Chicago cooks up its first-ever Food + Wine Festival

Inaugural-Chicago-Food-Wine-Festival-600x300From the Saturday, April 25, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky


Before I met my future wife, the Michelin rankings I knew were for tires, not restaurants, I was much more likely to shuck an oyster than actually eat one, and my idea of fine dining probably consisted of opting for Chipotle instead of Taco Bell.

OK, well, maybe I wasn’t that bad. But I wasn’t too far off.

Four years later, however, my wife Debbie – who developed her dining acumen growing up in Manhattan (New York, not Illinois) before sharpening it into a knife (nay, cutlery) during 11 years in Chicago – has elevated my palate to the point that she jokes about creating “a monster.”

Now, I wouldn’t go that far – salads and subs still dominate my weekly diet – but it is true that these days I have developed a great appreciation for great food. Especially when it’s from the Windy City.

And that’s why I was excited to learn that inaugural Chicago Food + Wine Festival will be rolling into town this summer. Organized through the collaboration of the promoters behind Lollapalooza, celebrity chef Tim Love of Texas, and Food & Wine Magazine, the Chicago event was announced on Tuesday and will be held Aug. 28-30 in Lincoln Park.

One year ago this month, Debbie and I attended the Austin Food + Wine Festival along the banks of the Colorado River deep in the heart of Texas. Surprisingly rollicking but without the overwhelming masses that you’ll encounter at, say, the Taste of Chicago, the Austin fest served as a very fun and very approachable way to dive into the world of upscale food.

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Feeling out the Draft for NFL fans in Chicago

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 4.46.46 PMFrom the Saturday, April 18, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Without an enclosed-roof facility and with the bone-chilling draft along Lake Michigan every February, it’s unlikely that Chicago ever will – or ever should – host a Super Bowl.
But it will hold a Draft this spring – and it’s super-sized.

After 51 years in New York, the NFL Draft relocates to the Windy City April 30-May 2 when the league stages its reimagined extravaganza inside the historic Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Parkway).

Like planned no-shows Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, you won’t be able to find yourself inside the theatre for the Draft (tickets are no longer available), but that hardly means you can’t be part of the festivities.

And if you want a Draft experience, here’s what you need to know.

Where to go

With 4,000 seats, Auditorium Theatre can only fit so many people. But at Draft Town, the so-called “three-ring circus” that will sprawl across adjacent Grant Park, there will be no such issues.

Covering 900,000 square feet – equal to 15 football fields – Draft Town is open to the public and will feature an arched structure built on Congress Plaza to house Selection Square, where team tables will be and where team representatives will call in their picks.

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If you know where to look, April reigns in Chicago

From the Saturday, April 11, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

baconfest2013poetThe WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

There are some places you probably don’t want to find yourself stuck at in Chicago this month.

Chuy Garcia’s dinner table, for one. Heck, maybe Rahm Emanuel’s dinner table, for another. The bathroom lines at Wrigley Field, for certain.

However, as Chicago begins to make its long-anticipated turn toward spring, there are plenty of desirables spots to end up at during the month of April. And depending on you preferences, here are a few such options.

Neil Diamond
April 14

My wife loves the guy. And in spite of Neil Diamond’s often-excessive schmaltz (which tends to be a bit much for me), so do many others. If you count yourself among that sizable group, you’re in sweet (Caroline) luck as the 74-year-old crooner is scheduled to be in Chicago for one night only, performing at 8 p.m. on Tuesday at the United Center.

According to Timeout Chicago, Diamond has stripped down much of the kitsch for his latest album, Melody Road, to fine musical effect. And while this current tour is in support of that album, Timeout predicts that the singer will favor a more hits-based act for his Chicago show.

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This coffee shop is a trip – back to the ’80s

DeLoreanFrom the Saturday, March 28, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Opened in 2010, The Wormhole Coffee Shop in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood was established in 2015. It says so on its front door.

And that’s all because of 1985.


Well, you really shouldn’t be if you grew up during the 1980s, or simply are a fan of “Back to the Future” who’s dreamt of owning a silver DeLorean with flux capacitor. Which, as it turns out, you can actually find inside The Wormhole, a coffee shop that’s for lovers of the ’80s at least as much as it’s for lovers of coffee – and probably much more so.

