Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wadhams pagoda-style gas station

With its unique pagoda-style design, Wadhams Gas Station in West Allis, Wisconsin is one place I wanted to take a look at.
Built by Milwaukee architect Alexander Eschweiller in 1916, the steel-frame, glass-walled design is considered iconic.
The station was restored to the 1950 appearance in 2000 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the summer of 2004.
The building is quite beautiful with its remarkable red roof, and there are also lovely stained glass inserts in the roof displaying the letter W.
Looking inside the windows at the historic display, I was amazed at how tiny and efficient the space was and could imagine an employee hard at work in this tiny pagoda.
There are several old cans and bottles of petroleum products on display, and I thought it was funny how many variations of Mobil hand lotion there were. The mechanics must have been concerned about keeping their hands soft and supple back then!
There were also several neat maps and brochures on display.
While at the site, my husband checked the Geocaching web site and found there was a cache hidden on site, so we searched for that for a while before finding it, then logged our find and continued our travels.

Wadhams Gas Station
1647 South 76th Street
West Allis, WI 53214

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Charlie Parker's

We first heard of Charlie Parker's on Diner's, Drive-ins and Dives.
My husband was in Springfield, Illinois one day for work and called me around lunch time to ask if I could direct him to the place so he could check it out.
He's been a regular ever since.
I had a chance to visit Charlie Parker's myself last month and found the 50s-themed restaurant, located inside a former WWII airplane hanger Quonset hut, bustling on a late Saturday morning.
There is counter seating, booths along the wall, and we ended up at a table in the middle of the room, one of the last two open.
Since it was Saturday and since they serve breakfast all day I had breakfast, but my husband's standard fare at Charlie's is the Springfield classic, a horseshoe. The pork tenderloin shoe topped with tater tots, I believe.
Everything we ordered was very good, and though the corned beef hash is not the same as you find at most places (this version is homemade), it was great.
If you like extreme food, you can go for the challenge of finishing a four stack of their giant pancakes. If you do, the cost of your four flapjacks will be on the house.
Charlie Parker's is open seven days a week but is not open for dinner, offers daily specials, and gets even more kudos from me for having a bike rack on site.
If you're looking for comfort food in a unique building, Charlie's should be on your list.

Charlie Parker's
700 North Street
Springfield, IL 62704

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Harvest Moon Drive-In Theatre

Whenever I see a drive-in theater on my travels, I crane my neck and look for as long as I can until it passes out of sight.
When I was in my 20s, my friends and I used to take road trips to a drive-in near Joliet, Illinois.
I knew there was one in Gibson City, Illinois, and I took my husband on a surprise trip to the Harvest Moon Drive-In Theatre in 2003.
The film was Pirates of the Caribbean. We had dinner at the Bayern Stube, then killed time before dark when the film would start.
Before the movie was finished, we were getting drowsy and starting to worry about the long drive home still ahead of us, so we left before the end and headed on our way.
The theater, reopened in 1989, still pops into my head now and again, and when we were on our way back from Indiana early this month and looking for a different route, I was excited when we chose to drive through Gibson City.
Once again we stopped for an excellent meal at the Bayern Stube, then went to take a look at the drive-in, which had already closed for the season.
We were surprised to see a new sign on site touting the theater as the world's first wind-powered theatre.
In the spring of 2009, the owners of the theatre installed two small wind turbines on site that they hope will eventually produce 100% of their electricity.
It seems to me that this a great way to maintain a slice of Americana while looking out for the future.

Harvest Moon Drive-In Theatre
Route 47, South
1123 S. Sangamon Ave.
Gibson City, IL 60936

Friday, October 9, 2009

France Park

We don't have a lot of chances to see waterfalls when traveling, so when I heard there was one near Logansport, Indiana, I made plans to visit.
France Park is a lovely site to visit in the fall.
Driving in to the wooded park, we were greeted by the Fouts Cabin, a Beech log cabin built in 1839.
We paid our $2 each admission and got directions to the falls. After a short drive, we reached the parking area and got out to see the falls.
The waterfall itself is not very tall, however the site is scenic and beautiful.
I walked up the wooden staircase to the top of the falls, then joined my husband back at the bottom to go search out a Geocache hidden in the woods nearby.
Getting back in the car, we drove around the park a bit more checking out the scuba diving area where a couple of divers were in the water on this cool October day.
We also saw a brick box structure that my husband said looked like a brick oven. Later I found out that's exactly what it was.
Referred to as the Italian Oven, the recently restored oven was used by Italian immigrants who built the Wabash and Erie Canal which runs from east to west through the center of France Park, or by those who worked in the quarry. The canal operated from 1840-1875 and was used was to transport the stone mined at the quarry.
The oven, located near the entrance of the park, was used weekly as a community resource for those needing to bake their bread.
France Park is also home to camp sites and hiking trails, plus much more.

