s most beloved and respected labels. Check out the 4,200-square-foot outdoor beer garden.
1661 Quincy Ave.,

Stockholm’s Brewpub


This longtime neighborhood spot in downtown Geneva was brewing traditional, straightforward beers for its Swedish vardshus long before the craft beer boom arrived.
306 W. State St.,


“Mike’s Blend (5.4% ABV) is a perfect ratio of our State Street Pilsner and our Third Street Ale at the tap. The Pilsner opens up the complex malt flavors of the brown ale while still retaining a crisp finish.”

Two Brothers Brewing


Given the craft beer tidal wave that has emerged in its wake, it’s hard to remember back to a time when Jim and Jason Ebel’s original industrial park taproom was considered an odd curiosity rather than ground zero for an artisan empire.
30W315 Calumet Ave. W.,

Two Brothers Barrell House


This multilevel concept devotes plenty of attention to its food and cocktail programs, but it wouldn’t be a Two Brothers outlet without a beating heart of craft beer love.
16 W. Jefferson,

Two Brothers Roundhouse


Locals rejoiced when Two Brothers decided to take over this historic property, knowing that the space would be well preserved and utilized, while they themselves would be well fed and refreshed.
205 N. Broadway,


“Our signature beer
is Domaine DuPage. This French Country Ale is a nine-time award winner and one of the most iconic craft beers in the industry. It boasts a toasty caramel sweetness with just enough hops to cleanse the palate. Truly original, this flagship beer is a perfect dinner companion.”

Two Hound Red

Glen Ellyn

Wood-fired pizzas and creative sandwich options complement the tasty brews (not to mention whiskeys, cocktails, and wines) at this newish industrial-chic brewpub in downtown Glen Ellyn.
486 Pennsylvania Ave.,

Werk Force


If you like what you’re drinking in the taproom, chances are many of the ingredients and supplies used to brew it are available around the corner at the brewery’s sister supply shop, Chicago Brew Werks.
14903 S. Center St.,


“Something that sets us a part are our experimental brews and barrel program. Barrel Aged Farmhouse Vultures—a saison aged in Cabernet French oak red wine barrels and heavily fruited with blackberries and raspberries—has won gold medals at the national Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beers.”

Whiskey Hill Brewing


The brewery’s third and current moniker honors the Prohibition-era tales of booze supposedly flowing freely throughout Westmont’s history, as opposed to any propensity for actually making whiskey.
1115 Zygmunt Cir.,

Wolfden Brewing


For those skittish about tossing back a pint inside the circa-1851 structure (that’s been dubbed the “most haunted brewery in Illinois”), owners Krys and Katie Wolf made sure there’s plenty of non-paranormal space to spread out in the expansive beer garden out back.
112 W. Lake St.,


“Each of our Zombie series of golden pastry ales is inspired by a different dessert or treat (like Key lime pie or Kolaczki) and usually contains ingredients like milk sugar, vanilla, fruit, or graham crackers.”


“Our Highlander Strong Polish pilsner is my favorite because it is crisp with plenty of hoppy character and easy to drink. I’ve always wanted to showcase a beer based on my Polish heritage. It’s brewed using a generous amount of Lubelski hops from Lublin, Poland.”

Photo courtesy Two Hound red; Photos courtesy Brother Chimp Brewing, Energy City Brewing, Penrose Brewing Co., Werk Force

Anne Hanley

Virtual Riverwalk Fine Art Fair
September 19–20

Something old, something new

Batik is an ancient artistic method that I’ve tried to make very contemporary. Traditional batik is made using dyes or wax to layer colors on cloth. But I found a wonderful rice paper that reacts to the wax similarly, and now I’ve been doing batik work on rice paper for the past 20 or so years.

Artistic signature

My bright florals and figure pieces tend to be the most popular—they’ve always been my mainstay. I developed a piece called Columbine With Blue Circle around 2007 that has become my signature piece. Now it shows up underneath a lot of my abstracts.

Getting to work

I’m a very intuitive painter. I tend to come into my studio and get right into drawing a little bit and then I just start painting. I see inspiration in everything: plants, figures, shadows. My family has been going to the Lake Michigan shoreline for many years, so I’ll often find an idea there.

