Reading is FUN-damental!

Dear Friends,

Sorry! I know I’ve been completely M.I.A. I have no good excuse for my absence, except life just got in the way – Fourth of July weekend, bad Internet connection, job hunting before I complete my Masters… Well, you get the gist.

I did, however, get the chance to catch up on a little reading during my hiatus. Last week, I received my copy of Chicago Magazine’s “2012 Best of Chicago” issue. And I picked up copies of Chicago Social’s “The Restaurant Issue 2012” and The Real Chicago Summer 2012 booklet. (Tip: Look inside bars and cafes for these magazines and brochures. They’re often FREE!). These are some of the best resources to find exciting places, products, and services in the city. Why? Because the articles are influenced by readers and social Chicagoans like you and me.

Chicago guides

Your Chicago guides!

I haven’t done everything that’s listed in these publications, but I did spot some of my personal favorites:

I will eventually review all of these places. In the meantime, pick up a Chicago guide and explore the city with me!

Bang Bang Pie Shop: A slice of heaven in Logan Square

Go for the pies and stay for the biscuits at Bang Bang Pie Shop, located at 2051 N. California Ave.

Welcome to Bang Bang Pie Shop!

Husband-wife team Dave and Megan Miller created a business that reflects recipes passed down from Megan’s family, which are sweet and homey. As you enter Bang Bang you’ll notice the staff rolling dough in the open kitchen, parents pushing baby strollers into the shop, and couples having conversations over a slice of pie.

Everything inside Bang Bang Pie Shop is made from scratch – from the biscuits and pies that come piping hot from the oven to the fresh roasted coffee brewed daily. (Tip: If you’re a coffee addict like me, buy a 12-ounce bag of Bang Bang Magic Beans!). Though Bang Bang may not have a large menu, it’s the details that make the dining experience so special.

Bang Bang Pie Shop Menu

Bang Bang Pie Shop Menu…short, yet affordable!

Coffee Station

Stop by the coffee station for Bang Bang Magic Beans!

Order a biscuit and head to the topping bar. You’ll find a variety of homemade butters and jams to accent your biscuit. (Tip: Try the biscuit with black pepper honey butter and blueberry lavender jam. Or, add chive butter to the ham biscuit. Trust me, these combos work!). Bang Bang also serves biscuits and gravy, but only on weekends.

Biscuit

Biscuit with black pepper honey butter and blueberry lavender jam

Biscuit Topping Bar

Biscuit Topping Bar

Candied Bacon

Sweet & Savory: Get a side of candied bacon to go with your biscuit!

Of course Bang Bang’s specialty is the pie! And there are different pies to satisfy all sugar cravings – cream pies, custard pies, fruit pies, and chocolate pies. During a recent trip, my party tried the honey pie and chocolate peanut butter banana pie and they were TO-DIE-FOR…just look at the photos below! We wanted to sample the blueberry pie as well, but it sold out. (Tip: Arrive at the shop early or pre-order a whole pie to ensure you get your favorite flavor!).

Bang Bang Pies

Bang Bang Pies: Honey Pie (left), Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Pie (right)

Aside from the nosh, Bang Bang serves up a theater experience. Check out Speakeasy, a Prohibition themed murder-mystery where you could be the prime suspect. It’s BYOB and all players receive a slice of pie. Click here, to reserve your spot for Speakeasy at Bang Bang Pie Shop on Saturday, July 7, 2012.

Flyer for "Speakeasy"

“Speakeasy” (live theater with a slice of pie)

Bang Bang is open Tuesday through Friday 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m., Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., and Sunday 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Dig into Bang Bang Pie Shop today (except on Mondays when it’s closed)!

Other tips about the area:

  • You don’t have to travel far to reach 90 Miles Cuban Café (2540 W. Armitage Ave.). Enjoy a traditional Cuban meal with a side of white rice, black beans, and plantains. (Tip: Look out for the daily specials, especially the picadillo. It’s a must-try dish!). The restaurant is also BYOB! If you bring rum or wine, the staff will mix you mojitos or sangria!!!
  • Be a locavore and drink a beer at Revolution Brewing (2323 N. Milwaukee Ave.), one of Chicago’s craft breweries. Pair the Anti-Hero IPA with a hand-tossed pizza. (Tip: Ladies, it’s a great place to impress a guy on a first or second date!).

