Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Traveling Along the Rivers in Illinois

As previously noted, this past May we visited Laurie’s family in the St. Louis Missouri area.  As usual we were out and about with Laurie’s sister Bonnie and Bonnie’s husband Bill. 

We’d decided to cross the Mississippi River and drive north to a winery and park that are situated on the Illinois side of the “Big Muddy”.  Laurie and I hadn’t been up that way for decades so it was a real adventure for us…

We crossed the river at Alton Illinois, a river town that had been founded way back in 1818.  But Alton wasn’t our planned destination.

I took this photo of this cabin cruiser from the Pere Marquette State Park, which is located near the town of Grafton Illinois.  At this point, the Illinois River flows into the Mississippi River.

The Illinois River is about 273 miles long and it is one of the major tributaries of the Mississippi.  The Illinois was important to Native Americans and early French traders as the principal water route connecting the Great Lakes (Lake Michigan) with the Mississippi River.  The Illinois River is now the basis for the Illinois Waterway, which allows commercial shipping from the Great Lakes all the way to New Orleans

This is the entrance to the Lodge at Pere Marquette State Park.  The original portion of the lodge was built in the 1930s during the Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  The lodge was expanded in 1985.  The lodge and the surrounding cabins are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Park itself is an 8,050 acre protected area in Jersey County Illinois.  It’s located on IL Hwy 100, which at this point is part of both the ‘Great River Road’ and the ‘Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway’.  Pere Marquette State Park is operated and maintained by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

I really liked the warm and ‘homey’ look of the cabins located near the lodge itself.  Each of these cabins contains 3 separate ‘rooms’ that include a sleeping area and a bathroom.  There isn’t any shared common area in the cabins…hence plenty of privacy.  I checked these cabins/stone cottages out on line and was stunned to learn that they only cost $125.00 plus tax per night…and that includes dinner and breakfast from a select menu…plus 2 drink vouchers!  Quite a deal indeed

It took members of the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1933 until 1939 to complete the Pere Marquette Lodge.  The lodge opened for business in 1940.  The cost…$352,912.  Those massive timbers, some as much as 3 feet in diameter, are Douglas fir along with western and pecky cypress.  Limestone taken from the nearby Grafton rock quarry, was used to construct the cabins, the floor of the lodge and that massive 700-ton stone fireplace.  The vaulted ceiling is 50 feet high!  Prison inmates built the furniture in the lodge while the CCC did all of the metal work, including the chandeliers, door handles and window locks.

The Lodge is open every day of the year…a quiet place to escape the crowds of the big cities.  This is the dining room in the lodge and it’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  At dinner time, there are meal choices that are offered for family style dining as well as the usual menu for individual entrees. 

The lodge features a terrace overlooking the Illinois River, an indoor pool, sauna, hot tub, a winery, event space for weddings, business meetings, etc.  To learn more, go to https://wwwpmlodge.net.

So who was Pere Marquette?  Jacques Marquette, a French Jesuit missionary, was born in 1637.  He founded Michigan’s first European settlement, Sault Sainte Marie and later founded Saint Ignace.  In 1673, Marquette with Louis Jolliet, (who was born near Quebec City), became the first European to explore and map the northern portion of the Mississippi River Valley.

Then there is the legend of the Piasa Bird… On the bluffs of the Mississippi River, they encountered something that became a local legend. “We saw…two painted monsters which at first made us afraid and upon which the boldest…dare not long rest their eyes.”  The learned from the local Native Americans that the creature was part bird, with the face of a man, scales like a fish, horns like a deer and it had a long black tail.  The creature was called “Piasa”.  To learn more, go to Piasa - Wikipedia.

After leaving Pere Marquette State Park and its lodge, we headed back south toward Grafton Illinois on the Great River Road.  We didn’t have far to go before we came to Aerie’s Resort, our next destination.  This resort, located high on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, offers accommodations, a restaurant, the Grafton Zipline and the Grafton SkyTour. 

Upon arrival we learned that we couldn’t just drive to the restaurant on the bluff… The road was closed and our only option available to reach our destination was via the Grafton SkyTour.  Tickets/actually day passes, were $10.00 each…  For me, this wasn’t great, not so much because of the money, but rather it was a matter of balance and coordination.  The gondolas don’t stop to let you get on or off and it was a challenge for yours truly… I wouldn’t do it again.

