Tuesday, November 15, 2011

CHICAGO'S NORTH SHORE: Evanston, IL


Sure, I’m a sucker for adventure.  I’m entertained by the shiny new thing (translation: iPad) and an exotic flavor of cupcake (bacon?), but my visit to Evanston reminded me I’ve been remiss in my praise of the basic.

Basic is good.  Basic is dependable.  Basic is very much a necessity in our topsy-turvy too-complicated world.

Evanston feels basic to me, mostly because I spent my college years there.  No coed can afford to be much of a foodie--the fact that has built Ramen noodles’ success for most of my adult life.  No, my Evanston gastric memories are of the good ol’ comfort kind:  pasta from Dave’s Italian Kitchen and Buffalo Joe’s burgers--exquisite not in their novelty, but their flawless execution of life’s beloved staples.

This is true of today’s local yarn shop:

CloseKnit
531 Davis St. 
Evanston, IL 60201
847-328-6760

You’d drive past it if it weren’t for the clever little piece of yarn-bombing on the tree out front. A sturdy little storefront moved over last May from its former location.  While it has a depth of stock that would do any establishment proud--two walls of floor-to-ceiling yarn--it’s not a show-off of a store.  “I want customers to see the yarn, and I want them to find a yarn to suit whatever project they have in mind” owner Lucie Sinkler says, declaring that she’s arranged everything with the practical needs of her customer in mind.

I was particularly impressed with her class philosophy.  CloseKnit’s classes are essentially “group therapy”--arranged by schedule rather than skill or project.  You sign up and get whatever help you need on whatever you want to be working on, period.  No competition with the gal next to you working on the same mittens, no “who got to row 20 first or who did a better job on their cables”--just helpful camaraderie between a group of knitters who are each pursuing their own goals.  I love that thoughtful, practical distinction.

You might find the newest trend here, but you’ll more likely find a good quality fiber at a good price.  There’s a lot to be said for that kind of no-nonsense focus.  Here are some projects to peek at:


Our Knit Along from CloseKnit is the Davis Street Shawl.  It fits the store:  a quality basic designed to get lots of use.  Done up in two balls of any fuzzy worsted weight yarn, this smaller-sized shawl can go over the shoulders or double around as a cowl.  Not a big fan of picot bind-offs, I was delighted to know this pattern works the border into each row rather than throw the full weight of a complicated finish at you once you’re done.

Another of Lucie’s patterns, the Doggie Button Baby Sweater, again takes a basic garter stitch and pairs two Regia wool blends (1 ball of the longer variegation color change and 2 balls of the short variegation color change) for a bit of snazzy style.  Of course, nothing’s stopping you from adapting it to a Kitty Button Baby Sweater, or Chicky, or even Panda for that matter.  I'll never tell.

My personal favorite of the basic-yet-versatile projects was the En Pointe Pullover from the Spring 2011 edition of Interweave Knits.  Four balls of Cascade Kid Seta Noir lace-weight mohair knit up to a drapey, billowy dream of comfort.



Need something a bit smaller?  Head straight for the Pippa Hat accented with Fluribunda Flower Accent from Sublime #656.  It takes two balls of Sublime Lustrous Extra Fine Merino DK and sports a lot of style.  Pair it with another two balls to make the Furla Scarf, and you’ll weather Chicago’s killer winter in warm and spiffy style.


Personally, I always like to follow a good yarn shopping experience with a good cupcake.  And lucky for you, I know just the place:


Tiny Dog Cupcake
616 Davis Street
Evanston, IL 60201
847-563-8680
www.tinydogcupcake.com


I seriously regret that I was not here on a Saturday or Sunday morning to try out the Famous Cupcake Brunch with must-sample flavors like maple bacon and “cupttatas” (which is what happens when a cupcake and a frittata get together) in flavors like spinach and cheese.  Throw in free coffee and wifi and I can’t imagine a better way to start a weekend day.


Cupcakes know no such bounds, however, and I sampled several on my weekday afternoon visit.  I loved that the cupcakes came in regular, “big dog,” and “tiny” sizes perfect for tasting multiple flavors.  The chocolate silk is as good as it sounds, but the lemon was outstanding (yes, really, I loved a non-chocolate flavor!).  The salty caramel was good, too, but the first two were my favorites.  Add some really fine coffee to round out the experience...and like most cupcake joints, this is a very fun place to people-watch.


In addition to my two fave eating establishments mentioned earlier, there are two other Evanston institutions not to be missed:


Blind Faith Cafe
525 Dempster St
Evanston, IL 60201
847-328-6875


Even before healthy food was in style, Blind Faith Cafe was showing us how we ought to be eating.  This is no place to choke down nutrition...everything I’ve ever had here was delicious.  Vegetarians and those who favor gluten-free (no meat on this menu, kiddos) have been flocking to this place since I was...well, a lot younger than I am now, and there’s a reason for Blind Faith’s long, strong reputation.  I saw many online raves for the French Toast Flambe (my remembered fave), and I don’t know why I’m always shocked at the outstanding deserts--maybe because I associate delicious with “bad for you.”  Nope, everything about this place is good for you. Michael Pollan would eat here---and probably has. Hey, if even the carnivores are raving when they consent to eat here, you know it’s worth a visit.


When’s the last time you found yourself in a really good fabric store?  If for you it’s been years (like it has been for me), you owe yourself a trip to:


Vogue Fabrics
718-732 Main Street
Evanston, Illinois 60202
847-864-9600


Long the go-to haunt for costume construction from my theater-major days, Vogue is probably one of the last great brick-and-mortar fabric stores around.  Evanston is their flagship store, and you could easily kill and entire day wandering their stock to touch and feel all the fabric-y goodness.  I can’t shop for yarn and fabric on the internet--I’ve got to TOUCH the stuff, and this place is perfect for tactile shoppers like me.  I love their slogan:  “Enabling Fabraholics since 1945.”  They even offer group tours!  The remnant room was always my favorite hangout...some true bargains to be had in there.


There you have it...a fiber-filled frolic on Chicago’s North Shore.  Old home week for me, new adventures for you!


Up next, we tackle the lovely, lacy shawl from Highland Park's Mia Bella.
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