Monthly Archives: March 2007

Naperville Unwrapped (Part 1): The Downtown Naperville Experience

Note:  While focusing on the notions of “community” and “experience” in general, the first part of Naperville Unwrapped places a primary focus on Downtown Naperville.  On one hand, Downtown Naperville is the heart of our community and serves as the centerpiece.  On the other hand, the concert of elements which makes Downtown Naperville special serve as a strong example to leaders, business owners and residents of what can be and, in many cases, is being replicated throughout other areas of Naperville.  Looking toward Naperville’s future, I dream that the magic of downtown will continue to flow throughout the many other neighborhoods and townships which comprise our community in creating unique business/economic opportunities and living experiences which bring our senses alive with inspiration, creativity and imagination.   

What makes Downtown Naperville so special?

As Napervillians, we are asked this question often by family, friends and typically anyone  who discovers you live in Naperville.  We certainly have statistics and awards which can be quickly pointed to as well as a host of top notch community amenities.  However, at the end of the day these are surface “features” and do not reveal the depth and psychology behind what makes Naperville special.  To better understand The Naperville Experience, let’s start by deconstructing the pscyhology.

The Pscyhology of “Community”

Naperville is a great city because it embodies the notion of community on many levels.  The root word of “community” is commune.  To “commune” together with other human beings and with the surrounding environment, whether it be natural or constructed, is “to be in a state of intimate, heightened sensitivity and receptivity” (American Heritage Dictionary).  The act of communing with people, nature and/or physical places/things has the power to create feelings which can reach beyond the mind directly into the heart.  

When we commune, both our hearts and minds are highly attuned to the everything that is happening in that moment.  These momentary states of intimate, heightened sensitivity and receptivity serve as opportutnites to generate/reinforce positive feelings or negative feelings in an exponential way.  In the marketing world, we simply refer to this scenario as a moment of truth  because one’s perception of “truth” during this heightened state of awareness typically creates a strong and lasting positive, indifferent or negative impression.    

Within any communal environment, the individual engages the five senses in evaluating the experience.  The sum total of these combined sensory experiences determines how the individual is affected or, put another way, establishes the magnitude of affective association between the individual and the communal environment.  This process of sensory engagement generates what is more commonly referred to as the “experience” in which we measure the degree to which we feel connected to or comfortable with the people and environment around us.  Feelings and impressions created by any given experience can range from disgust (not good) to adrenaline-infused affection or inspiration (good).  In achieving the latter, there is a high potential for developing a strong bond or association between the individual and the overall communal environment which may yield a relationship.  Any relationship is built upon the individual’s ability to “relate” or “connect” with something on an internal and/or external level, whether it be a relationship with people, nature or a particular place/thing.

Examining the “Experience” 

So what creates the difference between an adrenaline-infused inspirational experience and a bad experience?  To better understand, let’s examine how the above factors culminate in either a good or bad experience. 

First, the overall experience is formed by the sum total of encounters, observations and interactions with the communal environment subjectively filtered through individual preferences registered by the five senses and, finally, measured by the heart and mind.  The ideal end product of a good experience is a positive and lasting impression leading to future engagement and loyalty. 

Depending on the subjective or personal preferences of the individual, each of the five senses are weighted depending upon which single or combination of sensory orientations are most important to an individual.  For instance, some people are “visual” or have a strong visual orientation.  To these individuals, particular shapes and forms featured in art or architecture appeal to their senses.  Here is a breakdown and examples of the five senses:

Hearing:  Audible sounds ranging from tone of voice, noise levels within a crowded space or genres of music to the tranquility of a rushing stream or quiet place.   

Sight:  Visual artifacts ranging from architecture and street textures to landscaping and natural space.

Smell:  Aromas ranging from flowers and fresh cut grass to freshly ground coffee and restaurants.

Taste:  Flavors stemming from particular types of foods, confections and beverages.

Touch:  Textures ranging to the feel of rushing water and soft grass to particular building materials and surfaces.  

Positive or negative impressions can arise from one or more of the subjective sensory experiences above based upon individual sensory orientation.  For instance, the elements of a great restaurant experience depends largely on the sensory orientation or preferences of the restaurant’s desired clientele.  Factors include cuisine (taste), space design and food presentation (visual), acoustics and noise levels (hearing), proximity of kitchen to dining area (smell) and table linens, glassware, flatware and seats (touch).  You might be wondering “what about customer service?”.  Positive service experiences involve multiple senses, from the tone of the waiter’s voice (hearing) to the embrace of a restaurant owner’s hug with a regular (touch).

When sensory experiences engage one or more of the five senses in appealing to the sensory orientation and preferences of the individual, the “experience” is born.  Moreover, when a particular communal environment offers a constant stream of positive sensory experiences, one after the other, the individual reaches a level of immersion which can yield feelings which reach toward euphoria.      

The Downtown Naperville Experience

By now you may have already begun applying the above psychological examination of “community”  and “experience” specifically to your own perceptions of Naperville.  Simply put, the Naperville experience immerses residents and visitors alike in a strong communal environment which engages and connects individuals of all sensory orientations.  Sensory experiences abound in Naperville.  To better understand, let’s examine a couple of examples:

Hearing

As you explore Naperville, you quickly realize that you can easily immerse yourself in many types of sounds which appeal to the senses.  For instance, you can hear the lively activity of downtown Naperville including the sounds of Centennial Beach, the Carrilon, music at night, motorcycles, people laughing and communing with one another. 

At the same time, within moments you can retreat into the peaceful tranquility of the Riverwalk where the noise of downtown quickly fades into the sounds of nature including the rushing river waters, wildlife and seclusion. 

Sight

Naperville provides a highly interesting blend of architectural and natural settings as well as artistic form which are highly appealing to the eye. 

Architectural features include the historical authenticity of still functional structures as well as uniquely modern structures. 

In addition to the charm of Naperville’s covered bridges, downtown historical architectural examples include Jefferson Avenue which features the old city hall with it’s beautiful arch windows, presently occupied by La Sorella.  Other great examples include Centennial Beach which still carries its 1920s feel, the old mansion which occupies Meson Sabika and the grounds of Naper Settlement which creates perhaps the most unique visual experience of all, the ability to walk back in time through Naperville’s history amongst original structures and interiors.  , let’s not forget the historic home district just east of downtown as well.  The history and story of a community or business is often the strongest element in creating a unique and memorable experience which engages visitors, residents and customers alike.  For those that might disagree, I encourage to take a trip to France and explore the city of Paris.    

Perhaps the greatest challenge for any downtown is introducing modern architecture which blends and compliments existing architecture so as not to create unsettling contrast.  In my mind, examples which carry visual appeal in blending old with new is the Riverwalk, Main Street Promenade and Van Buren Place.  Beyond downtown, I would point to the 95th Street Library, Jefferson Estates and the English Rows development in South Naperville. 

Despite the fact there has been much controversy regarding new home construction, especially in the downtown area, over the past years, I must commend the vision and creativity of Naperville’s home developers in creating home designs which are both interesting and visually appealing.  Personally, as often as possible I try to make a point of driving into downtown via Jefferson Avenue from Ogden to enjoy the many examples of architecturally pleasing new home construction.  Change is often difficult and sometimes painful in any situation, especially for growing cities and towns; however, the yield , in most cases, ultimately produces good results.  At the same time, I will concede there are, unfortunately, some examples of new architecture which I wish could be erased and sent back to the drawing board.  To be kind, I will not state any examples.

Perhaps the biggest reason a city the size of Naperville can capture that small town feel is the abundance and variety of natural settings.  From a visual standpoint, natural settings provide a balanced contrast point in the sensory experience to keep the individual from becoming overwhlemed by any single visual element.  Equal amounts of sensory unrest can be experienced in either the congestion of a large urban city, such as Chicago, or the remote isolation of rural settings throughout other areas of Illinois.  Downtown Naperville provides a solid complimentary balance of visual orientation.  One can progress from the crowded streets of downtown to the Riverwalk, strolling along the moving river all the way to the western end of the Riverwalk which disappears into a dense wooded area.  It is this variety of visual stimulation which adds to the intense sensory experience.

Finally, artistic elements feed into the asthetic qualities of it all.  Downtown’s many sculptures, fountains and pieces of outdoor art stimulates and inspires the visual senses.  Such would explain the success of downtown summer arts exhibits, such as Chicago’s “Cows on Parade” and Naperville’s annual collection of painted animals and objects. 

In many ways, Downtown Naperville is like a large art canvass filled with a symmetical variety of textures and styles working under the overarching theme of “community” sprinkled with layers of authenticity.       

Smell

As soon as you arrive downtown, it doesn’t take long enliven your senses with a concert of aromas which meander freely through the air. 

The natural suspects are Naperville’s many downtown restaurants and food establishments which makes it difficult to isolate the precise origin of any of the many delicious aromas you encounter.  From grilling steaks and seafood to indulgent ice cream and fresh caramel corn, there is a sensory experience for everyone.  These aromas are an important cue in not only inducing hunger but also creating a satisfying level of the sensory experience. 

Beyond food, there are other cues which appeal to the sense of smell in the sensory experience.  Isn’t it interesting how a sense of history in original architecture is not only seen, but can also experienced in the distinctive smell of the building which can only be achieved over time.  

Given the contrast between architectural and natural settings in downtown, it’s great to experience the authentic fresh smell of grass, trees, floral landscaping and even the subtle fishy aroma of the river.

The Concentrated Experience

The intensity of the sensory experience of being in Downtown Naperville is largely achieved because the abudance of sensory elements which come together in a relatively concentrated area.  In other words, the individual need not venture far to capture the full range of inspiration which encompasses the Naperville Experience.  

Even more, these concentrated sensory experiences cater to all segments and age groups of residents and visitors alike.  Simply put, there is are special sensory experiences for everyone in Naperville, which is vital because in marketing the sense of “community”, you cannot ignore a single target audience.  With that said, even in Naperville, there is still room for improvement which will be addressed in an upcoming installment in my Naperville Unwrapped series.

The Economic Engine Behind the Naperville Experience

Clearly, it takes allot of money to build and maintain what Downtown Naperville is today.  Our community is truly endebted to the many visionary community and business leaders who have cultivated and continue to maintain modern-day Naperville.  In the oft referenced line from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come“.  Naperville is no exception.  Not only have visitors and residents arrived in mass to embrace the Naperville Experience, they have been willing to pay the growing premium of embracing this community.  The reason we pay the premium is to remain close to the intense sensory experience we receive in return, which translates into a positive state of contentment.  As result, attraction and affluence continues to grow.

At the same time, Naperville must remain keenly aware and sensitive to the rapidly growing price tag so that the community and experience don’t become so overpriced that accessibility to the experience becomes cost prohibitive.  While the business world has often drawn a myriad of comparisons to the Disney World experience over the years, I think one comparison to Naperville holds true.  It’s no mystery that the intense sensory experience of Disney World comes at a premium, at times to the detriment of Disney’s theme park business.  At the same time, over the years, Disney has been smart enough to create appealing options for all household income ranges.  From resort levels and dining options to vacation packages.  As a result, Disney has been able to maintain its universal appeal while at the same time commanding a reasonable premium for all household income levels.

The comparative implications for the Naperville Experience, which also carries universal appeal, is the fear that we might price ourselves out the market which Naperville depends upon.  From an appropriate mix of restaurant and retail offerings to commercial and residential property value and taxes, we need to keep the universal and unique appeal of the Naperville Experience alive by ensuring affordable options for all income levels, whether it be visitors, residents or business investment.  

While times of prosperity give rise to elevated economic opportunity, we must be careful to not raise the bar so high that we lose the authentic universal appeal with the masses which could disapper leaving us in a position of struggling to sustain the overhead when the natural ebb and flow cycles of our economy start to fluctuate.

What Businesses Can Learn from the Naperville Experience   

Simply put, any type of business can apply the principles of the Naperville Experience to build its own unique sensory experience which not only appeals to a target customer base but also contributes to the overall the experience of “community”, which is a win-win. 

I will be addressing this subject at greater depth in the coming weeks; however, for now I challenge business owners, entreprenuers and dreamers out there to think in terms of their business or business concept in exploring the potential for connecting with customers via their five senses in creating your own uniquely memorable experience.  Perhaps as a starting point you might begin exploring the following question:

Question

What is the ideal <<insert your business name or concept here>> experience I would like to create for my customer and my community?

Stay tuned for future installments of Naperville Unwrapped  The series will be archived under the Naperville Unwrapped category, which can be found on the righ-hand toolbar.  In the meantime, I strongly encourage comments and interactive participation in this series.  To comment, click below or feel free to send me an email at worldofnaperville@yahoo.com

Naperville Unwrapped

Today I’m pleased to announce the World of Naperville’s new Naperville Unwrapped category.   This category will uncover and examine not only the secrets behind Naperville’s successful rise to the top as one of the best places to live in America but, more importantly, will explore how our community can stay on top as oppposed to becoming a victim of it’s own success. 

From business leaders and business owners to community leaders to citizen activists and residents alike, Naperville Unwrapped  will provide a forum-based toolbox of insight, thought and ideas geared toward anyone wishing to benefit from a deeper understanding of the range of dynamics fueling Naperville’s present and future success.

My own love and passion of our community is simply a starting point for facilitating Naperville Unwrapped.  As a passionate marketing professional with a broad range of expertise in market research/strategy, consumer motivation/behavior, communications, public relations and politics, I’ve been able to approach my own understanding observation and analysis of Naperville’s community/business model over the past four years from the objective perspective of a non-native urban-to-suburban immigrant.

In a nutshell, I have the strongest of convictions in doing whatever I can to contribute to our community in helping Naperville continue to thrive and evolve as a world class community.  Great communities are built upon the conviction of those who humbly build upon the conviction and hard work of the visionary leaders of the past who have built what we enjoy, and sometimes take for granted, today.  I invite everyone out there to join in and participate in the coming days, weeks and months.

   

13th Annual Naperville Bluegrass Music Festival Shines

The 13th Annual Naperville Bluegrass Festival was held this weekend bringing in a crowd of nearly 2,500 bluegrass music lovers to our city to celebrate a cornerstone of American roots music.  Six national touring bands, the International Bluegrass Association’s entertainers of the year, the fiddle player of the year, several family groups and contemporary examples of modern Bluegrass joined together here in Naperville, yes Naperville, for the 13th year to engage in their passion for one of America’s greatest family-oriented art forms. 

Though I spent this beautiful day with my family in downtown Naperville, I did not hear one lick of a mandolin, no picking guitars, no lively fiddles playing, no rythmic upright bass keeping everyone in line.  As has been the case for each year since I’ve lived in Naperville, the 13 year tradition of the Naperville Bluegrass Festival could not be found in dowtown Naperville, not at Naper Settlement, nowhere near Pfeifer Hall, Central Park, Rotary Hill or even the free speech area.  That’s because this festival is held inside a hotel out by I-88.          

To the leaders of this community, I must say it is a travesty that this festival, with its proven track record of success in drawing a solid attendance which generates a quantifiable economic impact within our community, is allowed to be relegated to a hotel.

Regardless of the fact I’m a native of the Bluegrass State and have a bit of bluegrass music in my musician’s blood, this festival as well as the activity of area bluegrass musicians, artists and performers is invaluable for Naperville’s cultural arts offerings yet it breezes into town each year practically unnoticed with the exception of coverage in the Naperville Sun.

Now I am keenly aware what you might be thinking… the festival is run by Midwest Bluegrass Festivals and they determine where they will stage each of their festivals.  Even more, I imagine the festival planners might even be thrilled with the space they use for this festival given the fact it takes place at a time of the year in which the weather is unpredictable enabling them to hopefully at least break even or even make a few bucks for their efforts.  But does the festival have to take place in late March? 

Why couldn’t community leaders work with the planners in a partnership to bring the festival into downtown Naperville once the weather turns warmer and bigger crowds could turn out?  I could envision a festival spread throughout downtown with key venues such as the band shell at Central Park, Rotary Hill, Friedenhagen Park, Pfiefer Hall, eventually the new arts center and local music-friendly establishments.  At the same time, knowing bluegrass, impromptu jam sessions could take place along the Riverwalk, the free speech area and other key locations. 

In a nutshell, this festival could easily go from good to great for Naperville, the entire region and the festival planners if a deal could be reached to work together.  Perhaps Jan and Terry Lease, the festival producers, have taken it as far as they can go and simply need some help.  Most importantly, bluegrass music embodies everything that Naperville stands for as a world class pro-family community and this proven festival deserves a more appropriate Naperville stage. 

The festival producers have a website, www.bluegrassmidwest.com, and can be reached at info@bluegrassmidwest.com .  I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Jan or Terry Lease, but given their passion for bluegrass, I can assure they are well-intentioned people… such is the heart of the bluegrass music community. 

jan-and-terry-lease.JPG 

(the above picture was borrowed from www.bluegrassmidwest.com)

 To Jan and Terry… keep up the good work!  

         

Gemato’s Wood Pit BBQ Celebrates a Festival of World-Class Ribs in Naperville Year-Round

 

Anyone who has visited the World of Naperville has likely noticed that food is a recurring theme.  Given my southern roots, it’s no mystery that food has always been cause for family and friends to come together.  Even though the kitchen was perhaps the smallest room in my family home growing up, it was always where everyone inevitably ended up congregating. 

If you are among the seemingly hundred or so people who actually saw Cameron Crowe’s 2004 feature film “Elizabethtown”, starring Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst, there is a scene where Bloom’s character arrives into town and walks into his Aunt’s house only to find most everyone crowded into the kitchen as Paula Dean’s character cooks away on the stove while at the same time ably “holding court” with family and friends.  Aside from actually being from the “Elizabethtown” (or E-town as we like to call it) in which Crowe’s movie was based, I can vouch for the reality of what it was like to be in the house during that particular scene. 

Though my mother had a devotional talent for southern cooking, it was my father’s 16 hour slow wood pit smoked barbeque which continually won acclaim and drew others from miles around.  When I was a child, my father put his recipes to the task in opening his own restaurant simply called “The Barbeque Pit”.  The small building was purposefully built into a “bare bones” raw space designed to embody the spirit of simplistic barbeque shacks throughout the south.  The interior consisted of a bare concrete floor full of picnic tables, a lone potbelly stove and a tall counter which separated the seating area from the oversized pit smoker which was used to make volumes of slow smoked wonder. 

More powerful than the visual memories of the actual space was the unbelievable one-of-a-kind smell which would hit you just as soon as you walked through the door.  The aroma began with fresh chopped hickory which quickly gave way to the hint of smoke as the soaked wood slowly burned.  Next, you could detect the crisp richness of the slow perfection of the meat basting in its own juices.  Though
Kentucky is full of great barbeque shacks and restaurants, many of which I’ve visited over the years, none had come close to replicating the smell of my father’s Barbeque Pit… that was until I moved to Naperville. 

The first time I stepped foot into Gemato’s Wood Pit BBQ on Ogden Avenue almost four years ago, the aroma hit me like a ton of bricks.  It was as if my life clicked into reverse at hyper speed taking me all the way back to my childhood hanging out at my father’s restaurant after school.  The moment was all the more poetic given the fact I had lost my father to cancer just the year before.  Granted, Gemato’s has a far more elaborate variety of menu offerings than my father could have ever envisioned.  As a matter of fact, I had no idea what a gyro was nor could I even properly pronounce it prior to moving to the Chicago area.  However, that smell resulting from their exceptional ribs and other barbeque offerings quickly hit the mark with me.  Frequently when my brother and sister visit us in Naperville, we’ll make our pilgrimage over to Gemato’s to take in that memorable smell and then, of course, to order half the menu.  In the land of Ribfest, Gemato’s stands ready to offer unique world class ribs and barbeque all year round.  In the land of Chicago, they offer some of the best gyros as well.      

In my estimation, while Gemato’s has clearly found a good deal of success and a solid following in Naperville, it still seems to be somewhat of a quiet and underappreciated institution.  Gemato’s is a one-of-a-kind authentic treasure which stands out amongst a town full of different types/chains of restaurants and should be celebrated.  Even more, they seem to keep getting better.  In addition to an extreme interior makeover completed over the past couple of years, which I would characterize as a southwestern cavalcade of cowboy howdy, the quality of the barbeque seems to be intensifying.  I dropped by this evening to get some ribs to go and was overwhelmed by the richness and flavor of the wood smoked ribs topped off with the perfect amount of deliciously caramelized sauce which had fused with the ample meat falling off the bone. 

I’ve never formally met the owner or the staff regulars of Gemato’s aside from placing orders and salivating at the pick-up window awaiting my food, but I am in hopes this posting demonstrates the gratitude I have on many levels for the clear love they put into their food as well as that nostalgic aroma they have managed to replicate.

If you have never stepped foot into Gemato’s Wood Pit BBQ, I strongly encourage you to do so whether it be as a warm-up to Ribfest, an escape from the crowds during Ribfest, an encore after Ribfest or to curb the desperation you might feel during the cold months when it feels as though this could not possibly be the same town in which we melt in long lines awaiting our chance to order another rib sampler at Ribfest.  While you’re there, be sure to also try their generous gyros with, of course, lots of extra sauce.  Take an insider tip and ask them to grill the onions for you… you won’t be disappointed.

To learn more about Gemato’s Wood Pit BBQ, visit their website at www.gematosgrill.com or, better yet, visit them personally at the corner of Ogden Avenue and Jefferson.

NCTV Finally Streams into this Naperville Home

Without venturing to deeply into one of the many nuances we discovered within our Naperville home upon moving in, let it suffice to say there was good news and bad news regarding our crawl space.  The good news was the previous owner did a top notch job completely finishing the crawl space with drywall, flooring and recessed lighting.  It has sort of been like living in a sequel to “Being John Malkovich” especially during holiday preparations, the dreaded annual garage sale or simply fishing my children out of this pint-size wonderland.  The bad news, for whatever reason, is they drywalled over our immediate access to our cable TV box. 

 As a result, instead of punching dusty holes in our lovely crawl space drywall, we were forced to opt for satellite TV instead of cable.  It used to be that satellite subscribers complained because they did not recieve local network affiliate stations, but for this Naperville junkie, I’ve lamented for years not being able to access the top-notch local Naperville programming on NCTV 17.  Many a day I have flipped through the Naperville Sun, only to be taunted by the robust NCTV programming schedule teasing me like a bag of fresh caramel popcorn being packed on the other side of the glass at Naper Nuts and Sweets. 

To this day, as of this very moment, I have never had the opportunity to watch NCTV despite my regular angst-ridden review of the robust programming line-up. 

As I write this post I am in the process of downloading the latest free version of Real Player preparing to view NCTV for the very first time.  Over time, I’ve mentally assembled a number of genius plans designed to get me in front of a cable TV screen which would provide me with an e-ticket straight to NCTV 17.  I envisioned volunteering to house sit for friends who had local cable.  My father-in-law moved to Naperville and I thought my day had arrived; however, I ended up spending hours in a futile attempt to lobby against his decision to go the satellite route in lieu of cable.  Like many a teenager in the 1980s proclaiming “I want my MTV”, I’ve found myself borrowing that page in professing “I just want my NCTV”.    

The Real Player download just finished it’s dizzying trip through countless wizard menus and I should be clear for lift off in streaming NCTV content for the very first time.  Please stand by…..

……..Moments pass….. BLOG silence please……..

Okay, I’m now seeing NCTV Executive Director Liz Spencer talking to a doctor from Lakeside Family Practice about nutrition.  The picture quality is quite good as the player began streaming upon connecting with www.nctv17.com .  The show just ended and now Mayor Pradel is on the screen at what appears to be a ribbon cutting at 123 South Washington…. wait a minute, the connection just timed out for the second time… I quickly reconnected and now a show called “Wealth Watchers” is on. 

Alright, I could get sucked into watching the programming and forget I’m writing this post but I need to get back to the World of Naperville.  By the way, the connection just timed out for the third time… *reconnect*… it appears it is timing out every couple of minutes.  Perhaps some minor glitches to be worked out, but overall I am thrilled to be able to connect with NCTV and look forward to catching more programming from here on out. 

 nctv-world-of-naperville.JPG

Given the world of compositing technologies we live in, I couldn’t resist seeing if only for a mirage-induced moment what the World of Naperville might look like streaming on www.nctv17.com

Kudos to NCTV Executive Director Liz Spencer, her staff and ZEZAN Data Center for giving Napervillians the ability to access NCTV virtually anywere.  I noticed in the related article in Wednesday’s Naperville Sun plenty of references to connecting those who are outside Naperville or stuck somewhere in fifth DuPage dimension living somewhere between the always confusing “I’m a little bit Lisle and a little bit Naperville too”.  However, I must say there was no mention of perhaps the greatest barrier to NCTV which I have discussed here…. outsider satellite subscribers.

Again, you can access the brand new streaming NCTV at www.nctv17.com .  Happy streaming everyone!

Ted’s Montana Grill About To Stampede Down Jefferson Avenue in Naperville

4/24/07 Update:  Ted’s is now open.  See my review of Ted’s Montana Grill by clicking on the headline below.

 RESTAURANT REVIEW: Ted’s Montana Grill in Naperville a Stampede of Flavor and Value on Opening Night

Originally Posted 3/22/07 – Earlier today I was driving home through downtown Naperville and paused at the stop sign at the corner of Jefferson and Main Street.  For a moment, I could hear what I thought was the distant sound of rolling thunder beginning to drown out the sound of NPR’s “All Things Considered” on my radio.  The ominous roar summoned visions of a pack of bison stampeding toward me at a brisk clip from a distance. 

Quickly, I glanced over my left shoulder, trying to stay cool, peering down the west side of Jefferson Ave. toward Sharper Image, Lou Malnati’s and Anderson’s Bookstore, but to my relief I could see nothing.  Then, in a moment of trepidation I realized the sound seemed to be coming from the right side of my car.  In a cautious manner, I slowly began turning my head toward my right shoulder wincing as my line of sight turned down the east side of Jefferson Ave.  Suddenly, the sensation of shreeking violins straight out of a horror movie sounded in my head as I detected a rather large bison towering above the recently disclosed new restaurant front which now resides in the old Oswald Pharmacy building.  I breathed a quick sigh of relief as I realized the thundering stampede was, in fact, the simple sound of linger thunder from today’s scattered spring-like weather.

Like many of you, I have been anxiously anticipating the construction which had been going on in the old Oswald space, cloaked in secrecy for months.  Ted’s Montana Grill appears to be moving toward it’s opening and it’s nice to have another new storefront to add to downtown.  For anyone who might be wondering… “who’s Ted”(especially Jimmy Bergeron of Jimmy’s Grill who might want to keep tabs of whether or not the wait service decides to copy the t-shirt concept from Jimmy’s Gril and convert it to “I Know Ted”), the long-awaited answer would be none other than media tycoon and, evidently, acclaimed bison farmer, Ted Turner.   

In September 2006, Ted’s Montana Grill opened it’s 50th location in New York City’s Rockefeller Center.  With plenty of midwestern health conscious attention paid to it’s bison (aka buffalo) offerings,  Ted’s appears to offer a full line of “made fresh to order” steak, chicken, burgers, fried chicken, pulled pork and seafood items along with bar offerings at what may very well turn out to be moderate prices in downtown Naperville.

In my quest to further inform our fellow Napervillians of it’s newest restaurant experience, I went to visit Ted’s home page this evening.  Unfortunately, Ted’s webmaster appears to be out on the range tending to the Bison as the site is currently unavailable as of this posting.  Nonetheless, to provide some perspective, I visited a number of sites containing stories and reviews of Ted’s from all over the country and here’s a sampling:

 Atlanta, GA

“Burgers are made 20 different ways, from bison or beef, with steroid-free, fresh-ground meat. The bison Blue Creek burger topped with blue cheese, bacon and mushrooms is flavorful and juicy. The Vermejo brick-pressed chicken, marinated 24 hours, is similarly tender and tasty. The bison strip loin is more like thick roast beef than the prime rib to which it’s compared. A la carte hand-cut fries aren’t bad, but salt-and-pepper onion rings, lightly battered and greaseless, steal the show. Pass on the weak iceberg lettuce salad with bland dressing. For dessert, opt for a creamy strawberry shake.”  – Citysearch (Suzanne Wright)

