All-time Best Band from Chicago?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Restaurant Review: Capri Ristorante, Burr Ridge, Illinois

Since Italian restaurants are relatively plentiful throughout the United States and particularly in large Northern American cities we at times have a tendency to believe and/or think it is easy to make a good Italian meal. Nothing can be further from the truth. Creating an excellent sauce is one of the most difficult goals to reach in the culinary world; and that is why I enjoy when I find a good experience and then being able to share it.

Capri Ristorante in Burr Ridge is an overall delightful dining experience highlighted by a superb series of sauces. The sauce that deserves the highest recommendation on this menu is the marinara sauce. This sauce is authentic, bold and memorable. Most of the time going in the simple direction is the best direction to drift in with an entrée, so the spaghetti with marinara will leave you feeling beyond satisfied.

The most elaborate entrée I tasted was the Parpadella Boscailola. It's a large flat pasta smothered in tomatoes, spinach and veal. It was very good. The Lasagna portion is gigantic, so prepare thy stomach for a whirlwind of wonderful tastes, but know you have to take about a three hour walk to wear it off. Chicken Parmesan (otherwise known at this location as the Denis Savard - if you are a hockey fan you will appreciate the menu note) and Chicken Marsala are both excellent.

A highlight appetizer is the Pepe Rosso Ripieni. The roasted red pepper dish is absolutely noteworthy on the palette; and quite honestly it could serve as a I must go back there entrée.

Overall, Capri Ristorante Burr Ridge is a wonderful night out whether you are with a large family contingent or on a date with your loved one.

The ambiance is splendid and quite true to the Italian in décor.  It's a lively, but not loud event of a meal.

Valet parking is available, although a gracious and welcoming parking lot awaits if you don't want to valet park.

Prices are reasonable and the service is excellent. The location is easy to get to as it is right off the I-55.

Make a way to check out this wonderful restaurant location.

Capri Ristorante
324 Burr Ridge Parkway
Burr Ridge, Illinois

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2014

Monday, February 17, 2014

Restaurant Review: Harvest Room, Palos Heights, Illinois

Most of the restaurants worthy of reviewing inevitably end up being in the city, but I love to celebrate small businesses in the suburban areas of this large metropolis. The south suburbs can at times be quality food barren, but Chicago and Then Some has attempted to find stand-out gems worthy of a visit for the palate.

Many of us are chained out, although quite frankly, I'm actually not. One of the reasons many, if not most people like chains is for their predictability. You know what you are going to get at a chain restaurant. Some chains are better than others, but we should support small businesses, particularly small businesses in communities in or near where one lives.  For discerning adults, you will know these businesses pay taxes that assist your community. Smart people want to support small businesses. They also want to support large businesses, but the bread and butter of the typical suburban community in America is at times driven by the small businesses. You see those empty storefronts making your neighborhood look dismal and then making your home values go down, well get out and support the businesses that are within walking or a short driving distance from your home. Renters should feel the same way.  

I've eaten at the Harvest Room four times. Over this past let's get out of the house before cabin fever becomes dangerous weekend I ventured over there with friends. The food on every single outing has been good to great. Some items are better than others. The Panini's are particular standouts and some of the unique dishes on the menu range from great to ok I tried that.

The sweet potato fries and the regular fries are a hotbed for fabulousness (if you aren't on a diet). The salads are excellent and the menu has a wide variety of items to choose from. Breakfast, lunch or dinner - you won't be steered incorrectly. The menu is wide ranging and well rounded. It is a farm to table concept that works.

The breakfast prices are particularly soothing if one is on a budget. If you are eating breakfast there definitely opt for the biscuit. As I was indulging in every bite I found myself ever more pleased with my menu side item of choice.  Superb and quite frankly, worthy of a visit.

Want gluten-free? They have it. Want a few vegan options. They offer them. The big plus at the Harvest Room is that it celebrates the food art of organic and the meat is free range/grass fed.

Mosey on over to the quaint town of Palos Heights and grab yourself a meal at this excellent restaurant. It is a nondescript place with near nothing of signage, but once inside expect a great meal.

Parking is tight (or go off hours) and I assume at some point their neighbors won't like them very much, but indulge in a good meal.

Harvest Room
Open Monday through Sunday
7164 West 127th Street
Palos Heights, Illinois
708 671 8905

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2014


Saturday, February 1, 2014

A New Day is Coming: Interview with Midwest Born Rock and Roll Legend Tommy James

Tommy James. My first recollection of his music came via a sister who was eight years older than me. Her collection of 45's included several songs that featured orange and yellow swirly marks which were labeled Roulette.

The rub on the back is the recognition that certain voices and people are the most notable representatives of a moment. I grew up loving movies and books.  I've worked in television my entire adult life, but it is faith, family and music that defines my own life. I know exactly where I was when I heard of the deaths of John Lennon, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. As much as I treasured the films of Steve McQueen, Natalie Wood and Paul Newman I couldn't tell you where I was when any of them passed on. I've been to the graves of Lennon (well, not his grave, but his memorial site in Central Park), Sinatra and Presley. Faith, family and music have walked me through many passages.

Music assists while falling in love and falling out of love. Music makes you jump for joy and weep with heartbreak. Classical music has calmed me to sleep. I've spent many a Saturday morning  cleaning my house to the beat of a superb three chord classic. Music has kept me comforted while driving literally across the nation. Music makes me re-identify with my youthful self. Songs you grew up with or came of age to leave a mark on your life. Most of the people I hung out with during those long ago years are no longer in my life (well, virtually some of them are), but I still hang on tightly to the music.

I was a little kid when Crystal Blue Persuasion was released. I love this song. It's my all-time favorite pop song. I love it so much I have requested its play at my one day funeral. It touches my soul, my heart, my mind. It will be played between How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace.

The Midwestern born and raised Tommy James is performing at the Rialto Theater on Valentine's Day. If you have never seen him live do yourself a big life favor and check out a live performance. He is a performer worthy of your time. He is one of the master craftsmen of the rock/pop era 76 million baby boomers grew up with.

I had the pleasure to interview him on a cold and snowy day during the already famed 2014 winter. As John Steinbeck once wrote, this is the winter of our discontent, but I assume Tommy James would recommend I take things in stride. 

Judith: Tommy, I read your autobiography, watched your taped performance at the Bitter End and  lounged around listening to much of your timeless catalog over the weekend. Your autobiography, Me, the Mob and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James and the Shondells is wildly entertaining and highly educational. I understand it is being turned into a feature film and Barbara De Fina is producing it. What's going on with this project?

Tommy James: We have our screenplay writer and we've sealed distribution. Everything in Hollywood takes forever. It's like watching hair grow. It's nothing like the record business. It's vastly different. The music industry allows you to take your excitement and go into the studio almost immediately and it's done quickly. In the film business, everything takes time. I've gotten a good education.