Photo by Laura Hamm

Going with the Flow

For all the off-the-wall creativity and wide-eyed mad science behind most craft beer concoctions, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the one elemental ingredient that many brewers believe to be the most crucial to the ultimate quality and taste of any new offering: the water. In fact, the importance of water to the brewing process was stressed repeatedly by Alter Brewing Company head brewer Matt McCowan in a discussion we had for a story on the science of craft beer in the magazine last July.

So perhaps it should have come as no surprise that Alter again looked to the water when it undertook an ambitious plan to expand upon its tucked-away taproom in Downers Grove with a full-blown brewpub and kitchen in a prime St. Charles location (12 S. First St., 331.901.5949,

With an expansive patio perched on the west bank of the Fox River (complete with a heated seasonal enclosure for the chilly months ahead), Alter is indeed embracing water in a whole new way as it looks to become a key component of the bustling dining and nightlife district of First Street.

“The riverfront location in St. Charles speaks for itself and literally checks every box a restaurateur could ask for,” says Alter Brewing president Ken Henricks. “We have an amazing community of people, the vibrant energy of a downtown business district, and a fantastic natural ambiance and setting adjacent to one of the most gorgeous stretches of the Fox River.”

Brews and Views

The solid first impression of the location in St. Charles doesn’t start and end at the river, however. Just as in its original Downers Grove location, Alter maintains the theater of a production brewery as an integral part of the aesthetic here with the brewhouse acting as something of the heartbeat of the room. The massive tanks can be viewed from nearly every corner of the restaurant, creating a distinct design theme throughout and providing a definite awe factor—particularly for those who truly appreciate the craft brewing process.

For an operation that most local beer aficionados can agree already has the brewing piece of the puzzle well in hand, the question then is largely a matter of whether Alter can match that level of accomplishment in a restaurant operation. Henricks says he and his team had the awareness to realize early on that they had a skill-set gap in branching into hospitality that needed to be filled, which is how experienced pros like director of hospitality Bart Vivian and executive chef Eric Klekamp came to join the St. Charles operation.

“We really like our product and our processes are pretty good,” Henricks says, “but we absolutely nailed the people side of this equation.”

Wash Down Your Beer…

Alter’s beloved beers are complemented on the drink menu by a well-conceived cocktail program, featuring potential soon-to-be craft favorites like Pepper in the Rye, a rye whiskey and (brace yourself) jalapeño recipe. The food slate, meanwhile, features an eclectic mix of salads, sandwiches, and entrées, rounded out by popular one-night specials like fried chicken Sundays and barbecue rib Tuesdays.

We kicked things off with the crab cake bites, a quorum of hush puppy-like spheres accompanied by a tangy ale-infused rémoulade, and an order of the soft pretzels with beer cheese fondue—a brewpub classic here rendered exceedingly well. From the sandwich lineup, the caprese melt was a fresh mess (in the best way possible), with ripe tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and balsamic on perfectly toasted sourdough. And the bacon-wrapped scallops represented a step up from typical brewpub fare, served alongside roasted baby potatoes, peas, and pearl onions.

In a rare change of form, a dessert of apple pie puff or marshmallow fondue was simply not in the cards for us on this balmy evening. Even so, just a few more postdinner moments of blissful contemplation along the flowing waters of the Fox was a sweet enough capper on our night out in St. Charles.

Photos courtesy Alter Brewing

Regina Brent

As an advocate and mediator across the administrations of multiple Chicago mayors and Illinois attorneys general (before retiring in 2014), Regina Brent had seen tension between minority populations and local police departments bubble up and dissipate on many occasions over her long career in public service—both in the wake of high-profile cases from across the country and in smaller, more day-to-day incidents locally.

Understanding that the troubling issues underlying citizen-police relations were never going to go away on their own, she and the late Ronald Allen, another community activist, founded Unity Partnership ( in 2016. Their vision was to foster dialogue and find commonalities among people looking to make change by focusing on the three pillars of criminal justice (law enforcement, courts, and corrections), youth engagement, and community outreach. The organization’s activities and events have since garnered a fair amount of local attention, but never more so than in late May and early June this year, when the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers sparked weeks of outrage and massive protests in cities and towns across the country.

“I never thought I would witness something like that in my lifetime,” Brent says of the video of the Floyd incident. But she also believes that as the initial protests have subsided, the appetite for dialogue, discussion, and—most importantly—concrete action has increased substantially. And in that, she sees the light of hope emerging from an extremely dark place.

