Nearly all-day Monday, plus Tuesday morning, I had the distinct pleasure of exploring the eccentricities and eclectic aspects of one of my favorite cities of the Great Lakes region – Evanston, Illinois. It certainly started off lively enough with a line of severe thunderstorms taking down many trees and limbs, plus knocking out power.
Fortunately, the damp start did not wash away the fun as we made a beeline to the Brothers K Coffeehouse at the southeast corner of Main and Hinman Streets for a delicious scone. Brothers K is the epitome of a great coffee shop – filled with atmosphere and ambiance, as well as a loyal clientele that puts the nearby Starbucks to shame.
Then, off we went was to Seabury Cathedral to and its carillon, as well as parts of the Northwestern campus – though the lack of power from the storm had the church’s offices closed for the day.
From the Seabury, it was over to Evanston’s Central Avenue which contains an amazing collection of eccentric and unique shops and dining establishments. First stop was The Spice House. Upon entering, one could easily boarding a Dutch West Indies spice trade merchant ship of the 17th and 18th Centuries. It was like a symphony of aromas that instantly greeted your nostrils. What a seriously neat store – need one of these in East Lansing!
Next was a light lunch at Prairie Joe’s. This restaurant has to be the most unconventional place to eat I have ever been to. Where else would you find Christmas tree ball ornaments adorning the ceiling year-round, a stuffed shark mounted on a column with toy VW Beetles aligning its back, or a series of gasoline maps papering one wall? It was charming and an immediate beacon for parents with kids who sat in utter astonishment at the decor. In business for 20 years, Prairie Joe’s has got to be experienced at least once by everyone. As my cousin stated, its decor is “1960’s retro.”
Next door to Prairie Joe’s is the Happy Husky Bakery. At first, I thought it was a cute name for a bake shop, but upon entering realized it is a bakery specifically for dogs. Greeted by Ginger with her dazzling light blue eyes and soft fur coat and Astaire, her male companion. You cannot help immediately falling in love with the two rescued namesakes for the business.
If you have ever visited to Evanston, one of the first things you notice, especially in the morning, is the abundance of pet dogs. They are being walked everywhere. There must be more dog-oriented pet stores of one kind or another in Evanston than anyplace else on the planet. It almost seems a shame that Northwestern teams are called the Wildcats. Perhaps they might want to trade with Northern Illinois University, whose mascot is the Husky?
For part of the afternoon, my cousin and I wandered through some of the nearby north Chicago neighborhoods like Rogers Park, Andersonville, and Ravenswood. Each had its own distinct style and flavor, which made for a fun adventure. But, for me, none of them could quite compare to the eclectic town and gown appeal of Evanston.
Toward late afternoon Monday, we meandered back to Evanston for a dinner of Greek salads at Cross-Rhodes on Chicago Avenue, just north of Main Street. Between the dinner at Salonica on Sunday and my meal at Cross-Rhodes on Monday, I was in Greek food heaven — which is a very nice place to be.
Following dinner, a walk along the Main Street shopping district to one of those surprise finds that makes your day complete – a stunning ceramic tile map of the City of Evanston at entrance to the city’s Art Depot. My oh my, if they had miniature versions of this map for sale, I would have bought one right then and there probably no matter the price.
The map (see photo at beginning of post) is a simply breathtakingly beautiful guide to the city that incorporates glazed historic post cards, as well as hand-decorated ceramic tiles to produce a topographic representation of the city. Words and probably photos cannot describe how attractive and appealing this map is, especially in the evening sun. I was half expecting a secret passageway to open up at any moment to transport me into an even more magical place – if that was even possible given the above-ground charms of Evanston.
Tuesday morning was spent catching a few more eclectic shops along the Main Street corridor, including Dave’s Down to Earth Rock Shop and Prehistoric Life Museum (both fascinating) and Ten Thousand Villages. After that we partook superb Thai cuisine at Cozy Noodles & Rice. I never would have imagined a Thai restaurant decorated in old state license plates, Beanie babies, lunch boxes, Pez dispensers and other collectibles.
As my long weekend in Chicago came to a conclusion and I boarded the southbound METRA train for downtown, I knew exactly where I would want to live if I ever move to Chicagoland – exquisite, eccentric, and eclectic Evanston.