Philadelphia, PA

“The menu and the servers will tell you there’s an on-site butcher at Ted’s. This isn’t that remarkable. Most good restaurants get their meats in large cuts, which they butcher down into entree portions. They’ll say no microwaves are used, and nothing is frozen but the ice cream. Everything is freshly made, fresh cut and fresh baked.”               – Philadelphia Weekly (Kirsten Henri)

Denver, CO

“If you’re one of those people who likes to be a bit adventurous or who just likes to try things you can’t easily get anywhere, I’d definitely suggest that you try the bison just so you can say you did!” -We8there.com (Teri Theuriet)

Naples, FL

“Unpretentious meals dad might grill…The entree menu is drawn along three lines: the casual (19 burgers and 16 sandwiches), the steaks and finally, the comfort food — what your mom might have made if she was a little more hip than June Cleaver. There’s bison meatloaf, beer can chicken and cedar plank salmon, all for around $15.”  NaplesNews.com (Jon)

Well there you have it… “Oh give me a home, where Ted’s buffalo roam, where a chain and our originals can stay…. where seldom is heard, the smokers’ discouraging words… and the crowds do not have to wait all through the day”. 

Word out on the range has it that Ted’s bison thunder into town on April 23rd.  www.tedsmontanagrill.com (the webmaster should be heading back to “the house” shortly)

Dining in Downtown Naperville

I often joke with friends and family that Naperville is constantly providing one less reason to necessitate a trip into Chicago for a great meal on the town.  The irony is many staple downtown Chicago restaurants also have mirror restaurants in Naperville. 

The current list includes, Catch 35, Rosebud, La Sorella de Francessca (Mia Francessca), Hugo’s Frog Bar (Gibson’s), Bar Louie, Timpano Italian Steakhouse, Mortons Steakhouse, Boston Blackies and Sullivans Steakhouse. 

Local originals include Tango (Argentinian), Jimmy’s Grill (American), Meson Sabika (Spanish/Tapas), Rizzos, The Lantern, Cafe Buonaro, City Club, Walkers Charhouse, Angeli’s Italian Ristorante, Tessa’s, Features Bar & Grill, Front Street Cantina, Raffis (Meditteranean), Quigley’s (Irish) and more.

Add to that chocolate, aromatic caramel corn, candy shops, ice cream, coffee shops, Italian beef and even a cookie dough parlor and Naperville becomes a food paradise.     

My goal is to provide restaurant reviews for many of these places through the eyes of a local as well as tips for enjoying the perfect evening out in Naperville.  Below is a starting point for my current reviews of local Naperville restaurants:

A Review of White Chocolate Grill… Naperville’s Newest Restaurant Addition in Freedom Commons 

Posted March 22, 2008 by

Macarena Tapas Boldly Pursuing “Hidden Gem” Status in Naperville

Posted February 10, 2008

Dinining in Naperville – Local Restaurant Recommendations from World of Naperville Readers

Posted January 12, 2008

My Vote for Best Sushi in Naperville – Kiku

Posted October 24, 2007

Boston Blackie’s Shows Promise Amidst the Confusion of Opening Night in Naperville

Posted September 5, 2007

Unexpected Visit to Walker’s Charhouse in Gartner Plaza Provides Pleasant Surprise and Alternative to Downtown Naperville Restaurant Scene

Posted August 6, 2007

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano a Hit… and a Miss in South Naperville

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

H.P. Schmaltz and Co. Provides Taste of NYC for Naperville

Monday, April 30th, 2007

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Ted’s Montana Grill in Naperville a Stampede of Flavor and Value on Opening Night

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

Naperville “Iron Chef” Meyermoto Takes on Mongolian Barbeque

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

Gemato’s Wood Pit BBQ Celebrates a Festival of World-Class Ribs in Naperville Year-Round

Sunday, March 25th, 2007

I’d Rather Be At Quigley’s Pub Drinking a Pint of Guinness

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

Naperville Really Is A Great “Catch” For Seafood

Saturday, March 17th, 2007