“Hope comes from history. We as a people have made it through so much by taking our pain and making it work for us,” she explains. “So I’m excited to see what happens now as we stay strong and do the work to forge lasting change. As Dr. [Martin Luther] King said, ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’ Well, we’re at the table and we plan on staying there.”

Photograph by Olivia Kohler

Tierinii Jackson

Blues clues

I decided that I was going to pursue music as a career when I was about four years old. I was watching Michael Jackson on TV and I was filled with emotions that I’d never felt before. I knew right then that music was what I wanted to do. But I never really decided that I was going to be a blues artist—the blues chose me. I’m a lover of all genres, but blues is the one that comes most naturally. It’s a sound that I grew up in, so it’s a part of who I am.

Forced hiatus

We as a band are doing our best to stay safe and to continue writing during this time. We really miss being on the road with our fans every night, but we appreciate their continued love and support now more than ever.

The silver lining

I think that on the other side of this, you’ll have artists and musicians writing some of their best work. It’s a crazy time for us—music is not considered ‘essential,’ but it really is our therapy, so it’s very essential for us and others who need it. And I think you’ll feel those emotions reflected in the music that comes out of this pandemic.

Editor’s note Memphis-based Southern Avenue was scheduled to play the Blues on the Fox festival at Aurora’s RiverEdge Park in June. Although that show was canceled due to the ongoing pandemic, Jackson and the group hope to be back in the Chicago area soon.

Photo by David McClister

Dogged Days

Timing may be everything in the entertainment world. But the proprietors of the new outlet of the nationwide Lazy Dog chain (, 436 S. Route 59) of casual, dog-friendly eateries have to be relieved that the same axiom isn’t as all-encompassing in the restaurant business. While every bar and restaurant in the area was thrown into the same state of suspended activity (not to mention suspended disbelief) by the pandemic-related stay-at-home orders that came down in mid-March, few could lay claim to the inauspicious timing of Lazy Dog’s grand opening—which unfolded with excitement and anticipation less than seven weeks prior to the shutdown.

Just as patrons were coming out to sample the restaurant’s scratch-made comfort food, enjoy the covered patio with their faithful canine companions, and express gratitude for a new dining option to replace yet another “bed box store” along Route 59’s Mattress Mile, the virus slammed the brakes on just about everything. But Lazy Dog general manager Nikky Breijak says she and her team simply made the best of the challenging circumstances by working within that window as much as they were able—quickly pivoting to a delivery and curbside carryout model, including Pantry Meal Kits like pizza night and backyard BBQ, that allowed them to keep introducing themselves to their new neighbors as they all looked forward to brighter days ahead.

“We just wanted to do everything we could to keep things as safe and comfortable as possible for our team members and our guests,” Breijak says. “And we’ll continue to take that approach as we’re allowed to slowly reopen and start welcoming guests back to the restaurant in the months to come.

Street Eats

As June got underway, that meant once again serving diners (and their pups) on the restaurant’s handsome covered patio—albeit with fewer and more widely spaced tables and a host of new health and safety procedures for staff. (Carryout and delivery service continue as well.) While the spacious yet cozy dining room remains closed for the time being, guests can at least gather in the glow of the outdoor fireplace and get a general feel for the comfortable, relaxed community vibe Lazy Dog is aiming for in its second Illinois location (a Vernon Hills restaurant opened in January 2019).

Expanded cocktail rules now allow carryout diners and and not just patio patrons to take advantage of the bar’s many offerings, including a variety of house beers like the Huckleberry Haze IPA (one of several craft selections brewed exclusively for Lazy Dog by Golden Road Brewery) and creative mixed drinks like the bacon bourbon Old Fashioned.

Supper Time

Those drink options pair well with Lazy Dog’s small-plates offerings: sweet potato tots with roasted jalapeno-lime aioli, buffalo cauliflower slathered with high altitude hot sauce, or sweet-and-salty bacon candy. The expansive main menu features an array of salads, sandwiches, burgers, entrees, and wok-fired build-your-own rice and protein bowls.

On Breijak’s recommendation—and a serious craving for true comfort food—our carryout order simply had to include the BBQ bison meatloaf: a rich wedge of Durham Ranch grass-raised Wyoming bison wrapped in bacon and slathered in a sweet and tangy sauce. Alongside mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach, this felt like the embodiment of the Lazy Dog philosophy on a plate. The beer-battered fish and chips, meanwhile, was a towering mass of not-so-good-for-us goodness.

