Best of the ‘Burbs

(page 3 of 5)

The Best of Joliet

BEST AMBASSADOR
TOM THAYER
A key player on the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears team, No. 57 now calls Bears games on WBBM–AM radio. He has an impressive, if not perfect, football pedigree (Joliet Catholic, Notre Dame, Chicago Bears) and a wall full of awards from his playing days. But whether it’s as a regular guest on the Steve Dahl radio show or in local Joliet TV spots, Thayer makes it clear that the thing he is most proud of is being a product of J-town. “To have the opportunity to stay inside the Joliet community and then . . . play for the Bears and never have to leave [Joliet]—that’s every guy’s dream,” he said recently as a guest on WJOL radio. That’s a guy who believes.

BEST OLD RESTAURANT
ACE DRIVE-IN
The parking lot has been paved for years, eliminating the waft of gravel dust that used to follow every car rolling in for lunch or dinner. But this roadside diner has kept tradition and nostalgia alive with full carhop service, window-hanging trays, and good food (including a tangy beef barbecue sandwich with flecks of green pepper, and thin, crispy fries). The place is open from the beginning of April until the end of September, depending on the weather. But for Jolietans, when Ace is open, it’s summer. 1207 Plainfield Rd.; 815-726-7741

BEST PARK
JOLIET IRON WORKS HISTORIC SITE
The Forest Preserve District of Will County maintains this quirky park in downtown Joliet, the former site of a steel factory that dates back to 1870 and employed more than 2,000 people in 1900. The one-and-a-half-mile self-guided walking tour meanders through the “ruins” of the old Joliet Works, complete with dense greenery, a constant symphony of bird chatter, and the occasional deer. On Columbia Street, just east of Scott Street; 815-727-8700

BEST HOT DOG
HEY! HOT DOG
The great Joliet hot dog debate continues: Who’s got the most prime tube steak in town? Joe’s? Judy’s? Babe’s? None of the above. The best red hot in the City of Champions is at Hey! Hot Dog, a retro orange-and-brown joint now in its 50th year.

Thin and snappy, served in steamed Milano Bakery buns, and topped with the family’s secret-recipe chili, they’re compact bursts of flavor served quaintly on waxed paper. Augment with a mug of the creamy and spicy house-made root beer. 601 Ruby St.; 815-723-5487

BEST ON-RAMP
CENTER STREET, I-80 EAST
As one of the largest cities in Illinois by land area, Joliet has interchanges numbering well into the double digits. The one that really lets you know where you are—the Center Street on-ramp to I-80 East—takes you down into a left-hand curve hugged by two craggy limestone bluffs, then lifts you up to the burgundy-painted bridge that shoots you across the Des Plaines River. From up there you get a view of the locks to the right, and to the left, downtown Joliet.

BEST DISC GOLF COURSE
WEST PARK
The Joliet area has ten disc golf courses, but the granddaddy of them all is carved out of the hilly and wooded West Park. Established in 1979, the 24-hole disc course at West Park gets high marks from the Professional Disc Golf Association for its “rolling terrain with demanding and unusual holes.” You’ll get a feel for this early in your first round on the challenging No. 2 hole, which starts on a cliff, squeezes through some leafy trees, and ends 249 feet later next to a stream, after a dogleg left. If you don’t trust yourself, take an extra disc. And sturdy shoes. From I-80, exit at 130A, go south on Larkin Avenue, left at Meadow Avenue, left at Midland Avenue, and right on Kinsey, then proceed three blocks to the course.