Judith: A film often sits in development for five years. It's nothing like television. Having worked in television all of my adult life I know first hand that television is a quick turnaround business. If you  pitch something in February you could literally have a show on the air by the fall.

Tommy James: I've heard a project could even sit in film development for ten years. Hopefully, it won't take anywhere that long. When Martin Fitzpatrick and I wrote the book we were going to call it Crimson and Clover. We started out writing a nice music book about the songs. We were about a third of the way in and we realized if we don't tell the whole Roulette story we are cheating ourselves and everyone else for that matter. I was nervous finishing this version of the book, because some of the guys were still walking around. We then put the material on a shelf for about three years. The last of the Roulette guys passed on and we figured we could finish the book. As soon as we finished the book we had an immediate response from Simon and Schuster and I was flattered by that. I had never been an author before. Simon and Schuster does Presidential memoirs, so this was a great publishing arena for us. We were thrilled they picked up the book. It was released about four months later, so that process went quickly.

As soon as we released it we began getting calls for the movie and Broadway rights. Barbara De Fina called us and she's a heavy hitter, so this was another big situation. Barbara produced Goodfellas, Casino, the 90's version of Cape Fear and Hugo. She works with Martin Scorsese often. She's an A-list player and we were thrilled she took our story. We finally got our distribution and financing. You need all of this to make it move along nicely. Every person who comes on board is a separate negotiation. It's quite an undertaking with getting the whole crew together. The next couple of years should be interesting.

Judith: I will admit I've read quite a few shady rock and roll bios over the years, but the whole Morris Levy Roulette situation one-upped most of what I have read. In the book you talk about the  creative freedom you had in the recording studio. You got the creative freedom, but you lost out on thirty to forty million dollars. Most people wouldn't have walked away so quietly losing that sum of money.

Tommy James: When you look back at the situation we made a good chunk of that back, but that was only one source of revenue. We had BMI, commercials and touring and all of the rest of it. Mechanical royalties were just not going to happen under Roulette. We had to ask ourselves what do we do? We may have taken our own lives into our hands and try to get off the label, but we stuck it out, because we were having amazing success at Roulette. We ended up with 23 gold records and we sold over 110 million records. Did we want to interrupt all of that? The answer was no. I think we made the right decision. First of all I get to tell this story. Also, I don't believe we would have had the freedom we had at Roulette at any other label. My first hit record was Hanky Panky in 1966. The song had been recorded a couple of years prior to this, but it got bootlegged and it exploded in Pittsburgh. That explosion took us to New York. The song taking off was unexpected. Looking back  it really was a mini miracle. At that time, I couldn't put the original band back together since we had recorded it two years earlier. The way the song broke is one of those only in America stories and then I came to New York to sell the master we made. I had meetings with most of the major record companies and we got a yes from everybody. Columbia, RCA, Atlantic and the now defunct Kama Sutra. The last place we took the record to was Roulette. Roulette was a nice independent label, but I was more excited about the prospect of going with Columbia, which was one of the big corporate labels.

I went to sleep that night feeling really great and I woke up the next morning around 9:00.  The phone rang and all the labels that were positive and saying yes the day before were now saying listen Tom we gotta pass and I was like what do you mean you gotta pass? Finally, Jerry Wexler at Atlantic told us the truth that Morris Levy called all the record companies and said this is my record. He told them to back off and they all did. We were apparently going to be on Roulette whether we liked it or not. That was the first offer I couldn't refuse.

At any rate that is literally how we ended up at Roulette. We learned who they were and what was going on incrementally. We'd meet somebody up in Morris Levy's office and a week later we'd see them on television being led out of a warehouse in New Jersey in handcuffs. That kept happening. Roulette, in addition to being a legitimate label was also a front for the Genovese crime family. One of the five families. At the time, we couldn't talk about any of this.

Judith: Tommy, you certainly have one of the more unique stories in the history of recorded music. Actually, that's an understatement.

Tommy James: If we had gone to a corporate label we would have gotten lost in the mix, particularly with a fluky first song like Hanky Panky. We could have been a one hit wonder. We probably would have been assigned to and turned over to an in-house A&R guy and gotten lost in the numbers. That's the last anyone would have heard from us. At Roulette they actually needed us. They hadn't had a hit in three years, so Roulette left us alone. They allowed us to morph into whatever we could become. I'm sure that wouldn't have happened at any other label. We were given the keys to the candy store. The downside was we weren't going to get any mechanical royalties. We learned crime doesn't pay.

Judith: There were a lot of moments in your book that touched me. You wrote that "In many ways, the summer of '63 was the last great summer in America. Never again would we be quite so optimistic or unapologetically carefree." That's such a powerful historical truth and you put it down in two sentences.

Tommy James: That was in high school. I had a job in a record shop and I worked there after school and on the weekends. Of course they let me promote my band out of the shop and I learned so much at that record shop. When the Kennedy assassination happened it was right at the middle of this gigantic pre-release promotion of the first album by the Beatles. Every week in the record store there would be something new about the Beatles. The Kennedy assassination happened right in the middle of my carefree summer and the Beatles landing in America. This is forever in my mind and I have those two events cemented together. The Beatles first release and the Kennedy assassination.

Judith: I think most Americans that were alive and old enough to remember those events at the time think like that. This horrible tragedy followed by this monumental musical and pop culture explosion.

Tommy James: I had just gotten my driver's license in the summer of '63. I was 16 years old. I had a car. My girlfriend and I travelled to my band's dates. We'd play a lot of dates on the water. Lake Michigan. Clear Lake. The gigs were on the beach. The tragedy of JFK's assassination was awful for all of us, so the Beatles were the only thing that made 1964 bearable.

Judith: Speaking of that time. You didn't write political songs. Was there a conscious decision not to write political songs? Did you say I don't want to write For What It's Worth?

Tommy James: The only political song we wrote was also semi-religious. Sweet Cherry Wine. I'll be honest with you. We were such creations of commercial top 40 radio there wasn't any call for us to write political music. It would have been kind of strange if we had. We really made it as sort of a garage band.

Judith: Well, you were one heck of a great garage band!

Tommy James: Thank you. We made it with this almost silly record, Hanky Panky.

Judith: Tell me about the changes in the studio. Where and when did you gain that creative freedom from Roulette?

Tommy James: We worked our way into it. We kept getting more involved in the studio. We were producing our own records soon after the release of Hanky Panky. We started producing with Mony Mony, but we officially had our names on the label as producers with Crimson and Clover. None of this was intentional. As I said, we were creations of commercial radio.
Tommy James in the studio today.

Judith: Crimson and Clover is such a fantastic piece of pop music. Obviously, you had covers of so many of your songs, most notably with Tiffany's I Think We're Alone Now and Billy Idol's version of Mony Mony.  In researching your life and music I was surprised to see all of these covers and there are so many of Crimson and Clover. That must be the ultimate compliment for musicians and songwriters. I know you wouldn't want to give preferential treatment to anyone, but was there one cover were you said that is so spot-on and it's even better than my own version.

Tommy James: There were a few of them. I'm flattered and honored whenever any artist thinks a quick way to a hit record is to cover one of our old songs. We've had over 300 cover versions done of our songs from Billy Idol to Dolly Parton to the Boston Pops. It's hard to say what my one favorite would be. A couple of favorites would have to be R.E.M's version of Draggin' the Line in the Austin Powers movie. In 2012, Prince recorded an amazing version of Crimson and Clover. That song appeared on the first all digital album and it went to #1. The album's title is Lotus Flower. One of my favorites is the version of I'm Alive by Tom Jones. Dolly Parton and I did a cover of Crimson and Clover.

Judith: How did the partnership on that track come about with Dolly Parton?

Tommy James: She wrote me a sweet letter asking me if I would do Crimson and Clover with her. She has this sweet and lovely voice and she did a down home country interpretation of the song. She did her half of the song in Nashville and I did my end here in New York. We ended up getting together to perform it together at Radio City Music Hall when she was on tour shortly after she recorded it.

Judith: Your songs have been used a great deal in films and in commercials. When an ad agency  wants to use your song in a promotional campaign or an artist wants to record one of your songs what is the process like?

Tommy James: Most of them go through the publisher. When they use a song for a commercial or a film it's called a sync license. When Dolly contacted me directly that was somewhat unusual, because usually you go to the publisher first to make sure it's available. Sometimes an artist will be hired or an artist just wants to cover a song, but sometimes for films and commercials they will use our original recordings. We also have several different versions of our songs.

Judith: Who oversees your publishing catalog?

Tommy James: Sony now handles my publishing and the masters that I own. They're huge. They even bought out EMI and they own BMG.

Judith: I love Draggin' the Line. What a get happy song! Did you ever have a dog named Sam?

Tommy James: (laughs) I had a cat named Sam!

Judith: That song is so visual. It probably had the first environmentally friendly reference in any pop song that I can think of. Hugging a tree when you get near it. Love that line!

Tommy James: All of the tree huggers love it!

Judith: I would think some environmental group would use that song as a theme.

Tommy James: I wrote that song at my farm in upstate New York. I honestly don't think I could have written that song in the city. I was inspired by my surroundings.

Judith: A group called Alive 'N Kickin' had a huge hit back in 1970 with your composition of Tighter, Tighter. Why didn't you record that track? It's a great song. You also produced it for them.

Tommy James: I recorded it, but I just didn't like what I was hearing. The Shondells and I were on a six month hiatus and I wanted to get back in the studio. I wrote and recorded Tighter, Tighter and I just really didn't like the way I was singing it. I rewrote it as a duet for Alive 'N Kickin'. They had a male and a female lead singer. They put their guitar and their keyboard on top of the track that we already recorded and I produced their vocals and it became a number one hit. It was my first outside production.

Judith: If you hadn't been a songwriter and musician what do you think you would have done with your life professionally?

Tommy James: Instinctively, I would say I don't know. I might have gotten involved in science or engineering. I never wanted to do anything other than play music. It's not like I had a brain surgery background to fall back on. This is what I did and I what I loved from my childhood.

Judith: Your book details your relationship with your parents. In many ways they remind me of my parents. They were hard-working, classic American people right out of the depression-World War II era. How much of your family and your Midwestern roots reflected your life in words and music?

Tommy James: Growing up middle class in the Midwest is one of the healthiest of American lives. It's the best place and way to view reality. To see things and to take things in. You have a significant advantage in life if you are a middle class Midwesterner. Everything you see and do creatively reflects that and you sort of instinctively know what average people want, because you are one of them. My background has helped me a great deal in my music. It's hard to point to this or that and say this is something you are because you are from a particular place, but it's definitely a frame of mind.

Judith: I love the fact that you have a female manager. How long has Carol Ross been with you?

Tommy James: We've been together since 1987, so it's a near 30 year relationship at this point. Carol has an incredible background. She was an actress. She appeared on the first Billy Cosby show, she was on Gunsmoke, The Wild, Wild West and she was a dancer on Dick Clark's Where the Action Is. She was the head of publicity at MCA working with Elton John. She worked with Billy Joel and Paul McCartney and she has a great grasp of the music.

Judith: I had the opportunity to work with Dick Clark when I worked at ABC. He was a terrific man.
I know you think quite highly of him.

Tommy James: Dick was a good man and a good friend. His stature in the business was one-of-a-kind.

Judith: There were a few sad moments in your book and perhaps none sadder than your brief description of the legendary Gene Krupa's final years.

Tommy James:  It was terrible to view. We were told he was on heroin. At the time, he had a small band. A combo. He'd be slumped over between shows. It was a terrible way to see one of your musical heroes.

Judith: I love the big band era and the great American songbook. I could listen to Glenn Miller's orchestra all day long.

Tommy James: Me too. I love all of the singers and the sounds.

Judith: When you look back on it all are there go-to songs or artists?

Tommy James: I love the music from the 1950's. That was when I started listening to music. I love Jo Stafford. Jo Stafford was the greatest female singer I ever heard. I loved a lot of the crooners who came out of the big band era and then bumped right into the first generation of rock and rollers.

Judith: Frank Sinatra loved Jo Stafford and it's an intriguing time in history when musical genres were switching.

Tommy James: Definitely. I don't want to get too long winded, but there is a very interesting moment in 1956/1957 if you were to look at a jukebox you would see two generations completely overlapping. On the jukeboxes at the time you would get the crooners: Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Theresa Brewer and on the same jukebox you would see the first of the rock and rollers. Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Eddy Cochran, Gene Vincent. There was a knock down, drag out fight between the crooners and the rock and rollers. There's never been a time like that. That's what makes Dick Clark such a prominent figure in music history. He came in with his clean-cut, good looks and his articulate approach and made mothers feel safe with the music. Dick Clark saw to it that rock and rollers won that war, even though the best of the crooners survived successfully.

Judith: My name is Judith and I found your song, Judy.

Tommy James: You're unlucky. It was the first song I ever wrote and recorded. One of the worst records ever made.

Judith: It's on YouTube.

Tommy: I wrote it for the first girlfriend I ever had.

Judith: Well, any song with a take on my name is a song I love. The famed Chicago disc jockey Larry Lujack recently died. If he did today what he did to you then he would be facing all kinds of lawsuits.

Tommy James: Larry was a friend of mine and yes there would be lots of lawsuits. He would be held libel for something. I detail the story in my autobiography, but when I played him the rough mix of Crimson and Clover I had no idea he was recording.  I walked out of the studio and he then played the rough mix on the air. I didn't sue him or the station. The truth is WLS was my favorite radio station of all time. I spent my childhood and my teen years in Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, so I always got WLS which was a 50,000 watt radio station. I loved it. They broke so many of my records I couldn't complain much. They blasted the rough mix and then I never got a chance to remix it. That was the record.

Judith: You should be in the rock and roll hall of fame. Period. Period. Period.

Tommy James: I would like it to happen when the movie comes out. I try to be magnanimous about this stuff. When it's my turn I will go in.

Judith: I know you are a Christian. I'm a Christian. The guy running audio today is a Christian. I read you came to Christ after watching Billy Graham on television over 40 years ago. Have you ever recorded Christian music?

Tommy James: I did a Christan album of new songs called Christian of the World back in 1971. At the time, no secular artist had done anything like that before. Well, Elvis Presley recorded a couple of Gospel albums, but no one else had gone in that direction. This was several years before Bob Dylan recorded his Christian albums. It was contemporary Christian music before anyone had coined the term. If I did it today it would be very politically incorrect, but I didn't care. At the time I was a baby Christian, so the music is what it is.

Judith: What are your biggest professional regrets, if you have any?

Tommy James: Not going to Woodstock.  I stayed on my Hawaiian vacation and I should have gotten off the beach and flown to New York. At the time, I just didn't want to go. Of course, not meeting Elvis Presley when I had the opportunity. Elvis asked me to go to Graceland and I didn't go. I went to Nashville to do an album since my lawyer told me to leave New York for a while to avoid a gang war. I worked with a couple of guys who worked with Elvis. Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana. At some point while we were doing the album Elvis was going to come over. Scotty had called Elvis and Elvis was going to take us to dinner, but then out of nowhere he couldn't come. Scotty thought he was high. I spoke with him and he invited me to his home - Graceland. We were running late with the album and I never got there. Big regret.  He was dead not long after that experience.

Judith: You need to get on Daryl Hall's Live at Daryl's House  program. I love that show. It started on YouTube.

Tommy James: The YouTube people asked me to start a channel so in a few weeks it launches. I'm doing some new music and every couple of weeks we will have a new song up on the Tommy James channel. It's called Inside Tracks with Tommy James.  YouTube will be our new record label.

Judith: Tommy, thank you so much for spending so much time with me to discuss your life in music. I love so many of your songs. Mony Mony, I Think We're Alone Now, Hanky Panky, Mirage, Crimson and Clover, Sweet Cherry Wine, Draggin' the Line and of course, my all-time favorite pop song, the beautiful Crystal Blue Persuasion.

Tommy James: Thank you and I'll see you at the show.

The Tommy James autobiography, Me, the Mob and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James and the Shondells is one of the best music bios I've ever read. The book is honest, forthright and informative about the music industry and it's entertaining to boot! Check it out. You can purchase a copy on Amazon or on

 Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2014


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Concert Review: Chicago (the band) with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is considered one of the finest orchestras in the world, so to be in their presence was quite a high point even if they weren't performing some of the compositions they are used to performing. There was no Mahler, Haydn, Handel, Bach or Beethoven on the play list at last night's performance in the famed orchestra hall, but there was a durable rock/pop/jazz fusion act on the bill.

Chicago is now pushing near the edge of fifty years of performance and their first time ever endeavor with accompaniment by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra didn't fail, in spite of a few grievances along the way of the two hour show.

There were many highlights to the night. One of them was the skillfully played I'm A Man which is one of their original recordings, although not an original song by Chicago. The percussion team of Tris Imboden and Walfredo Reyes Jr. took this oldie and goodie to the top level extreme in percussion. Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa would have been pleased with their determination and dedication to the beat and time.

The ballads of note were Hard Habit to Break and Look Away with a down near stunning vocal interpretation by relative newcomer to the band, Lou Pardini. Original member Lee Loughnane's vocal on the classic and beautifully structured Colour My World was glorious in its simplicity. Loughnane should have been used more on vocals, but then again he needed to play the trumpet. His styling of this oft-heard piece of music was lovely.

Beginnings, which remains one of their staples appears better in its original arrangement and tempo, but this reworked version will have to do. I appreciate this song so much I'll take what I can get.

Hard To Say I'm Sorry/Get Away is clearly one of the stellar achievements in a 47 year career and it is played beautifully with the full majesty of the CSO. Make Me Smile survives as their greatest musical accomplishment.  This song alone guarantees their status as one of the most significant musical acts of the latter part of the 20th century.  Brilliant, and unfortunately too short of a monumental piece of music.

The band closed with 25 or 6 to 4 and the song was elevated by the full orchestra's play of the piece.  It was a fabulous way to end the show.

The guys are entertainers and they obviously are superb actors or they thoroughly enjoy their work to this day. Original horns/woodwinds members Walt Parazaider, Lee Loughnane and James Pankow revel with joy and anticipation throughout the show.

The audience was star studded with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, four Aldermen and Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman. The audience decided to boo the Mayor. Politics aside, this type of frat party (and that is not a compliment) behavior is inappropriate, particularly in a venue of this type. Societally, we have become a bunch of tacky types and we seem to enjoy our hillbilly status. One of the founding members (Walt Parazaider) introduced this celeb crowd and what he should have done when the booing started is to reprimand the audience with a gentle poke of "the band and the orchestra would appreciate your respect for the office of the city we all have represented." Seriously, artists shouldn't just stand there and take it.  First Amendment rights are precious, but booing at these types of events is uncalled for.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra was not fully engaged in much of the show, so that was disappointing. Considering they have one of the unequaled horn sections on planet earth it seemed ridiculous not to have them contributing to this music, particularly since Chicago is a brass-centric band. The CSO should have performed at least one piece of music without the band. The audience was cheated out of their magnificence.  Orchestrations of My Kind of Town and Chicago would have added a nice touch since it was an all Chicago night. Since four of the members of the band have some classical music in their backgrounds why didn't they engage in a classical piece of music?

Richard Kaufman, conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra served as the conductor for the evening. I can't imagine CSO conductor and music director Riccardo Muti doing this type of event, but then again maybe he was off performing elsewhere. You can catch Muti back at the hall on Thursday, January 30 with Yo-Yo Ma, although Muti did connect with the band for a photo op.

One of my favorite songs was not included in the play list. Dialogue is such a great back and forth vocal with differing worldviews that I would suggest it should always be included in their set list. Superb track that is undervalued, even by the band. Dialogue is one of the most thought provoking songs of the rock era. One must think, but while you are thinking you are still engaged in being entertained. Great tune.  

The only down note of the evening was when the normally sophisticated Robert Lamm looked at the audience and said this is the youngest audience the CSO has ever seen. Clearly, he doesn't know who is attending the CSO's performances since their audiences skew younger than this crowd.

This same weekend the band will be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Unfortunately for them they have to perform with Robin Thicke and pretend that is a good thing. They will have to perform a song that gives glory to the exploitation of women and rape. How many times can one say "bitch" in a song and seemingly get away with it?

Chicago has famously not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame even though they were eligible for induction over 20 years ago. If you get the chance to see them in concert take that opportunity.  Life is brief and fragile and Chicago are one of the great acts of the last 50 years of music.

Current Members of the Band: Robert Lamm, Walt Parazaider, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Jason Scheff, Keith Howland, Tris Imboden, Walfredo Reyes, Jr., Lou Pardini

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2014 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Jim Brickman: America's Romantic Piano Master - The Interview

Jim Brickman is a two-time Grammy nominated songwriter and pianist with six gold and platinum
albums to his credit. He has worked with some of the most successful music artists of our time
and he hosts a weekly radio program, Your Weekend with Jim Brickman. He is currently on tour with his annual Christmas show which features music from his latest studio album, The Magic of Christmas.   

The 17th annual Holiday Tour is taking you through much of the Midwest. You will be in the Chicago area on November 30.  What's the best aspect of the annual tour?

Besides the music, the audience gets a feeling of family. They are part of the celebration, it’s not like they just sit and enjoy the show.  They come away with a very festive, yet intimate experience.
What are your favorite Christmas songs? Carols?

I love the hymns and old carols, because they were actually written by the masters. I love more modern songs that really create a visual experience, like the lyrics ”Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” and “ I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” and of course, my songs!
Do you think we could ever get to a point where "newer" songs become classics like the ones we have been listening to for generations and in some cases hundreds of years?

Of course!  These songs are playing for a whole new generation of listeners who are starting their own traditions.  New songs as well as old classics will be associated with the memories they are making.
Do you have a couple of unique family holiday traditions?

Well, I’m on tour throughout the holiday season, so the singers and crew become one big family.  We decorate the tour bus with Christmas lights and go out for a nice dinner before we break for Christmas.  Our unique tradition would be the “Secret Santa” gift exchange.  We pick names at the beginning of the tour and try to fit in some shopping in the cities along the route.  The gifts are often quite original!
Working with Johnny Mathis and Sandi Patty must be beyond rewarding.  One is a legendary singer who has been active in the music industry for over 50 years and the other is one of the premiere Christian vocalists of all time. Share the experience of working with them.
On the current album, "The Magic of Christmas," Johnny Mathis, Sandi Patty and Megan Hilty brought a sensibility to the music that was unique to each of them.  Johnny’s voice and legendary sound gave “Sending You A Little Christmas” a new and inimitable message.  I found him so interesting to work with. He was very eager to talk about the significance of the song and his interpretation.  The final result is pure Johnny Mathis and I am so pleased.   Sandi and Megan each gave beautiful performances that added magic to the collection.
Your 20th anniversary is being kicked off in early January, 2014. What are some of the most notable of lessons learned from your career to this point?

I guess I’m just really hands on and have remained involved in every aspect of my career. Even after 20 years, I can’t let go of that.  I’ve always relied on myself to initiate ideas both musically and in business.  I am still surrounded by good friends who have worked with me from the start.  
You recorded Sending You A Little Christmas at Capitol records. I walked through the building a few years ago and was overwhelmed at every corner. Frank Sinatra. Dean Martin. The Beach Boys. The Beatles. Peggy Lee. Bob Seger and so many others at one time or another recorded for Capitol. Tell us about that experience.  Johnny Mercer's storied founding and history is worth discussing all alone.
If the walls could talk . . .  I walked in and thought “Wow, I’m recording my music in this studio that I’ve seen in pictures ever since I can remember.”   I could just feel the presence of the “greats” who recorded there and was hoping some of their brilliance would rub off on me.  It was truly a “pinch me” moment.
You have worked with a wide array of gifted musical artists, including Martina McBride, Michael W. Smith, Donny Osmond, Kenny Loggins and Lady Antebellum.  What leads you to working with another artist? What's the inspiration usually for the collaboration?

I’ve pursued artists whose work and style I admired but were not known for singing adult contemporary ballads.  I thought that combining musical styles would be an interesting mix.  My intention was to create something new style-wise bringing a different slant to the traditional Adult Contemporary ballad.  For instance, Martina McBride was a relatively new country artist.  I liked her sound and invited her to try “Valentine.”  The combination was successful and I’ve continued to collaborate and use Adult Contemporary, Christian, Country and some ‘soon-to-be discovered” artists.
Who is the dream musical partnership for you?  Living and deceased?
Plain and simple, I would love to hear Karen Carpenter’s incredible voice singing my songs.    
You've written commercial ad music for some major companies and organizations.  Do you still write commercial ads?

No, but once in a while I get notification that my music has been used for a commercial or on an NFL tribute.

How did you get into radio? What motivated that decision?
I’m a naturally curious person. I was being interviewed so many times I thought it would be cool to ask my own questions.  So, when the opportunity was presented to me to host a music show, I jumped at it! 
PBS. Without PBS we would be lacking almost all music on television. Their recent Great Performances celebrating their 40th anniversary was wonderful. How did the connection happen for you? Are you working on something with PBS now? 

I’m a strong supporter of PBS and I'm happy to be associated with them over the years. After my success with “Rocket To The Moon” and “Valentine,” working with PBS was the perfect combination of support for them and reaching new audiences.  Earlier this year we filmed Jim Brickman’s Celebration of the 70’s which will be shown on PBS stations in 2014.   

Who are your favorite musical artists of all-time?
The Carpenters, Barbra Streisand, Elton John, Carole King,
Which artists influenced you the most?
Peter Allen, Burt Bacharach and Hal David as writers.
Best pianist of all-time?
George Gershwin was an incredible pianist, but an equally talented writer.

Jim, thanks so much for spending a bit of your time with Chicago and Then Some. Please visit his site to check out his tour schedule.  Merry Christmas!
Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2013



Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Restaurant Review - Il Vicinato, Chicago, Illinois

I loved this place. It's like eating at the home of a family member who really knows how to cook.  The food is consistent all the way around.

The broiled red snapper was perfectly prepared. Perfectly prepared. The lasagna is cheesy and pleasing. The stuffed pork chops were monumental in size and more importantly, superb to the taste. The penne with marinara is simple, yet worthwhile.

The bread was a bit tough, so that was the only failed note in an otherwise near flawless dining experience. I ate a large slice of it in spite of a tug and a pull off of my teeth.

The desserts are hardy and the chocolate souffle is definitely the go to dessert here, although the Bomba is a big hit on the palate.

The service is outstanding. Our young server was downright delightful. A handwritten check. Take me back...please.

The ambiance is old neighborhood eatery. If Tony Soprano were real and if he were still alive (well, he wasn't real) this is a place he'd be dining at. The bar area was open and festive.

Street parking is ample. Check out the red door and enjoy. Il Vicinato is worth trying out wherever you are in the Chicagoland area.