Perhaps the chocolate brownie sundae and apple-huckleberry open-face pie, likewise, were not the healthiest options with which to wrap up our moveable feast, but they sure hit the sweet spot just when we needed it most. In the end, then, maybe Lazy Dog’s timing really isn’t so bad after all.

Photos courtesy Lazy Dog

Mat Smart

Love for the burbs
[The dramedy] Naperville is my love letter to the suburbs, and a chance to push back against the attitude that they’re all the same. I wanted to show that there’s more to the suburbs than a lot of people think, and that there a plenty of people living rich, interesting, spiritual lives in the suburbs. The best reactions I get are when people from Naperville tell me that the play helped them appreciate their town in a new way—that’s really special to me.

Close to home
Naperville was first done in New York City, where everyone thought the suburbs were kind of exotic. So when the play was produced closer to home (at Chicago’s Theater Wit in 2016), it was interesting to see how everyone seemed to have very distinct opinions about Naperville—both good and bad.

Lessons from the past
I find it fascinating to look at our current times through the lens of history. That’s what I was trying to do in Naperville, which ties back to the founding of the town by Joseph Naper, and that’s what I’m doing again with my new play Eden Prairie, 1971, which asks what I think are timeless questions about what it means to be an American.

At presstime, the monthlong run of Naperville at McAninch Arts Center was canceled, and the world premiere of Smart’s Eden Prairie, 1971 at Raven Theatre ( on May 7 will be rescheduled. Check the theater’s website for the latest information.

Photo by Matt Simpkins Photography

Upscale Outdoors

a glamping expert explains the appeal

You don’t have to love the portmanteau (a blend of “glamorous” and “camping”) to love the notion behind “glamping”—that is, finding a way to enjoy the outdoors with a little more comfort and style than the typical pup tent and pit toilet.

While the concept had already somewhat peaked in its home base of the UK by the time 2016 rolled around, it was just starting to gain momentum here in the States when Amy Gillespie decided to get in the game with the Campfire Experience. Founded in the Midwest but recently relocated to Southern California, the company focuses on designing upscale camping experiences for weddings, parties, corporate events, or even just groups of friends or family members looking to reconnect with nature and each other—but maybe with a few more of the niceties and amenities of civilization.

“We’re seeing more and more people looking to experience and explore nature as an antidote to unplug from our many modern distractions,” Gillespie says. “Millennials, our primary audience, remember camping from their youth, and glamping allows them to revisit those memories and make new ones without a lot of hassle. With glamping, the stress of planning, preparing, and purchasing is off of their shoulders, and the simple joy of hiking, reading in a hammock, or laughing by a fire becomes much easier to attain. They plan their days, they make their fires, and they make their meals, but at night we give them a beautiful and comfortable place to rest their heads.”

Gillespie says a good glamping adventure can unfold in almost any location, from a forest or desert to wine country or the grounds of a music festival—or even a simple backyard. But putting the “glam” in the experience demands a few essentials, including camping staples like headlamps, lanterns, and mosquito repellent, of course, but also heightened necessities such as dry shampoo, face and body wipes, maybe some Yeti glasses for adult beverages, a classic Pendleton blanket, and some solid camp stools.

While the Campfire Experience supplies its clients with all of these amenities and more—plus Bell Tents outfitted with actual queen beds on frames with unique and trendy furnishings—Gillespie believes a DIY glamping trip can take just about any form. At the end of the day, what one takes away from the experience is more important than what he or she brings to it.

“For some, glamping can run the gamut from staying in a lodge in
nature to tent camping with a disco ball and a rose,” she says. “But whether it’s a family glamping weekend, a friends’ trip or even a ‘staycation’ in the backyard, these are milestones in peoples’ lives. And for the ones that we help plan, we couldn’t be happier to be a part of them.”

Photo Courtesy Campfire Experience

Alternative Sleeps

Portable tents, rustic cabins, and pop-up trailers generally have been seen as the tried-and-true standard-bearers for camping accommodations since, well, camping became a thing. But as times have changed, so too have the types of temporary domiciles that campers are looking for, which is why Kampgrounds of America (KOA) has developed a range of unique lodging options that offer plenty of new po-tent-ial.

“The demand for these unique offerings has really caught fire in the past five years or so,” says Mike Gast, KOA’s VP of communications. “The millennial generation began having their own families and were looking for both more comfortable ways to camp with a minimum of equipment to purchase, and also for more ‘unique’ outdoor experiences.”