France Park
4505 W US Highway 24
Logansport, IN 46947

Thursday, October 8, 2009


The Whitehouse is a long-standing restaurant in Logansport, Indiana, we visited in early October of this year.
Most of the signs on the building listed the name as one word, but there was a sign listing it as two words as well.
The exterior is charming and time-worn, a small stone diner-style building with an old Coca-Cola logo board atop a rusty sign proclaiming the restaurant name.
We took a seat at one of the 13 small counter stools and were immediately able to order drinks and soon were sipping them, perusing the menu.
Along the countertop was a jukebox, and there was a full size one near the door.
We found by talking to the woman running the grill that this Whitehouse is considered Whitehouse number one and that at one time there were three or four of them. This location, opened in 1941, is the only one remaining.
Their ground beef comes from a local Cass County meat locker, I believe she said it was called Royal Center, delivered fresh daily. They hand make the burger patties once the meat arrives at the restaurant.
I was going for the Whitehouse burger, which we were told has cheese and bacon on it, until our grill master told me about the spicy chicken sandwich, an all white meat chicken breast breaded with a peppery mix.
When she brought it out from the back to place it on the grill, presumedly frozen and institutional, and I feared I may have made a bad choice. Once I tried it though, I was happy with my selection. The chicken breast was hot and juicy and the seasoning on the breading was delicious.
My husband had a double cheeseburger, after a discussion about how thick the patties were. He was assured he wanted a double, and was pleased with the sandwich.
The prices were incredible compared to what we see in Illinois: $2.30 for a double cheeseburger. Our entire meal, including two drinks, an order of onion rings and a slice of sugar cream pie, was less than $10.
In addition to the counter seating, there are four booths along the wall.
The Whitehouse opens very early, 4 a.m., and closes fairly early as well. On the Saturday we were in, they closed at 1 p.m.
Next time I am in the area, the Whitehouse will certainly be on my list.

87 S 6th Street
Logansport, IN

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Rootbeer Stand

It's purely coincidental that we hit two historic root beer stands in one summer.
We've driven past the exit sign touting The Rootbeer Stand in Oglesby, Illinois so many times while on our way to other destinations. This time we made a plan to stop.
I believe The Rootbeer Stand was an A&W root beer stand until some time in the 1980s. Henry Moore owned it for 50 years, purchasing it after World War II.
In the parking lot, we were greeted by Woody the Root Beer man, with root beer and burger in hand.
Inside, we took a booth along the left side of the restaurant, and soon placed our order for cheeseburgers, an iced tea for me, root beer for my husband and fries and onion rings. My meal also came with a salad, for which I selected a creamy garlic dressing.
The prices were very reasonable.
The food took a little while to be prepared, but our onion rings came out quickly. My husband was trying to save them for his meal, but once I sampled them I kept having to have more.
They were super crisp through and through, none of those slithery onions slipping out once you bit through the outer crust. They were great alone, but I found them even better with a small dollop of ranch sauce.
The garlic dressing on my salad had nice garlic powder punch, and the burgers were good.
My wavy fries were also nicely prepared, with a distinct crunchy outer shell leading to soft potato goodness tucked inside.
My husband enjoyed the root beer, and I found it to be much more to my liking than most I've tried.
I perused the "flavor burst" ice cream menu many times debating between butter pecan and a cotton candy flavor, but in the end decided to skip dessert.
After lunch, we walked around the site a bit, admiring the drive-in parking complete with curbside menus.

