Naperville’s Own Sharko’s BBQ on WGN-TV’s Chicago’s Best

To my readers, you know how I feel about Sharko’s BBQ… and BBQ in general.  I was very pleased to recently learn that the quality and authenticity of their BBQ is getting some well-deserved recognition.  Take a look at their recent segment on WGN-TV’s Chicago’s Best and then race over Sharko’s BBQ for some of the freshest authentic Texas BBQ in Naperville!  Congrats to Brian and the Sharko family!  

 

 

10 Reasons Why I Love Naperville Magazine and You Should Too!

Naperville Magazine_edited-1by Stuart Meyer

I grew up surrounded by the publishing business.  After my father’s early career years in radio, television and working for the local daily newspaper, he began publishing his own monthly shopper newspaper in Elizabethtown, KY which circulated continuously for over 30 years.

My favorite memories were riding around with him to visit his advertisers as they were all one big extended family to us.  As I got older and after spending enough time hanging out in his design/layout office, he taught me ad design layout… the old-fashioned way as he was somewhat of a “purist”.  No computers or desktop publishing… it was all border tape, polaroids, blue lines, matte books of artwork, hot wax, plenty of typeset and manual Royal typewriters.

Given my childhood in the family publishing business, I’ve alwaysNaperville Magazine_June 2013 Cover admired the work of Naperville magazine publisher Leah Rippe in her vision and determination over the years to build and grow a true Naperville-focused monthly magazine.  The magazine’s mantra and slogan is “Your City. Your Magazine” and they are true to their word.

Here’s my top 10 reasons why I love Naperville magazine:

10)  DESIGN worthy of a higher-end lifestyle magazine publication.

9)  Lots of LOCAL CONTRIBUTORS sharing both their talents and Naperville perspectives.

8)  Seemingly endless coverage of the LOCAL CHARITABLE EVENTS AND SOCIAL SCENE IN THE NAPERSCENE SECTION.  Our favorite challenge is to search for that rare event where our friend Ray Kinney isn’t pictured.

7)  Lots and lots of GREAT PHOTOGRAPHY.

6) I learn more about all the INTERESTING PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE IN NAPERVILLE.

5) Publishing depends on advertising support and I admire the ways in which the magazine blends in BUSINESS STORYTELLING as part of the content.

4) Great FEATURE STORIES and commitment to COMMUNITY NEWS.

3) The magazine is truly presented from a true NAPERVILLE PERSPECTIVE.

2) From restaurant reviews, chef profiles to the Dining Out section, there’s always a strong FOOD FOCUS.

1) Come on… it’s ALL ABOUT NAPERVILLE!  Thanks Leah!

To subscribe to Naperville magazine and event eNewsletter, CLICK HERE

SM

Quick Getaways – New Glarus a Small Town Taste of Europe Less than 3 Hours Away from Naperville

 New Glarus_Train Stationby Stuart Meyer

Those who know me know how I feel about small towns.  Why spend allot of  money and vacation leave time to travel to far-off places in search of something interesting to see and experience when we are surrounded by a multitude of interesting places to experience within just a couple of hours off the well-beaten path by car.

A couple of weeks ago, our own family’s travels brought us to one such place… New Glarus_Main StreetNew Glarus, Wisconsin (Population 2,172).  Our journey into New Glarus left us feeling a bit like we were driving through Europe.   It’s no coincidence as New Glarus was settled by Swiss immigrants over 160 years ago and the town has proudly held onto their Old World Swiss heritage and traditions.  As a matter of fact, many refer to New Glarus as “Little Switzerland”.

The shops, bakery, meat market, cheese shop, hotel and restaurants situated within the historic architectural walls of New Glarus’s downtown buildings provide a wonderful combination of experiences.

