Flanked by walls in cotton-candy pink and decorative accents reminiscent of a gingerbread house, the glass case at SweetTpieS Dessert Studio displays tiny cheesecakes, mini pecan pies, and cupcakes. Bakers glide behind the counter, adding flourishes of fondant to towering wedding cakes designed to resemble dresses, bouquets, or the frosting-filled swimming pool where the couple met. Artful cupcake towers array confections in an impressive fashion, and custom cake designs can be shrunken down into cake shots, which layer cake, toppings, and buttercream frosting made in house into push-pop form.
Most butcher shops cut your meat for you, but few give you the skills to cut it yourself. For the experts at John’s Butcher Shoppee, sharing their skills is just a part of serving their community, something they’ve been doing for more than 38 years. The expert butchers set up shop at local Cabela’s locations, where they lead sessions on how to process deer into steaks, sausages, and ground meat. Back at their two locations, customers load up on homemade sausage, tender pork chops, and exotic meats such as elk, bison, and ostrich. The owners of the family business are often behind the counter, and take the time to cut or karate-chop a steak or pork chop to a customer’s desired size for no extra charge. Regular customers also take note of the butcher’s weekly meat raffle, dubbed Meat-O, wherein one lucky customer wins $25 in free meat to be served or bathed in however they see fit.
When Chris and Micki first met, they quickly bonded over their shared love of food. Chris reminisced about the spicy jambalaya, the creamy crayfish étouffée, and the rice and beans of his native New Orleans, and Micki shared stories about growing up in her parent’s restaurant. Like shrimp and grits or onions and tears, the two were a natural pair. They got married and officially combined their culinary passions, forming their own restaurant, Who Dat’s Southern Food.
Guests are drawn into the shop by the wafting smells of spicily seasoned seafood, andouille sausage, and pulled pork that’s been slow-cooked with a dry rub for 10 hours. One weekend a month, they set up shop outside to have a southern boil, letting guests experience the sociability and great tastes of the south without meeting, befriending, and subsequently boiling Mr. Peanut.
In 1910, fourth-generation German immigrant Alvin O. Eckert set up a small produce stand on a roadside in Belleville, Illinois. More than 100 years later, that roadside stand has flourished into the expansive Belleville plot of Eckert's Farm: a pastoral acreage where orchards surround a country-style restaurant, bakery, and handmade-custard shop. The Eckert family's sixth and seventh generations ensure this farm remains a true family affair. Sixth-generation member Jim Eckert is the chief horticulturist, and his cousin-once-removed, Chris, oversees retail operations and the sale of the farm's homegrown produce and spare scarecrow parts. Chris's sister Jill helms the food program, and his wife Angie oversees the Country Store and colorful Garden Center.
Throughout the year, visitors arrive on the Belleville farm's grounds for a range of seasonal activities, including peach-, apple-, and pumpkin-picking. During the summer, a concert series features live outdoor music on Friday and Saturday nights, and in the fall, staff lead bonfires and evening hayrides through the orchards. Inside the farm building, instructors teach cooking classes for adults and children, as well as a wine-pairing class.
Family-friendly activities also abound at the Eckert family's other two farms. The Grafton farm, where public apple-picking began in 1964, offers daily animal feeding and miniature golf. The seasonal Millstadt farm is home to a workshop, haunted hayrides, and an array of warm-weather children's attractions—including a 70-foot underground slide.
H. Teller Archibald opened the doors of the first Fannie May Chocolates in 1920, delighting the passing palates of Chicago’s LaSalle Street with exquisite chocolates that continue to tickle taste buds today. Though nearly a century has passed, Fannie May’s alchemists still rely on the same recipes as the first store, refusing to budge on quality even when faced with shortages during war times and the never-ending Gregory Middle School food fight of 1997. Renowned for sweetness and attention to detail, the chocolatiers’ treats stand as an institution of inventive eats, from the gooey pecan and caramel of their Pixies to the sunny, toasted-coconut-encased dark chocolate of their Trinidads.