A great weekend’s journey is hours away. Here are some excellent places to visit.
Visit DeKalb County: Harvest Time Means Shopping Time
By Pat Szpekowski
As the foliage bursts with vibrant colors, you know it’s time to relish the joys of pumpkin patches, apple orchards and corn mazes. And that’s only a taste of what’s in store when venturing out and exploring the many attractions in DeKalb County.
“The fall season is upon us, and we’re all about the great outdoors during this time of the year,” says Debbie Armstrong, executive director of DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“There’s even more fun throughout the county with antiquing, arts and culture, and bold craft spirit artisans. Shopping is a year-round sport here.”
Take a step back and enjoy fun on the farm by choosing the perfect pumpkins, finding a tasty fresh apple, or partaking in cozy bonfires and spooky evening hayrides with the family. There are many orchards and farms in DeKalb County where you can try something new and make memories. What could be more fun than taking a selfie or a photo of the kids on a bale of straw or a tractor and wagon festooned with pumpkins of all sizes?
Theis Farm in Maple Park offers an exciting time with a wide variety of pumpkins, gourds, squash, corn stalks and Indian corn. Bring back some homegrown popcorn to savor on those late fall and winter nights. Brighten up your outdoor decor with mums – available in all of your favorite colors. There’s a large selection every day, and there’s no admission or parking fee.
Johnson’s Pumpkin Stand and Corn Maze in Sycamore offers more than 50 varieties of pumpkins, gourds and squashes in a myriad of colors, shapes and sizes. Why not wander through Johnson’s corn maze, designed to this year’s theme of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and hum along to the tune?
Honey Hill Orchard in Waterman celebrates everything fall with apple cider, honey, caramel apples, and freshly baked apple cider donuts and pies. Make your choices within the cozy atmosphere of the 1880s converted Apple Barn, filled with these tempting choices and other crafts and gifts. There’s a farm petting zoo, plus a straw maze and weekend wagon rides. It’s also pick-your-own apple and pumpkin season at Honey Hill.
Jonamac Orchard is a three-generational family farm in Malta that’s ready for a delicious season.
The Cider House is the perfect place to sample apple wines and hard ciders. The usual favorite apple varieties are available, including Granny Smith, Jonagold and Red Delicious, but you can try something new like Suncrisp, Blushing Gold or Wine Crisp, too. Browse the bakery filled with specially made jams, jellies, mustards and Jonamac’s very own apple butter. Enjoy the corn maze and the barnyard with a kid-friendly play area, jumping pillow and petting zoo.
How about a transition into the delicious world of libations?
“We have a new Bold Spirits of DeKalb County passport,” adds Armstrong. “DeKalb County is unique in that we have wineries, an estate distillery, microbrews, ales and hard ciders all being produced here.”
Spirits-related attractions include Forge Brewhouse Tap Room in DeKalb, The Forge of Sycamore, Jonamac Orchard Cider House in Malta, Prairie State Winery in Genoa and Sycamore, Waterman Winery in Waterman, and Whiskey Acres Distilling Company in DeKalb.
These venues offer award-winning Illinois wines; craft beers and craft sodas; microbrews; and whiskey, bourbon and vodka. The wineries and distillery offer tours and tastings to enhance the experience.
For more information on apple orchards, corn mazes and Bold Spirit locations, visit dekalbcountycvb.com.
The Geneva Inn: Developing a Bold New Flavor in Lake Geneva
By Pat Szpekowski
Af a quick day trip or weekend getaway is in the making this fall, a relaxing pace of life awaits at the Geneva Inn, located in Lake Geneva. Such qualities as panoramic lakeside views, charming accommodations, and world-class dining options are sure to create indelible memories that will linger far into the cold winter months.
The Geneva Inn, situated on the scenic shores of Geneva Lake, provides a scenic perch for drinking in the view. Dine indoors in the acclaimed Grandview Restaurant or sit on the cozy patio a few feet away from the water.
The Grandview Restaurant is a highly respected dining tradition.
“We’re always exploring the world of cuisine,” says Kara O’Dempsey, general manager. “Our food is continually inspired by the seasons to bring guests the best flavors possible. To bring our menu to life, we are pleased to welcome our new chef, Chad Visger, who will lead our team.”
Visger comes to the Geneva Inn with a strong culinary background perfected over the years. He most recently taught culinary arts in Chicago and served as executive sous chef at the classical French patisserie Vanille Patiserrie. There he studied under Josh Johnson, an award-winning pastry chef.
