"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833

"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845

"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977

"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009

"The best things in life aren't things.
They're living and breathing."
- Michael Franti , 2011

"I owned every second that this world could give,
I saw so many places, the things that I did"
- Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, 2014

All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Followin' the Band

June 2, 2011 - WROK(ing) in Cincinnati  
Windmill field in northern Indiana
We were on the road yet again this long weekend heading north to catch a few shows of one of our favorite bands, Augustana.  We rented a sweet, new Chevy Malibu with sunroof, leather seats and XM Radio from Hertz for a great low price. We got up early and headed up through Louisville and on into Cincinnati so that we could make a 1 PM (EST) food tour we had scheduled.  We stayed downtown just a couple blocks from the food tour meet-up spot at the Hyatt Regency.  We got a great last-minute rate (thanks Hotwire.com) at this very nice hotel.

A Chicago "must-taste"
 Our walking food tour was great and  turned out to be private since we were the only two on the Thursday schedule.  Our guide was Mike, a native of the area and a real ambassador for this surprisingly unique city.  We had been to Cincy before to see a Titans game several pre-blog years ago and also checked out the zoo while we were here, but we had no real idea about the city itself.   Mike's tour took us to seven different places around downtown.  Our first stop was next door to our hotel at Hathaway's Diner, a 50's-style dinner that's been in the bottom floor of the famous and lovely Carew Building (Cincinnati's tallest until just a few years ago) for over a half century.  We were given a generous sample of one of their famous milk shakes which was delicious.  We moved on to Via Vite Italian Ristorante next to busy Fountain Square where we were given some delicious bruschetta.  Next came the well-known, Skyline Chili, a Cincinnati original and mainstay since 1949.  We were given a coney-style hot dog adorned with the thin, sweet-tasting chili. Granted, it's not for everyone, according to Mike, but it sure was for us.  We loved it! 

AUGUSTANA in action

We moved on to Nicholson's Scottish Pub where we were given two samples of their more than 150 type of scotch they have available.  Whooo!  That's powerful stuff!  We also got a sample of cask-conditioned Alba Scots Ale, and a small plate of  mac-n-lobster-n-cheese which was great.  It was on to Roxy's next.  A burger cafe by day and a rocking discotheque by night.  We had their very original kibee burger in which the patty is made of a combination of  lamb and beef.  This was our favorite thing so far.   City Cellars was next on the agenda which is a wine store/ pizza bar and we had great samples of both.  The finale was a small cup of Graeter's Ice Cream.  Graeter's is a Cincinnati staple as much as Skyline Chili is, and we can see why.  This is some of the best ice cream we have ever had.  Man, what a great tour!  We were very stuffed and very happy.

We rested up a bit (and digested a lot) before grabbing a cab for a quick ride up near the University of Cincinnati to a place called Bogart's to see Augustana in concert.   The place is in a relatively bad part of town, but the venue itself was fine.  It's an old converted movie theatre with pretty good acoustics and a great elevated stage.  Opening the show was Austin Gibbs and his band who were pretty good.  Next up was The Maine who is was co-headlining, but who we thought absolutely sucked.  However, the throng of teenage girls in the audience seemed to love this lame band and and as  soon as they finished, the kiddies were gone and we were able to move up closer to the stage to catch Augustana.   Lead singer, Dan Layus, was in good form and their show was great with lots of "old" songs from their previous two albums and plenty of new ones from their new self-titled album. 

June 3, 2011 - Westward to the Windy City

The Kibee Burger
We slept in a bit this morning, had a quick breakfast back over at Hathaway's Diner (from the tour yesterday), and then headed northwest toward Chicago. After passing back through Indianapolis and fondly remembering our weekend spent there last week at the Indy 500 (see previous blog), we stopped at Lafayette Brewing for lunch. It was good beer and great food. The students at nearby Purdue University sure have got a great place to get some good suds and some great grub. The drive into Illinois was easy, but fairly uninspiring in terms of scenery expect for a cool, large field of huge windmills south of the state line. We were making great time except for the last hour when we got caught in some early Chicago rush hour traffic north of the city. Our hotel was a Holiday Inn Express and was good and cheap over by the O'Hare Airport. Everything downtown was sold out for the weekend for some reason. After checking in and unpacking for our couple of days stay, we rode the EL into downtown from the airport.

About 40 minutes later we were downtown and grabbed a good slice of pizza on State Street for dinner before going over to the House of Blues for the sold out Grace Potter & the Nocturnals show. This venue is a bit infamous to us as it was the site (pre-blog) of one of our worst concert experiences ever involving overpriced New Year's Eve tickets, overpriced drinks, a lame crowd, etc. But, hey, that was then and this is now with the lovely Ms. Potter.  No way there was going to be a repeat of that disaster.   Another band from Vermont called Chamberlin opened. They were OK, but a little to spacey for our taste. GP&N were on fire as usual including a very cool insertion of some "Paint It Black" by the Rolling Stones into one of their songs. The acoustics and sight lines in the House of Blues are top-notch. It was a pleasant evening in downtown Chicago after the show was over and we enjoyed our walk back to the EL. While we have been to Chicago several times, this is by far the warmest time of the year that we've been here and we loved it.  We got back late to our room and crashed after a great, long day.

