Memorial Day at the Arboretum

The Arboretum of South Barrington

I was looking forward to some family, sun and fun on this Memorial Day weekend, and today we took a drive to the Arboretum of South Barrington.  It’s pretty much an outdoor shopping mall surrounded by gardens and trees with almost everything you need to see or do available.  There are shops, restaurants, festivals, a cinema, clock tower, brick sidewalks and a bowling alley/bocce ball court.  There’s also ample parking- but just remember where you last saw your car!


We were hungry, so we headed to Pinstripes Bowling, Bocce & Bistro first.  This gigantic facility has a bowling alley, bocce ball courts, a banquet hall, WiFi, a bar, a fire pit and both indoor and outdoor seating.  We were loving the warm Windy City weather and went for a seat on the patio, and were ready for a drink.  My wife loves the Arnold Palmer (half iced tea/half lemonade) and I opted for an ice cold Peroni on draft.  I checked out the wine list and while it has many pedestrian choices like Ecco Domani, DaVinci, Castle Rock and Joel Gott, it does offer some hard to find wines like Teruzzi & Puthod “Terre di Tufi”, ZD Chardonnay, Argyle “Nuthouse” Pinot Noir, Rubissow “Les Trompettes” and Quintessa.  The menu is Italian influenced with panini, soups, pasta and pizza, but also contains American favorites like sliders, cobb salad and ribs.  We split the Tomato Mozzarella Bruschetta and Beef Tenderloin Sliders.  The bruschetta was amazing- ripe cherry tomatoes, ciliegine mozzarella, toasted crostini brushed with sweet balsalmic and arugula salad.  Everything worked so well together and it was very tasty.  The sliders were delicious and I couldn’t figure out which was softer: the bread or the beef!  The steak was so tender and was topped with sweet peppers and cippolini onions.  They were surrounded by a lick-the-plate bordelaise sauce and topped with crispy shoestring potatoes drizzled with truffle oil.  Our server, Amanda, was not only very informative and helpful on our first visit, but also very attentive- she heard us talking about the Meatball Sliders and brought us a sample to try!  They were excellent as well.  I don’t know how anyone could order an entrée after all that, so it was time for dessert.  Pinstripes offers free cheesecake to anyone who checks in on Foursquare, so we took advantage of it.  My wife said it was one of the best cheesecakes she ever tried- it was brûléed and moist with a crunchy crust and served with strawberry sauce and fresh strawberries.  We decided to bypass the bowling/bocce until next time and walk the Arboretum.


It was great to stroll in the open fresh air and pick which shops we wanted to stop in.  We checked out Yankee Candle, LOFT, Sur La Table, Anna Shea Chocolates and Panera for coffee.  We also stopped by Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant.  They make wine in Orland Park from fruit grown in California, Michigan and here in Illinois, and have four restaurants in Burr Ridge, Orland Park, Wheeling and South Barrington.  We were greeted by went for the tasting, which included one sparkling, three whites, three reds and a dessert wine.  The sparkling wine was a combination of Chardonnay with natural peach fruit and turned out to be my favorite.  It was dry, tasty and refreshing with a load of fruit flavor which lasted.  Their whites, a lineup which included Riesling, Chenin Blanc and a blend, were all good and exhibited nice fruit flavor, light spice and sweetness.  The reds showed promise as well, with a peppery Syrah, a light drinking Cabernet Sauvignon and their Lux Merlot, which has discriminating selection and significant oak aging.  Finished up with a very good Pomegranate dessert wine, which was just as tart as it was sweet.  All in all, I recommend their wine club, especially if you live close to one of their tasting rooms.  That’ll give you the best options and an opportunity to taste your purchase.


A great weekend which included all the essential elements: family, food, fun, sun, beer and wine.  Throw in a prayer for all my fellow veterans, current service member and those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and that makes a perfect Memorial Day.  Let me know how you spent your weekend and make sure to try the Arboretum!

Friday Evening at Windy City Wine Fest '09

WCWG with Lynfred WineryIt was a beautiful Friday evening, and I had a plan- take the Green Line train to east Randolph Street, meet my wife just after work, and enjoy the Windy City Wine Festival.  Everything worked out as scheduled, and we headed to Daley Bicentennial Plaza, which has an amazing view of the city to go along with excellent greenery and flowers.  There was a short line at will call, where we picked up our wristbands and drink tickets, and headed into the fest!

We moved past the stage, where the demonstrations were being held, and decided to circle the park and booths before sampling.  While walking with our sample glasses, my wife received many dirty looks- she is pregnant.  Her only intention was to smell, taste, and spit the wine, but I fear there are too many judgmental individuals in our society.  Feeling uncomfortable, she turned in her souvenier glass for a bottle of water.  It's funny how those same people would say nothing if they saw a pregnant woman smoking or consuming unhealthy or "fast" foods, which could be harmful to a developing baby, while moderate consumption of wine during pregnancy has proven, through reseach, to be helpful in development.  Everything in moderation is the key to life, and unfortunately, a good portion of America has yet to learn this.

So we headed into the tastings, and I decided to go with Illinois wineries.  First was Cooper's Hawk winery and restaurant, located in Orland Park, IL.  I tried their house white blend of mostly Alsatian varietals, and it was a bit off-dry, fruity, and pleasant. 

Next was Illinois Cellars, which makes estate wines in Carrollton.  I tried their white Chardonnel, Apple Wine, and red Norton.  The wines are of decent quality, and when you consider the pricetag ($6.99/bottle), are quite a value for locally grown examples- definitely worth a try! 

We then saw Greg Fischer, of BevArt and Wild Blossom Meadery, from the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago.  Greg owns local bee farms here in both Illinois and Indiana, from which he gets the honey to make mead.  I've tasted much of his product before and it's fantastic, especially when heated or added to beer.  There was quite a line, so I said hi and proceeded onto my favorite Illinois winery, Lynfred.

Lynfred Winery is located in Roselle, IL., and makes wines from local and California grown varietals.  They have a miriad of styles, from sweet fruit wines like cranberry, peach, and rhubarb, to Viognier and award winning Cabernet Sauvignon.  Make sure to visit them and say hi to Christina and the crew (pictured above)!

As for the rest of the wines, I thought the selections were mostly pedestrian.  Many of the labels are nothing different from what I have seen widely available in your local Jewel-Osco or Dominick's.  That is not to say the wine was bad, but just that it was nothing special.

As far as the food goes, many very good restaurants were represented.  Markethouse, Zocalo, and Billy Goat TavernWCWG and The Hearty Boys were among the Chicago reps, with many other goodies from the 'burbs as well.  It was a huge pleasure to meet Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh (pictured to the right) of Hearty Boys catering, and soon to open (November '09), Hearty restaurant.  They are an awesome duo, and Chicago is very fortunate to have them growing in the city.  They even put on a great and informative cooking demo for all to see and learn.

The night was made even better after we left, as we were able to experience part of the performance from the Lyric Opera House in the Pritzker Pavillion.  Even though the venue was packed, we had a great time, and both Millenium Park and Chicago are awesome in the summertime.  

If you unfortunately missed this event, you can still catch the Naperville Wine Festival this coming weekend, or Chicago Gourmet September 26 & 27.  Make sure you enjoy everything Chicagoland has to offer, and tell me about it!