Chef Visger’s hands-on experience was also established in Denver, Colorado, where he worked at Bon Appetit as a sous chef and at Glaze, a Japanese bakery voted the best in Denver. Glaze is well-known for producing “Baumkuchen,” a traditional German variety of spit cake. It uses the only specialized oven in the U.S. to make this European dessert.
Visger’s food philosophy is simple. “I want to keep our guest palates engaged and relative to the culinary world that is constantly changing,” he says. “I believe each palate has its peak, so by changing our menus seasonally, we can keep diners excited and wanting to come back.”
Diners will savor menu selections expressing the appeal of farm-to-table local freshness. Breakfast and brunch choices include “The Local Omelet,” with heirloom tomatoes, spinach, roasted corn, roasted bell pepper and goat cheese, and “The Chorizo Benedict,” with two poached eggs, fried chorizo cake, arugula, red onions, pickled Granny Smith apples and cilantro pesto hollandaise.
Lunch diners can savor house-made potato chips with burgers, traditional Cubano sandwiches, turkey avocado clubs and more. The wide dinner menu includes entrees like Fruita de mar (pasta with scallops and shrimp) and a New York Strip with Matri d’ butter. All bread basket items are house-made, as are the “grand macarons,” which are larger than the traditional favorite.
The Supper Club Pre Fixe offers a three-course feast. Choose from a selected soup or salad; a main course of seafood platter, Berkshire pork chop, roasted half-chicken or veal picatta with choice of potato; and a finale third-course selection of apple pie tart or scoop of ice cream. Spirited beverage choices include the popular house-made Grandview Bloody Mary with a Spotted Cow Chaser.
These standard favorites and new additions reflect Chef Visger’s belief in developing relationships with vendors and local farmers while respecting the entire process involved in bringing it to a guest’s plate.
“I believe in preparation, hard work and efficiency, going above and beyond expectations to give our guests the best experience in every single meal,” he says.
To find out more about the Grandview Restaurant’s menu and what’s new at the Geneva Inn, visit genevainn.com.
A Mid-Week Escape: Weekday Wanderers Welcome at Starved Rock
By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge
Weekday getaways are the best way to enjoy Starved Rock Lodge and State Park, in Oglesby, Ill. It’s a jewel in the crown among the Midwest’s unique attractions in part because of its seasonal waterfalls, a system of 18 deep canyons and the architectural craftsmanship of the historic Lodge.
Sleeping late in a room or cabin where you can open the windows is just one reason to spend the night. A walk in the woods away from cellphones and traffic jams can do wonders for your peace of mind.
You can treat yourself to some quality downtime or you can have fun when you book an add-on tour, hike or other activity.
September and October are perhaps the two best months to book a getaway because the warmth of summer is still in the air, but the colors of fall add to the picturesque beauty of this natural wonder.
The Lodge offers daily trolley tours departing at 3 p.m. through October and on weekends through December. This is an excellent way to learn about the rich history of the Starved Rock area. Weekend guided hikes called “Take a Hike & a Lunch” travel on a scenic walk along the banks of the Illinois River and into LaSalle Canyon.
Leisurely adventures on The Eagle I River Boat are perfect for guests of all ages. Choose a Land & Water Cruise, which includes lunch in the dining room on Mondays and Fridays or a Dinner and Evening Cruise on Mondays and Thursdays. If you want to add a hike, the “Visit a Canyon with a Boat Ride” is the best choice and it’s offered on Saturdays and Sundays.
If you’re interested in a real challenge, take on the Fall MegaHike, where you can traverse all 18 of the park’s canyons in one day. This 13-mile trek takes place Sept. 29-30, with two departures per day.
The Valley Carvers hosts its 30th Annual Woodcarving Expo in the Great Hall and Starved Rock Room on Sept. 30. Admission is free and includes an outdoor woodcarving demonstration, which happens from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. At 2 p.m., there will be a keg tapping on the Veranda to kick off the fall season with select craft beer. German music will fill the air. Views of the Illinois River Valley are outstanding from the veranda this time of year.
Tribute to the Stars matinees continue this fall with a tribute to Elvis on Oct. 1-2, a Patsy Cline tribute on Oct. 2, and a World War II-era radio show, complete with a tribute to our veterans, on Nov. 12-14.
“Hike for a Cure” is the Lodge’s annual fundraiser where proceeds are donated to Relay for Life for breast cancer research.
Fall Colors Trolley Tours run throughout October. Fall Colors Weekend and the Lodge’s annual Oktoberfest Dinners take place Oct. 20-21, with an Oktoberfest matinee on Oct. 22. Details, departure times and more are listed at starvedrocklodge.com or by calling (800) 868-7625.