Since I survived getting into our gondola without a mishap, we decided to take photos of each other.  Bill and Bonnie first, then Laurie and myself.  You will note that we were wearing warm coats as it was fairly chilly, despite it being the end of May...

The preferred level was just below where we ended up sitting for our midday refreshments…but it was closed for remodeling.  There is a deck on this level but it was too cold to sit out there and enjoy our snack…

The dining area is huge as is the bar.  The inside photo only covers a portion of the restaurant.  I would imagine that on a warm day, both this level and the lower level would be packed with visitors and both decks would be overflowing as well.  FYI, no surprise, but there is a gift shop right below the restaurant…

So, what did we order?  Laurie and Bonnie shared a bottle of HBTL White Haven Sauvignon Blanc. ($18.00) A couple of beers also graced our table.  For food, we ordered the Bread and Oil ($10.00), French bread with parmesan seasoned olive oil.  We ordered the bread since few restaurants provide enough bread or crackers to their charcuterie boards.  Aeries’ Charcuterie Board ($18.00) featured cured meats, mixed cheeses, pickled vegetables, fruit and nuts, accompanied with crackers.

Visitors do enjoy the vistas as viewed from Aerie Winery, but in our case, a bit of sunshine would have been nice...  The bluffs along the rivers at this point, and for the 33 miles that comprise the Great River Road, reach 300 feet in height.  Building on the bluff is a smart move as the areas down along the rivers flood fairly regularly.  To learn more about Aerie’s Resort, go to Aerie's Resort | Grafton Illinois (aeriesresort.com).

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Friday, August 12, 2022

May 2022 Family Trip – On to St. Louis!

Perhaps you remember that we had driven to Omaha Nebraska for a family visit capped by our grandson Emmett’s high school graduation ceremony…or not.  In any case, once our Omaha adventures were concluded, we headed down to the St. Louis Missouri area to spend some time with Laurie’s family…

Of the posts that I’ll publish about this portion of our road trip, you may be happy that this one will be the only post that is almost totally focused on food and dining out…with an interesting local neighborhood weed/flower explored at the end.

As usual when we visit the St. Louis area, we spend a lot of time with Laurie’s sister Bonnie and her husband Bill.  They are always introducing us to different restaurants serving a variety of food choices. 

On this visit, our first dining experience with them was at the Frisco Barroom.  It is billed as an American corner tavern and gathering space and its located in a historic corner building that once served as the general store to the old Orchard Railway Station on the Frisco line in Webster Groves Missouri. 

The menu is considered rustic American and, as you will see and read, it’s very diverse.

The bar is huge, attractive and has that old time vibe.  The restaurant’s layout and décor projects an old time feeling.  Note the mirror photo with yours truly taking a photo of Laurie, Bill and Bonnie in one of the dining areas or rooms that make up this restaurant.

The Frisco Barroom is a lively place, featuring regularly scheduled live music and a “Happy Hour”, actually ‘hours’, Tuesdays thru Fridays from 2PM until 6PM.

As is our practice when this foursome dines together, we started out with a few ‘light’ appetizers.  These Deviled Eggs ($9.00) were quite good…although they don’t measure up to the ones that Laurie makes.

Another appetizer of interest was the Smoked Whitefish Dip with crostini ($10.00) but we resisted temptation.

Does a charcuterie board count as an appetizer?  This version is called “The Frisco Board”. ($26.00…$24.00 in May) The Frisco Board includes Veneto salami, beef jerky, smoked trout, sharp cheddar cheese, blue cheese, pickled vegetables, dried blueberries, caper berries, walnuts, rose raspberry jam and of course, crostini.  It was very nice, except for the fact that as usual these ‘boards’ are never served with enough crostini so we had to order more for the table. ($1.00)

Bill loves fish…actually seafood of any type.  So for his entrée he ordered the farm-raised Rainbow Trout coated with toasted parmesan, bread crumbs, garlic and parsley. ($24.00) It came with 2 sides so he chose the steamed squash and the wild rice mix.  He really enjoyed the trout!

Other entrees on the menu included a Sirloin Steak ($30.00), Grilled Kielbasa Sausages ($19.00), Grilled Half-Chicken ($22.00), Grilled Shrimp ($26.00) and Gnocchi with Seasonal Vegetables. ($19.00)

Laurie loves onion soup and I don’t care for onions so it’s never something that we have at home.  So, she looks forward to ordering French Onion Soup with grilled croutons/crostini and Swiss Cheese whenever she sees it on a menu. ($9.00) She was extremely happy with this classic version.