Located at 1462 N. Milwaukee Avenue along an eclectic stretch of storefronts on the city’s North Side, The Wormhole – as its name suggests – is a trip back in time to the decade when hair was big, the Cold War was hot, and fashion was … well, it was something.

As a proud child of it, I still love the ’80s today. Anytime I stumble across one of the “Back to the Future” and “Indiana Jones” films on TV, I’ll stop and watch. I can still rattle off the starting lineups from the 1984 and ’89 Chicago Cubs as if they’re my Social Security Number. And I get a big retro kick out of seeing the on-point hairstyles, outfits and pop culture references from FX’s hit period drama, “The Americans,” as it chronicles the height of U.S.-USSR political tensions during the early ’80s.

The decade of my childhood brings back great memories for me, and this past weekend, I was hoping to stoke them when I visited The Wormhole on Sunday morning. Upon walking through the front door with “Est. 2015” painted on the glass – a cheeky nod to the once-upon-a-time futuristic year featured in “Back to the Future II” – I wasn’t disappointed as I encountered what could have been a junior high buddy’s basement.

Back when I actually was in junior high.

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It’s March Madness on – and off – the basketball court

GroceFrom the Saturday, March 21, edition of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

It’s that time of year when hope springs eternal.

Or, at least it is, unless your team has already been bounced out of the NCAA Tournament – or, ahem, already bounced out of the NIT.

Beyond any Cinderellas on the hardwood, spring training is in full swing promising hope for the summer. Elsewhere, spring football abounds promising hoping for the fall. And rumor has it that there may even be hope for warm weather soon.

Although, perhaps you shouldn’t hold your breath.

Instead, exhale as we take trip around the spring sports scene and check in on the Cubs, White Sox and Fighting Illini.

March Badness

The last time Illinois missed back-to-back NCAA Tournaments was 1991-92, and then only because the Illini were barred from the ’91 postseason due to NCAA sanctions. There are no sanctions this time around, but there’s plenty of frustration after Illinois was sent to the NIT and then failed to even show up in a 79-58 loss at Alabama.

“Certainly there’s some disappointment,” Illini athletic director Mike Thomas said after the loss. “We’d rather be playing in the NCAA tournament, and that’s our goal every year and any given year when we’re not playing in the NCAA tournament.”

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Illini’s Athletic Mess Stems From The Top Down

mike-thomas-ncaa-football-illinois-spring-game-850x560Wednesday’s column from

(CBS) In a perfect Illini world, Tim Beckman would roll to a Rose Bowl next January and John Groce would follow up with a Final Four run in March.

But as any University of Illinois fan knows all too well, we don’t live in a perfect Illini world. Instead, we live in the one created three years ago by athletic director Mike Thomas.

And right now, it’s in a world of hurt.

At Memorial Stadium, Beckman’s Big Ten football record is an unsightly 4-20 as the oft-misguided coach continues to lose games and press conferences while railing on reporters for their lack of positivity. Over at the State Farm Center, Groce’s Big Ten basketball mark stands at just 24-30, his program has missed the NCAA Tournament for two straight years (unseen at Illinois since the early 1990s) and on Tuesday night he stood helpless as his shockingly fight-less Illini were blown out 79-58 by a football school with an interim coach in the first round of the NIT (that was Alabama, for those of you who better used your time).

Elsewhere, even Illini women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant has seen his record fall from a solid 19-14 record in his first year to 9-21 and 15-16 these past two seasons. Overall, Bollant’s Big Ten ledger is 17-33, which means that he, Beckman and Groce now have a collective record of 45-83 (.351) in league games after three full seasons.

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Chicago’s Irish roots run deep on the South Side

paradeFrom the Saturday, March 14, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

With the dyeing of the river, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade stomping its way north out of Grant Park and all the ensuing Irish-themed revelry, Chicago’s Loop and North Side will be painting the town green today.

But tomorrow? It’s the South Siders’ turn.

And on Sunday with the 2015 South Side Irish Parade, the southern half of the Windy City make the most of its big day (within reason) just like it has almost every year since 1979 (but, notably, not during all).

