The festive displays at Chicago Botanic Garden's Wonderland Express pluck visitors from forests of skyscrapers and tangles of telephone vines and prepare them for the holiday season. Energy-conserving LED lights⎯750,000 of them⎯twinkle in the crisp air of an outdoor magical winter wonderland. Inside, amid the falling of faux snow, tiny model locomotives chug through an elaborate 10,000-square-foot display featuring decorations, holiday trees, botanicals and poinsettias, and more than 80 mini models of Chicago’s famous buildings and landmarks. Designed by holiday wizard Paul Busse, the model-railroad garden combines artistic design, horticulture, and Windy City pride to delight children, parents, grandparents, and estranged snowmen cousins alike.
House-made cuisine isn't supposed to be flashy, and Mario's Mondo Cafe doesn't try to impress diners with anything beyond an unwavering dedication to Old World flavors. Inspired by generations of family recipes, Chef Mario cobbles together a menu of familiar Italian staples while incorporating local and sustainably sourced ingredients whenever possible. The Chicago Tribune praised the restaurant for its commitments to tradition and unpretentious comfort food, calling the eatery, "a casual, hidden treasure."
Even the decor aims to create a cozy ambiance. Butcher paper covers the tabletops and a single shelf lines the pale orange walls, displaying a variety of homestyle mementos, such as framed pictures and bronzed kickball trophies.
Terra Sounds doesn’t just look for book smarts when procuring its staff of expert instructors. The school of art and music places equal importance on backgrounds in stage performance, organizing art shows, and studying a foreign language. Here, instructors with a well-rounded approach to their subjects connect more easily with their students, introducing them to the Italian alphabet in a language class, helping them learn guitar chords during a music class, or instilling the proper way to make an origami swan out of a speeding ticket in an art class.
Lincolnshire Gourmet offers proper pairings of healthy, fresh fare and lively musical entertainment within a cozy, welcoming storefront. Lunch and dinner options include gluten-free chorizo meatballs dunked in a jalapeño-lime sauce ($7), po' boy sandwiches gripping shrimp, veggies, and spicy mayo ($18), and entrees starring the restaurant's worst-kept secret, the NoOodle. With zero net carbs, zero gluten, zero soy, zero fat, and zero calories, the all-natural NoOodle boasts oodles of benefits and makes a fitting bed for entangled edibles such as grilled salmon with sautéed spinach, garlic, avocado relish, and olive oil ($20), and ultralite primavera mingling with spinach, red peps, yellow squash, and carrots in a creamy garlic sauce ($11). To accommodate youthful appetites, the chefs also offer finger-friendly items such as grilled cheese paired with fresh fruit ($5), paper-thin, whole-wheat cheese pizzas for two ($6), and napkins. Reservations are not required, but they are recommended.
The Music Theatre Company's production of Merrily We Roll Along, a Stephen Sondheim composition based on the 1934 Kaufman and Hart play, weaves a show biz success story in reverse. The musical begins with Franklin Shepard’s wild fame as a film producer before unraveling nearly 20 years of his past to uncover countless love affairs, missed opportunities, and humble dreams.
Basketball games light up a large projection screen at the front of the bar, echoing the dynamic displays seen on nearby flat-screen TVs above the heads of diners eating burgers and sipping beers at a wraparound bar. The kitchen serves up American-style comfort food and pub favorites, including steak sandwiches, Reubens, pasta, and burgers. Thin crust-pizzas include the buffalo pizza, the hawaiian pizza, and the double-meat Fiesta pizza, on which bacon, pepperoni, and sausage accompany onion, mushrooms, and green peppers.
Players Pub and Grill caters to its sports-minded clientele with a menu of American pub fare, foamy brews, and walls bedecked with the trappings of beloved local teams. Beneath the glow of big-screen plasma televisions or the stone fireplace, patrons bite into burgers, pizzas, and pasta dishes. Glasses and bottles clink in the hands of fans joyously celebrating their team's victories and admiring the wall-mounted collection of memorabilia, such as signs from Soldier Field and the record 1,000th hurled beer bottle from Comiskey Park. Between sips and snacks, patrons can settle their personal scores through challenges at the dartboards and in video games.