She also ordered an adult beverage that we hadn’t heard of before... (No photo) It was the “Bees Knees”.  This Prohibition Era cocktail is made with gin, fresh lemon juice and honey.  It’s served shaken and chilled with a lemon twist.  Its name comes from Prohibition Era slang terminology which meant “the best”, as in that party was the “bee’s knees”.

One of the sandwiches ordered at our table was the French Dip, another classic American creation. ($16.00) In this case, herb rubbed, roasted top round of beef is sliced and served on a toasted house-made baguette with au jus and horseradish cream.  Swiss cheese is added on request…and it was requested.  I personally love a good roast beef sandwich!

This sandwich is the Old Orchard Grilled Cheese. ($13.00) It consisted of smoked Gouda, cheddar and American cheeses with tart apple slices and bacon on grilled house-made honey white bread. 

Other sandwich options on the menu included the following: Perch Sandwich ($15.00); Salsiccia ($14.00) and: a Beet Reuben…with beets, sauerkraut and 1000 island dressing on rye bread. ($14.00) Of course, this begs the question…when is a Reuben not a Reuben?

This was the Chicken Sandwich. ($14.00) A marinated and grilled chicken breast was served on a bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and cheese.  Upon request, it can come ‘Buffalo style’. 

As I’d mentioned earlier, Frisco’s menu is very diverse.  Other items that one can find here include pierogis, pasties, smoked trout toast, brie puff pastry, buffalo roasted tempura coated cauliflower, poutine with 2 gravy options and Swedish meatballs.

The Frisco Barroom is located at 8110 Big Bend Boulevard in Webster Grove Missouri…a St. Louis suburb.  Phone: 314-455-1090.  Website: The Frisco Barroom (thefriscostl.com).

Moving from Missouri in May to East Tennessee in the present, these beautiful blooms have sprung up in the neglected building lot across the street from our house.  The lot was cleared months ago and nature has run her course.  The lot is filled with lots of weeds that are going crazy with all the rain we’ve had.  Included in the weeds are a couple dozen of these large plants with dozens of these attractive blooms...which fully open up in the evening.

I finally was able to identify them!  They are jimsonweed...aka, thorn apple, moonflower, devil’s snare, devil’s trumpet, moonflower and several other appellations.  A member of the nightshade family, this invasive weed has frequently been used to treat a variety of ailments.  All parts of this plant are toxic and it has been used as a hallucinogen taken to induce intense sacred or occult visions.  These plants produce egg-shaped 1” to 3” seed capsules either covered with spines or bald…time will tell with the type across the street.

These plants played a role in early North American history.  Another name for jimsonweed in the USA is rarely used nowadays.  “Jamestown weed” was derived from the town of Jamestown Virginia where English soldiers consumed it as food while attempting to put down Bacon’s Rebellion…the first rebellion in the American Colonies. (Learn about this bit of history at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacon%27s_Rebellion.  In any case, the soldiers spent “11 days in altered mental states” and had to be confined for their own safety.

I just had to end this edition of my blog site with something other than yet another food ‘report’!

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


Tuesday, August 9, 2022

My Birthday Celebration – All Good Things Come to an End

OK, I know that I’m dragging this out a bit too much…but what the heck, just having our Omaha family here is a major event.  So I/we like to savor it a bit.  Given David II and Amy’s careers, the distance involved and the crazed schedule of our two grandsons, visits like this are infrequent.  In addition, it will be even more difficult to plan such an event in the future as the boys leave home and begin their own lives…

Justification complete…this post is all about the last day of their visit here in East Tennessee.

Despite the fact that Laurie and I have lived in East Tennessee for 13 years at this point, David II and the family’s previous visits have been orientated toward the Christmas/winter season.  Hence, they had never been out to Tellico Plains Tennessee and had never eaten at Tellico Grains Bakery, one of our favorite lunch spots…and a place to stock up on quality bakery goods!

It was around lunch time on a Friday when we arrived at the Bakery.  The place was packed with customers…and all of the inside tables were occupied.  Consequently, we seized upon a picnic table in the shade on one side of the building. 

As we waited for our food, Laurie took this photo.  Left to right: Yours Truly; Emmett Lee; David III, Amy, and; David II.

