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July 2017
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Picks and Pans – Chicago, IL


Cafe Bernard

We rolled into Chicago in the early evening and pulled up to the family home of our friend, Brian. Not long after walking in the door, I realized that this family had created the type of home in which anyone and everyone is made to feel welcome. Even though it was the week before Christmas, a time when many families barely have room for their own, Brian’s parents, Mickey and Colleen, offered us a warm bed, continually open and interesting discussion and a comfortable Chicago home away from home. On our first night, we all walked over to dinner at Cafe Bernard, a local French bistro, where the atmosphere is cozy, the owner is friendly and the food is delicious. What better on a cold December night than a savory pot of cassoulet and some hearty red wine?


With bellies full of French food and cheeks rosy from the wine and cold winter air, Brian took Sean and me to B.L.U.E.S., a nearby Lincoln Park blues bar. Perched on stools at the side of the small stage, we listened to a veritable parade of local blues talent. After a couple of beers, Sean’s enthusiasm for the blues earned him an all expenses paid trip to the stage, where Big Time Sarah treated him to a surefire cure for the blues, a cure whose adequate description is elusive. Suffice it to say, that Big Time Sarah’s ample backside was an integral part of the process.

Billy Goat Tavern

Billy Goat Tavern is best known for the personality of its late owner, Billy “Goat” Sianis, who put the infamous billy goat curse on the Cubs in 1945 and had the habit of greeting all customers by shouting: “Cheezborgor, cheezborgor, cheezborgor. No fries, cheeps. No Pepsi, Coke.” (a tradition honored in the classic Jim Belushi and Dan Ackroyd SNL cheesburger skit). But even the most garrulous of proprietors couldn’t keep a restaurant open for 70 years without some solidly good food. The cheeseburger and chips at the Billy Goat will satisfy your deepest, darkest burger cravings and do so in a below ground haunt that has been a Chicago favorite for three-quarters of a century.

Millennium Park

Not since Louisiana or Mississippi had I felt such a strong sense of place from the people around me. Blues in Chicago are Chicago Blues. Pizza in Chicago is Chicago Deep Dish. And the people in Chicago are distinctly Chicagoan (albeit just as distinctly from the North Side, South Side or West Side). And while it may be impossible to put your finger on the just where the cultural center of Chicago lies, Millennium Park would definitely be up for consideration. Filled with incredible art and architecture (e.g. Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry), Millennium Park is a monument to Chicago’s love for and dedication to the arts.

Art Institute of Chicago

I love going to museums. They give me a feeling something like what I imagine observant Catholics feel when entering a great cathedral: a sense of awe, a sense of being part of something greater than myself, a renewing of my own beliefs. You see, I think being human is a pretty great thing. We have these huge brains that help us figure out how to survive efficiently and, as a result, we have all this time to do other stuff. Now some people, unaware of how precious this time is (not to mention the evolutionary heartache we had to go through to get it), piddle it away. Other people use this time to have great ideas and make cool stuff. I see museums as the place to go to honor these people and to be inspired to take advantage of my big human brain. The Art Institute – by both honoring artists and inspiring others – is one great cathedral of humanism.

Russian Tea Time

A block from the Art Institute, Russian Tea Time is a formal Russian eatery, overseen by a large, black-haired Russian woman who is continually pouring vodka or tea while answering phones, directing the waitstaff and greeting the regulars. Sitting hunched over the small bar, we sampled two of the vodka tasting flights; the first: coriander, black currant tea and lime; the second: horseradish, pepper and pepper-honey. I especially recommend the black currant tea, coriander and horseradish vodka, but really any of them will sufficiently warm you for the short walk back to the Art Institute. Na Zdorovie!

Harold’s Chicken Shack Fish and Pizza

There are only a few words you need to know when you go to Harold’s: half dark, salt and pepper, spicy. When these magic words are said to the people behind the bullet proof turnstile at the counter at Harold’s, you will soon be treated to some of the best fried chicken you’ve ever had.

Seminary Co-op Bookstore

After walking through the Gothic-style stone hallways past the stained glass windows and opening the creaky, old wooden door to the narrow stairs leading to the bookstore in the basement, I was seriously tempted to find a hiding spot and fulfill my childhood fantasies of spending the night in a bookstore. With low ceilings, shelves crammed with books, and a quiet violated only by the sounds of page turning, the Co-op Bookstore is officially one of my favorite spots we’ve visited on the road trip.

Frank Night at the Colleen and Mickey’s house

While it may seem odd to review a dinner party, Frank Night is no ordinary dinner party. You see, at Frank Night, anyone is welcome as long as they are ready to contribute to the discussion of the topic chosen for the night. Given that guests are self-selected by their desire to participate in lively conversation, the salon-style proceedings work incredibly well. In honor of Sean, the topic of discussion during our first Frank Night was robots. The debate about our future with respect to AI became so heated, that everyone had a hard time sticking to the rule that only one person may speak at a time. Luckily, our experience hosts guided us with such aplomb that everyone got their say before we moved to the living room for some singing of Christmas carols and gospel music before ending the night. A huge thank you to all those we met at Frank Night, and especially to Colleen and Mickey for redefining just how great a dinner party can be.

Sean says:

North and Clark

In addition to being a physical location in Chicago, northandclark.net is an awesome blog with engaging interviews conducted by Brian’s brother Casey. His cast of characters range from artists to businessmen and even includes a guy who makes biofeedback fashion accessories!
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Picks and Pans – Madison, WI

Essen House

Apparently a trip to Madison is not truly complete until you have visited Essen House, ordered a plastic boot full of beer and recruited some friends to help you drink it without allowing the boot to touch the table until it’s empty. As we were to learn later in the trip (at the Corning Museum of Glass), the Germans have been making glass drinking boots for hundreds of years. And to what end, you might ask? While the great tradition of the drinking game is a venerated one, the Germans have found that it is greatly improved by adding the element of possible embarrassment to the mix. You see, drinking from a glass boot is a simple matter until, that is, you get to the ankle area of your boot, at which point the beer drinker falls prey to fluid dynamics and gets splashed in the face with beer as they finish their gulp. Luckily, we embarked on the boot drinking adventure with our experienced and benevolent friends, Jeff and Jen, who informed us of the impending beer-in-the-face and shared the technique used to avoid beer splashage. I, however, am not quite so benevolent, but trust in our readers’ problem solving abilities to figure it out themselves. Plus, a little beer in the face, doesn’t sound like the worst thing to ever happen to a person.

The Caribou Tavern

A neighborhood place where the bartender literally knows your name, Caribou Bar is a little dive-y, but only in the best sense of the word. We stopped in to say hi, duck out of the winter weather and get a Wisconsin brew, and, after reading the yelp.com reviews, I wish we had stayed for a Bou Burger.

Dane County Farmer’s Market at Monona Terrace

Madison, Wisconsin was the first place since leaving California where we encountered a significant Prius presence, so I wasn’t surprised to find that a city filled with hybrid car-loving locavores supports a year-round farmer’s market. The Dane County Farmer’s Market is a serious affair. Even in the throes of a Wisconsin winter, hundreds of vendors show up to hawk their wares, all of which are made or grown by the people selling them. Plus, in the winter the market moves from Capitol Square to the centrally heated Monona Terrace, a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, initially rejected by the city of Madison and then built posthumously, after Madison realized that they were sitting on a Frank Lloyd Wright goldmine.

The Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned, located in downtown Madison, looks and feels like it’s been there for years. In fact, it’s only been serving its traditional Sconnie fare since 2005, but that doesn’t make the food any less delicious. We showed up for Saturday brunch and were lucky to squeeze through the crowd to find some seats at the bar. The Old Fashioned house burger may not sound like brunch food, but topped with fried onions, Bavaria’s hickory-smoked bacon, aged Cheddar, garlic sauce and a soft-cooked egg on a buttered and toasted roll, it was the ideal way to celebrate Saturday morning (or maybe early afternoon).

Poker at Jeff and Jen’s

Our friends Jeff and Jen are the kind of people that tend to gather a group of loyal friends no matter where they go, and one of the ways they often compel this group of friends to come together is poker night. Since it was Jeff’s birthday weekend, the poker party was in full swing on Saturday and we got the chance to interact with Jeff and Jen’s Madison peeps in all their glory (read: under the stress of competitive betting). It was the kind of fun that can only happen when people’s money and reputations are on the line.

Samba Brazilian Grill

Madison was certainly not the first place that I would expect my Sunday brunch to be served by guacho-clad college students, slicing large chunks of meat off of their grilling rods and directly on to my plate, but, that said, the meat was so good that the discordant ambiance was easily overcome. Steak for breakfast; yes, please.

Madison MOCA

On the day we were there I wasn’t in the mood to give MMOCA the attention that was its due, but I did sufficiently rouse myself out of my steak-y brunch torpor to realize that this museum was a remarkable place. I mean how often does a town of about 200,000 have its very own contemporary art space, let alone a full on museum with a decent permanent collection and enough presence in the art world to draw notable exhibitions? Given my experience, not often. Huzzah for you, Madison.

State Street Brats

Since Jeff had already hooked us up with some delicious home-cooked brats, we weren’t jonesing for the brats at State Street, but it was a good place to stop in, get a brew and warm up. And since we weren’t there during a Badger football game, we actually got to sit down.
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Picks and Pans – In and Around Minneapolis, MN

My dad grew up in Minnesota, and so a lot of his childhood stories involve tunneling through snow to make epic forts, skating up a river with the roving horde of neighborhood kids and generally making mischief in a land of snow and ice. I had never had the pleasure of being in Minnesota during the winter; in fact, most of my Minnesota experience has been limited to the grounds of the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, so I was excited to see if the place lived up to my childhood imagination of it. And although there was no fort building, snow shoeing, snowball fights or ice skating involved, Sean and I had a great time exploring Minneapolis with my Uncle Frank and Aunt Kathy.

Crossroads Deli in Hopkins, MN

Crossroads Deli turns out to have been aptly named with respect to my personal history. It’s a Minnesotan deli that serves up a mean western New York classic, the beef on ‘weck. It was a deliciously unexpected intersection of my dad’s and mom’s respective roots.
Sean says: I’d never had a beef on ‘weck, but I’ll be darned if that ain’t one good sandwish!

Walker Art Museum

When lumber baron T.B. Walker opened an art gallery in downtown Minneapolis in 1879, it was the first public art venue west of the Mississippi, and ever since that time the Walker has lived up to its cutting edge reputation by bringing innovative modern and contemporary art to Minneapolis. The museum has an impressive collection, but manages not to be too overwhelming thanks to the intelligent layout of the galleries. We spent the better part of an afternoon there and were able to see the entire museum, including the exhibition of Dan Graham’s perception bending work, which made the museum space feel more like a playground than a gallery.

Lord Fletcher’s Old Lake Lodge in Spring Park, MN

I can think of no better place to sample the wild game meats of Minnesota than Lord Fletcher’s. From our table by the window, we could look out across one of Minnesota’s thousands of lakes while we savored our dinners of pan-fried walleye and smoked wild pheasant stew. Thanks to Uncle Frank and Aunt Kathy, our dinner was also complemented by stimulating conversation.

Mill City Museum

The Mill City Museum is located in the renovated ruins of one of the many flour mills that used to line the Mississippi as it winds through downtown Minneapolis and it offers an interactive and fascinating look at the history of flour milling and how it affected the people and economy of Minneapolis.

Walker Sculpture Garden

If you can only hit one spot in Minneapolis, the Walker Sculpture Garden should be it. The garden is a huge park littered with sculptures by some of the world’s foremost sculptors. Even the snow and cold didn’t keep us from spending a couple of hours wandering around the grounds. Plus, it’s free!

Holidazzle Parade

Although the name evokes images of pre-teen girls in overly Bedazzler-ed Christmas garb dancing to disco holiday tunes, the Holidazzle parade is actually a spectacular parade in which a number of childhood tales (from The Princess and the Pea to Wizard of Oz) are embodied by delightfully light-covered floats. It gave a few Burning Man art cars a run for their money (and that’s saying something).

Brit’s Pub and Eating Establishment

Since my Uncle Frank and Aunt Kathy are seasoned Minnesotans and wise in the ways of warming up, they took us directly to a fireside table at Brit’s after the parade. We engaged in the traditional pub activities of beer drinking, food eating and shooting the breeze. It was warm, it was cozy and it was great fun.
2 comments to Picks and Pans – In and Around Minneapolis, MN
  • Abigail St. Lawrence

    I am so glad that you’ve finally got up new posts!! And next time we’re in the Twin Cities, I think we’ll definitely have to hit Lord Fletcher’s. It sounds like an idea Sten could have come up with.

    • And don’t miss the beef on weck at Crossroads Deli! If you go for lunch there’s a guy carving it up in the middle of the dining room. Hmmm, beef on weck goodness…

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Picks and Pans – South Dakota

Mount Rushmore

We arrived at my aunt and uncle’s house in Rapid City just in time to avoid driving in a pretty serious snow storm, but my uncle, being the dyed in the wool South Dakotan that he is, decided that a snow storm was the perfect time to go see Mount Rushmore. Turns out, he was right. Our footprints were the first to mark a path through the newly fallen powder and we walked around the monument in the silence that only comes during snowfall. Being there without the usual crowds of tourists did, however, make me carefully consider the point made by opponents to the original plans for Mount Rushmore. They argued that no artist, no matter how talented, could improve the beauty of the granite pinnacles of the Black Hills, and, while I do agree that the Mount Rushmore sculptures are remarkable, they do take one’s attention from the natural beauty that surrounds the monument. Only when snow was in the process of reclaiming Mt. Rushmore by blanketing it in white, was I reminded of the sculpture’s place in the larger environment of the Black Hills. Strange to have a monument to human accomplishment in the midst ofa place whose beauty exists only because it has been protected from human destruction.

Prairie Edge

I don’t normally get in to Indian trading post style stores. They often seem to have more to do with bilking tourists for money than celebrating the Indian artist and their work. Prairie Edge, however, is not that kind of place. The owner’s respect for Indian art as art in it’s own right comes through in the way the art is exhibited and in the forum he provides for artists to show their work.

Firehouse Brewing Co.

After a day spent outside, trudging around in the snow, the hot apple cider and warm, juicy bison burgers at Firehouse Brewing (located in an actual old firehouse) hit the spot.

Tour of Simpson’s Printing

My aunt, uncle and cousin Jon run Simpson’s Printing in Rapid City and we were fortunate enough to get the full tour of the print shop while we were in town. Jon is a real expert on their massive new printer, the Heidelberg Speedmaster 74, and it was a treat to hear him explain the capacity of the press and his ideas for the future of the business. Thanks Simpson family for a great time in Rapid City! We love you all and hope to see you again soon!

The Corn Palace

Driving across eastern South Dakota is a test of endurance. It is flat, it is cold and there’s not much reason to stop except for the bare necessities of gas, food or bathroom. Thus the success of the Corn Palace. When you haven’t seen anything but the wide open prairie for hours on end, a building decorated all in corn sounds downright fascinating. In the end it was ok. It is a building completely covered in corn, but, honestly I would’ve rather stopped at the Laura Ingalls Wilder house (a.k.a the real “Little House on the Prairie”).
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Picks and Pans – Whirlwind trip through Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado


Highway 60 from Globe to Show Low, AZ

After much too brief of a stop at my sister Vanessa’s house, we began a new phase of the road trip — the all driving, minimal stopping, hauling of our behinds to get across the country in time to spend Christmas with my grandparents in western New York. But given the fact that we had just spent about 9 months taking our sweet time to get around, we eased ourselves into things by taking the scenic route eastward on Highway 60. In traditional southwestern style, there were magnificent rock formations, stunning vistas down winding canyons and more blue sky than any two eyes can reasonably take in.

Java Blues in Springerville, AZ

Parked between a frost grizzled herd of grazing cattle and an empty highway, we awoke to a very cold morning and a burning need for some hot coffee. We drove into Springerville with little hope of finding a cafe, and with a hefty dose of disbelief we pulled into Java Blues’ parking lot. Turns out, Java Blues had coffee, free wi-fi and a lounge-y atmosphere (the place doubles as a bar at night). Certainly an unexpected and happy surprise on a 2 degree morning.

El Malpais National Monument

In the wilds of western New Mexico, two ancient worlds collide. In El Malpais, a ring of long dormant volcanoes surrounds a plain where lava once flowed like water, stopped only by the majestic Sandstone Bluffs formed when giant sand dunes were compressed and solidified over a period of thousands of years, long before the volcanoes erupted. While at the El Malpais, we explored Lava Falls, La Ventana Natural Arch and the Sandstone Bluffs, and all in the relative isolation to be found in most places in New Mexico.

The Atomic Grill in Santa Fe, NM

After a long day of driving and a surprisingly difficult time finding parking in downtown Santa Fe, we were in no mood to search for a place to eat. Luckily, my sister Abby had given us a recommendation for the Atomic Grill, where they put a southwestern twist on diner food and have a significant selection of regional brews. Sean says: Watch out for the Santa Fe Chicken Killer… it’s a tasty brew, but it’s serious.

High Road to Taos, NM

Winding through Pueblo Indian villages and old Spanish mission towns, the High Road from Santa Fe to Taos is a visual tour of the social forces that shaped the southwest. The route is dotted with nineteenth century Catholic chapels, squat adobe houses, motor homes and signs advertising local artists, giving the impression that the human mix along this road has long been an interesting one.

Santuario de Chimayo

Located in the town of Chimayo, along the High Road to Taos, Santuario de Chimayo is a Roman Catholic chapel built in 1816 by a Spanish priest and to this day Catholics from around the world make a pilgrimage to the site to acquire some of the healing “holy dirt” from el pocito, a small dirt pit in a room off the nave. Although I was not in need of the “holy dirt”, I did find the folk art adornment in the chapel interesting and the shrines along the creek that runs behind the chapel were a testament to the importance of the chapel in local religious life.

Bishop Castle outside Pueblo, Colorado

Jim Bishop, castle builder. Is he a visionary architect, metalsmith, mason and carpenter? A madman of the mountain, battling government forces real and imagined? A kook with bottomless energy reserves and an inexplicable calling to build a castle in the woods of Colorado? After meeting him and listening to him rant and rave about the New World Order, the governor of Colorado, the tax code, legalization of marijuana, Social Security and his vow to never stop working on his castle, regardless of who tries to stop him (and the attempts have been numerous according to Mr. Bishop), I would argue that Jim Bishop is all these thing and more. Oh, and the castle…it is simply a thing of beauty. Stone from the local forest, lifted in to place by Jim Bishop, and Jim Bishop alone, to create a structure that towers above the evergreens below. It was thrilling, and, I will admit, more than a bit frightening to venture up into the towers and metal domes of the castle, but I just had to see for myself the heights to which Jim Bishop’s imagination had taken him.
1 comment to Picks and Pans – Whirlwind trip through Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado
  • Abigail St. Lawrence

    Although your time in Santa Fe area was short, I think you hit the high spots. Maybe it was because we were there right around Labor Day when the place was crowded with tourists and the inevitable traps that seem to attract them, but I found Santa Fe for the most part to be overrun with cliches of Southwest “art” and “jewelry,” most of which looked suspiciously like East Indian imports. The day we spent driving the High Road to Taos and stopping at little curiosities like Chimayo was my favorite day in New Mexico, and our dinner at Atomic Grill was much more pleasant with a lot smaller price tag and a lot less snippy waitstaff attitude then our other dining experiences in Santa Fe. The only thing I think you really missed out on was the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, but another time…

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