Category Archives: Illinois

Newberry Library/West Side Story at the Lyric Opera House/eating at the Ritz – Chicago

I had an interview with someone who works at The Newberry Library located in an elegant old mansion in Chicago, just west of the Gold Coast. I wandered around afterward and particularly enjoyed the gift shop, which has a great selection of Chicago books and cards. I also peeked in on an exhibit about dance in Chicago, including g a poster from the early days of Hubbard Street Dance, one of my favorite companies.

In the evening, a real treat courtesy of my sister — a live performance of “west side story” in the also elegant Lyric Opera House, which I had never been inside. We played it safe with our pre-theater meal and ate in the restaurant in the Lyric which was fine and best of all, quick. The show was fantastic – the “Maria” had the most glorious voice, the dancing was great, the sets and costumes and live orchestra all great too. I didn’t want it to end.

Today, for one last hurrah, my Aunt MAT took me for a delicious lunch at the classy restaurant in the Ritz Carlton. Not too shabby! And now, here at O’Hare, my carryon under-the-seat-only bag with the cheapest fare (aka basic) appears to have passed muster. What a memorable and action-packed trip to Chicago! Thx to my family there!!!

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Manet at the Chicago art institute, shake shack/Chicago Athletic Association /mon ami Gabi/rain — Chicago

Some of my favorite Manet paintings are not in the new show at the Art Institute of Chicago but that’s okay because 1) I look at them all the time (the poster versions of Olympia and The Balcony) 2) there was so much else to see. The show is small, much smaller than the Bonnard show at The Tate Modern in London that I went to in March. But the lovely colorful portraits of elegantly dressed women and still lives of flowers bounced off the walls. Being in rooms full of these paintings made me happy, although they were painted during a sad period in Manet’s life, when he was sick and nearing death.

We also popped into a nearby room full of American painter’s work including Grant Wood’s American Gothic, a famous Edward Hopper and other great works by Georgia O’keefe, Diego Rivera and Thomas Hart Benton. A few user tips: I was glad we bought fast pass tickets online a few hours before we arrived. Saved us from standing in a long line. What I should have done was bought a membership for $70, rather than tix to the museum/special exhibit which cost $84 for two of us. (I need to do the math to see what it costs to bring a guest as a member.) Members also get discounts at the museum store which has some gear stuff, including jewelry by Chicago artists. And of course members can keep coming back without further payment.

Inside The Chicago Athletic Club

After lunch we went to the Shake Shack across from the museum to accommodate pregnant Emma, who was craving a burger. I had a small “smoke shack” burger with bacon and some sort of sauce with hot peppers. Spicy and delicious. We roamed around the spectacular old world elegant Chicago Athletic Association. (A retro-looking Shake Shack is on the ground floor) which is now a very cool hotel and took in the glorious Chicago view from the balcony on the top floor restaurant Cindy’s. (Note to self: Go on a free 2 pm tour of the building.)

Dinner (yet another birthday fete) was steak frites and Cesar salad at Mon Ami Gabi, followed by a driving tour in the rain by a friend of MAT’s of the gardend and zoo in Lincoln Park, which somehow I have not yet managed to visit. The lily Pond there comes much recommended.

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Bike the Drive/Logan Square Bang Bang Pie Shop —Chicago

Yes, Bike the Drive was definitely worth getting up at 5:30 a.m.. The chance to ride a bike along Lake Shore Drive with nothing except other bikes, albeit thousands of them, was much-appreciated. The annual event was orderly and well-organized, with lots of helpful volunteers, very little red tape or lines, and plenty of free food (bananas, apples, cliff bars, even designer coffee.) I was riding a borrowed 6-speed Schwinn with a very comfortable wide seat. The only minor challenge was making it up several minor inclines. Otherwise the route was flat and very scenic. I spotted sights along “LSD” I’d never seen during decades of zipping along it in my car.

We got lucky with the weather. The sky was overcast and dark at times but it never rained beyond some drizzle. At points, the sun almost came out and the lake looked beautiful, as did the dramatic skyline. What a treat to see some of the dramatic high-rise architecture along the river leading to the lake from new vantage points. And for a moment you had a feel for what might be if we were all less dependent on our gas-guzzling cars. I did recall, at times, the thrill of riding on some bike-only bridge in Copenhagen and, of course, the temporary bike-only rural roads in Iowa during RAGBRAI.

I rode a few blocks from Emma and Rockets in Edgewater to the BRyn Mawr entrance onto the Drive and rode south 8 miles to Grant Park where I met up wi5 my sister Jill and two of her friends who took the El in from Oak Park. I wanted to keep riding south but we sort of ran out of time (there are some timing issues to keep track of – and I am glad I started at 6:30 am) so we rode back north. next time, I may being my bike and ride all the way down and back, the earlier the better.

This afternoon we went to the Sunday farmers market in Logan Square and to delicious Bang Bang Pie shop, which serves, yes, pie — sweet and savory. We had excellent chocolate caramel pie and key lime pie (they’d run out of strawberry rhubarb) and sampled the chicken pot pie. Also had great homemade lemonade with free refills. We also walked Millie around E & R’s lovely Edgewater neighborhood.

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Dodging tornadoes in Iowa/cheese 101 at Eataly in Chicagol

We somehow managed to drive from Des Moines to Chicago last night without directly encountering any of the storms that were popping up all around us. Outside Iowa City on I-80, we saw scary looking white clouds (which may or may not have produced the tornado we learned touched down about 25 minutes before we passed through) and in Illinois, lightning lit up the dark night just south of us and north of us off and on. Needless to say, we were very happy when we got to Chicago around midnight.

Today, the weather was much more pleasant than anticipated in Chicago, sunny and warm instead of rainy. We spent two hours at the scoula on the second floor of eataly, taking a very fun cheese and wine tasting class that emma and rocket got me for my birthday. Great gift idea and we sampled 6 cheeses, and 3 “natural” wines and learned everything we ever wanted to know about to cheese from the cheesemonger.

Cheeses we tried and enjoyed (all of those served): casa Madaio, Canestrato, Campania; Jasper hill, Bayley Haven Blue, Vermont; Agriform,, Parmigiano; Arrigoni, quartirolo Lombardo; ca de’ambros, Nocetto di capra (goat cheese) Guffanti, sola…wine: micro Marriott I, Bianco dell’emilia

Dinner was very good at a place with the unappetizing name:Income Tax in Edgewater. Mediterranean fare.

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My story in Minneapolis Star Trib on Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood

Here’s my story on Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood with major assist from my kids. Click on the link to see who got the much-deserved credit for the photos in the story (which are not the photos below. )


Emma at Hopleaf

MARCH 29, 2019 — 9:16AM

The Andersonville neighborhood offers a buffet of delights, Swedish and otherwise.

By Betsy Rubiner Special to the Star Tribune

Glögg goes down easy on a cold winter night in Chicago, as I learned recently when my son-in-law insisted I visit the venerable Simon’s Tavern to get a full-bodied taste of the city’s North Side neighborhood of Andersonville (

With a sweetness that masks its punch, the traditional Swedish mulled wine is a Simon’s mainstay (served warm in the winter and cold in the summer, as a “glögg slushie”) and a robust reminder of Andersonville’s past, when mid-19th-century Swedish immigrants settled in what was then the boondocks north of Chicago.

Other signs of Swedish-ness endure — the most obvious being a water tower replica painted blue and yellow to resemble a massive Swedish flag, perched above a former hardware store housing a Swedish American Museum. Nearby is Svea, a Swedish cafe opened in 1924, serving meatballs, pancakes and a chicken sandwich named after Pippi Longstocking; and, of course, Simon’s, opened in 1934, with its landmark neon sign of a blue and yellow fish holding a cocktail, a nod to another Swedish delicacy, pickled herring.

But as the neighborhood’s Middle Eastern bakery, feminist bookstore, high-end art supply shop and other independently owned galleries and vintage/antique stores make clear, Andersonville offers a smorgasbord of stuff, Swedish and not. During frequent visits, I usually discover yet another enticing shop or restaurant, often with help from enthusiastic transplants — my young adult kids who have found relatively affordable housing in Andersonville and the surrounding Edgewater area.

Shopping standouts

Lined with low-rise, turn-of-the-20th-century brick buildings, some clad in creamy decorative terra cotta, Andersonville’s main commercial drag — a roughly milelong stretch of N. Clark Street — retains an endearingly small-town feel that sets it apart from the big city, making it ideal for wandering and people-watching.

My favorite shops, mostly concentrated in the eight blocks south of Rascher Avenue, tend to have a distinct sensibility, environment and mood. At the self-described feminist bookstore Women & Children First, which caters to Andersonville’s sizable LBGTQ community as well as women and children, it’s always interesting to see which books are prominently displayed, with helpful staff reviews, and I often discover unknown gems (

Also carefully curated is Martha Mae Art Supplies & Beautiful Things. Owned by a young Art Institute of Chicago alumna, the small, light and airy shop sells a remarkable assortment of elegant utilitarian objects — from Swiss fountain pens, French stationery and Japanese papers to brass staplers and wrought iron scissors — impeccably arranged in uncluttered displays near the occasional contemporary painting and taxidermied animal (

In contrast, the dense collection of vintage decor at Brimfield — heavy wool blankets, plaid thermoses, college pennants, wood tennis racquets, tweed sportcoats, flannel shirts, wicker picnic baskets, darts and scouting patches — feels like the set of a Wes Anderson movie ( Visiting the tiny vintage clothing store Tilly, packed with gowns and costume jewelry, is like stepping into the closet of a glamorous starlet from decades past (1-773-744-9566).

At the midcentury furniture store Scout, the vibe is hip retro urban (1-773-275-5700), while the eccentric offerings at the shop/gallery Transistorinclude lamps made from old rotary telephones, slide projectors and desk fans (transistor­

Dining and drinking

A colorful history and atmospherics are a big part of the charm at Simon’s, opened by a Swedish immigrant who ran a speakeasy in the basement and a bulletproof mini-bank in what now looks like an abandoned broom closet in the bar.

Warm and welcoming, the neighborhood tavern’s dim, tunnellike space includes the original 60-foot-long mahogany bar with a ship etched into the glass, across from a long 1956 mural titled “The Deer Hunter’s Ball,” its canvas buckled with age. Nursing our glögg, served in a glass mug with a thin Swedish ginger snap, or pepparkakor, we could clearly see the mural’s deer in the wild and murkier scenes of people partying (1-773-878-0894).

A block south, Hopleaf Bar offers an extensive beer selection (craft, draft, bottles) and upscale Belgian-inspired pub grub, from mussels steamed in a Belgian beer broth to a Wisconsin smoked ham sandwich on dark pumpernickel bread with Gruyère and coleslaw. The pomme frites are delicious. Even better are the thin and crisp onion rings, served in a large mound.

We like eating at a wood table in the comfortable back dining room, which has old tin beer advertisements hanging on exposed brick walls, a wood-burning stove and windows overlooking a backyard patio. One heads up: no kids — or anyone under 21 — allowed. This is a bar, even though the backroom feels like a restaurant (

Specializing in “heirloom Southern cooking,” Big Jones( produces delicious crispy-not-greasy fried chicken, cooking it in lard seasoned with bacon grease. Its traditional Cajun-style gumbo is made with a proper roux. Need I say more?

At Lost Larson, a stylish Swedish bakery that opened last year, the traditional pastry cardamom buns, or kardemummabullar, taste pretty darned close to those we ate last year in Stockholm during many a fika, the Swedish coffee-and-cake break. But, psst, the cinnamon roll and monkey bread are pretty great, too (lostlar­

Next visit, I hope to try one of Lost Larson’s open-faced sandwiches, served on heavy Swedish rye, flavored with fennel, anise and orange peel. I also want to eat at Passerotto (, one of last year’s hot new Chicago openings, serving “fun Korean” dishes with “minor” Central Italian touches. Its cavatelli with nori butter landed on Time Out Chicago’s 2018 “Best Dishes and Drinks” list.

Before leaving Andersonville, I often stop at the Middle East Bakery & Grocery to order a shawafel wrap (a chicken shawarma/falafel mashup) to go at the counter and load up on hummus, tabbouleh, baba ganoush and cushiony barbari flatbread for the drive home (

Des Moines-based writer Betsy Rubiner ( writes the blog Take Betsy With You.


Swedish goodies at Lost Larson


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Japanese style toilets in Peru, Illinois 

Sapp Brothers might not have the cheapest gas in Peru, Illinois but holy cow, it has the same toilets we grew to like in Japan. They spray water and blow air into your  private parts to clean and even blow dry. Never seen this  at a U.S. rest stop.

