Getting your kicks on Route 66/Adams street, the Chicagoland edition

Route 66 has two endpoints: one is in downtown Chicago, which many people think of as ‘the start’ of the route (because of the order in the “get your kicks on Route 66”, song), while the other is (currently) at the Santa Monica Pier, just west of Downtown Los Angeles, which is where I started my trip. In Chicago route 66 is a little complicated as it exists on two one way streets, Adams, which travels west, and Jackson, which travels east. SINCE most people take 66 going west, that’s where you’ll find most of the signs…

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Because Chicago is home and I’ve pretty much walked or driven most of these roads at one time or another without realizing they ARE 66, I have to admit that once I did, I opted to fudge it a bit once I passed Dell Rheas’s Chicken basket in Willowbrook IL (a town I’ve only ever passed by while driving on I-55) and felt that I had for all intents and purposes I had finished the route on the 24th of October. (I admit this is largely because I knew the neighborhoods I would be passing through… knew most of them to HIGHLY unsafe ones with nasty traffic. When I go downtown I stick to safe routes and park my car in safe areas.)IMG_0134

So for instance, the above are some photos of me in 2001 having dinner with friends at what was then arguably the best Greek Restaurant in Chicago’s GreekTown (on Halstead between Adams and Jackson … i.e., 66) the now closed Roditites Greek Restaurant, which used to be one of my favorite go to’s (it was open for 45 years). (All of the old Greektown classic restaurants seem to be closing, I think the children weren’t interested in taking over the businesses)IMG_2619.jpgbut on the 31st of October I had business I had to deal with downtown, and as such took the opportunity to finish my 66 trek (only this time on foot, cause driving into the city is NUTS). I was staying at my friend’s home in Northbrook, and took the Metra Train from North Glenview station to Union Station, which is also located between Adams and Jackson (again, both are Route 66, it just depends on which direction you’re going) with exits to either street. IMG_0149Ironically, I have only ever been in this station once before. The Metra train line adjacent to my parents home went to a different station, the Ogilvie Center, a few blocks north. Unlike that station, which only services local lines, this station is where you go in Chicago if you’re taking an Amtrak line. As such, the only other time I was ever here was when I took the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco back when I was in my late 20’s.IMG_0150The odds are you’ve seen this station before, even if you’ve never been to Chicago, as it’s been used more than few times in movies. The list includes Public Enemies (with Jonny Depp), My Best Friend’s Wedding (with Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz and Rupert Everett), Man of Steel (one of the Superman movies), Derailed, and most prominently in the movie The Untouchables, about Al Capone (Robert De Niro) and Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) … with a scene steeling Oscar worthy supporting performance from Sean Connery… which had a LOT of Chicago locations in it.

IMG_0071From the station I went straight to my 11am appointment, and then double backed to have lunch at Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant & Bakery (click link for my blog post about it), which is located a half block west of Union Station, and is probably the only historic Route 66 eatery to be in the Michelin guide. After lunch I walked back east, along Adams (Route 66 west bound) past Union station and to the Chicago River which forms the station’s eastern boundary.

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The Jackson street bridge (Route 66 eastbound), opening to allow ships to pass

If you ever come to Chicago I strongly suggest taking one of our Water Taxi’s from Union Station (i.e, Route 66) to Navy Pier (the Orange line on the map above) which travels to where the Chicago River meets Lake Michigan… that said I’m about to go a bit off topic, but really… you have GOT to try the water Taxis

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Pics of me and my Chinese friend when she visited Chicago in 2013

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While at Navy pier, before switching to the next Taxi, you might want to go up on the Ferris Wheel (which is sometimes referred to as the Chicago Wheel, as it actually served as an attraction back in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition, i.e., the White City, which was held along the lake on Chicago South’s side) which offers some great views of the city

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The skyscraper behind me is the John Hancock (grin) center, where I used to work for about a year back when I was in my 20’s, 

but then make sure to take the Water Taxi that travels from the pier via Lake Michigan to Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum, even if you don’t want to go to the Museums.

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The skyscraper on the left is the Big Willy (see below), the one in the middle is the Standard Oil building — no self-respecting Chicagoan refers to it as the Aon center and if you asked them where the Aon center was I doubt they’d know, and one to the right is the John Hancock (where I used to work back when I was in my 20’s)….. again, NO ONE calls it 875 North Michigan Avenue. Apparently the John Hancock building, the corporate headquarters for the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co, at around 2013 ceased to be their headquarters, and just a few months ago the name got changed to its address. The pics above were from when I did this back in 2013 when my friend, who I knew from when I was teaching in S. Korea, came to visit during a summer break.

