Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hometown visit: DOWNERS GROVE, ILLINOIS



If the yarn fairy were to come down and ask me for my heart’s desire, it would be for a yarnstore/coffeebar. Okay, maybe that and a spot on the New York Times bestseller list. Or to personally audition Daniel Craig to play the lead in the blockbuster Hollywood adaptation of my latest novel. Wait, I’d wish for the chance to interview Mr. Craig about playing the lead from my bestseller over coffee in a yarn store. You don’t want to squander an opportunity with the yarn fairy on anything small, after all.

While I’m not holding my breath for anyone with lace-weight mohair fairy wings to come fluttering down and grant me all that, Knitche comes pretty darn close. And Downers Grove is one of those charming little towns the midwest is supposed to be known for. Not so big that you can’t find parking, not so small that you can’t find a decent latte.

The nice part about featuring a yarnstore/coffeebar is that there is no question where to go first. You don’t need to go in search of caffeine to boost up your yarn energy--it’s all right here. Down to the gotta-try-it confections they sell to go along with your coffee. Eastcoasters (or those who aren’t anymore) will love the whoopie pies because it tastes remarkably like the Drakes Cakes Ding-Dongs and Ring-Dings, and Yodels we loved as kids. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just ask for one and it won’t matter. Yummy is a universal language. As such, stop one is unquestionably:

Knitche
5150 Main Street
Downers Grove, IL 60515-5073
852-5648
www.knitche.com

This store achieves a great balance of just the right size with a deep, diverse inventory. It’s not so big as to overwhelm or feel impersonal, but the yarn and staff are inventive and ecclectic. Owner Kathy Ticho loves to push the limits on all kinds of things, and her exploratory nature pervades the store’s atmosphere. You’ll find everything from lush guilty pleasures ("yes, I know I paid that much for that tiny ball, thank you very much.") to classic starter-friendly acrylics. Kathy’s yearn to travel brings in yarns from all over the world. Where else are you going to hear about not only the knitting merits, but environmental merits of possum yarn? From someone who’s actually been there? A stylish gal herself, Kathy brings in cool accessories like jewelry and baubles as well as a wallet-seducing selection of Offhand Design’s stunner bags (personally, I’m dying to own the Switch Clutch holder for interchangeable needles). This store understands the full sensory experience we’re all seeking when we buy yarn. Music, scents, food, texture, color, atmosphere--they all blend beautifully in this establishment. Classes cover crochet and knitting for those of you who cross over to the single-needle side (I don’t!), and are driven by both technique and project. This is the place I go to expand my skill-set--and not just because they make a killer skim mocha.

Our Knit Along from Knitche embodies the store’s take-it-a-step-farther philosophy in the Mystery Pattern Neck Comforter, where Kathy has devised a clever calculation that actually seeks out color-pooling in a hand died yarn. It’s like a music theory class for yarn. You feel smarter just for having attempted it. Um...as soon as I actually comprehend it, I’ll pass it along.

If you want a reason to visit the store often and love a challenge, go for Amimono’s Amber Vest in Isager’s alpaca and wool. Knit with four strands held together and with a propensity for shall we say “assumptive” pattern directions, this one is best attempted with supervision. And the folks at Knitche are eager to give it. A good project for when the teens come home from college, when they’re demolishing the kitchen, or anytime you need an excuse to spend lots of time away from home.



Or for a real challenge, try the Amimono's charming coral top can be either a tunic or a short dress, depending on where you hit the finished length, how petite you are, and whether or not it’s wise for you to wear anything above the knee (you know who you are--or you should). It knits up nicely in Classic Elite’s Firefly, but this adventure requires supervision, too.




And I can’t leave without addressing aforementioned possum yarn. How can any adventurous knitter pass up possum socks? Wendy Johnson, of Wendy Knits fame, has a toe-up Ribbed Ribbons sock pattern makes the most of Zealana Kauri Sport’s incredible softness and lush color.


After you’ve spent the morning feeding your yarn appetite, you won’t need to go far to tend to your stomach. Wander one door south to

The Cellar Door
5150 A Main St
Downers Grove, IL 60515
(630) 241-2030

They have all kinds of wonderful stuff, but what you want--what you NEED--is the BLT panini. Trust me on this. This was hands-down the best BLT I’ve had in my life. Ever. The hickory smoked bacon from Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams was so extraordinary I bought some to take home and everyone in my family made sounds of pure joy as they ate it. Managing Partner Alex Shamsuddin is friendly and eager to explain why you love what you’re currently eating or drinking. I know next to nothing about wine, and I like that he didn’t make me feel ignorant.

Duly fortified, now begin your adventure up and down one of Illinois’ classic and charming Main Streets.

Captain Dano’s
Main Street Pizza Cafe

5124 Main Street
Downers Grove, IL 60515
968-1515
captaindanos.com

Should you, like I did, have a non-foodie in your midst, opt for the universal appeal of by-the-sice pizza available here. This place is exactly what you’d expect; good food, decently priced, on plastic trays with fountain drinks. Anyone under 20 (and lots of people over 20) will find something on the eclectic menu of diner standards.