‘F’ is for Fun Festivals in Chicago

Mark your calendars...it's festival season!

Though festival season has already kicked off in Chicago – SausageFest, Ribfest, Green Music Fest, and Gay Pride Weekend – the city really gets into full swing come July. Festivals are a great way to explore other neighborhoods, scope out the music scene, and eat delicious food from various local restaurants. So I’m providing you with a full list of fun this summer. (Tip: Check deal sites like Groupon for special festival discounts!). Trust me, you won’t be bored…

July

August

September

A loyalty program that will make your Belly happy!

Get a belly full of rewards with the Belly Card! You must be thinking, “What makes Belly so different from other loyalty programs like Foursquare? What’s in it for me?” Well, here’s a video that will explain…

 

As you can see, the process is simple! Each time you scan your Belly Card or Belly App at your favorite restaurant, shop, etc. you rack up 5 points for that location. (Tip: If you forget your Belly Card at home or can’t access the Belly App from your smartphone, don’t panic! Just type in your e-mail address on the iPad!).

These are a few examples of what you could earn with your Belly points:

By joining Belly you’ll not only support local businesses, but a local company. Like Groupon and GrubHub, Belly started right here in Chicago!

Follow Flop the Belly Dog and grab a Belly Card today! (Tip: Use your Belly Card during the Do-Division Street Fest this weekend to earn double Belly points!).

Look for the Belly iPad at your favorite places!

Belly Card and Belly App

Easy process: Scan the Belly Card (left) or Belly App (right) to the iPad!

Mojo Spa: Be a natural beauty in Wicker Park

Get pampered from head-to-toe at Mojo Spa, located at 1468 N. Milwaukee Ave. Last Tuesday, I happened to walk in for a much needed pedicure. (Tip: Call the shop to see if they have any spa specials. Mojo offered a FREE mani with pedi the day I went!). I’ve been to Mojo twice before and I simply love its business model – spa, boutique, and bakery all rolled into one!

Step inside Mojo Spa!

Step inside Mojo Spa!

Owner and innovator Amanda Kezios was a personal chef before opening Mojo Spa. She relayed her love of cooking with fresh, natural ingredients to creating handmade beauty products. Though Amanda is running a successful beauty business, she hasn’t parted from her culinary background. You’ll notice most of the products sold at the store are made to look like baked goods or sound like a food recipe. For instance, my fabulous manicurist Anna used Mojo’s Sinful Strawberry Face & Body Scrub (pretty sure I spotted some seeds in it) to exfoliate my worn feet.

Mojo Spa Beauty Products

Mojo Spa Beauty Products

Mojo’s spa menu may not be as extensive as your typical nail salon (e.g., acrylics, waxing, etc.), but it does have impressive spa packages. (Tip: Have a morning of Beauty and Brunch! Schedule a Silver, Gold, or Platinum Package on a Sunday to receive a complimentary brunch. It’s a fantastic gift for bachelorettes and birthday girls!). Some packages come with special hand and foot masks, as well as soy candle massage. Regardless, you will always receive a sweet treat with service, like these…

Mojo Desserts

Mojo Desserts: Lemon Sugar Cookies (left), Layered Raspberry Cheesecake (right)

If your hands and feet are already perfectly polished, go window shopping! Amanda makes awesome accessories in addition to amazing beauty products. She crafts jewelry, knitwear, and handbags in her spare time. Is there anything this woman can’t do? My favorite Mojo accessory is the clutch with agate stone. It’s a beautiful handcrafted bag with smart compartments – take a peek at the photo below. (Tip: If you can’t find what you’re looking for at the store, visit the Mojo Spa Style page on Etsy!).