Tepee Tents

Available at a number of Midwest locations—including Hayward, Wisconsin; Terre Haute, Indiana; and Mackinac Island, Michigan—KOA’s tepees combine modern amenities with a look and feel that honors Native American traditions.


These unique round structures may never be as popular at American campgrounds as they were on the plains of ancient Asia, but campers at KOA sites in places like Salem/Lisbon, Ohio, and Higgins Lake, Michigan. are flocking to them now for something different.

Wall Tents

For these much-upgraded versions of traditional tents, KOA properties (like the one near St. Joseph, Michigan) have found a variety of ways to deck out traditional safari tents with bedding, furniture, and creature comforts that bely the fact that you’re on a campground.


They may not adorn the back end of America’s trains anymore, but several of these classic train cars are now parked on KOA campsites for use as overnight lodging—including the one on historic Route 66 near St. Louis.

Airstream Trailers

Only a few select KOA locations out west have these stationary classics available for rental, but closer to home the South Bend/Elkhart campground in northern Indiana does have one “retro” trailer onsite.

Photo Courtesy KOA

Look Back, Push Forward

Avanzare, 667 W. Roosevelt Road, Lombard, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune)

Comfort food tends to get an unfairly bad rap in some quarters these days, as if in failing to explicitly reinvent the culinary wheel (even if just for the sake of doing so) a new restaurant that opts instead to craft a menu of well-chosen and finely executed staples is somehow not worthy of the same regard as its more daring brethren.

But when it comes to Avanzare (667 W. Roosevelt Rd., 630.317.7076,—where a trio of Chicago restaurant veterans are bringing both Italian classics and the best of their combined dining résumés to new life—the only proper response to any hint of been-there-done-that dismissal would be something along the lines of senza senso (Italian for “nonsense”). Partners Ricardo Brizuela, Gabriel Hernandez, and Jose Estrada are in fact pursuing a philosophy of not just fully respecting and embracing tradition, but pushing forward (which is the English meaning of avanzare) as well.

“Our goal is to do classic Italian cooking with a few twists and turns, and to make almost everything we use right here onsite,” Brizuela says.

Red (Sauce) Alert

For proof that Avanzare has a firm grasp on the fundamentals of traditional Italian cuisine, look no further than the appetizer slate, where tender meatballs rest on a bed of soft polenta and are bathed in a tomato sauce that confirms that your coming meal is indeed in good hands. Traditionalists can get their fix for calamari with the fritto misto, which combines the fried squid with scallops, shrimp, and zucchini in a light marinara. Both of these are best enjoyed with a selection from the extensive wine list, where nearly 90 percent of the options hail from Italy.

On a cold night, a steaming bowl of the hearty escarole soup is a great option for dipping the housemade focaccia and sourdough breads as well. The breads emerge from the same wood-burning oven that fires up the half-dozen pizzas on the menu, including the gamberi, which layers shrimp and grilled zucchini atop a pesto base alongside chunks of Gorgonzola.

Under the Sea

The delicious tomato sauce on those meatballs figures prominently into any number of pastas (all made in house) and entrées, of course, including the very tasty chicken parmesan, and what from an adjoining table appeared to be an amazing lasagna. But like any good Italian eatery, there is plenty to explore beyond the pasta and red sauce at Avanzare, including an array of veal and chops.

There’s also a boatload of seafood selections. An easy mark for a good risotto, I was immediately drawn to one of the specials for the night featuring crab and scallops in a rich, creamy broth. As much as this kitchen knows its way around the pasta, this was clearly the highlight of the evening, with perfectly cooked rice and flavorful bites of seafood throughout presenting a strong argument for inclusion on the everyday menu.

Perhaps not an everyday thing for most people, on the other hand, is dessert—but this is not the place to take a pass on a comforting option like cannoli (not surprisingly, also made in house) or, in fact, anything that comes accompanied by a healthy scoop of the gelato (in our case, the chocolate cake).

In other words, when the waiter comes over with those dessert menus and asks if anybody has room, be sure to push forward.

Editor’s note: Avanzare will be open from 2 to 8 p.m., offering its dinner menu with 20 percent off orders through Grubhub, carry-out, or by calling 630.317.7076. The restaurant will be delivering in nearby neighborhoods.

Photos by E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune