Michelin stars, local artisan tastes, farm-to-table, southern wine trails and the most idyllic craft brewery in the world.
In November 2016, the Michelin Guide awarded stars to 26 Chicago restaurants, the most stars ever for our smoking hot restaurant scene. From celebrated three star stalwart Alinea, to new kids on the block Oriole, Roister, Smyth, and Bands of Bohemia, it’s time to break out your elasticated waist bands and make the most of that dinner reservation you made months ago.
The Michelin Bib Gourmand list is a fantastic guide to places with great meals at an affordable price. The 2017 Chicago list has 52 restaurants including: sushi, late-night Korean barbecue, Mexican neighborhood gems, seafood and craft beer gastro-pubs.
Crafted cocktails are big in Chicago. Head along to the Violet Hour in Chicago’s Wicker Park, for a stylish take on Pre-Prohibition cocktails or a Cocktail 101 class, which reveals the stories behind vintage classics. The Violet Hour won the 2015 James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program, and pays a charming homage to the era it’s inspired by, with no mobile phones allowed inside the lounge.
Deep-dish pizza is more than pizza, it’s a way of life, and in Chicago it’s become the favourite way to be served. After all, when it’s made in a cast iron skillet, that’s not just a pizza, that’s a meal.
What can be better than toast, topped with meat, topped with fries and slathered with a heaping dose of cheese sauce? Pretty much nothing! The Horseshoe Sandwich is an Illinois delicacy.
Considering the hotdog was introduced in Chicago at the World’s Fair in 1893, you’ll be inundated with a bevy of great locations to find one. Topped with yellow mustard, tomatoes, peppers, onions, neon green relish, dill pickle and celery salt, this dog comes with everything except the kitchen sink, and of course no ketchup.
The Italian Beef sandwich originated in Chicago and dates back to the 1930s. Designed for cheap and easy eating in the stockyards, it quickly took on a legend of its own.
Head south for lunch at Epiphany Farms in Bloomington. Every item on the menu is raised on Epiphany Farms or sourced from local farmers. You’re eating food grown within walking distance.
Meander onwards to Prairie Fruits Farm near Champaign who offer themed farm dinners from spring through late autumn. The farm is a major player in the Illinois natural and local foods movement and an outdoor feast in the shade of their maple trees is a memory to treasure.
If you feel the urge for a midday snack (or a few afternoon libations), swoop down to Firefly Grill in Effingham. Firefly’s vision is a sustainable one, right down to the reclaimed building materials in the restaurant. And of course, all the foods are either grown on site, hand-picked locally or sourced from artisan farmers, foragers and fishermen.
As you continue south, stop off at Marcoot Jersey Creamery in Greenville, set in the rolling hills of Bond County. This landmark Jersey creamery, another seventh-generation local family business, specialises in handcrafted artisan farmstead cheeses. Grab yourself some of their award-winning cheese for a picnic lunch, and a selection of other local delicacies, then press on to Carbondale in southern Illinois
If you’re in town on a Saturday April through November, check out the Carbondale Farmers’ Market where the freshest and finest produce grown in southern Illinois plays the starring role. An eclectic group of local farmers and producers gather offering everything from fruits, veggies and eggs to seafood, sausages and baked goods.
Take your time on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, a 25-mile scenic drive through the hilly Shawnee National Forest with twelve award-winning wineries. Some of the wineries even offer lodgings.
A stone’s throw from Shawnee National Forest, outside the tiny town of Ava, you’ll find a 1920s farmhouse that doubles as the Scratch Brewing Company. Scratch is a fresh trend in micro brewing where adventurous brewers create distinctlylocal beers by hunting forinteresting, forest-grown ingredients.