New Glarus_Coffee ShopOur morning began with a craving for a nice cup of coffee and we didn’t have to look far to discover Fat Cat Coffee Works, a small coffee house situated in what appeared to be an old train depot.  The atmosphere was homey, the coffee terrific and overall it’s the kind of place that would leave any Chicago neighborhood coffee shop frothing with envy.  The interior is colorful and full of detailed touches that can only come from a small business where the owner is also the one welcoming you in from behind the counter.  Personally, I liked the 0ld arch top guitar that was hanging on the wall, which I discovered as we were leaving was perfectly tuned and ready to be played… to bad we had to move on.

Moving forward from coffee, dropped by the 100+ year-old bakery tradition of the New Glarus Bakery where the kids picked out their choice of fresh doughnuts and pastries.  I picked up a fresh loaf of sourdough bread to enjoy later on.  There is a very special place in both my heart and stomach for classic “old school” bakeries.  Where I grew up, these were the only types of bakeries long before the rise of low cost/quality, cheap ingredient-enriched industrial supermarket bakeries.

Since we were in New Glarus just for the day, we didn’t get a chance toNew Glarus_Hotel and Pizzeria experience the unique accommodations, including the New Glarus Hotel which appears to have been cut directly from the Swiss Alps and placed into downtown New Glarus.

After walking around downtown New Glarus and letting the kids burn off some energy in the park, we were ready for lunch.  While there are an array of options, we chose the Swiss-American culinary offerings at Glarner Stube (4.5 out of 5 stars on Yelp with over 50 reviews is impressive).  Once inside the modest rustic space you already feel as though you’ve been transported into a ski lodge within the  Swiss Alps.  The long bar is full of beer taps featuring nearly the full line of another local product we’ll get to in a bit.

Bring your appetite to Glarner Stube  as these authentic Swiss recipes are like a soothing wave of culinary comfort.  I ordered the Geschnetzelets “Stube Style” veal slices in a rich and creamy mushroom wine gravy with a side of Roesti, a Swiss-style fried potato dish a bit like shredded hash browns.  My wife and her sister split the traditional Weiner Schnitzel pan-fried veal cutlets with a buttery sauce.  Keeping to their Wisconsin roots, we also enjoyed some beer-battered fried cheese curds prior to the meal.  While the kids weren’t feeling adventurous, my oldest son ordered a BLT which was made with some of the most incredible bacon I’ve ever tasted.  I asked the waitress where the bacon was made, she told me just a couple of doors down at Ruef’s Meat Market where we determined would be our next stop.

New Glarus_RuefsYour first step through the door at Ruef’s Meat Market and the rich aroma of their on-premise smokehouse hits you right away.  The place reminds you of those vintage photos you see of the old-fashioned butcher shop where meat was cured and smoked mainly as a means of preserving food.  Today, meat is smoked and cured because it’s simply delicious.  Wish I had more photos to share, but unfortunately I was so enamored with the place that I forgot to take photos.  As I stared into the cases, it didn’t take long to feast my eyes on a dark-colored whole double-smoked pork belly that was just begging to be sliced.  I walked out with 2 pounds of fresh thick-cut slices of this gloriously indulgent pork.

New Glarus_BreweryThere are other historic sites and museums to experience in New Glarus, but unfortunately our time was somewhat limited.  I encourage you to check out this link to learn more about other New Glarus attractions.  Of course, there was one more stop we were interested in making during our time in town which is the home of the Spotted Cow, Cabin Fever, Two Women, Moon Man and an assortment of other characters… the New Glarus Brewery.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve become familiar with New Glarus beers during other visits to Wisconsin.  As a matter of fact, one of the things I love about New Glarus beer is you can only get it in Wisconsin… at least for now.  The brewery is certainly going through a growth spurt as construction abounds and much of the brewery you can visit as part of a self-guided tour has that new facility look-and-feel.  Nonetheless, the place has a great vibe and plenty of opportunity to sample from the source.  In their store downstairs, you can stock up on your favorite New Glarus beer styles.  On this particular day, they were selling a special 20th anniversary beer Belgian Dubbel Ale available for purchase but limited to two bottles per customer.  I recently cracked open both bottles to share with a home-brewing friend and they were outstanding.  Anyway, there is certainly a spirit of independent craft brewing pride at New Glarus and perhaps the resistance to out-of-state distribution is a testament.

So there you go, just a short drive from Naperville and you’ll feel like you’ve been around the world and back after a visit to New Glarus.  SM

Recent Visit to Naper Settlement a Reminder that Time Travel is Possible

by Stuart Meyer

Naper Settlement_Schoolhouse_FINAL

The interior of the Copenhagen Schoolhouse at Naper Settlement as it appeared in 1870. While it’s a historically accurate replica, many of the materials used are from the original schoolhouse.

Being both a filmmaker and owner of a Naperville-based production company about to move its operation into Downtown Naperville, every time I visit the grounds of Naper Settlement I continue to construct the storyline for a film which uses the Settlement as the setting.  From a production standpoint, the interiors of each building are nearly film-ready in terms of production design down to the fine details.  With just a bit of Hollywood-style magic, we could transform exteriors to a place which takes us far from the hustle and bustle of Downtown Naperville.  One day I predict we will shoot that film.

For now, anyone who doesn’t believe time travel is possible certainly hasn’t visited Naper Settlement.  Sure, you may have driven by and seen the buildings, but if you haven’t stepped foot into these magical historically-preserved spaces you are truly missing out.  The community, Naperville Heritage Society, the Museum Board and team over at the Settlement continues to do a terrific job preserving these treasures of our past bringing history to life year-round.

To the many of you who have embraced this community treasure over the years, there are many additional ways you can ensure this Naperville Legacy lives long into the future, such as (click on links):

Make a Donation for Become a Sponsor

Become a Member

Other ways to support Naper Settlement

SM

BEHIND RIBFEST – Feature-Length Documentary Film Provides All-Access Behind-the-Scenes Look at Naperville Ribfest

by Stuart Meyer

For the past 26 years, the Naperville Exchange Club has produced Naperville Ribfest as a charitable event which donates 100% of net proceeds toward the prevention of child abuse and domestic violence.  Prepare to be entertained and inspired as you journey behind-the-scenes of the Naperville Ribfest for an exclusive inside look at every aspect of this volunteer-run charitable BBQ and music festival.  Behind Ribfest  is a feature-length documentary film produced by my production company, Social Frequency Media Communications, and after making some rounds at film festivals we’ve decided to release the film online in two parts.  We hope you’ll watch and share this film with others.  Watch the film below or simply click here.

A Review of 10 Reasons to Love Sharko’s BBQ in South Naperville

Sharkos_Restaurant_edited-1by Stuart Meyer

Simply put, BBQ Rules!  My regular readers over the years know that BBQ has been a way of life for me since my childhood growing up in Kentucky.  The continually growing interest in the art of BBQ is beginning to truly benefit us in Naperville as for the first time we are blessed with real deal low-and-slow pit BBQ restaurants which pay tribute to the great BBQ regions of America.

Sharko’s BBQ has opened its family-owned doors in South Naperville (4931 South Route 59 in front of Caputo’s) and after two visits I’m pleased to say I’m hooked to yet another great BBQ joint.  Asking me to name my favorite BBQ place is worse than asking me to name my favorite child, so there will be no comparisons here.  Instead, I thought I’d share my 10 reasons to love Sharko’s BBQ.

10)  The interior walls of the restaurant are boards from an old barn with sheet metal accents.

9)  You can already smell the heavenly smokey hardwood aroma as you walk in from the parking lot which affirms the authenticity.

8) The complimentary self-serve soft-serve ice cream machine in the dining room which all of the kids love… especially us big kids.

7)  You can buy meats, including ribs, by the ounce… a Texas tradition and great way to get just the right amount to satisfy any appetite.

