Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Windy City Blew

Originally published in D-Tales here, edited for content.

...So my time in lovely Naperville was pretty much spent working, eating, sleeping, working. I'd get out of work, head to one of the many fine national chain restaurants closeby, have a beer and get some food, and then back to the hotel to get a few hours of sleep before doing it again the next day. I at least tried to keep it somewhat real: aside from one emergency trip to Friday's, I tried to only go to national chains we actually don't have here.

Sweet Tomatoes is a trendy buffet, like Old Country Buffet but healthier and with an appeal to younger people. Though I sat next to a table of old people talking about how great the place is and how they used to drive 40 miles to go to one before the Aurora location opened. 'Cuz that's what you do when you're old.

Rock Bottom Brewery is a place I actually discovered in Charlotte, North Carolina (though I think this location has since closed). The location in downtown Charlotte (which is actually called "uptown") had a lot more flair than this one, but the food is decent-ish and the Milk Stout was tasty. The bartenders were fun, too, so I tended to migrate towards this place whenever I was trying to decide between Crappy Generic Chain Restaurants.

I did check out a place called The Foundry, which is conveniently located in the mall parking lot. This place is the ultimate in sports bars. It's HOOOOOOOOGE. And when you first walk into the bar area, you face an entire wall FULL of TV screens. And I'm talking about a space that's probably 20,000 sq. ft. or more, with walls that are at least 50 feet high. It is an entertainment MEGAPLEX. Like the Home Depot of sports bars. The interior is kind of cool--all steel and brick, no windows. Booths have their own small TVs. The menu is sparse, but the food is good. I can see how this would be a bumpin' place for a party. If you're into sports. Which I'm not. So.

One night I didn't feel like going to a Crappy Generic Chain Restaurant and so I ordered pizza from Braconi's Italian Restaurant, a place I discovered via the handy-dandy travel publication Travelhost. Sauce and cheese good; crust dry and tasteless. My foray into local cuisine was a fail.

I also attempted to visit a place I thought sounded kind of interesting, an authentic Spanish tapas restaurant called Meson Sabika, located in a renovated 161-year-old mansion right outside historic downtown Naperville. It really was a beautiful place...and full of chattering Mexicans. I'm sorry, but after 5 full days of chattering Mexicans (this is apparently the bulk of the population and the mall's clientele), I just couldn't handle a Sunday lunch surrounded by hordes of them, especially since it would be my last meal in Naperville. I 180'ed and headed to the Foundry. I am a little sad about it, because I'm pretty sure that Meson Sabika would have pretty much constituted the gastronomic epicenter of Naperville, but patience was beyond exhausted at that point.

And that, my friends, was my culinary tour of Naperville. It was kind of like a culinary tour of Utica.

Downtown Naperville is kind of cute--I drove through it briefly at the prompting of a friend who is from the area. Very Birmingham-y. Well-dressed people walking around and shopping in pricey independent boutiques. Cute shops, trendy bars and restaurants--alas, just far enough away from my hotel that the drive there just wasn't worth the added loss of sleep when all those fine Crappy Generic Chain Restaurants awaited me along the way.