Monday, September 20, 2004

Fun Down River

We woke up Sunday with the intention of visiting the Maxwell Street market. Me just to eat, the wife to eat and shop and the kidz to pine over porcelain dolls, water yo-yo's and 1,000 other things that they want until they see the next thing they want. Give them $5 to spend for the day, and watch it go before the first taco consumed. Then, I read about the Arizona Charlie's flea market in Bollingbrook in Sunday's Chicago Tribune, and we decided to change plans. It might have been a good flea market with some good Mexican food. We never got there. Instead we did a bit of exploring of the South-West suburbs, some of the great and somewhat hidden gems of Chicagoland.

Whenever possible, I refuse to take the expressway. Sunday morning with little traffic, why not take the mother-road, old route 66 to Bollingbrook. What better way to "accidently" run into Honey Fluff Donuts, one of the great un-discussed food outlets in Chicago. I would not call Honey Fluff donuts truly great. I would not necessarily run from Oak Park to Countryside for a Honey Fluff donut, but when I drive by a Honey Fluff shop on a Sunday morning, damn if I am not gonna stop. For those who adore bearpaw sized apple fritters, Honey Fluff's looked awfully tempting. I limited myself, miserly, to one fresh buttermilk donut in anticipation of eating to come.

One cannot drive the full extent of old route 66. Right about where there is a huge hole in the ground (quarry), Joliet Road/Rt 66 detours and then just stops, forcing you on to Interstate 55. Instead of getting off at the re-started Joliet Road, we decided to get off at route 83 with the thought of brunch at Del Rhea's Chicken Basket for brunch. No brunch. Somehow this got us to Lemont, Illinois. We drove around this town for a while, but did not quite find the place that looked like we wanted. Still, what a great appearing place. Lemont may be a suburb, and I am sure outside Main Street it looks like any other suburb, but in the center of Lemont, along Main and the surrounding streets, it looked like any other small town in Illinois. I look forward to exploring Lemont a bit more some other time.

Going downriver, we ended up in Lockport. Reading the many signs around this town, you learn that at one point in the 19th century, Lockport stood equal with Chicago as the cities in Illinois. The Illinois-Michigan canal that made Lockport, Chicago and Illinois prosper is just a shallow duck pond now. Even with the signs, it is hard necessarily to imagine the locks and the canal traffic. But there are all sorts of historical buildings, left-over stuff from a around Will county plopped down, museums and sites in Lockport (nearly all, however closed mid-day on Sunday). Not only did we enjoy exploring yesterday, we avidly seek to return.

Of course, for me, no trip is worth discussing if it does not include food. Lockport has a couple of places of serious interest to the Chowhound: Public Landing, in the historic Gaylord Building on the canal and Tallgrass, a highly regarded Frenchish restaurant. There are, however, other places for the casual stroller. We ate breakfast and ice cream. The food at neither place was outstanding, but boy are the people in Lockport nice. The service in both places was, like Stepford Wives nice. And more than made up for anything on the menu.

Brunch, we ate at Old Stone Cafe. It's one of those places that serves a basic diner menu in a room devoid of naughahyde and adds eggs benedict and cappuchino to the menu for a bit of class. On the other hand, the prices were much cheaper than the same kind of places in Chicago. Biscuits and gravy tasted real enough but lacked a bit of soul. Same with their "State Street potatoes". The effort was there, but a certain amount of pizzaz was lacking. The Condiment Queen was not that happy with her mutltigrain pancakes. I'd eat at this place if I lived in Lockport, but other than that...

About an hour of so later, we stopped for ice cream at Cool Creations. With its stove, flavorings and machines quite visible, it is clear that Cool Creations makes their own ice cream--actually they make some of their own ice cream, they buy some also from Shermans. Like Old Stone Cafe, one can appreciate the effort but realize it is just not that special. Again, I would go here if I lived nearby, but not really run to.

Our last food stop in Lockport was at a farmstand on the way out of town on State, Glascott's I believe. They had plenty of corn, squashes, end of year cucumbers (it showed), and some very nice tomatoes. I'm glad it was there because we could not make our farmer's market on Saturday.

We timed all our eating to be ready for lupper, although the rest of the family did not know exactly what I had in mind. White Fence Farm IS a destination place. I can remember a time when White Fence Farm seemed like a trip to the country. Today, it is almost another suburban restaurant. Almost. One of the Chowhound posts that always sticks in my mind is Seth Zurer asking if White Fence Farm was a hot-sauce, white bread, bad fries kinda place. No. This is highly genteel fried chicken. Country fried chicken. Great fried chicken. Stiff, brittle, ideal crust protecting moist meat, pre-popeyes fried chicken. WFF came into being when good country fried chicken was not enough. As they say on Broadway, one needs a gimmick. WFF has them up the wazoo. Dinner comes with five relishes: pickled beets with soft onions, really rich cottage cheese, kidney beans in a thin mayo, a slaw of extra-fine mince in a clear dressing, and corn fritters that are a marvel of textures and flavors including a sugary crust and bits of kernals that stick to your teeth. For dessert at WFF, most of the players get the brandy ice, proof that cheap liquor and average vanilla ice cream tastes terrific together. Other gimmicks at WFF include a collection of vintage cars, a petting zoo, and those fun house mirrors I love. A lot of these gimmicks were put in place when the wait for chicken dinners seemed endless. I do not know if yesterday was typical, but it was not quite the madhouse I remember. One other point on White Fence Farm, skip the mashed potatoes, get the baked.

Old Stone Cafe
1100 South State Street
Lockport IL 60441

Cool Creations Deli & Ice Cream
937 South Hamilton Street
Lockport IL 60441

White Fence Farm
11700 Joliet Road
Lemont, IL 60439
630-739-1720 or 815-838-1500