Sunset on the Chicago River

June 4, 2011 - Another day in Chi-town:

We slept in a while this morning and made it back downtown just in time for our 11 A.M. Near North Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour. This was our second go-around with this touring outfit called Chicago Food Planet. We really enjoyed their Wicker Park/Bucktown Tour a couple of years ago (see previous blog). This tour covered the neighborhoods of Gold Coast, Old Town and Lincoln Park north of the downtown loop near Lake Michigan. We had seven stops that included the following:

1.Ashkenz Deli - a Jewish deli where we had a wonderful reuben sandwich made with pastrami.
2. Tea Gschwender - a German tea store where we had some thirst-quenching natural, loose-leaf  iced green tea.

3. The Spice House - a store full of fresh spices of which we were able to sample many including some amazing cinnamon flavors.

4. Old Town Oil - a unique oil and vinegar store that was the real surprise of the tour in terms of amazing and unique flavors.

5. The Fudge Pot - a chocolate confections bakery that's been around since the early 60's.  Their homemade toffee bars were amazing.

6.  Delightful Pastries - this Polish-heritage bakery gave us a somewhat sweet kolache pastry and a savory pirogi  (dumpling).  Yum and yum!

7.  Bacino's Pizza - best deep-dish pizza we've ever had.  Hands down.  And did we mention it only had spinach as the topping?

Overall, a wonderful tour that we highly recommend if you are in the area.  We hope to someday take their elusive Chinatown tour and complete our Windy City trifecta.

After the tour concluded, we started to amble back south back toward the House of Blues for our second consecutive night to see a show there which was our second time seeing Augustana on this trip.  We had a few hours to kill and a few a miles to get there, so we decided to do a little bar crawling on our way.  Plus, it was hot and a cold beverage sounded about right every ten blocks or so.  Our first stop was Stanley's Kitchen & Tap.  We were only interested in the tap part of Stanley's establishment since we were still stuffed from our food tour.   We found it quite amusing that we stumbled into one of the few bars in this huge city that was actually themed-around and  playing country music like we were back in Nashville.  Otherwise, the ambiance was cool and we relaxed with a couple of rounds and were ready to move on when we noticed it was pouring rain outside and a nasty little thunderstorm had rolled up out of nowhere (no forecast of it that we had seen that day?).  Oh well, we ambled back to the bar and had another round to wait it out.  We decided since our time was waning and the skies were still threatening, we would just hail a cab and book it on down to the House of Blues area.  When we arrived back downtown, we still had a little time before the show and made our way to the bar of  The Public House nearby to continue our crawl.  We also got an appetizer of delicious cheese at Bin 36 to see us through the night.

Serving it up at Bacino's

We were happy that the Augustana show had sold out at the House of Blues but were bemoaning the fact that we would have to sit through another atrocious set by The Maine first, but then A CHICAGO MIRACLE HAPPENED!!!....AUGUSTANA CAME ON FIRST!!!  Praise be!!  Since the two bands were co-head-lining, it must have been Augustana's turn to go first which was fine by us.  But it was strange that the opening band in Cincinnati, Austin Gibbs, didn't open the show even though they were there and came out on stage with The Maine as well to do a cover of Tom Petty's "Walls" along with Augustana toward the end of their set.  Strange.  Oh well, as long we got to see Augustana and enjoyed the wonderful sight lines and acoustics of The House of Blues, it was fine by us.  The show started early in terms of concerts ( 6 PM CST) and we were out of there before it was even dark which again worked out great as we got to enjoy a nice sunset walk along the Chicago River with views of Navy Pier jutting out into Lake Michigan.  What a beautiful city!

June 5, 2011 - "I'm goin'  back down South now..."  -Kings of Leon

We slept in a bit and packed up for our long road trip back home this morning.  About an hour outside of downtown Chicago, just past the Indiana state line, we stopped at 3 Floyds Brewing Company.  These guys are veterans in the craft beer industry and their products are some of the best we've had.  The brewpub is located in a  industrial park in the city of Munster, Indiana, and there was already a handful of people waiting for the place to open at noon when we pulled in at about 10 'til.   By the time we left and hour or so later after some great beer and a tasty meat-n-cheese appetizer tray, the place was almost full.  Keep up the good work, fellas!

The rest of the trip home was uneventful and we made good time with no delays of any sort.  We pulled in the driveway just after dark.  What a great trip and itinerary!

Note: Below are couple of quick videos from the Augustana show in Cincy and GP&N in Chicago:

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