A great weekend’s journey is hours away. Here are some excellent places to visit.
Harvest Time Means Shopping Time in DeKalb County
By Pat Szpekowski
As the foliage bursts with vibrant colors, you know it’s time to relish the joys of pumpkin patches, apple orchards and corn mazes. And that’s only a taste of what’s in store when venturing out and exploring the many attractions in DeKalb County.
“The fall season is upon us, and we’re all about the great outdoors during this time of the year,” says Debbie Armstrong, executive director of DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There’s even more fun throughout the county with antiquing, arts and culture, and bold craft spirit artisans. Shopping is a year-round sport here.”
Take a step back and enjoy fun on the farm by choosing the perfect pumpkins, finding a tasty fresh apple, or partaking in cozy bonfires and spooky evening hayrides with the family. There are many orchards and farms in DeKalb County where you can try something new and make memories.
Capture the moment by taking a selfie or a photo of the kids on a bale of straw, or a tractor and wagon festooned with pumpkins of all sizes.
Theis Farm in Maple Park offers an exciting time with a wide variety of pumpkins, gourds, squash, corn stalks and Indian corn. Bring back some homegrown popcorn to savor on those late fall and winter nights. Brighten up your outdoor decor with mums – available in all of your favorite colors. There’s a large selection every day, and there’s no admission or parking fee.
Johnson’s Pumpkin Stand and Corn Maze in Sycamore offers more than 50 varieties of pumpkins, gourds and squashes in a myriad of colors, shapes and sizes. Why not wander through Johnson’s corn maze, designed to this year’s theme of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and hum along to the tune?
Honey Hill Orchard in Waterman celebrates everything fall with apple cider, honey, caramel apples, and freshly baked apple cider donuts and pies. Make your choices within the cozy atmosphere of the 1880s converted Apple Barn, filled with these tempting choices and other crafts and gifts. There’s a farm petting zoo, plus a straw maze and weekend wagon rides. It’s also pick-your-own apple and pumpkin season at Honey Hill.
Jonamac Orchard is a three-generational family farm in Malta that’s ready for a delicious season.
The Cider House is the perfect place to sample apple wines and hard ciders. The usual favorite apple varieties are available, including Granny Smith, Jonagold and Red Delicious, but you can try something new like Suncrisp, Blushing Gold or Wine Crisp, too. Browse the bakery filled with specially made jams, jellies, mustards and Jonamac’s very own apple butter. Enjoy the corn maze and the barnyard with a kid-friendly play area, jumping pillow and petting zoo.
How about a transition into the delicious world of libations?
“We have a new Bold Spirits of DeKalb County passport,” adds Armstrong. “DeKalb County is unique in that we have wineries, an estate distillery, microbrews, ales and hard ciders all being produced here.”
Spirits-related attractions include Forge Brewhouse Tap Room in DeKalb, The Forge of Sycamore, Jonamac Orchard Cider House in Malta, Prairie State Winery in Genoa and Sycamore, Waterman Winery in Waterman, and Whiskey Acres Distilling Company in DeKalb.
These venues offer award-winning Illinois wines; craft beers and craft sodas; microbrews; and whiskey, bourbon and vodka. The wineries and distillery offer tours and tastings to enhance the experience.
For more information on apple orchards, corn mazes and Bold Spirit locations, visit dekalbcountycvb.com.
Geneva Inn: Developing a Bold New Flavor in Lake Geneva
By Pat Szpekowski
If a quick day trip or weekend getaway is in the making this fall, a relaxing pace of life awaits at the Geneva Inn, located in Lake Geneva. Such qualities as panoramic lakeside views, charming accommodations, and world-class dining options are sure to create indelible memories that will linger far into the cold winter months.
The Geneva Inn, situated on the scenic shores of Geneva Lake, provides a scenic perch for drinking in the view. Dine indoors in the acclaimed Grandview Restaurant or sit on the cozy patio a few feet away from the water.
The Grandview Restaurant is a highly respected dining tradition.
“We’re always exploring the world of cuisine,” says Kara O’Dempsey, general manager. “Our food is continually inspired by the seasons to bring guests the best flavors possible. To bring our menu to life, we are pleased to welcome our new chef, Chad Visger, who will lead our team.”
Visger comes to the Geneva Inn with a strong culinary background perfected over the years. He most recently taught culinary arts in Chicago and served as executive sous chef at the classical French patisserie Vanille Patiserrie. There he studied under Josh Johnson, an award-winning pastry chef.
Chef Visger’s hands-on experience was also established in Denver, Colo., where he worked at Bon Appetit as a sous chef and at Glaze, a Japanese bakery voted the best in Denver. Glaze is well-known for producing “Baumkuchen,” a traditional German variety of spit cake. It uses the only specialized oven in the U.S. to make this European dessert.
Visger’s food philosophy is simple. “I want to keep our guest palates engaged and relative to the culinary world that is constantly changing,” he says. “I believe each palate has its peak, so by changing our menus seasonally, we can keep diners excited and wanting to come back.”
Diners will savor menu selections expressing the appeal of farm-to-table local freshness. Breakfast and brunch choices include “The Local Omelet,” with heirloom tomatoes, spinach, roasted corn, roasted bell pepper and goat cheese, and “The Chorizo Benedict,” with two poached eggs, fried chorizo cake, arugula, red onions, pickled Granny Smith apples and cilantro pesto hollandaise.
Lunch diners can savor house-made potato chips with burgers, traditional Cubano sandwiches, turkey avocado clubs and more. The wide dinner menu includes entrees like Fruita de mar (pasta with scallops and shrimp) and a New York Strip with Matri d’ butter. All bread basket items are house-made, as are the “grand macarons,” which are larger than the traditional favorite.
The Supper Club Pre Fixe offers a three-course feast. Choose from a selected soup or salad; a main course of seafood platter, Berkshire pork chop, roasted half-chicken or veal picatta with choice of potato; and a finale third-course selection of apple pie tart or scoop of ice cream. Spirited beverage choices include the popular house-made Grandview Bloody Mary with a Spotted Cow Chaser.
These standard favorites and new additions reflect Chef Visger’s belief in developing relationships with vendors and local farmers while respecting the entire process involved in bringing it to a guest’s plate.
“I believe in preparation, hard work and efficiency, going above and beyond expectations to give our guests the best experience in every single meal,” he says.
To find out more about the Grandview Restaurant’s menu and what’s new at the Geneva Inn, visit genevainn.com.
A Slice of Americana in Shullsburg, Wis.
By Sara Graves
Driving into Shullsburg, Wis., on County Road U, the letters “GH” have been spray painted in white on the pavement of the remote highway.
Locals know, of course, that “GH” stands for Gravity Hill. Pop your car into neutral here, and it will roll backward up the hill at speeds around 20 miles per hour. It’s a phenomenon found several places around the United States, with a few theories about possible explanations.
“Gravity Hill is near an old cemetery that’s no longer there,” says Cory Ritterbusch, founding member and executive director of Advance Shullsburg. “Some say spirits are pushing the car uphill.” He admits that this is one of the more far-fetched of possibilities.
Another theory is that the car moving uphill is an optical illusion; that the hill slopes downward. Others say there’s magnetic pull due to the significant source of lead under the ground. Shullsburg was one of the busiest mining towns in its heyday, so who knows which of these hypotheses is correct.
What is correct about this small town is that there is a real pride radiating from the locals, creating a magnetic pull of friendliness to anyone who visits.
“Shullsburg has a very strong sense of place,” Ritterbusch says. His nonprofit organization focuses on bringing tourism to the area and highlighting the vivacious spirit of the town itself.
“The school my kids go to was built in 1900,” he explains. “Shullsburg Elementary School is such a source of pride, which is evident by the excellent maintenance of the limestone building.”
Streets in the northeast corner of town are all named after the virtues by which founders believed residents ought to live. The corner of Peace and Happy Street lies not far from the intersection of Mercy and Faith.
While wandering these streets, watch out for all-terrain vehicles cruising the roadway. With hundreds of miles of trails in the area, it’s not unusual to see any of the 1,200 Shullsburgians riding their ATV on any one of the town’s designated roadways.
Shullsburg’s only commercial strip, Water Street, is one-third of a mile long. Visit the Shullsburg Creamery, where master cheesemakers have been making curds and other kinds of cheese since 1938. Peruse their “legendary” gift shop and load up on artisanal cheese, local beer and various tchotchkes. Eat the traditional mining town fare, a pasty, at The Burg, Water Street Pub or Water Street Cafe. Better yet, try one at all three establishments and see how they compare.
“Pasties are native to mining towns,” Ritterbusch explains. Pockets of dough are filled with meat and potatoes and usually cooked in a cast iron Dutch oven. Miners’ wives would cook these hearty, hand-held delicacies, wrap them in paper and cloth, and place them in the miners’ overall pockets where they would stay nice and warm until mealtime.
Running into a biker of either the motorcycle or bicycle persuasion is not unusual on the windy thoroughfares in and around Shullsburg. Lafayette County is known for having no straight roads, and the nearby town of New Diggins is a favorite place among bikers, especially in the summer and fall.
Marvel at the autumn colors by kayaking or canoeing down one of Shullsburg’s paddling streams. The rivers Fever and Pecatonica are intimate waterways surrounded by thick woods, rocky banks typical of the Driftless Region, and farmland where, according to Ritterbusch, “You don’t see people, you see cows.”
Spend the weekend at one of Shullsburg’s independent lodges or inns, explore this little slice of Americana, and maybe leave with a bit more Goodness and Wisdom than you came with.