(Photo: Maurie and Flaurie, the long way ’round. Credit: Superdawg.)
My boyfriend, Chris, thinks I’ll go anywhere to eat a good meal, or even a bad one. Dating a chef, I usually don’t have far to trek. A couple of weekends ago, however, was a different story. I knew it was supposed to be a morning of travel, but neither I nor my stomach knew what we were in for.
I’ve lately been helping out a groovy underdog HIV health clinic in the Fox Valley, Open Door Clinic, with pro bono communications and fundraising work. Their annual gourmet chocolate fundraiser is coming up this Saturday in Elgin, and I needed to go meet the clinic’s executive director at their companion office in Aurora. At 10 a.m.
No Chicagoan is happy to arise early on a Saturday in order to hurry to a Metra train for a 75-minute, 40-mile trip to Aurora. The waffles, sausage, and coffee I wolfed down to fortify myself before I set out were a help, at least.
But it was a pleasant trip, filled with scenery gazing and meditation, and I was in good humor when I met the E.D. on the other end (of the world, apparently–again, people, Aurora). In fact, so pleasant a meeting did we share, talking about strategic plans and chocolate fountains, that I barely noticed noshing on that Mexican skillet in a dive diner.
The trip back wasn’t half so pleasant, however. It was the day of Chicago’s pretend St. Patrick’s Day (I will never understand why this city holds its holidays on days other than the, ahem, actual holidays), and every drunken western suburban frat boy decided to ride my commuter rail car into town. I maxed my iPhone volume and counted the minutes until Brookfield, home of hip-suburban-chick Val (who was away that day), where Chris would be picking me up and ferrying me back to his Oak Park abode.
But it was lunch time, so of course we had to make a little stop first. We opted for burgers and fries at Poor Phil’s. As usual, I asked for mine bloody if not still mooing. Chris asked if I had eaten yet. I admitted the skillet, but chose not to disclose the waffles.
At any rate, it was enough gastronomic fortification to make us decide to burn some calories by wandering around downtown Oak Park. A visit to an edgy toy store and one over-expensive haircut later, we made it back to Christopher’s and immediately hit the doldrums. In the middle of a day of wandering, it’s awful hard to suddenly come to a stop.
I needled Chris. “Let’s do something. Let’s go out…Let’s at least go somewhere for dinner.”
I couldn’t believe I went there, but sometimes you just can’t hide your inner glutton.
“Oh for God’s sake, shut up and get in the car.”
And with that, we were on the road once more. I asked Chris where we were headed. He said he’d let the Jetta figure it out. We started out pointed towards Oak Brook Center, but for some reason the car turned north and refused to exit the expressway.
Up, up, up we drove. When we crossed the border into Lake County, I had an inkling where we might be headed. But we needed gas, so somewhere near Lake Forest we stopped at an Oasis. With a McDonald’s. And you know how many people ask you in March if you’ve had your Shamrock Shake yet. It was better than I expected (and as Chris was pleased to later report, kept me quiet for a few miles). Like a milky version of a Disneyland mint julep.
Happily sugar dazed, I leaned back into my seat and waited for us to cross the state line. And so we did. At exactly 7:01 p.m. we arrived at Mars Cheese Castle, to find out that at exactly 7:00 p.m., they closed for the night.
Noooooo! Not after all those miles and all that bitching!
Chris shrugged and got us back on the highway, still headed north. A few miles of farmland later, he told me he needed to make a pit stop. We parked in the lot at a Culver’s. I stayed in the car and pinpointed our location in the middle of nowhere between Chicago and Milwaukee on my iPhone.
A few minutes later, Chris returned and plopped a bag of fried cheese curds in my lap.
“I’d have gotten you a butter burger and frozen custard, but I’d prefer you not have a heart attack before the night’s over.”
Giggling our way into the bag of fried goodness, we turned around and headed back towards Chitown. Imagine our shock when we spied the lights still on at Mars as we sped by on the highway.
“Call them on your iPhone, they might still be open!”
We got off at the next exit, our hopes high, and sped back towards the Cheese Castle. It was from their parking lot we realized the lights we had seen glowing were from the pretender cheese shack next door. Still, any port in a storm.
So one injudicious drive off of a high curb (dammed Cheesehead lack of streetlights!) and right turn later, and we were parked in front of the correct, if less famous, cheese pusher.
Twenty bucks worth of spicy cheese curds, dill cheese curds, and string cheese in hand, we knew it was time to stow our lactic booty and, finally, head home.
Mission thusly accomplished, or so I thought, we turned around for a second time and headed back south towards the Illinois border and civilization. It was getting late, we were getting punchy, and dammit, for once I actually thought I was full. So I was a bit surprised when Chris kept the car pointed towards Chicago when were supposed be headed back to his digs in Oak Park. His response pretty much pegged me completely.
“What? You said you wanted to go to Superdawg, didn’t you?” And so we did.
But we saved Margie’s for another day. Everything in moderation, after all.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.