The Rootbeer Stand
225 N Columbia Avenue
Oglesby, IL 61348

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Triple XXX Family Restaurant

Driving through Lafayette, Indiana one time, my husband and I noticed a rather gaudy orange and brown striped building on the hill. We saw a sign that said Triple XXX, and wrote it off as some odd college shop or bar.Much to our surprise while watching Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network a few months later, we recognized the orange and brown building, which was featured on a burgers episode.
It was then that we decided the next time we were in Lafayette, we had to check the place out.
Why the name Triple XXX? The restaurant was named after a root beer brand of the same name sold in the 1900s.
There were once several Triple XXX root beer stands. Besides the Lafayette, IN location, one remains in Issaquah, WA.
Arriving at the restaurant in Lafayette in late August, we pulled up to the former drive-in area, which was filled with tables of people waiting to get inside and eat.
On this Saturday, it didn't appear that they were offering curb side service, and I am not sure if they do so anymore.
Walking in, we were told that it would be a few minutes wait for seating inside, so we started to head out to wait, but just as we reached the door we were told to grab a couple of the round orange vinyl stools that had just opened up.
All of the seating in the Triple XXX Family Restaurant is counter seating, and depending on which section of the room you're in, you may be starting across the oval counter at someone sitting just across from you.
The restaurant has been serving up chop steak burgers (from sirloin ground in house) since the late 1920s, so of course we both selected items off the burger menu, after ordering a chocolate malt for me and a root beer for my husband. After the fact, I noticed they had butterscotch malts and wished I had ordered one of those.
I decided to be a bit adventurous with my meal after seeing this description on the menu: "The Duane Purvis All-American - A very special taste treat! 1/4 lb. of 100% ground sirloin served on a toasted sesame bun with melted cheese on top with lettuce, tomato, pickle, Spanish onion and French fries. Add thick creamy peanut butter on the lower deck and you're in for the touchdown!"
While we waited for our food, my husband headed to the small ATM located in the corner of the restaurant, as the only form of payment accepted was cash. He headed back to his stool, and soon our food arrived.
Surprisingly, the peanut butter was not a big standout when I bit in to my burger, but was more of an interesting side note.
I would not be shocked to find myself putting some peanut butter on a burger some time in the future, but if you had told me that before I tried the Duane Purvis, I would have thought you were crazy.
The fries were okay.
The restaurant is currently open 24 hours and also serves breakfast.
The thing I enjoyed about dining at the Triple XXX was the hustle and bustle of everything, and the fun of people watching while basking in a bit of history.

Triple XXX Family Restaurant
2 N Salisbury St
West Lafayette, IN 47906

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Riley Suspension Bridge

Planning our most recent trip to Indiana late this August, I ran across an interesting site I had never visited, the Riley Suspension Bridge.
The bridge spans Deer Creek in Delphi, named for the Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley, and is at least the fourth suspension bridge at this site. Three previous bridges were built in 1911, 1988 and 1998 and were all destroyed by floods.
Supports for one of the previous bridges can still be seen nearby.
The land for the Riley Park Annex, where the suspension bridge is located, was donated by E.W. Bowen and his wife in 1930.
The park also features ball diamonds, playgrounds, basketball courts and picnic shelters.

Riley Suspension Bridge
S. Washington Street to Riley Park Drive
Delphi, IN 46923

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Indiana Beach

Several summers while growing up, my mom loaded my brother and I in the car and make the fairly boring drive to Flora, Indiana to visit family, while my brother slept for four hours and I stared out the car window.
I have lots of great memories of those days: visiting my great-grandparents; staying with Grandma; walking to the gas station behind her apartment for Slush Puppies and donuts; the sheep at Aunt Mary's house; a pontoon boat ride along the lake where ducks had just left their eggs to fend for themselves.
And one of the big highlights of those summer visits was trips to Indiana Beach in Monticello.
I've gone back several times over the years.
My first road trips sans parents were at age 17 and 18 to Indiana Beach with a high school friend.
I remember paying admission to the swimming area, trudging up the stairs to the bathhouse to get a wire basket to stash our stuff in while we went to sun ourselves on the beach for the day.
Another group of friends and I visited several years after that and had a great time.
And now I am lucky to have a husband who loves road trips, loves amusement parks and loves kitsch, so we try to go every year.
Opened in 1926, Indiana Beach offers roller coasters, arcade games, a swimming beach and more, tucked among cottages and motels offering lodging right nearby.
There are wooden roller coasters on site, as well as the Steel Hawg, Indiana's tallest steel coaster.
Indiana Beach is also home to one of the last few remaining Fascination parlors, a wooden table game in the same family as Skee Ball.
For me, a trip to Indiana Beach can mean a ride on the Shafer Queen paddle wheel boat; riding the antique cars; a ride from one end of the park to the other on the chair lift; feeding the huge fish; riding the Scrambler over the lake; a stop at the creepy fortune teller guy in the arcade; a visit to the beach shop and gift shop and a round of Skee Ball.
For my husband and I, our trip now also involves a trip down the log plume ride and some of the World's Best Tacos.
Yes, when we first saw the sign touting the World's Best Tacos just ahead, we snickered. Please, the WORLD'S BEST tacos are at Indiana Beach?? I don't even recall why we tried them. But we absolutely love these tacos and rave about them every time. Sometimes, we drive three hours to the park, make a pass through the grounds, eat our tacos and head back home.
We didn't get to visit the park last year. This year, they waived admission to the grounds.
At some point since our last visit, they have made some changes, perhaps for the better, perhaps not.
I was dismayed to see as we approached the park that the former wood-sided boardwalk buildings have been covered in ordinary tan vinyl siding.
We also noticed that all of the arcade games no longer accept coins, but now use swipe cards, which are also used to pay for rides.
One thing I noticed on this visit was that there are many employees over the age of 50. I did see a few teenagers manning some rides, but overall there were many mature employees. I don't have anything against teenagers as employees at the park, but it was very refreshing to see so many mature people working, and seemingly enjoying themselves.
The food choices are still plentiful, and reasonable. There are several fair food options, and tacos will only set you back $2 each.
After enjoying our tacos on this year's visit, we continued our walk to the other end of the park.
We walked across the suspension bridge, which I had learned some history about recently.
In 1966 Tom Spackman, son of Earl Spackman, the original founder, expanded the park further over the waters of Lake Shafer with the addition of the largest suspension bridge in the Midwest.
The pedestrian bridge offers a beautiful view of the park and lake, especially on as nice of a day as it was when we visited.

