I picked the right day to go to the Chicago Botanic Gardens (which is not actually in Chicago, but in Glencoe, about a miles from where I grew up). Whatever you think botanic gardens are, put it out of your head -- this is the Disneyland of Botanic Gardens with different "lands" -- The Rose Garden, the English Walled Garden, the Prairie Garden, Evening Island, Spider Island, the Waterfall Garden, Japanese Garden Island and more, like the Miniature Train Land and restaurants, stores, tram rides and carillon with nightly concerts. But it's not only magnificently laid out and deeply-informative, but it also has research centers, learning centers, working vegetable and fruit gardens, esplanades, greenhouses, soaring fountains, outdoor theaters and...yes, more. It's not remotely as glorious in the winter as when in full bloom the rest of the year, but it's still a joy to wander through.
And afterwards, another treat. One of my favorite restaurants, Charlie Beinlich's in bordering Northbrook. Beinlich's is a little place that gives truth to cliches. It began life over 60 years ago as a truckstop, though has far-outlived that, but is living truth to the line about looking for the place with the most trucks because it will have great food. It's also a cliche in its Midwestern roots -- the walls are pine, and covered with mounted fish and beer signs. But they aren't props. Beinlich's takes its fishing seriously. They always close for a month in August with a "Gone fishing" sign. And they take all their comfort seriously -- they close two days a week, Sunday and Monday, so everyone can have a couple days off.
It's always full, lunch or dinner, and if you don't come early in the evening, you'll have to wait in a line snaking out the door, jammed in the tiny foyer (at least you hope you get in the foyer during the winter, because the alternative in the winter is standing outside). Even if you come early for lunch, it's already crowded.
The menu board in the corner is very small (there are no menus to hand out) -- basically burgers, roast beef, grilled cheese, ham and cheese, barbecued beef, chicken wrap (a somewhat-recent concession to the times) and shrimp cocktail. Their chili is one of my favorite anywhere, rich and flavorful. And the french fries taste like miniature baked potatoes, coming to the table piping hot. But it's their freshly-ground, thick burgers on poppy seed buns -- grilled or fresh onions optional -- that are the standouts here. (Most people get the "deluxe" which comes with the fries and delicious cole slaw. And it's still, after all these years, cash only. It hasn't hurt business.
That's all there is to it. Basic at heart, with a TV always set to to ESPN and sports, but full of texture and a long history in the area. A very simple throwback in an area that's very upper-scale. Across the busy Skokie Boulevard from a big, high-end outdoor shopping center with a Trader Joe's, Nordstrom's Rack, Steinway Piano Center, Sak's Off 5th, Starbucks and many others. And surrounded by a Cadillac, Bentley, and Rolls Royce dealership, a jewelry store, a few Italian restaurants, and, in fairness, some "everyday" places. This wonderful, charming, oasis of another time that doesn't feel remotely dated, thanks to its high standards, high quality and brusque friendliness. Brusque because they're really busy, but they never rush anyone. You just eat and enjoy yourself with the greatest pleasure.