“Wow, you’re like a walking Chicago encyclopedia,” said a new friend the other night at a MealSharing.com dinner. I still get all atwitter when folks ask me advice about where to eat, or what neighborhood to live in. And I still surprise myself with all the random knowledge and factoids I really have.
I have lived in the city of Chicago for more than 17 years. Holy crap! It’s longer than I lived my entire childhood growing up in New Jersey. Clearly, Chicago has a hold on me. Thanks to my former TV producing job, I learned so much about the city.
Now, during that time, I also ventured out to the ‘burbs for stories and know some, but certainly not as much as I do about the stuff going on within Chicago’s borders.
So when I was approached by the Chicago Southland (marketing speak for a large area of suburbs to the south of the city) to come on down for a little getaway, I jumped at the chance!
The Chicago Southland is made up of 62 municipalities from the Illinois/Indiana border all the way west to the city of Joliet and from Peotone to Bridgeview (near Midway, where the Chicago MLS soccer team plays. Go Fire!)
This area is sort of an unofficial golf capital around Chicago. It has more than 34 courses and has hosted many major championships, including the Western Open, the U.S. Senior Open, and the U.S. Open Golf Championship.
Going to a match at Toyota Park to cheer on the Chicago Fire is a fun and affordable day (tickets can still be bought for $15-20).
And get this: this July, the big 2016 Stihl Timbersports U.S. Pro and Collegiate Championship is coming to Tinley Park Convention Center. How can you NOT want to come to this event which pits the top lumberjack athletes in man vs. wood competitions using axes and chainsaws??
And later this summer in August, the City of Blue Island will host the first annual Chicago Southland Dragon Boat Festival at Fay’s Point in the Cal-Sag Channel (Calumet-Saganashkee Channel — you can see why they abbreviate it!).
The restaurant at La Banque Hotel, La Voute Bistro and Bar, would be right at home in the city. The French-inspired cuisine was fresh and contemporary with a nice emphasis on local ingredients. And during the summer, they bust open the doors and you enjoy wonderful patio seating on a former street turned pedestrian zone. And of course, the centerpiece is the massive vault (which the restaurant is named for in French) in which you can have a private dinner, complete with huge door signed my former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
Another great spot for a more relaxed lunch or dinner is the Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer, the award-winning brewery is built on the site of the original train station.
And of course, one of this Jersey girl’s, favorite spots down here is Bergstein’s NY Deli. I was lucky to go there to produce a story for Chicago’s Best on WGN a couple years ago and haven’t stopped thinking about their bagels and lox or corned beef on rye.
Arts & Culture
One of my favorite stops was a visit to the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park which is a somewhat hidden treasure set inside the tranquil prairie landscape at Governor’s State University. More than 25 permanent sculptures dot the landscape in a great melding of art and nature. Some are hidden and surprise you behind a cluster of trees while others are hard to miss like the famous, giant Paul Bunyan. If you are lucky you can also spot some wildlife here like coyotes, deer, beavers, and hawks. The park is open for free year-round with free parking. You can also take the Metra Rail here by getting off at University Park Station.
The Beverly Arts Center is a gem here in the Southland. The 40,000 square-foot space has about 100 classes each session for adults and kids in dance, theatre, visual arts, film and music.
“We are so excited about the potential here,” says Artistic Director, Shellee Frazee. “We can serve the community in so many ways.” There’s also a 400-seat theatre, art gallery, event rental spaces and a sunny courtyard.
You’d think new boutique hotels might just be in the city of Chicago. But, no, the city of Homewood has a new, contemporary hotel just steps from their train station in the cute downtown area. La Banque opened just last summer. The luxury boutique hotel is located inside a former bank building and has just 18 rooms.
The building, which was built in 1925, was lovingly restored by Claude Gendreau (who isn’t a hotelier, by the way, he’s a veterinarian surgeon!), the same man who also owns the Ravisloe Country Club next door. I noticed right away that he took great care in the design or build. He didn’t cut corners to create a luxurious space – towels are thick and soft, each room has large flatscreen televisions, beautiful moulding and even automatic blinds which you can operate bedside. There’s a lovely breakfast buffet in the lobby with fresh-squeezed orange juice and lots to choose from.
Down here, there are miles and miles of bike trails including the Cal-Sag Trail. The path connects several regional multi-use trails, creating a trail system that when complete, will stretch for more than 100 miles. The entire western portion was paved last year and is 13 miles long. The eastern portion will open in 2018, which would then create what will be called “the Southland Century.”
With all the breweries and trails here you can combine it into a perfect beer and bike crawl.
If you live in or near Chicago, come check out the Chicago Southland for a couple days. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
Disclosure: During my one-night stay, I was a guest of Chicago Southland. As always all opinions are my own.