Next Stop:
Happy Dog Barkery

5118 Main Street
Downers Grove, IL 60515
512-0822
www.happydogbarkery.com

If there’s a four-legged epicurean in your life, or even a four-legged fashionista, Happy Dog Barkery has what you need. Or just what you want. Every year our little diva gets a new leash and collar ensemble from this store for Christmas. And the peanut butter cookies they make on-site. Treats, toys, and all kinds of canine-loving products can be found at this friendly store.




Anderson's Bookshop
5112 Main St
Downers Grove, IL 60515
963-2665
www.andersonsbookshop.com

Yes, you knew I’d tout an independent bookstore, and this is one of the region’s best. Not only a thoughtful selection of reading material, but a really wonderful selection of children’s toys. If you’re fed up to your earlobes with the kiddos playing electronic do-dads, this place offers plenty of creative alternatives. The store hosts loads of great author events, so check the calendar and you may be in for an interpersonal treat when you visit. You’ve heard me say it before: buy a book, save an author. Go and do likewise!

We’re veering away from the usual afternoon coffee fix (since we’ve already javafied at Knitche) to do tea. Yes, you heard me, tea. You’ve got two distinct options at your fingertips here. If you want to go old school, wander around the corner from Anderson’s to the out-of-a-picture-book:

Pinecone Cottage Tea House
1029 Burlington Avenue
Downers Grove, IL 60515-4609
963-9130
www.pineconecottageteahouse.com

Warning, you’ll need a reservation here. They’re open Wednesday through Sunday and offer the whole tea experience done up the way you’d expect; tea sandwiches and delicate deserts in delightfully frilly servings. I like that this place doesn’t just center on the tea, it’s more like a whole meal experience. They’ll even stock up a picnic basket for you if you’ve an alfresco adventure in mind. They change the menu monthly so you could easily make this place a habit.

Too impulsive or just like things more modern? Cross the street and wander into:



Bello Tea
5111 Main Street
Downers Grove, IL 60515
(630) 445-1200
www.BelloTea.com

If you like your tea more on the hip and clever side, or if you’re a fan of bubble tea (something I could never really get into by my daughter loves), this is your spot. Artisan tea has just recently come into its own, and this new addition to the Downers Grove landscape is riding this trend with creativity and quality. I had a really good Earl Grey latte (yes, you heard me right), but some of the other tea names had me curious. I ask you; could you leave a tea called “Gunpowder” untasted?



The day’s sugar fix:
Louisa & Millie’s Chocolates
5129 Main Street
Downers Grove, IL 60515-4602
515-1630
www.lmchocolates.com

Too many chocolate shops have gone the way of the land line telephone, but I’m glad this one is here to stay. Calling this a candy store is an understatement, although your young’un will find something to satiate her sweet tooth here while you satisfy your own taste for dark chocolate turtles. This is a good spot for shower gifts, teacher gifts, and that sort of thing, but it’s also a great place to pick up a quarter pound of whatever makes your tastebuds happy. The frosted oreos alone could make the world a better place.




The shopping fix:
Consider it Done
5133 Main Street
Downers Grove, IL 60515
(630) 964-7194


You know those stores where you end up yelping “So-and-So’s just got to have this!” and “Wouldn’t So-and-So just die for that?” This is one of those clever gift stores that it bound to have something you can’t find anywhere else. It’s as much entertainment as shopping. If you don’t end up giggling at least once in here, check your pulse.

If you’d prefer more artsy than cheeky, turn the corner at Curtiss Street to :

Gallery’s Choice
1014 Curtiss Street
Downers Grove, IL 60515-4710
969-5660
www.galleryschoice.com

Artisan’s works from all over the area, as well as classes on a variety of topics, make this store a mixed media adventure. Art glass to jewelry to fiber arts, this place will leave you feeling like you need to go create something--and show you how. I loved the age range of students here--just goes to show you universal art can be when we remember to turn off the television set and step away from the keyboard.

Good toy stores are hard to find. One of my favorites just happens to be:
My Favorite Toy Store
5137 Main St
Downers Grove, IL 60515
(630) 493-1400
www.myfavoritetoystore.com

If you can’t remember what makes a two year old happy or you just want something that doesn’t plug into a console, the friendly staff here are eager to make recommendations. This is where our well-worn household copy of Apples to Apples came from, not to mention the age-old standard Left-Center-Right that has seen us through countless hours of waiting for food at restaurants.




You’ve just made a loop up and down Downer’s Grove’s main street. Stand at the entrance of Knitche and you’ll see several dinner options should you wish to end your day with a meal. If the weather’s fine and it’s too early to contemplate dinner, follow Kathy’s advice and head to Barth Pond at Patriots Park for a little late afternoon alfresco knitting.

There you have it--my perfect local knitting adventures. Next up, we’ll test Kathy’s fiber formula and pool colors on purpose in her Mystery Neck Warmer pattern.
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