Since Tellico Grains makes what we regard as one of, if not the best pizzas in East Tennessee, it was no surprise that our little group procured and demolished 2 of them… The first is a cheese pizza, an Emmett Lee special.  The second one, with Benton’s sausage and pepperoni, made me reflect on a key question…why didn’t I order one of these?! 

The reason I didn’t order that pizza is that I also love the sandwiches at Tellico Grains…

The first sandwich shown above is “Joe’s Italian”…Genoa salami, pepperoni, Benton’s prosciutto, pesto mayonnaise, pepperoncini’s, black olives, red onion, Dijon mustard, lettuce and tomato, all assembled on an herb flatbread roll.

The second creation is the “Free Bird”…thinly slices chicken breast, provolone cheese, pesto mayonnaise, caramelized onions, and Dijon mustard, toasted on sliced sourdough bread with lettuce and tomato.

My choice of sandwiches was “Stu’s Reuben”…thinly sliced pastrami and corned beef piled high and topped with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Dijon mustard (for most folks, house-made Thousand Island Dressing), all assembled on toasted Pumpernickel bread.

This was a positive dining experience as we had expected.  It was nice to finally be able to share this small town bakery with the family.  Tellico Grains Bakery is located at 105 Depot Street in Tellico Plains Tennessee.  Phone: 423-253-6911.  They are open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 8 AM until 4 PM.  Website: Tellico Grains Bakery | 105 Depot Street, Tellico Plains, TN 37385 (tellico-grains-bakery.com) or on Facebook at Tellico Grains Bakery - Home | Facebook.

There are many nice photos of Tellico Grains Bakery as well as their sandwiches and baked goods on both Trip Advisor and Yelp.  I like the photos on this site that I found on line as they include the family who built this business starting back in 2003.  This is Tellico Grains 20th anniversary, no small feat in the food industry!  Check it out at Tellico Grains Is The Best Little Bakeshop In Tennessee (onlyinyourstate.com).

From Tellico Plains and our lunch, it wasn’t a very long drive for us to reach our next destination, one which we take all visitors to if they’re ‘in season’ and stay for more than a day.  Tellico Plains is located right next to the Smoky Mountains and the Cherahala Skyway over to North Carolina.  Bald River Falls is accessed from near the beginning of the Skyway.  It was another sight/site that David II, Amy and the boys had never visited before.

As you can see, Bald River Falls is pretty spectacular and also, very accessible.  It was a hot summer day and some folks were down near the base of the falls enjoying the cool waters.  Then of course, Laurie had to take the usual obligatory photos to mark the family moment.    

For more information about the falls, you can go to Bald River Falls | Tennessee River Valley (tennesseerivervalleygeotourism.org).  FYI, following rainy weather the falls are twice as large as these photos show.

Back at our house, all was calm…for the most part.  Emmett spent some time on our deck with his smart phone and then he and David III engaged in a competitive video game.  They are good friends but there is no doubt that they are competitive!  At 6 foot 3 inches or more, they certainly are big boys!

As a family we played a couple of board games in the evenings…  They were ”Sequence”, a winner as it is low key and progresses at a casual pace, and; “Scattergories”, a competitive and timed game with way too much pressure on the players, at least from Laurie and my viewpoints. 

In any case, the entire visit was a winner from my viewpoint.  Perhaps we can do it again for my 90th birthday!

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Friday, August 5, 2022

Well, I did ‘have to have’ a Special Birthday Dinner, Didn’t I?

I do know that I’m ‘milking’ my recent birthday for all it’s worth… After all, it was a more significant one-time milestone, at least to me. 

I even got ‘dressed up’ for my birthday dinner!  Note the collared golf shirt…a step up from my usual retirement t-shirt.  For that matter, all of the guys wore collared shirts, quite a big deal!

This was our destination.  In the 13 years that we’ve lived in East Tennessee, we had never previously dined at Altruda’s Italian Restaurant.  Our local Italian restaurant favorite near our home is Little Italy, we’ve enjoyed meals at Carrabba’s (bad reviews recently) and we really liked Naples Italian Restaurant…but the owners retired and it closed… After a bit of research, Altruda’s seemed like our best bet and I did want a bit of upscale Italian food for my birthday dinner.