They take reservations and you can book on

Loved it.    

Il Vicinato
2435 S. Western Avenue
773 927 5444

Friday, September 27, 2013


Christmas! It's a wonderful time to be in the city of Chicago. The city's official Christmas tree will be lit on Tuesday, November 26; and there is a wide assortment of displays, shows and events running  throughout the Christmas season. Enjoy Christmas and stay safe & healthy during this wonderful season!

Macy's Holiday Windows
Macy's State Street, 111 North State Street, Chicago
Macy's showcases beautiful window displays in Chicago; and this year will be no retreat from their long held historical roots. Also, make sure you view the Macy's 45-foot Great Tree which features 10,000 LED sparkling lights and 1200 ornaments. The tree is located on the inside of the store by the famed Walnut Room.

Art Institute of Chicago
Michigan Avenue at Adams
The lions will be wreathed for the 2013 Christmas season, so hustle down to the glorious sight of the bedecked lion guards. Chicago's legendary Art Institute Lions always get flowered up for Christmas. The wreaths will remain on our big cat buddies through the season. While you are at the Art Institute, go inside to view the art. There is a charge to enter the Art Institute. This is one of the great art museums in the world, so don't take it for granted.

Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier
December 6-January 12
Navy Pier turns itself into a "Winter Wonderfest" each Christmas season, featuring a number of different attractions, including ice skating and a train ride.

The Nutcracker
Presented by the Joffrey Ballet
December 6-December 28
Auditorium Theatre
Tchaikovsky's classic ballet set to his monumentally timeless piece of music is the single most elegant event of the Christmas season in Chicago. The Mouse King comes to life to take on The Nutcracker! Gorgeously produced! The Auditorium has a superb sound system, so enjoy the music and the visuals of the design and choreography.

Christmas Around the World
Museum of Science & Industry, 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
November 14-January 5
The Museum halls will be decked and holiday singers will fuel the spirit of the season. The sparkle of dozens of decorated trees will greet you at this year's Christmas Around the World. The Museum's grand tree takes center stage in the Rotunda, while more than fifty trees representing nations from around the world adorn the Museum's Main Level. This is a highlight in the city every year. It's so magnificent that if you don't live here, take a trip to the city. If you do live here, then don't miss this fantastic celebration of Christmas Around the World. This wonderful annual event began in 1942 with one tree decked out and dedicated to the Allied troops during World War II.

Christkindlmarket Chicago 2012
Daley Plaza's Christmas Market
November 27-December 24
Christkindlmarket Chicago is a tradition brought here by the Germans. The shopping palooza is a Christmas shopping market that runs through Christmas Eve. It features unique crafts & gifts, entertainment and German food & drinks. German pretzels! Artisans and craftspeople from other countries participate as well. Santa Claus pops up every night at 8:00pm. He is working hard this Christmas season!

Decking the Hall: Welcome Yule
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
220 S. Michigan, Chicago
One of the most magnificent orchestras in the world (get their Beethoven collection as conducted by the late Sir Georg Solti - that is the correct spelling of his name) perform Christmas carols and traditional pieces of music. New arrangements and sing-a-longs.
Performance dates: December 14 15, 21, 22, 23

Lincoln Park Zoo Lights
Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 North Cannon Drive, Chicago
November 29-January 6
Lincoln Park Zoo gets into the Christmas spirit with their zoo lights display. Check out their ice carving demonstrations as well. The zoo lights shine on every Friday through Sunday until December 27 and then the lights go on every night through January 5.

A Christmas Carol - Drury Lane Theatre
100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois
November 21-December 21
The Charles Dickens classic comes to life again this Christmas season!

City of Chicago - State Street & Michigan Avenue
Lights! Everywhere lights!
Walk or drive down Michigan Avenue (Magnificent Mile) & State Street (that great street) and take in the Christmas lights on display. Walk over to Wabash Avenue where the elevated train runs overhead and you might catch the Holiday Train. It's a completely decorated Christmas train. You can look up the schedule by checking out the Chicago Transit Authority's site.

36th anniversary of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"
Goodman Theatre
November 16 - December 28
Timeless story of hope and redemption. Excellent production elements all the way around. 

Holy Name Cathedral
One of the oldest churches in the city of Chicago decorates for the coming of the King! Gorgeous architecture; and on a completely different note, holes are still in the walls from the Al Capone gangster days.

John Hancock Observatory
Four states can be seen from the 96th floor of this building. Visits with Santa Claus and a holiday train display. Breakfast with Santa every weekend in December and kids get to hang out with Santa's special helper, Seemore Miles.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra
iWireless Center
December 12
All State Arena
December 28
This orchestra musically techs Christmas. You either love it or hate it. Their Christmas Canon is worth seeing the show for. Stunning rendition.

The Magic of Christmas with Jim Brickman
Rialto Theater, Joliet, IL
November 30
Brickman is a superb pianist and he has worked with some major music artists over the last few years. His new Christmas album is The Magic of Christmas (Capitol Records). See an interview with Brickman right here on the Chicago and Then Some site.

Mary Wilson/Four Tops Holiday Spectacular
Witness Motown legends (Mary Wilson was an original member of the Supremes) perform some of their biggest hits from the 1960's and some Christmas music classics.
Harris Theater, Chicago
December 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31 - January 2, 3, 4, 5

Denver and the Mile High Orchestra
The Bridge Community Church, Des Plaines
December 4 @ 7:00pm
If you have never seen this act, you are missing out on a great night of life. Superb musicians and a wonderful time celebrating just about any event, but particularly Christmas!

Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield, Illinois @ 1st Avenue and 31st
Brookfield Zoo comes to life with more than a million twinkling lights. The zoo has a light laser show, animated displays, ice carving demonstrations and costumed characters (think lots of photo ops). Saturdays & Sundays beginning December 1 and then running from Wednesday, December 26 through Monday, December 31. 4pm-9pm

Christmas Schooner
Revives the legend from Lake Michigan's history and you get a wonderful musical.
Mercury Theater
November 27-December 29
Tickets: $25.00
773 325 1700

Wonderland Express
Chicago Botanic Garden
November 29-January 5
Twinkling lights, miniature Chicago landmarks, horticulture displays, indoor snowfall.

A Chanticleer Christmas
December 4-5
Chicago Symphony Center
Award-winning a cappella ensemble sings traditional carols, sacred works and Christmas favorites.

Vienna Boys Choir
November 30 @3:00pm
Chicago Symphony Center
The angelic voices of one of the oldest boy's choirs in the world.

Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum
Lisle, Illinois
November 22-January 4
Interactive light display through a mile of wooded path. Sing to a tree and the colors get brighter!
Admission charged
630 968 0074

Christmas Walk & House Tour
Geneva, Illinois
Christmas with 200 shops. Geneva is a gorgeous town and worth checking out.