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Vegwater community Garden, Metropolis coffee – Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood 

August is prime harvest season for the Peterson Garden Project, which has community gardens scattered across Chicago’s North Side. Fresh tomatoes grown in the small plot tended by our son-in-law Rocket in the Project’s Vegwater garden in the Edgewater neighborhood were a highlight of a late Sunday lunch that Emma whipped up for us.

Then we went over to check out the garden. The place is bursting with colorful veg and flowers, in over 100 small individually tended plots. Tomatoes, peppers, cubes, herbs, zinnias, gotta love seeing this in the heart of a big city.

We stopped for cold brew and oolong coconut iced tea and a killer brownie at Metropolis, near the Glendale El station before wandering over to Hollywood beach where we could see that the crazy stunt planes we watched on our drive into the city  along lake shore drive were done entertaining as part of the annual air and water show. Dinner was with wonderful aunt MAT at L. May, the ode to Midwestern supper clubs in Lincolnwoid. Excellent fish (trout with capers, grilled white fish and walleye), potatoes (twice-baked, garlic mashed) and bbq ribs. Great service and of course company.

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Chicago history museum/noninna/riverwalk — Chicago 


Back on the megabus/windstar bus and so far so good despite some initial chaos at the bus stop when crowds of riders were trying to figure out which of several buses were theirs.

74ED114A-14D5-4B30-B5F7-0C03587F05444B5D59C8-9CB8-4045-B541-1A0B329805CBWe ended up at the Chicago history museum yesterday- we were eager to beat the heat and opted against the Singer Sargent  show at the Art Institute for fear it would be too crowded and close to the lollapalooza throngs. The museum had some cool things including a temporary exhibit on Chicago blues with fun interactive elements. We made our own record covers, sang karaoke on stage with Koko Taylor (who I saw live several times) and worked a sound engineer booth.  I learned that Crate and Barrel started in Chicago and had an early partnership with Marimekko, the Finnish textile design company that I learned more about in Helsinki.



14D3C01D-F8FC-43E6-B109-B3AC2FC7527EDinner at Nonnina was enjoyed by all, which was a relief since ours can be a discerning crowd. Surprised by how packed it was at 6 pm on Saturday night. Excellent Italian. We walked along the new-ish river walk and were impressed by all the hubbub, people everywhere on and off the water,  at cafes, restaurants and  public spaces, hanging out on docked or moving boats. The city was all lit up at night and looked great. The one potential issue is all the private boat traffic. The river is pretty narrow and there seemed to be a lot of traffic from kayakers  to boat tours and public water taxis to fancy cruisers and little dinghies. Very democratic but chaotic.

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Lakeview fish house Falstrom’s and Southport stroll – Chicago 

The birthday girl, Heather, wanted fresh oysters so we tried a fish house in the North Chicago neighborhood of Lakeview that turned out to be a keeper. Heather liked her oysters and everyone else liked their picks (lightly battered perch, a salad with Cajun-seasoned shrimp, my tuna tartare).

Then we walked along nearby Southport street which as forewarned has gotten more “bougie” (as in bourgeois or what was once called yuppie) than when I was there last, several years ago. Some pricey name store (bonobos, free people, Hanna Anderson) but also some small boutiques with reasonable (sale) prices.

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Peterson Garden project /community cooking school in Chicago

Playing catch up here.

During a recent trip to Chicago, I made an interesting visit to the community cooking school run by the nonprofit  Peterson Garden Project in the massive former armory on Broadway in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood (where my stepdaughter and her husband happen to live). 

For visitors to Chicago, The Peterson Garden Project offers cooking classes, usually accompanied by a meal, (including “Top Chef-style classes” and pop-up dining events. For more information click here.

For Chicago residents, The Peterson Garden Project is a great option for learnig how to grow your own food.  The project operates seven community gardens on Chicago’s north side that get a mix of people. (Membership is a reasonable $85 and includes in-garden classes, other support, some supplies, shared tools and a small plot to garden — a 4×8 raised bed filled with organic soil.)   The goal is to teach people how to grow and cook their own food — and to build community in the process. There are garden socials, all-garden work days, classes (cooking and gardening) and a cool volunteer option — the Give2Grow program, which donates produce from the garden plots to food pantries.


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