Cozy…or dark?  My first impression upon entry to Altruda’s was that it was dark, probably intentional in order to create a warm softly lit dining environment.  The bar was closed for seating so I’m guessing that staffing is an issue here as it is in many places.

The owner of Altruda’s Italian Restaurant is Paul Meyer.  His mother was born in Italy and she moved to America in 1925 when she was 12...the youngest of 12 siblings.  She married and had 5 boys who all grew up with mama in the kitchen.  This experience led to Paul ending up in the restaurant business.  Altruda’s opened in 1988 and it has operated continuously now for 34 years, quite a run in the ever changing restaurant business! 

Of course we had to mark the occasion with Laurie taking a photo of yours truly with David II, Amy, David III and Emmett Lee.  The menu is quite large and it took us a while to decide what…and how much…to order.

I should have turned on my camera’s flash capability as a couple of the food photos just didn’t come out too well in the dimly lit dining room.

Of course, after we ordered our appetizers and entrees, it seemed appropriate to raise a toast to the event!  Emmett is too young for alcohol but he certainly got into the moment with gusto and his Sprite… Laurie finally got into this family photo!

…and then the food started coming.

For some unknown reason, appetizers are not listed on Altruda’s on-line menu so I can’t really describe how the restaurant views their efforts in preparing these items. 

In any case, Laurie and I love Calamari so we ordered this generous portion for the table. ($13.95) If I remember correctly, the white dipping sauce has a light horseradish base.  I still prefer the marinara version but I appreciate the alternative.  The calamari was nice and tender.  Laurie had a few pieces, David II had a couple…and I ended up eating most of this appetizer by myself.

Our family is cheese orientated so it was no surprise that David II placed an order for Altruda’s Mozzarella Sticks. ($8.95) This plate didn’t last long!

Neither Laurie nor I had ever seen Fried Tortellini before although we are very familiar with fried ravioli. ($10.95) I’m assuming that they were cheese filled although I didn’t taste any with the one tortellini that I tried. (Too full from all the calamari to eat more of this appetizer) Again, nothing went to waste…

A basket of high quality garlic rolls was delivered to the table and were promptly consumed!  They came with all the entrees…

All the entrees came with a nice Italian Salad bowl with lots of cheese, beets and mushrooms. 

Emmett’s palate is slowly widening as he grows older.  For example, he now likes steak!  In this case he decided to go for straight-up Spaghetti with house marinara sauce. ($14.95)

David III was a bit more adventurous.  His broadening cuisine-wise stems greatly from his time at New York University with the city’s broad spectrum of food options.  In this case he ordered the Lasagna Napoletane…alternate layers of wide flat noodles stuffed with ground beef, Italian cheeses and meat sauce. ($15.95)

Since I can eat greens any longer due to my meds, I ordered the Tortellini Sausage Soup as my side dish. ($7.95) It was very good indeed!

For my entrée, I decided to try the Shrimp Altruda. ($26.95) On the menu it is described as seven large shrimp topped with seasoned bread crumbs, simmered in lemon butter with a touch of garlic.  While I did enjoy this entrée, it was not quite what I expected.  I did take home part of the order, which served as a satisfying dinner a couple of days later.

Amy ordered Fettucine Alfredo for her meal. ($19.95) This was simply butter, cream and parmesan sauce over fettucine noodles. 

For his entrée, David II went for the Vitello Canzanese. ($24.95) This dish was comprised of a breaded veal cutlet, ham, cheese, fresh mushrooms and a red wine sauce.  He definitely cleaned his plate!  He also ordered a smaller serving of Fettucine Alfredo as a side dish. ($5.50)

My better half ordered one of her all-time Italian favorites, Vitello/Veal Marsala. ($24.95) This entrée simply consists of scallopine of veal sautéed with fresh mushrooms and Marsala wine sauce.  One thing for sure, not only did she like the veal but the huge serving of mushrooms had to satisfy her desire for this fungi for some time to come.   

All in all, we had a nice time with solid Italian cuisine and service.  Thanks to David and Amy for the birthday dinner!  It sure has become expensive to dine out these days… 

Altruda’s was quite busy for a weeknight and we had the last reservation that they could take that evening.  Alttruda’s Italian Restaurant is located at 125 North Peters Road in Knoxville Tennessee.  Phone: 865-690-6144.  Website: Hours + Location | Altruda's (altrudas.com).

Just click on any of the photos…sorry again for the quality…to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave