Yesterday, we here in America celebrated our Independence Day holiday, and it is a country that is full of great cities and sights and I’m going to share some of mine.

The holiday here is, of course, marked with barbecues, sports, picnics and fireworks.  Being a summer holiday, everybody in the country can participate with usually solid weather.  Last year in Chicago, the temperature was 102 degrees and it was spent hiding from the heat and watching our city’s fireworks from our home rather than at the golf course where they do an absolutely great job with family fun, food and entertainment.  The show last night lasted nearly forty-five minutes and was probably their best to date.

As a small business owner, I’m focused on finding places to eat, drink or visit that are unique to their cities.  I find them through a variety of means.  Yelp is okay, but I’m not happy with the organization or use loose interpretation of categories.  Zagat is great for restaurants, but I sometimes will also use Localmind, or just ask the people with whom I’m meeting.  Regardless of the method you use, don’t let the concierge or cabbie steer you to the places that are most popular for tourists; ask them where they’d go themselves.

Newberg, Oregon (just outside Portland):  Sineann Winery

If you’re in Portland, it’s only a quick half-hour or thereabouts to find yourself in world-class wine country.  A Chicagoan who is plying his trade and making amazing stuff has a hospitable cellar door, a great selection of reds and whites from the US as well as New Zealand and makes you feel part of the family.  If you’re a lover of Old Vine Zinfandel, DO NOT MISS THEIRS.

Tasted them all.  Not a clunker in the bunch.

Tasted them all. Not a clunker in the bunch.

Tell Peter that I dropped his name.  A hockey fan, he’s got a red called “Cross-Check Red”.  Thinking that thanks to these guys, he’s got quite a bit of civic pride from a distance.

San Diego, California:  Cafe Sevilla

Before I met my wife, I had a trip to San Diego, for a meeting for the NCBFAA.  This trip predated the ban on smoking in restaurants in Illinois, but leave it to Californians to have already gotten it done.  I’ll never forget having the most delectable pitchers of sangria, delicious tapas and a dance club in the basement where you’d come up smelling like dance, but not tobacco.  Oh, bonus points for the giant suit of armor (pictured) out front of the place.


New Orleans, Louisiana:  Louisiana Bistro

Shortly after becoming a vegan, I took a trip to New Orleans.  I’m thinking that after beans and rice and okra, there really wasn’t a tremendous amount of cuisine that didn’t hail from some sort of bayou critter or crawler the chefs down there prepared.  And I was right.  However since I was a week into the vegan adventure, a friend who lived there took me to dinner and my, sweet heavens, it was incredible.  Chef Mars actually hails from Illinois, went to school for photojournalism (if memory serves correctly) and quit that gig, went to culinary school and wanted a restaurant where he wasn’t lost cooking the line but could actually engage with his customers.  They do just that and if you’re in NOLA, be sure to take a meal at their restaurant which has maybe forty seats, tops.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin:  Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co.

It would be far too easy for me to pick one of my hometown favorites, Intelligentsia or Metropolis.  They both do such incredible work.  But when I’m on the road…if I’m not looking for a great local restaurant, I’m looking for a great local coffee roaster.  People who have seen me give presentations in Atlanta and Seattle know that my new thing is giving away locally roasted coffee to the attendees.  I rather like it because it says “thanks” to my audience but also works to support a local business.

Anodyne has a cafe on Kinnickkinnic in the really Bohemian-chíc and cool Bay View neighborhood south of Milwaukee.  You walk in and there are tables and a U-shaped bar to sit at.  They’ve got all kinds of logowear including cycling and running singlets.  But the smell of daily roasted coffee assails your nostrils upon entry.  A good selection of soups and locally baked pastries compliments the coffee selection which includes such great names as “Nerve Tonic Espresso” and “Milwaukee Rockstar Blend” along with plenty of single-origin offerings.  They ship, too, so try them out from somewhere out of town.

What are some of the places that you’ve traveled around the world that have been hidden gems that you recall?

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