Little Towns on the Prairie
If the pace of the city has you stressing, consider a break in Mount Carroll (about two-and-a-half hours from the Loop). This isn’t a one-stoplight town—it’s a no stoplight town. Its one-street, cobblestone business district just 10 miles east of the Great River Road Bike Trail, is home to several marvelously idiosyncratic antique shops and just a short drive away from several wineries. The place is more friendly than fancy—you’ll find town councilmen selling homemade coffee cake at the Saturday farmers’ market.
Where to Stay
Built in 1886, the Hotel Glenview (above) is within walking distance of Raven’s Grin Inn (a year-round haunted house) and overlooks the town square. There’s no televisions (or phones) in the rooms, just comfy beds and (if you get the suite) a sitting room with a microwave and coffeepot. The owners Laura and Larry DeSpain live on the second floor. On the first floor, Laura runs DaBluz, an antique/costume jewelry/assorted ephemera shop you can get lost in for hours. $50 to $90 a night.
GO Hotel Glenview, 116 E. Market St., Mount Carroll; 815-244-1630, www.hotelglenview.com
Five Things To Do
Mad Hatter’s Ball
Len and Linda Anderson fled the suburban sprawl of Kane County in 1999 and started new lives as the proprietors of Ideas n’ Designs. The shop is many things: an emporium of vintage clothing (including real, surprisingly well-preserved flapper dresses); a library where tea and cookies are served every afternoon; an overwhelming array of antiques; and a wealth of wholesale designer fabrics. Here, you can find $14-a-yard Scalamandré silk that goes for upward of $200 a yard at the Merchandise Mart. The store also carries hats; Linda greets visitors in a purple chapeau that’s part Willy Wonka, part Victorian undertaker, and wholly charming.
GO Ideas n’ Designs, 116 W. Market St., Mount Carroll; 815-244-7875, www.ideasndesigns.com
Elizabeth T. Tessendorf is an R.N. with an eye for intense, unusual beauty. You can find her eerie and gorgeous images of Carroll County’s recent flooding (the waters have since dried) in her photography studio, along with arresting pictures taken by elementary schoolers who took a workshop with her earlier this year.
GO Photography by Elly. 104 E. Market St., Mount Carroll; 815-291-5478, www.photographybyelly.com
A bottle or red, a bottle of white
The Silver Moon Winery in Lanark is a 20-minutes-through-the-cornfields drive from Mount Carroll. It’s worth the trip to check out Ron and Kathi Enzenbacher’s Red Velvet (a blend of Illinois grapes) and Moonlight white. The Enzenbacher’s planted their vineyards six years ago; April marked the winery’s grand opening and the debut of their hand-crafted reds, whites, and blushes. Make sure to try the wine-soaked cheddar cheese – a velvety rich concoction made by aging the cheese in wine-soaked cheesecloth. And leave room for brownies. Kathi’s orange-infused take on the chocolate classic will send you over the moon.
GO Silver Moon Winery, 21305 Zier Rd., Lanark; 815-493-6888, www.silvermoonwineryinc.com
For the birds
The second Saturday of each month (August 14th this month), the Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge offer guided bird walks. Meet at 8 a.m. in the Sloane Marsh parking lot across from the Ingersoll Wetlands Learning Center in Thomson for a stroll through the Mississippi wetlands, led by a veteran bird watcher. January and February is eagle season along the river, but it’s not uncommon to spot them soaring in the summer.
GO Ingersoll Wetlands Learning Center, 7071 Riverview Rd., Thomson. Call 815-273-2732 for last-minute weather updates and more information.
Dinner with a point
If you’re really feeling adventurous and/or you want to get tattooed or pierced while you’re waiting for your dinner, head to Savanna (about 10 miles west) and Poopy’s. As the name implies, it’s not a white tablecloth place. The menu includes items such as “exhaust pipes,” which is fries loaded with fried onions. To get to the dining room, you have to go through the tattoo-erie, where you can browse thousands of designs and—if you’re of a mind—indulge in some body art ($400 for all the ink you can handle in eight hours). The place is a haven for motorcyclists; on any given night, the parking lot has upward of 100 gleaming bikes in it. Don’t have a Harley? No worries: Poopy’s is perhaps the only restaurant in the world where you can order a custom-built Harley in addition to a steak.
GO Poopy’s Restaurant and Bar, 1030 Viaduct Rd., Savanna; 815-273 4516, www.poopys.com.
Photograph: Elizabeth Tessendorf