Indiana Beach
5224 E. Indiana Beach Road
Monticello, IN 47960

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cerno's Bar & Grill

Sometime during the later 1990s, a friend of mine introduced me to a gorgeous bar in Kewanee, Illinoid.
Now, anytime I am out in that neck of the woods, I try to stop by, as I did in early August this year.
When I started visiting the bar it was known as Lloyd's.
My dad, who grew up in the area knew it as Ann's Place. And well before his time, it is said that the bar remained open during Prohibition.
Currently it houses Cerno's Bar & Grill.

From their website:
"Imported from Belgium, this bar was built by Pabst Blue Ribbon in 1898.
John P. Brady (prominent young business
man of Kewanee, a wholesale and retail liquor dealer who was born in that city in February, 1868, son of Thomas and Rosanna [Trainer] Brady) was the original owner; his initials are still etched in the front door glass.
The Mahogany mirrored bar spans fifty feet, with hand carved figurines at each end. It is also accented with the original brass fixtures.
Detailed carved lion heads are throughout the building.
Along the wall are small buzzers topped with tiny eagles that were used to summon a waiter to the customers. While overhead is an embossed tin ceiling. Stained-glass and leaded windows enhance the 19th century atmosphere.
The brass footed pedestal tables are still here, as is the teller cage where men would cash their paychecks, and then come in for a drink. The brass spittoons are now used as tip jars behind the bar. Years ago when women were not allowed in the taverns, the men would have to take their lady friends upstairs to drink. Their drinks were then sent up to them via the dumbwaiter, which still works today."

I never tire of looking around the bar, taking in the ancient looking wallpaper murals depicting horse and buggy, the tin ceiling, the mahogany lion's heads carved into each arch of the bar and doorways, the old tile floors, the curved brass foot rail, the cozy wooden booths...this is one place where despite changing hands several times over the years, the character has largely been left intact.

Cerno's Bar & Grill
213 W 3rd St
Kewanee, IL 61443

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lou Mitchell's

We popped by Lou Mitchell's this July when we had a bit of time to kill near Union Station waiting for a flight in Chicago.
In business for more than 85 years and located near the start of Route 66, the restaurant has history on its side.
There were about three groups ahead of us waiting for tables, so we crammed inside the door to wait. A server carrying a wicker basket of donut holes gave us each one as we waited, however, no one offered me any of the Milk Duds I saw in the basket nearby, guarded by a note that said the hostess would give them out.
The bustling restaurant has a spartan diner decor, complete with old coat racks at the tables, which I could imagine festooned with hats and trench coats in the 1920s. Round globe lights grace the ceiling.
From the looks of things, we missed the boat by not ordering breakfast, but instead went with a couple of burgers and hand cut fries, which were fine. The big standout to me was the hamburger buns. They were covered in sesame seeds. There must have been hundreds of them, and I enjoyed the buns a lot.
They squeeze their own orange juice, which I would like to try next time, along with some of their breakfast options.
We also noticed several patrons enjoying small cups of ice cream, which the restaurant gives out as well.

Lou Mitchell's
565 W Jackson Blvd
Chicago, IL 60661-5701

Monday, June 15, 2009

Route 66 Garage Sale

June 12 and 13 marked the third anniversary of the Route 66 Garage Sale, and that Saturday we decided to check it out for the first time.
The towns involved included Atlanta, Lincoln, Broadwell and Elkhart, all in Illinois.
We didn't find much of interest at the garage sales themselves. Maybe all of the goodies were snatched up on Friday before we got there.
We spoke to a gentleman at Krotz & Sons in Lincoln who said that the first year these garage sales were held, people lined up their wares along Route 66. This time, the sales were found by following many hand made signs weaving back and forth into neighborhoods, which made it a bit difficult for people not familiar with the area.
We did take the opportunity to do a bit more exploring of the Route 66 area while we were out.

I found out that the Palms Grill Café in Atlanta had recently been reopened for breakfast and lunch, and seeing that they served chocolate malts, I decided this would be the perfect time to stop in and sample one.
The back of the menu read: Step back in time at the Palms Grill Café. The Grill, as folks in town called it, opened in August 1934 in "the center of Atlanta on Rt. 66", serving locals and travelers alike. The Grill provided home-cooked meals, plus Bingo games and weekly dances in the backroom. Atlanta's children took advantage of its weekday "School Children's Plate Lunch" — which included a "choice of three meats and two vegetables and drink" all for 45 cents! The Grill was the local Greyhound Bus Stop, so if you wanted to catch the bus, you just flipped the switch for the light on the bottom of the Grill's large neon sign. The original Grill closed in the late 1960s. The Atlanta Library and Museum, along with generous financial support from Atlanta citizens, the Illinois Bureau of Tourism, and the National Park Service's Rt. 66 Corridor Preservation Project, have recreated the Grill so it can once again serve Rt. 66 travelers and folks of this fair community.
Why the name "Palms Grill Café"? Atlanta local Robert Adams was inspired by the palm trees
he saw in California while on a trip there. When he returned to Atlanta to open a restaurant, he wanted to be reminded of the sunshine state, so he named the establishment The Palms Grill Café and ensured that a live palm three was included in its interior decor.
I loved the decor of the restaurant, from the marble countertop where we enjoyed our wonderful chocolaty malts to the white
tin stamped ceiling, to the tile on the bathroom floor. Almost everything looked clean and new, yet period appropriate.
There was even an old refrigerator behind the counter (you can see a glimpse of it behind our malts), which we assumed was just for display, but we got a kick out of seeing our server grab hold of the old curved metal handle to pull open the door, revealing a nice array of fresh pies inside.
Even the glasses and saucers we were served with seemed period appropriate. There were a lot of nice touches used.

Moving down the road to Lincoln, we stopped at an antique store downtown.
Stepping out of the car, we noticed a retro looking metal box hanging on a pole near the curb.
Thinking it might be a meter of some sort, I looked at the name plate on the front: Traf-O-Teria, which gave me a chuckle.
My husband walked into the antique store as I was snapping a photo, and the lady inside was laughing and asked if I had never seen a ticket payment box before.

Our next stop was Broadwell, where we got out at the Pig Hip museum and visited with the former owner and his wife. Very nice folks! I felt like we would have been at home stepping up into the kitchen and joining Ernie at the kitchen table while he ate his lunch.
The Pig Hip Restaurant operated from 1937-1991, then housed Route 66 memorabilia until fire destroyed the building in early 2007.
There are several photographs, newspaper stories and books on display at the site.

Our last stop on the route was Elkhart.
We checked out Horsefeathers wares, then headed out to Springfield for a late lunch.
I soon realized that we had forgotten to look for an attraction I had heard about in Elkhart, the 1915 John P. Gillett Memorial Bridge, so on our way back home we hunted it down.
This photo does not do the bridge justice. The arch is very tall, and the area is heavily wooded and beautiful, with trees creating a lovely shady canopy over the bridge.
The bridge was built by Emma Gillett Oglesby in memory of her brother, John Parke Gillett, and was on the "Ten Most Endangered" historic places list in Illinois in 2005. The bridge has since been stabilized.
On our way to the bridge along County Road 10, we saw a beautiful cemetery, supposedly haunted by the ghost of Emma Gillett Oglesby. From this website I learned her ghost: still visits the (Oglesby) tomb. However, as she kneels before the vault she is interrupted by a group of spectral Indians who chase her off across the bridge leading over the road by the cemetery. A number of photographs have captured weird phenomena as mist and apparitions, not seen by the eye, appear in pictures. A swirling vortex was photographed over one grave. At the back of the cemetery there is a fence separating the grave yard from the woods. Here, people have reported seeing dark colored apparitions and hearing the sounds of voices and footsteps.
The cemetery is also very beautiful, flanked by intricate iron gates. The gates are Gillett memorial gates erected November 1939. Again, it was difficult for me to capture how beautiful these were with my point and shoot.
In the cemetery we also saw a wonderful Gothic stone chapel, the John Dean Gillett Memorial Chapel, which is the only privately owned and operated church in Illinois.
The chapel was built by the wife of John Dean Gillett.