But I digress…  returning to Route 66….

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From there I continued my trek down Adams (the west bound 66). The above picture is looking west down the street, across the bridge I had just passed over… and, the ‘small’ white building just above the black van is Union station.

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Again, this photo is looking west. The sky scraper in the distance is the same one shown in the picture from the Water Taxi. Which I referred to as “The big Willy.” It was originally called the Sears Tower (my best friend from high-school has worked there for almost 15 years), and when first built in 1973 (I remember it going up) it was the tallest building in the world. But Sears then sold it to Willis Insurance in 2009, who renamed it as The Willis Tower. Many Chicagoans to this day absolutely refuse to use that name, but I, personally, LOVE IT… because it allows me to call it “the big Willy” (Willy being a British slang word for penis) and just how great is that?! The GORGEOUS historic building in the foreground of the picture is the SIDE entrance (if you can believe it) of the Rookery Building, which designed by deeply important architectural firm of Burnham and Root in 1888. If you have ever read the best-selling novel The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, about the Chicago world’s fair, you know who they are. I didn’t take any pictures inside, but the lobby was design by Frank Loyd Wright. If you’re an architecture enthusiast you will LOVE Chicago.

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Another thing Chicago is famous for, one of which is visible on Route 66, is our collection of public art. The above is Alexander Calder‘s Flamingo (sculpture). I remember when it was first unveiled in 1974, none of us could make heads or tails of what it was… but it’s pretty.

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After this I pit stopped off at the historic Berghoff Restaurant (click the link for a fully review of the place) for a mug of their root beer (they brew it themselves). For some reason this iconic German restaurant which is a landmark of downtown Chicago, its been there since 1898… is NOT in the Michelin guide… shrug?… I remember the first time my mom took me here, I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old. If you look at the image above, and look down the street between the tall building you’ll see the roof of the Art Institute of Chicago, which is not only one of the FINEST art museums in the world, it’s also my Alma Mater. If you love German food, EAT HERE, this place has been rocking my socks off my whole life… if you don’t… at least try the root beer and look around, the interior is just amazing to look at and reeks of Chicago history (photos and murals of Chicago Exposition line the walls)

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AND THIS is also a route 66 establishment — and I never realized it was that until this trip. Did I mention I have been eaten here my whole life.

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If you look carefully at the building, you’ll see how the sign above… which I’ve never seen before, and keep in mind the roman looking building is Art Institute of Chicago, were I went to school for four years….. and this one below are on either end of the same city block…

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The Iconic Berghoff Resturant in Downtown Chicago, Illinois

The Berghoff Restaurant is a MUST visit traditional German restaurant in downtown Chicago, which is also one of the city’s landmarks. First opened in 1898 by Herman Joseph Berghoff, a recent immigrant from Germany, this restaurant has been run by successive generations of the founding family until it first closed 2006. Unrecognized by the family, the restaurant was so iconic to Chicago residents that its closing created something of major scandal, with outcries of horror and loss so resounding and vociferous that one of the great-grandchildren of the founders, who had not wanted to run it, changed her mind and reopened it shortly there after.

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In 2016 that same great-granddaughter (who REALLY had not wanted to run) sold it to her brother, but other than laying off the entire staff and only rehiring the ones who were NOT cantankerous old farts (I will say service has improved MARKEDLY since they did it) nothing has really changed.

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They have essentially kept the menu full of its old artery clogging classics, but have added some new newer, healthier options (when people ask me what German food is like I describe it thus, “meat, meat, meat… more meat, a bit more meat… and something white on the side.”). So if you look at the images below it is photos from two different visits one in 2013, with a friend visiting from China, and the other with a one I’ve known my whole life (I actually just went to the Shiva for her mother in law last night) where we got healthy food.

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Eating at the Berghoffs with friends: 2013 left, when we got a corned beef sandwich… and the difference in 2017, a healthy plate of grilled fish and veggies with very little oil, on the right

I remember the first time my mom took me here, I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old. If you look at the very first image of this post (see above), and look down the street between the tall building you’ll see the roof of what is the Art Institute of Chicago, which is not only one of the FINEST art museums in the world, it’s also my Alma Mater. Every time my mom took me there, that visit was almost always followed up by a meal the Berghoff.

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This time, like EVERY other, I got a mug of their Root-beer. I LOVE their root beer, it has a licorice taste to it which you don’t normally find in root beers. That said, during this last visit I noted they were installing a microbrewery INSIDE the restaurant. This place has ALWAYS had their own brew, but I guess having the huge brewing vat sitting in your place makes you a bit trendier (and hopefully more profitable) … but again, no substantial changes.

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All through the restaurant are murals and photographs of the Chicago world’s fair, including this one bottom left of the ORIGINAL Ferris Wheel (sometimes referred to as the Chicago Wheel), which served as an attraction back in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition, i.e., the White City, i.e., the Chicago world’s fair, which was held along the lake on Chicago South’s side. In its honor Chicago has opened up one on Navy Pier by the lake, which offers some great views of the city

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One thing that I had never realized and this is one of my favorite places to go to where I have eaten at my whole life… is that the Adams street, where the Berghoff is located, is also one of the end points for Route 66… who knew?

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The Rock Cafe on Route 66, in Stroud Oklahoma

Per the suggestion of a friend, and one of those “places you need to check out on Route 66 lists” I stopped for a meal at the Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma. Not only is the Cafe original to the 66 experience (the place has been there since 1939, and used to be a Grey Hound Bus stop), but when the Pixar folks were doing their Route 66 road trip as research for the animated movie Cars, they came here, and so fell in love with the place’s owner, Dawn Welch, a Route 66 restoration activist who had moved to Stroud and bought the restaurant in large part to help resurrect the town…  that they based one of the main characters for the movie on her; namely, the animated character Sally Carrera (shown as a blue, 2002 Porsche 911) the owner of the Cozy Cone Motel, who serves both as the love interest of/and protagonist against Lightning McQueen,  was based almost entirely on .

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I found YouTube video by her, where you a taste of what the Pixar folks saw

That said, she wasn’t there the day I visited, and odds are you won’t meet her either… so lets talk about the restaurant she owns.

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I found the menu of the Rock Cafe to be far more upmarket/chef driven than I would have expected based on most of the other historic eateries in town (and more than a few of the dishes made me wonder about the German Heritage of Stroud)

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Of course anyone know knows me well knows which of the items on this menu I went for (although I admit the Jagersnitzel & Spaetzle with cheese were calling to me)…. but I opted for food more in line with my dietary restrictions (low fat)

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One Buffalo Burger with mustard

The Buffalo burger was ok. The meat patty was thin and crunchy rather than thick and juicy, and the amount of mustard they put on completely overwhelmed the flavor of the meat (which should have been the star of the dish).  But it had a good bun…

After eating I checked out the gift shop and IF they had offered this T-shirt on a more feminine cut shirt (a V neck or a scoop neck) I would have purchased it…. but they didn’t.

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It’s the Sally Carrera character that’s based on the Rock Cafe’s owner, in front of the cafe and a route 66 sign. (I’ve emailed the owner and she’s agreed she needs some women’s versions, hopefully she’ll get back to me when she has one and I’ll buy it on-line).

 

 

Helen, GA & Bondesee German Restaurant

Helen, Georgia, a tiny GA town with a local population of slightly over 500, is one very large tourist trap of a town aimed at locals of German extraction trying to reconnect to their ancestral roots, or anyone else in search of a little touch of a Bavaria in the midst of the Appalachian foothills. Not worth visiting unless you’re already in the area and looking German food.

Note: I took this trip BEFORE having set up my blog — although I had been intending to do it for months already, so I didn’t take anywhere as many pictures as I probably should have.

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I had been staying at my friend’s place in Dalton GA for a few weeks, with the intention of staying a full two months (I remember her saying “I have no idea WHAT you’re going to do here for all that time” — suffice it to say I proved her wrong), and this was near the top of her list of side trips I should consider. The drive there from Dalton was very pretty (as directed by my new car’s GPS device — which I have grown to LOVE, never had one before), and took me there via state highways (think two lane roads) that I would never have otherwise had the guts to take.

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For most of the trip I was pretty much alone on the roads, which is both restful and a tad terrifying — when you have no idea where you are. In retrospect (looking at a maps attached to my images) I know now that my GPS took me all along the Richard B Russell Scenic Highway  (which is a National Forest Scenic Byway) up over some nearby foothills, through the Chattahoochee National Forest, and and into the valley where the town of Helen is located.
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View from GA state road 348
The trip took me about two hours and like I said, I was instinctively ‘lost’ but trusting my new GPS system to know where we were going for most of the way …   According to the folks who drove up on their motorcycle (see above image) at this location we are still about 8 miles away from Helen GA.
From a business development perspective what makes Helen interesting is that once they realized that their local industry had failed, rather than kicking a dead horse, they opted for something completely different; taking advantage of their location adjacent to a National Forest they decided instead to become a tourist destination town. Per Wikipedia: “Formerly a logging town that was in decline, the city resurrected itself by becoming a replica of a Bavarian alpine town, in the Appalachians instead of the Alps. This design is mandated through zoning first adopted in 1969, so that the classic south-German style is present on every building, even on the small number of national franchisees present (such as Huddle House and Wendy’s).”
When I arrived I was hungry with a capitol H, having not eaten anything that morning other than a cup of coffee. So, my very first stop was at the first decent looking German restaurant I could find Hofbrauhaus Resturant in the picture at the top of this blog, which at the time also had decent YELP reviews…  BLECH. I had one of my favorite childhood dishes, Weiner schnitzel!! As a kid I was one of those incredibly picky eaters who was 10 lb underweight and could drive my mom crazy by going for a full day on three french fries and a glass of chocolate milk. One summer we were in Austria following my dad around as he presented academic papers at conferences, and my mom had discovered I would actually eat Weiner schnitzel, so the first priority was checking if a restaurant served that, and THEN was there anything else on the menu for the rest of the family. So I know my Weiner schnitzel (which I am said to say I can no longer eat because my penchant for everything fried has resulted – I was diagnosed two months after this trip — in liver disease); and to be bluntly honest I was mightily unimpressed with how this restaurant prepared it … as in, “I drove TWO hours for THIS?”
That said, the place DOES have a good view of the river…
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The next thing I did upon arriving was, using just my phone phone and the various apps I had on it, I tried to find a decent place to spend the night. There were NOT as many choices as I would have hoped (I have since gotten much more skilled at delving those depths from my iPhone), and at that time I had not yet installed the Airbnb.com app into my iPhone (I was still using a iPhone 4s then, which was already four years old, had VERY limited memory and was starting to slow down from old age), so I was forced to limit my search to national chains — I now know better. I ended up with a room at the Hampton Inn, and since the hotel was half empty I was able to convince the staff to upgrade me to a room with a balcony overlooking the Chattahoochee river for no extra fee.
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Once I found out the name of said river I couldn’t help myself, I started singing the Alan Jackson tune, “Way down yonder on the Chatahochee never knew how much that muddy water meant to me…” incessantly. However, looking at the picture, and based on how all the buildings near the river are either on 8 foot stilts or behind equally high restraining walls, I am guessing it floods fairly often.
After having checked in I went to walk around and discovered that this town closes down way early, and from the looks of it most stores don‘t open till noon. Only two stores still open at 5:30 were both owned by what I am guessing are a man and a woman who were both Indian (India) and I am betting are man and wife– work ethic anyone? The whole town looked like it could be part of the German exhibit at Disney-world’s Epcot, the next day when I walked around I discovered that most of the shops have at least one German style hat with a feather in it … only done on the cheap, so that it kind of reminded me of Old Town in Orlando, which I had just lived next door to for about four months, only sans the amusement park rides and haunted houses, etc.

Other than that there were a handful of interesting shops, like this one place that had it’s own hive to produce it’s own honey… but not much otherwise

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Why yes, our honey is Fresh! @Betty’s Country Store

Upon checking in, I had told the staff member there how unhappy I had been with the food at the Hofbrauhaus and could he make a better suggestion for my Dinner. He suggested The Bondesee, saying their were the only place in town with an actual chef from Germany, and that it was the place all the locals in town preferred.

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And now, after having eaten there… Wow!!! I STRONGLY suggest Bondesee German Restaurant to anyone in the general vicinity of Helen GA.

Walking in the 12 cats who seem to believe that the front entrance of the restaurant is their home (so that the covered patio area which they seem to have taken over stinks of cat urine) would NOT normally have been a good sign, nor would my conversation with the grumpy owner when I swung by there at around 6pm … had it NOT been for the recommendation of a local those two things would have sent me scurrying elsewhere…

However, after having now eaten there, the chef is apparently a man after my own heart in that he seems to believe that there’s no such thing as too much garlic. Seriously, I don’t think The Stinking Rose (a San Francisco institution) serves less garlic… I was in garlic heaven. The butter for the bread was amazing enough to eat without the bread, and the mushroom appetizer came in a cream and garlic sauce that was divine (I had it as a side for my Weiner schnitzel because ALL the sides were carbs (I opted for the Spätzle) … and the portion sizes for me (a single) were more than enough for two people.

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The German beer looked dark and a bit scary, but it was very smooth and went really well with the food. Oh, and the OH SO GAY — to the point where he was a caricature of gayness — waiter just CARDED me!!! Talk about how to make a 51 year old woman happy. He looked genuinely shocked to see we were the same age.