Mojo Spa Style Clutch with Agate Stone

Mojo Spa Style Clutch with Agate Stone

Schedule an appointment at Mojo Spa today! There’s nothing artificial about it!

Mojo is open on select Mondays, Tuesday through Friday from 12:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Tip: Attend Pajama Nights on the first Friday of select months for makeovers, facials, and desserts!).

Other tips about the area:

  • Need to perk up after a relaxing day at the spa? Then walk next door to Wormhole Coffee. Get a side of 80s nostalgia with your Vanilla Bean Latte or Peanut Butter Koopa Troopa. You can’t miss the DeLorean à la “Back to the Future” inside Wormhole!
  • Have a “High Fidelity” moment just around the corner at Double Door (1572 N. Milwaukee Ave.). Double Door is a music venue and Chicago institution. Just look at the pictures of legendary performers plastered along its walls! It’s the rockin’ party you always wanted to throw in your parents’ basement – listen to live music, order a drink special from the massive bar, have fun in the photo booth, or hold an impromptu ping pong tournament.

Koval Distillery: Mixing whiskey and tours in Ravenswood

Yes, Tip C is finally getting tipsy (or at least slightly buzzed).

Koval Spirits

Koval Spirits: Lion’s Pride Whiskey (left), Koval Liqueurs (right)

Last Saturday, I scheduled a tour with some friends at Koval Distillery, located at 5121 N. Ravenswood Ave. (Tip: Don’t forget to bring your driver’s license or state ID to prove you’re of drinking age. Otherwise, staff won’t allow you into the facility!). Koval is a family-operated, craft distillery founded by Robert and Sonat Birnecker. Robert brought his family’s distilling techniques from Austria and continued the tradition in our fair city. Koval’s business model is the first of its kind in Chicago since Prohibition. And now, we get the privilege to sample its whiskey without breaking the law.

Koval Office Manager Jason Liechty led our tour. Jason guided us through the distillery’s history, whiskey-making process, and Koval product line. (Tip: Be sure to wear comfy shoes! It’s a 1 ½ to 2 hour tour of the distillery, which can be harsh on the feet.). And of course there were tastings of Koval spirits. However, don’t expect to get drunk unless you’re a total lightweight. Jason informed us that alcohol producers are only allowed to serve each patron up to 2 ounces of liquor during tours. Needless to say, we were given small servings of the 9 spirits we tasted – 3 from the White Whiskey line, 3 from the Lion’s Pride Whiskey line, and 3 liqueurs. Koval has 30 spirits, so it was nice that they offered us a good portion of their products.

Distillery Machines

Distillery Machines: Column Still (left), Pot Still (right)

Koval makes a pure artisan product – single barrel whiskey made from rye, wheat, oat, millet, or spelt. Jason handed us jars of each ingredient in its purest form, which is why Koval is certified organic and kosher. Aside from whiskey, Koval creates truly unique liqueurs and specialty spirits. For instance, Koval used Metropolitan Brewery’s Dynamo Copper Lager to concoct Bierbrand, a German beer schnapps. Koval also has limited edition spirits, such as its Paw Paw Liqueur and Asian Pear Liqueur. (Tip: Pick up those limited edition liqueurs in case Koval doesn’t produce them again. It may be your last chance!).

At the end of the tour, you can purchase any Koval spirit, as well as t-shirts, glassware, and much more. (Tip: Sign up for Koval’s newsletter and volunteer list. Volunteers at Koval receive a discount on products!).

Tours take place every Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday at 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 7:00 p.m. (Tip: Buy a Drink Deck before scheduling. You get a complimentary tour of Koval for two and 15% off in-distillery purchase!).

Be a locavore and sip some Koval whiskey soon…cheers!

Koval Whiskey Barrels

Koval Whiskey Barrels

Other tips about the area:

  • Interested in brewery tours? Then schedule one with Metropolitan Brewery (Koval’s next door neighbor). Like Koval, Metropolitan is a Chicago brand with an emphasis on quality. Tours with Metropolitan are few and far between, but don’t be discouraged. Metropolitan beer is sold and served at various stores, restaurants and bars in Chicago.