With perhaps the most colorful history of any parade in Chicago, the South Side Irish Parade has both a rollicking past and what’s become a more tempered, but no less popular, present.

The Parade

Scheduled to begin at noon, this year’s South Side parade will kick off in the Beverly neighborhood at 103rd Street and head south down Western Avenue to 115th Street.

Held prior to the parade at 11 a.m. is the Emerald Isle Mile, a one-mile, timed race starting at 112th and Western and heading north to 104th, with proceeds benefitting Special Olympics Chicago.

For more information about the parade route or the race, visit

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Illini Fumble By Moving Football Opener To A Friday

Memorial_Stadium_ReDedicationToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Football used to be so simple.

Fridays belonged to high schools, colleges owned Saturdays and the pros played their games on Sundays – plus one Monday night affair.

Nowadays, that’s all changed as football has crept so far across the calendar that during the season you can now find a college or pro game on TV almost any night of the week. And for the most part, I’m OK with that.

As long as none of those nights happens to be a Friday, an evening that should always be reserved for high schools.

But on Monday, Illinois football disagreed when it announced that it will tread onto prep turf by moving its 2015 season opener against Kent State at Memorial Stadium from Saturday, Sept. 5, to Friday, Sept. 4.

The game will be televised on BTN, and while a start time is TBD, I’m not sure it really matters. Because no matter what hour the ball is kicked, the switch will still be a mistake – for multiple reasons, none of which Illinois or BTN seem to recognize.

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In Chicago, it’s St. Patrick’s Day all month long

GreenFrom the Saturday, March 7, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day, Chicago is so green that it leaves other cities with envy.

The holiday, in fact, is such a big deal in the Windy City that it doesn’t merely encompass the 17th of March, but instead consumes much of the month. Today, for example – a full 10 before the big day – there’s already a Pre-St. Patty Day’s Pub Tour taking place in the Northwest Side enclave of Edison Park as well as the “Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day” blowout consuming in the bars and streets of Wrigleyville.

Chicago’s big weekend honoring Irish heritage is seven days away, and with that fast approaching here’s how you can plan to celebrate as the city paints the town green.

March 14: Dyeing of the river & parade

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, annually held on the Saturday prior to the holiday. For 54 of those years, the city has kicked off its festivities by having the Chicago Plumbers Union dump orange dye into the Chicago River to magically turn it green.

Rain or shine, this Saturday will be no different. The dyeing of the river will take place at 9:30 a.m., followed by the parade kicking off at noon in Grant Park. The noisy, fun-filled homage to the Irish will start at Balbo Dr. and head north along Columbus Dr. to Monroe St. along with plenty of bagpipers, drummers and dancers marching their way past a viewing stand in front of Buckingham Fountain that’s filled with local dignitaries.

If you can’t make it in person, you can watch the parade live on ABC-Ch. 7.

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With Bleacher Reconstruction, Cubs Dropped The Ball

wrigley-field-bleachers-renovation-1Today’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) As a Cubs fan, I’m well conditioned to wait ’til next year.

But not when it comes to my season tickets.

At this point, though, I’m half-prepping myself to receive an email from the Cubs regretfully informing me that due to a setback in its rehab program, the Wrigley Field bleachers have been sidelined until 2016.

And that they’ll be renamed in honor of Mark Prior.

That’s because when the Cubs invited members of the media to tour Wrigley on Monday while the 101-year-old ballpark undergoes the first phase of its massive rebuilding project, what they witnessed was far from promising for fans – especially those who have season tickets in the bleachers, as I do.

Back during the Cubs Convention in January, the team had already announced that the reconstruction of the bleachers would be delayed until at least May 11. But Monday, we learned that the progress is dragging so far behind schedule that the team was seeking an OK from the city for its construction crews to work 24 hours a day.

On Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel rejected that idea.

Even if that request had been green lit, the Cubs said the right-field bleachers still won’t be ready until at least early June. It’s unclear when all of the bathrooms will be completed. And while the Cubs say that the left-field/center-field bleachers will still be open by the May 11 date, let’s be honest, they don’t really know – especially with Mother Nature calling the shots.

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