Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Real Chicago Code

Recently seven Chicago Police officers received the 2011 Red Cross Law Enforcement Hero award. These men went the extra mile last November by rescuing citizens from a burning building. They are: Officer Victor Chan, Officer Christopher Davies, Officer Kristopher Krizka, Officer Vincent Foggey, Officer Juan Perez, Sgt. Thermon Royster and Officer Bryan Zydek.

Officer Krizka happens to be my nephew. Here is a kid from the Southside who dropped out of high school then joined the Army. After finishing his enlistment, he obtained his G.E.D then completed two years of college in order to qualify for the Chicago Police Department. Here is a young idealistic man who wants to do a public service for the people of Chicago. I am sure the others have similar high ideals. For every bad apple in the department there are hundreds if not thousands of fine officers who daily face criticism, insult and danger. This is the real Chicago Code.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Chicago Code

It’s fun watching a show or movie set in one’s own hometown. Trying to recognize the buildings and neighborhoods and picking up on hometown nuances while picking apart artistic changes is great spectator sport. Spending most of my life in Chicago and coming from a long line of Chicago cops, I am naturally drawn to TV series involving Chicago Police. Though few and far between, I can recall a couple of such shows.

I remember back in the late fifties when tough guy actor Lee Marvin was cast as Lt. Frank Ballinger on special anti-organized crime detail in the series M-Squad. I watched it on a regular basis but the only Chicago connections were some street scenes and verbal local references. Otherwise, it was just Lee Marvin getting the best of the bad guys. Not bad viewing, but no local flavor.

One of my favorite shows in the eighties was Crime Story. It was only on for two seasons but was considered one of the better shows on television. Set in the early nineteen sixties (the good sixties as I call them) it followed a group of Chicago detectives doing battle against an organized crime figure. The star was Dennis Farina an ex-Chicago cop. Local research was done on the show and, along with meticulous set and costume design, a real sense of authenticity prevailed. In the second season a major change occurred…the location moved to Las Vegas. I was greatly disappointed at this turn of events but continued to watch.

Late last year and early into this year there was much hype about the new TV series Chicago Code. I have to admit that prior to watching the premier episode, I was somewhat apprehensive about the casting of Jennifer Beals as the police superintendant. To me it made about as much sense as casting the late John Wayne as Genghis Kahn the 13th century Mongol leader in the 1957 drama The Conqueror. It’s not that a woman superintendant is not in the realm of possibility…it’s just unlikely in the current situation. Additionally, to have such an attractive woman in charge may be bordering on fantasy. I am sure there are plenty of nice looking female officers out there. However, from what I have seen in real life, there are no Jennifer Beals candidates for the top job.

In addition to growing up in a police family, I have always followed local news and politics and have had opportunity to work with the police during my neighborhood watch years. As a result, I found myself very disappointed with Chicago Code. Now I admit that I have only watched the first episode…but that was enough for me. Needless to say, it is not my cup of tea. I understand the concept of dramatic license…but…the Irish Mob??? I feel that Italians should be upset at not being credited with generations of hard work. Besides, I thought the Irish Mob were the elected officials! Then there is the Polish cop who doesn’t tolerate profanity and the alderman who seems to be the most powerful figure in the city. I'm afraid that this is too much suspension of reality for me. The corker for me was the car chase in the first episode. Going after a known suspect, the Polish cop engages in a high speed chase followed by a long two column parade of police vehicles. This goes on for a few minutes and the Polish cop even catches up with the suspect and has a side by side high speed conversation with the individual. Well, that kind of did it for me. It is common knowledge that high speed chases are not allowed in the city. On the plus side, I did appreciate the actors attempt to use a Chicago accent.

As I probably couldn’t act my way out of a paper bag and don’t possess the talent do a screenplay, my criticism should be taken with much caution. However, it seems as though the general viewing public agrees with me as the rating keep slipping. I wish everyone involved the best, but once was enough for me.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Restaurant Review - Local Boy Makes Good: Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant

The past couple of years have seen some lean times for the restaurant business. There are more specials and coupons than ever before. In fact, I usually feel a bit guilty when I don’t take advantage of some of the deals that are offered. Often I will inquire about the status of the business and the answer is usually that it is a bit off. There are a few places that seem immune to economic fluctuation. One such establishment is Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant. Passing by the Orland Park location on any given day, one will note the full parking lot at lunch time as well as the overflow lot at the dinner hour.
This is a real success story. The founder is Tim McEnery, age 33. Mr. McEnery opened the first location (Orland Park) in 2005 and will soon be opening his fifth location in Indianapolis. The final revenue tally for 2010 is expected to surpass $30 million dollars. This is quite an accomplishment for such young a person. Tim labored long and hard in the restaurant and wine industry starting out at age eleven washing dishes. He came up with the concept of a winery and restaurant combination while working at a country club. As part of the preparation process, he worked for a major local winery for a number of years before finally hatching his concept. Today, after five years, his dream has blossomed into a 23,000 member success.

Just prior to the opening of the Orland Park location, my wife and I decided to take a walk by. It was late morning and we were just hoping to take a peek inside the windows. As it turned out, we saw activity inside and walked in the front door. Though not officially open for business, we were greeted cordially and were shown around the facility. After the tour, we were offered a couple of free tastings…now that’s hospitality! We were given brochures and had the membership requirements explained to us. It wasn’t long after that we went back for an official wine tasting and joined the wine club. Although we have been wine drinkers for some time, we have never joined a wine club due to the restricted nature of past offerings. Cooper’s requirements were more flexible and only required one bottle per month as opposed to two.

Cooper’s offers over forty different whites, reds, sparkling, fruit and dessert wines in addition to a wide variety of other drinks. All the wines are produced in their own production facility with many stored kegs in the restaurants. My personal favorites are Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Cooper’s Red which is a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. The menu runs from salads to sandwiches to a variety of entrees and desserts. A favorite dish of many is the Red Wine & Mustard Short Ribs served with mashed potatoes. My current personal favorite is the Trio of Medallions consisting of Horseradish, Bleu Cheese, and Parmesan-Crusted Filet Medallions, broiled and served with mashed potatoes and asparagus. Also very delicious is the Fresh Filet of Grouper which is sautéed, and topped with a pistachio crust served with mustard sauce, mashed potatoes and asparagus. I can also recommend the Tenderloin sandwich consisting of melt–in-your-mouth sliced beef tenderloin with provolone, Dijon, mayo and crispy onion strings on toasted Ciabatta. I am getting hungry as I write this. All food comes with a paired wine recommendation. It is absolutely necessary to make weekend reservations. You can get there early for a wine tasting. At seven dollars for eight generous pours (you can get second tastings too), it is a very good deal.

Now let me caution that the pricing is somewhat high, though not outlandish. I believe the success of the enterprise is due not only to the concept, but also to the customer friendly environment. Current locations are in Orland Park, Burr Ridge and South Barrington with soon to open restaurants in Wheeling and Indianapolis.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Weekend/Weekday Getaway - Springfield, Illinois - Things To Do In Springfield

If you are looking for a fabulous two day trip, there is no finer place to drive off to (or take the train) than Springfield, Illinois. Go to the headquarters of the Land of Lincoln.  Obviously, Abraham Lincoln has ranked consistently high on the list of the finest U. S. Presidents and the state of Illinois has captured his life and career in every which way possible. 

It's an easy trek for Chicagoland residents making a trip to Springfield. Springfield offers great bed and breakfast options, along with the traditional hotel and motel chains.  You only need two full days to take in everything, so plan on staying one night if you are heading in from the Chicago area. Obviously, if you go during State Fair week, you will need more than two days.   

The most not to miss destination in Springfield is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.  I’ve visited multiple Presidential Museums (Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, among them) and this is as good as any of the others, if not more so. It is a monumental achievement in this day and age to build something so magnificent; and it works on all levels. It is engaging, entertaining (dare I say) and inspiring. It’s a superb combination of full frontal scholarship along with great theatrical elements of mass entertainment.  You become bonded with the location and with the times in which Lincoln lived.  This is a destination not just for Chicagoans or Midwesterners.  I would recommend this Museum to any thinking person.  It’s history defined at its best.

The Museum/Library is home to a huge volume of Civil War material.  The collection is immense, but whether you are a civil war buff, a history lover or just a passenger passing by, this collection will stun you.   
Lincoln Home

Several attractions are just a short walk away, so you can take in the Lincoln Home National Historic Site which is in walking distance from the Museum.  It’s a wonderful place to walk around and get a feel for the times of Lincoln. The house is surrounded by similar structures that are now used as office spaces for government agencies. Everything has been kept true to the architecture of the day. You can pick up a free ticket to tour the Lincoln Home at the visitor center.  Definitely visit the visitor center. The center alone is an attraction and you will gain lots of tips about the area.   

Walk on over to the Lincoln Herndon Law Offices and you get to see the building Abe Lincoln worked in prior to his political career.  The place is amazing in that it is pretty much like they left it!  Quite historic!

Old State Capitol Building

You can also walk over to both the old State Capitol and the new State Capitol.  You can take tours of both, but the highlight is the old State Capitol. The building is stunning from the outside and the inside. You will feel like you have been transported back to the mid 19th century.  

You will have to drive out to Lincoln's New Salem Village to see what a village looked like in the days of Lincoln, but it is worth it.  No trip to Springfield is complete without seeing this village.  Keep in mind, it gets hot and humid here in the summer, so this is not something you may want to do in mid-July. There is quite a bit of walking here, so bring the sunscreen and a wheelchair for older companions.

Last, but not least, no visit to Springfield should take place without a memorial trek to the Oak Ridge Cemetery.  Lincoln is buried here under a tremendous amount of pomp, but could any American, outside of George Washington, be worth the pomp and glory that Lincoln gets here at Oak Ridge.  The outside of the tomb is a majestic structure erected in honor of the nation's 16th President and the deep underground burial location is haunting and lovely. Lincoln's wife and three of their four sons are buried here as well.  

The cemetery is also home to the World War II, Korean and Vietnam Memorials for the state of Illinois.  All of them are stunning displays in tribute to the men and women who served their nation.
Lincoln's Majestic Tomb

On a lighter note, the original Route 66 made its way through Springfield and there are several landmarks along the way to help you mark the spot.