Palms Grill Café
110 SW Arch Street
Atlanta, IL 61723

Elkhart Cemetery, John Dean Gillett Memorial Chapel and railroad bridge
County Rd. 10 (700th Street)
Elkhart, IL 62634

Monday, June 1, 2009

M & M Twistee Treat

Now that ice cream season is officially upon us, we made our first visit to M & M Twistee Treat in East Peoria, Illinois in May.
This fun ice cream cone shaped building offers both outdoor and indoor (in the attached building) seating.
The original Twistee Treats were built between 1983 and 1990.
One thing that has always impressed me about the East Peoria Twistee Treat is the number of items on the menu. I could eat there five days in a row and still have more things I wanted to try.
The massive menu includes: tenderloins; burgers; hot dogs; polish sausage; tamales; chicken; pizza burgers; catfish; Italian beef; tacos; pizza rolls; BBQ; and fried veggies, plus several frozen treats.
They offer basket specials which include fries, and daily specials.
M & M Twistee Treat is closed during the winter months.

M & M Twistee Treat
1207 E. Washington Street
East Peoria, IL 61611

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket

On April 25 of this year, we finally visited a place we've wanted to go for years: Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket in Willowbrook, IL.
So many times we've driven past the billboards and signs on our way to and from places, but were never hungry when we were in the neighborhood.
Well known for fried chicken for more than 60 years, Dell Rhea's has had its ups and downs due to Route 66 bypassing the restaurant in the 60s, but has stood the test of time.
The Chicken Basket was inducted in the Route 66 Hall of Fame in June of 1992 and The National Register of Historic Places in May of 2006.
We stopped by the bar side first because we weren't starving yet. Our Dining Companion and I tried a local beer, the Route 66 Roadhouse Red Ale. It was not my thing and I ended up replacing it with a Pabst, but she ended up finishing it. My husband had a Pabst and our brother-in-law enjoyed a soda.
We soon cut through the back of the bar, checking out some framed newspaper articles along the way, to the dining room and took a table.
The large, angled windows across the front of the restaurant reminded me of some of the neat old buildings at Indiana Beach or York Beach in Maine, with a vacationy/nautical feel.
A large stone wall with a fireplace graced the end of the dining room, and old wooden chairs graced the tables. Some of them had a schoolhouse look to them, which added to the charm.
I had to try the corn fritters, so we placed our appetizer order for those. When they arrived, they were warm, sweet and good, but I can't say they were the best I've ever had.
For our dinners, we all chose baskets of chicken, which came with fries, slaw and biscuits.
The stars here were the chicken (juicy and good, with a cornmeal-like coating) and the biscuits (tiny and delicious). Dining Companion and I decided that since they were so small, you didn't need to feel bad about eating tons of them.
Our waitress was very cheerful and joked about giving us piggy back rides back to our car, since our bellies were so full.
The dining room kept up a steady business the whole time we were there, and closer to 6:00 people were standing along the back of the room waiting for tables.
Several large groups were having what appeared to be traditional family dinner meetups in the dining room, and Dell Rhea's is certainly a great place for that.

Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket
645 Joliet Road
I-55 & Route 83
Willowbrook, Illinois 60527

Pioneer Gothic Church

Once I found out that Dwight, Illinois is home to a rare wood framed Carpenter Gothic church, I was determined to track it down and have a look.
We visited the site on April 12, 2009.
This church was built by a Presbyterian congregation in the later 1850s in Carpenter Gothic style, a North American architectural designation for an application of Gothic Revival details applied to wooden structures built by house carpenters.
With wood being scarce, and the added threat of fire in prairie regions, this type of architecture was not common to Illinois.
The Pioneer Gothic Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Pioneer Gothic Church
201 N Franklin Street
Dwight, IL 60420

Monday, May 4, 2009

Standard Oil Gas Station

Built in 1932, the Standard Oil Gas Station in Odell, Illinois was modeled after a 1916 Standard Oil of Ohio design, in the house and canopy style.
The work bays were added at a later date.
At least nine other stations besides this one lined this part of Route 66 through Odell.
In the late 1990s, the Village of Odell purchased the station for historic restoration. The Route 66 Association of Illinois took interest in the project and nominated the property for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, which was granted on November 9, 1997.
A bypass was constructed around Odell in 1946, and traffic was directed around the strip that held the gas stations so businesses started to disappear. This station persisted until 1967, largely because it offered services as well as gasoline.

We've driven by this nicely preserved station many times, and took this photo on April 12, 2009.
We also visited in October of 2006 and found a geocache hidden on the property.

Standard Oil Gasoline Station
400 S West Street
Odell, IL

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tinker Swiss Cottage

On our visit to Rockford, Illinois in March, we stopped to see the Tinker Swiss Cottage.
The architecture of the building was beautiful, and StfRon was interested in taking the tour, so we paid our $12 admission in the gift shop and waited for the tour to start.
On this rainy Saturday in March, we were the only two waiting for the 3:00 tour, so we got a private tour of sorts.
Built in 1865 by Robert Hall Tinker, the house is filled with stunning woodwork. We started in the sun porch area, and I don't think I would ever have grown tired of studying the room.
The gentleman who gave us our tour was engaging and full of interesting stories, and the house was very impressive with all of its beautiful wood and hand painted scenes on the walls and ceilings.
The property was left to the Rockford Park District by the family, and all of the belongings were intact when the park district took over. As a result, there is a lot of good information on the history, including some diaries kept by Tinker.
I had heard about the suspension bridge on the property and was looking forward to walking across it, but it was closed during our visit.
Due to the heavy rain that day, I forgot to get a photo of the exterior (photography is not allowed of the interior). I'll stop back on a sunny day and take a picture of the house, and hopefully get to test out the suspension bridge as well. Actually, we also need to go back to take another stab at finding the geocache located on the Tinker Swiss property. We looked for a bit, but the rain eventually sent us back to the car.

Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum
411 Kent Street
Rockford, IL 61102

Monday, April 6, 2009

Der Rathskeller

Early in March we had a chance to stop for dinner at Der Rathskeller in Rockford, Illinois.
In business since 1931; the restaurant is said to be the oldest in Rockford operating in its original location.
We were just under an hour early for dinner, so we sat at the bar to wait for the downstairs dining room to open. From here we were able to check out the many sausages and cheese offerings. Most of the sausages are made on site, with a few of them coming from Usinger's of Milwaukee.
Once the basement dining room was open, we headed down and took a seat. I get the feeling that the basement decor has not changed much over the years, especially since there was a picture on the wall near our table displaying the dining room from years ago, and we recognized the same quaint chairs and the same wall sconces. There's something to be said for leaving things the same.
I started my meal with a cup of the beef Spatzle soup and found it to be delicious. The stock tasted homemade, perfectly savory and chocked full of Spatzle.
As my entrée, I went with a Schweineschnitzel, which was a special menu item that evening, along with red cabbage and potatoes. Everything was quite good, although after sampling my husband's sauerkraut, next time I would select that over the red cabbage.
Service was good and the waitresses helped each other out with the tables. My only complaint was that they congregated right next to our table a few times and chatted amongst themselves, since we were right near the kitchen serving counter.
Der Rathskeller was quite the find, and I know we will be trying to work more visits there into our trips back and forth to Milwaukee.

Der Rathskeller
1132 Auburn Street
Rockford IL 61103

Monday, March 30, 2009

Rock Men

On March 7 we visited Rockford, Illinois and ran across the Rock Men.
Located on the Rock River recreation path, south of the greenhouse in Sinnissippi Park, the Rock Men Guardians are four majestic 12 foot tall granite men made by sculptor Terese Agnew in 1987.