6)  Love beef brisket?  They slice it Texas-style… fresh off a whole brisket before your eyes. Sharkos_Food_edited-1 The brisket has a monster smoke ring, a sweet smokey bark, tender with just the right “tug” in the meat fibers.  During both visits, owner Brian Sharko (hence “Sharko’s BBQ) gave me a couple of free cuts from the brisket point… a personal favorite for me.

5)  The pulled pork is almost a hybrid between Carolina pulled and Georgia chopped yielding a nice moist and subtle smokey flavor.  Speaking of flavor, whether Sharko’s injects their shoulders during the smoking process or adds some type of seasoning or mop sauce after pulling, the meat is so flavorful it would be a crime to add any sauce.

4) The regional BBQ sauces are delicious, but the meat is so flavorful you’ll find little need for the sauce… the measure of true BBQ.  In some places in Texas, sauce is by request only and even then you’ll often get just a little cup.

3)  The ribs… oh, the ribs… just the right amount of tug from the bone which affirms they were cooked correctly.  Slightly a dry rib with a sweet and smokey outer bark and nice big bones from good quality cuts.  A point of education as you might see the ribs pulled from the holding warmer in plastic wrap.  Just about every BBQ restaurant wraps its ribs in this manner to seal in moisture as ribs can dry out fast.  I’ll agree it’s a sight I would prefer to not see as I’m ordering, but I understand the importance.

2)  Everything, including signs, are set up almost like a cafeteria/buffet which is also a tradition in some regions.  It’s great to see how fresh the food is right before your eyes.

1)  Sharko’s BBQ is owned and run by the Sharko family of Naperville.  They have five kids and the family has been in the restaurant and catering business for a very long time.  An interesting point of trivia, Brian’s dad actually won 1st place for Best Sauce at the very first Ribfest over 25 years ago.

Okay, so I capped my overview at 10 reasons, but there are still great features like the saddle stools along the outer wall, thick-cut texas toast bread, the Pig Juice Sauce, the hand washing sink near the dining room, the perennial BBQ dessert standard… Banana Pudding and allot more.

In a nutshell, I give Sharko’s BBQ my full recommendation and look forward to them being a part of the growing Naperville BBQ lineup for many years to come!

SM

It’s All About Food, Community and the Experience at Twisted Olive in Downtown Naperville

Twisted Olive_edited-1by Stuart Meyer

While the concept of gourmet free sample olive oil and balsamic vinegar shops is no longer novel, there is one such place tucked away in Downtown Naperville where they have turned the concept into community through equal ingredients of passion for food, a love for people and a true understanding of the ways in which food connects us.

I first discovered the The Twisted Olive , which is tucked away down the quaint alley off of South Washington Street between Jefferson Ave. and Chicago Ave., shortly after they opened their doors I believe a couple of years ago.  The owner approached my wife and I that day with that fresh and enthusiastic smile you expect in the opening days of a new business.

With the smell of fresh baguettes in the air, I listened to the owner’s vision for Twisted Olive_bottlesthe store which stretched far beyond their gourmet oils and vinegars into classes and events.  From day one, The Twisted Olive aspired to become a community space designed to bring people together using one-of-a-kind foods as the ingredient.  The space itself includes an area with plush chairs designed for planned gatherings, events or a simple reprieve while shopping.  As for their products, the weight of our bag as we exited out to the alley was a testament to the quality.  We’ve returned a number of times since our first visit and our kitchen is regularly stocked with Twisted Olive Oils and Vinegars.  More recently, they’ve also added select wines and craft beers to their experience.

My personal favorites… OLIVE OIL – Fior Fiore EVOO and Truffle; VINEGARS:  25 Year Aged Traditional Balsamic and Lemon White Balsamic.

To those unfamiliar with The Twisted Olive, you are free to sample all of their oils and vinegars to your hearts content, which is always an experience in itself.

Congratulations to the owners and team at The Twisted Olive for your continued growth in popularity and thanks for being part of the World of Naperville!

The Twisted Olive is located at 232 S. Washington Street, Suite 6.  To visit their website, CLICK HERE

SM