National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville, Illinois
It's a drive! More than one million lights. Displays at the Shrine are downright stunning!

Trace Adkins - The Christmas Show
Genesee Theatre
Waukegan, Illinois
Thursday, December 5 @ 7:30pm
The celebrity spokesperson for the Wounded Warrior Project offers up selections from his new Christmas album, The King's Gift. The collection includes Celtic carols.

Apollo Chorus Performs Handel's Messiah
Chicago Symphony Hall
December 7 @3:00pm
The most magnificent piece of music ever written comes to life at Symphony Hall. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (The Musical)
November 22-January 5
Broadway in Chicago presents this musical and yes, it is based on the classic animated television special. No one can sing It's a Holly Jolly Christmas quite like Burl Ives, but this could prove to be a fun day out at the theater.

It's a Wonderful Life
November 22-December 29
Not one, but two radio retellings of the legendary Frank Capra film are presented in Chicago. Both of these productions are retro (they put on a stage play as though it were a radio show from another time) and they are slightly different. The American Blues Theater version has a warmer pop to it, but both are very good.
American Theater Company
1909 W. Byron Street, Chicago
American Blues Theater at the Greenhouse Theater Center
2257 N. Lincoln, Chicago

Cadillac Palace Theatre
151 W. Randolph Street, Chicago
A big-time Broadway in Chicago musical.
November 26-December 15

Musichorale Presents: 67th Noel Concert - 'Twas the Night Before Christmas
Trinity Christian College - Ozinga Auditorium
Palos Heights, IL
Sunday, December 8 at 3:00pm
Free Valet Parking
For More information: 773 239 6279

Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour
Saturday, December 7
Chicago Theatre

Home for the Holidays
Morris, Illinois
A lighted parade on Friday, November 29 precedes the tree lighting at Chapin Park. All weekend long you can take carriage rides, tour the Festival of Trees at the Grundy County Historical Museum and of course, the kids can visit Santa Claus.
815 941 0245

Please note: you should check specific dates and times since some of these schedules are subject to change.

If you are visiting Chicago, there are several five and four star hotels we highly recommend:
Trump International/Chicago, The Peninsula, Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Waldorf Astoria Chicago, Renaissance Blackstone, Sofitel Water Tower, Hotel Monaco, The Drake, Conrad Chicago

Christmas is a wonderful and miraculous event in history. There is a reason for this glorious season! Merry Christmas and enjoy the offerings in and around Chicago!

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Concert Review: Eagles at United Center, Chicago - September 20, 2013

"Seems like a dream now, it was so long ago."

The Eagles are the definitive American rock band. Outside of the Beach Boys, no other American act even comes close to matching the ups, the downs, the good, the bad, the spot on music of life quite like the Eagles.

They did their first of two nights (they will appear for their second night in Chicago on October 19 at  the All-State Arena) in Chicago at the United Center on Friday, September 20 in front of a sold-out crowd of hard-core fans; and a few nominal fans.

Don Henley and Glenn Frey are two gifted composers/lyricists. They took the stage in silence and it went from you could hear a pin drop to a deafening roar of approval. The lovers of the timeless music catalog known as the Eagles were beyond content. They opened the show with two little heard ballads from their first two albums. Train Leaves Here This Morning is off the 1972 debut album, Eagles. That lovely piece of music segues into Saturday Night off of the Desperado album. No band defines musicality better than the Eagles. They were and are gifted songwriters, musicians, singers and clearly, the best harmonizers in all of recorded music. Lest one think hyperbole is being used. It's not.

Original member, Bernie Leadon rejoins the Eagles on this, Their History of the Eagles tour. Even though we are being led to believe and I believe it is true, that this will be their last tour as Eagles, it is wonderful to have him back.  He plays the mandolin on Saturday Night and it is beyond a welcomed moment in life itself. The only missing element is Randy Meisner. Randy Meisner's ill health has prevented him from taking part in this retrospective of a career. Glenn Frey did say from the stage that Randy was recovering. Unfortunately, his nuanced and beautiful presence on the stage will not be felt during this tour.

The acoustic open to the show with the earliest of Eagles songs is beautifully done. No theatrics. It's the music. Period.

They play through a near mind-numbing series of hit songs. Peaceful Easy Feeling, Witchy Woman, Tequila Sunrise, Best of My Love, Already Gone and One of These Nights. They launched into a scorchingly subtle, beautifully poetic and hauntingly cow jumped over the moon moment with their non-Randy Meisner version of  Take It To The Limit. Randy Meisner is obviously not there to craft and mold the moment that only he can take to the limit, but the memories of the original recorded version are so deeply rooted in the mindset of the lover of the music that it will no doubt never fade away during the earthly life of the fan. The current stage version of Witchy Woman is newly arranged with a driving downbeat. It took on a life of its own. Bernie Leadon, in his intro said he wrote the song with Don Henley and then got a laugh out loud moment with "no one in the band ever dated anyone like this woman." One of them probably did.

More hits - Lyin' Eyes, New Kid in Town, Life in the Fast Lane, In The City, Heartache Tonight and then they rolled us into a post hypnotic trance on their encore songs, including Hotel California, Take It Easy and they move quietly into the sunset with the most gorgeous and simple take on Desperado. They play it straight with the original arrangements of many of these songs, but they mess around (in a good way) with Heartache Tonight. Glenn Frey admits he loved what the Beach Boys did with Barbara Ann. A group of musicians having fun with their guitars talking to one another. There were no heartaches last night.

Lots of humor and talking on this tour. I've seen them several times over the years and they talked more last night than they have in their entire career on the stage. Frey had some good moments with his Lyin' Eyes tune dedicated to his ex-wife. I won't give you the punch line.

Those Shoes was so spot on I literally could have closed my eyes and thought my turntable was playing my Long Run copy.

Joe Walsh adds a tremendous amount of humor and rock to the evening. His superb artistry with the guitar lends itself wisely to the band. His inclusion in the band may be one of the most brilliant decisions Glenn Frey ever made. By the way, he looks great. Talk about aging well. Joe's highlight moment was Rocky Mountain Way. You get a Colorado backdrop to ease you while showcasing his still remarkable set of gifts.

Timothy B. Schmit off of a bout with cancer is in top form. He drives home the appeal of the country rock roots and he delivers on the hard driving rock songs. TBS (Glenn Frey called him TBS, so let's go with it) pulls out the harmonica on Doolin' Dalton.

Don Henley and Glenn Frey still offer supremely worthwhile lead vocals throughout the multiple sets, although, keep in mind they are 66 and 65 years of age respectively. No, they don't sing like they used to, but they are better than anyone else out there. Their voices have to strain a bit and they are no longer effortless voices. They are two of the finest vocalists, phrasers and interpreters of their own music in the last sixty years of recorded music. Song for song, there is no act quite like them. The Beatles may reign with range and depth, but for sheer joy, solace and peace in rock/pop music I would rather have the catalog of the Eagles on the desert island, wherever that may be. On a cold  day I'm pulling out On the Border

The only song missing - Seven Bridges Road. This song defines the pure genius of their harmony abilities. They've sung it since the 1970's in their live shows and they use it to open their History of the Eagles documentary. I don't know why it's not on their set list, but here's hoping they add it back to the show.

A couple of verbal hiccups. Glenn Frey said his hometown of Detroit was like Chicago with more garbage. Clearly, he hasn't read a great deal of news lately, but Don Henley's verbal faux pas of referring to Linda Ronstadt as a smart "girl" was a bit much. "Girl?" She's 67 years old; and then after he called her a smart girl he mentioned she wrote her autobiography by herself. Patronizing to boot. They are clearly forgiven, but they may want to check themselves on the next go-round.

I don't say this lightly, but in my life I have been comforted deeply by my faith, my immediate family and by the music that has so stirred my emotions. The Eagles have been with me on my own personal journey since that lofty late spring day when I first heard them back in May, 1972. I sincerely can't imagine not having them as my backdrop.

I shared this evening with my two surviving siblings. I also had two elementary school friends join in. The evening was like a walk into my youth. Amen to that! In the end, it was much more than a walk backwards. It was a walk into my very present life and ultimately, a walk into the future. The music of the Eagles will be with me until I take my own last breath.

Oh yeah, "the bluebird was high on the wind."

This show is something to behold. May they have the wind be at their back as they loiter effortlessly through the balance of their days.

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2013

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Day Trip - In and Around Chicago - To Oregon, Illinois

Try telling someone you are going to Oregon and they'll look at you and ask - "I thought you said we'd get together for pizza later" or "which airline are you flying on?"

Visiting Oregon, Illinois is a nice way to spend a day out of town. Now that fall is setting in, you can take advantage of a brisk fall morning and stare at the hawks gliding above as you peer into the skies. The treelines will soon be carpets of fall foliage lounging throughout the heart of the Northern Illinois landscape.

There is a wonderful authenticity to the outdoors. Trees are beautiful with large swaths of color dotting the horizons every which way you look. The skies are dripping gold, orange, red, burgundy and assorted other shades of bountiful color. There is a tremendous richness to the season we are approaching, but taking a trek to Oregon is lovely at any given point in the calendar year.

If you are coming out of the city center you can reach Oregon in 1:45. Seriously, get yourself onto the I-88 corridor and you will have yourself a lovely scenic drive. We took I-88 to Route 39, but you can drive along surface streets the entire way if you choose to spend a bit more time resting and relaxing on the drive.

Once in Oregon, you have to head to the 48 foot tall statue erected in honor of the Sauk chief, Black Hawk.  The statue has absolutely nothing to do with the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team outside of the name. Having said that, this would be a unique way to share a bit of fun with some of your fellow Blackhawks fans.

Black Hawk Statue

The statue stands proudly along the gorgeous Rock River in the Lowden State Park. Think, lots and lots and lots of trees. There are some paths to walk and the State Park is surrounded by several city parks that offer the comforts of rest and relaxation.

The statue is listed repeatedly as just "the statue," so don't look for Blackhawk signs anywhere. Some people will refer to the statue as the eternal Indian statue.  The statue was dedicated on July 1, 1911 and it is part of the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.  Lorado Taft was the sculptor.

The town is small, but we let the local Dairy Queen source us with calcium and we walked along the town's blocks and witnessed a gigantic war memorial and a non-descript tribute memorial to the nation's 35th President, John F. Kennedy.

Take your car, bring your bikes and go to Oregon, Illinois for a memorable day trip.  The town is easily accessible from all points whether you are coming in from Chicago, Southern Wisconsin, Southeastern Minnesota, Iowa or the Illinois towns that surround the area.

Ogle County is one of the smaller counties in the state of Illinois, but the town of Oregon offers up some amazing architectural specimens, so enjoy the art of the buildings.

This is a pleasant way to spend a leisurely Saturday or Sunday.

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2013

Friday, August 9, 2013

Restaurant Review: Paladar in Chicago's Logan Square

On my summer food journey I was directed into the direction of a true find and yes, first impressions in the world of restaurants mean almost everything. Paladar Cuban Restaurant offers superb food for both the sophisticated diner and the not so sophisticated, which is a healthy balance for sustaining a successful restaurant. Our evening at Paladar began with the Plantain chips with garlic and guacamole. Warm bread was also served upfront before the entrees made their appearance. The bread is served with a couple of different flavored butters and they shout out - delicious! The appetizers are wonderful, but definitely devour the flavors of Cuba Platter, which is enough for a party of four to six. Excellent all the way around on this one. Scrumptious! 

The Tilapia with Spanish rice and black beans, the Stuffed Poblano Pepper and the Garbanzos are all excellent and worth the trip to Paladar alone. The meat and seafood dishes are plentiful, but vegetarians and even vegans will be taken aback with the multiple number of options the customer is given. 

Paladar has outdoor dining and even though the restaurant is located off of a busy street you are in a private enough location that no one has to talk above the din of street traffic. Another plus: parking was shockingly easy. The service was outstanding and I don’t say that loosely. Just outstanding. 

The indoor location is delightfully designed with personal life treasures hanging on the walls and a sentimental plate wall that features a long-held tradition of gifting with a plate. Bring the owner a plate and maybe you will leave your mark on the restaurant's wall.

The Havana bar in the back looks welcoming enough that Ernest Hemingway himself most assuredly would have enjoyed a hit of a mojito. Paladar offers a wide range of mojitos, margaritas and various rum options.   


Paladar is cozy and comfortable. The indoor dining room, the outdoor patio and the Havana bar are all welcoming. If you want cozy and romantic you will get  that; and if you are hanging out with friends you will enjoy the tastes of the restaurant while enjoying good conversation. 

The owner was born in Cuba, but came to the United States at the age of six. He has taken Paladar to a high level in Cuban dining. The concept of the restaurant was based on the paladares of Cuba. They were home-grown restaurants since official restaurants weren’t allowed in the Caribbean nation.  

Paladar is at the high end of Cuban meals in the Midwest. Time seemed to stop here while we embedded ourselves in some delicious food. First-rate food and good-natured service = excellence.

Logan Square has become one of the hippest neighborhoods in the city and I don’t mean hip in the sense of trendy, even though it is now trendy. It’s hip, because some talented chefs and restaurateurs are doing business in this area. Another huge asset to Logan Square - the walking areas are memorable. Taking a walk down the boulevard is a gentle nudge in the entertaining yourself department while you get some essential exercise.

Don't miss Paladar! Oh-and the prices are beyond reasonable.

2252 North Western

After 6pm there is free parking at the PNC Bank parking lot, but you need to get a pass from the restaurant.

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2013