Rock Men
1401 N. Second Street
Rockford, IL 61107

Monday, February 9, 2009

Wisconsin Concrete Park

We originally visited the concrete park in mid September 2003

My mom, husband and I were on our way to Bayfield, Wisconsin and the Apostle Islands one evening when our headlights glinted off something alongside the road. We didn't think much of it, but on our way back home a few days later we had a bit more light left in the day, and were quite surprised by what we saw.
The Wisconsin Concrete Park in Phillips, Wisconsin is a collection of over 200 concrete sculptures built by the retired lumberjack Fred Smith.
Fred Smith, a lumberjack, was born on September 20, 1886 in northern Wisconsin to German immigrants.
In 1936, he and two other men, John and Albert Raskie, built the Rock Garden Tavern on Route 13 just outside of Phillips. It was during the construction of the tavern that Smith began to become interested in sculpting.
After Smith retired from the lumberjack trade, he took over the operation of the Rock Garden Tavern.
Over the next several years, Smith created over 200 sculptures which range over a 3 1/2 acre site next door to the tavern.
There are characters and scenes from fiction and history, like Paul Bunyan and Abe Lincoln and the chariot race scene from Ben Hur.
Smith built the figures on wooden frames, wrapped them in wire and then covered them with cement and embedded the broken glass, bottle bottoms and beer caps, among other items, into the sculptures.
What a neat discovery this was for us, and it really sparked the whole Roadside Trail Mix style of traveling we've since adopted.

Wisconsin Concrete Park
N8236 South Hwy 13
Phillips, WI 54555

Monday, February 2, 2009

Highland Park Diner

We originally visited the Highland Park Diner in mid July, 2007.

When I found out we would be coming through Rochester, NY, I made note of the address of the Highland Park Diner so we could stop by and visit this landmark.
When we drove up to the building, we were instantly charmed by it.
The diner is an original 1948 art-deco styled diner manufactured by the Orleans Diner Company, still occupying its original location.
It may be the only surviving one of this manufacturer, as only two or three were produced.
Most of the interior was removed in the 70s, but it was purchased by a new owner in the 80s and restored.
We tucked into a cozy booth in the back corner and admired the retro decor, from the quilted stainless backsplash to the neon lining the arched ceiling.
The Highland Park was cool and clean, the service friendly and the food was good.
We even tried the apple pie because apparently Conde Nast voted in best apple pie a few years back. It was good, but I won't say it was the best apple pie I've ever had. But if I ever find myself anywhere near Rochester again, I will definitely be back.

Highland Park Diner
960 Clinton Ave S
Rochester, NY 14620

Monday, January 19, 2009

Koz's Mini Bowl

This month for my husband's 40th birthday, we decided to hunt down Koz's Mini Bowl in Milwaukee, WI.
We found the nondescript building after riding several blocks through older neighborhoods in Milwaukee.
The current owners purchased the bar, featuring miniature bowling lanes, in 1978.
We opened the door and stepped into a somewhat small bar with a pool table in the middle of the first room. Looking through the doorways into the next room, we could get a glimpse of the mini bowling lanes.
The 17 foot lanes were installed in the 1950s and use mini balls, mini pins and employ humans to set up the pins and do ball return duty for the bowlers.
Talking to the owner Carol, it seems we lucked out because she had a no show on a reservation, and it was possible we could have their lane. She was going to give them a few more minutes to turn up. Since we were ravenously hungry, we ordered a couple of Jack's pizzas, a pitcher of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a Coke, and found a seat so we could watch the bowlers.
The music was loud, but it was a lot of songs I remember from high school, so it was right up my alley (no pun intended). And I saw that I wasn't the only one grooving to the tunes.
Shortly we were told we could have the lane, so we got our score sheet, and with Kim at the scoring helm, we let birthday boy take the first turn.
Taking one of the colorful four pound mini balls, he rolled it down the lane for a perfect strike.
Heck, soon we all figured out that this shorter lane/lighter ball bowling made us all look like pros. Matt, my husband and I were getting strikes and spares left and right.
We all struggled a bit to remember how to manually score a bowling game.
The pinsetter men were hustling the four lanes, jumping down to pick up pins and return balls, then back up on their perch to get clear of the lane for the next turn.
On my last frame, I left one pin standing. Our pinsetter, when clearing the pins, had an, er, clumsy moment where he knocked that last pin over. Darn, a spare! Which gave me another frame!
During our visit, Carol also told us that Koz's is the last mini bowl of the kind in Milwaukee.
The place is a real bargain, from the drinks to the bowling (and tips to the pinsetters) and quite a find. We had a great time, and will add this to our list of fun things to do when in Milwaukee. And next time we'll be sure to make a reservation.

Koz's Mini Bowl
2078 S 7th Street
Milwaukee, WI 53204