A Mara-velous Double Date!

by Jenn (eating bender) on October 2, 2011

The last time I saw Mara was back in June when the Traveling Pans took on Chicago neighborhoods. As if that weren’t long enough, the last time Mara and I had a proper multiple location, multiple city foodie date was way back in April 2009. Clearly, we were way overdue, and this weekend we set out to change that from A to Z: Apples to Yumz.

The biggest difference between 2009 and 2011? This year, we had our husbands in tow!

Bobby and I set off for the suburbs late Saturday morning. We met Mara and Adam at their house and then made our way to Woodstock Country Orchards for an apple picking bonanza.

The orchard was small and less commercialized, which was perfect for our double date. We passed a few others along the way that had hay rides, pumpkin patches and plenty of fun for kids. They were packed with families and seemed like great places to go in the future (and no, that does not mean I am suggesting something, haha). For now, the four of us were very happy with the quiet rows of apple trees…and Radio Flyer wagons!

We set out with our peck-sized bags and began walking among rows of this weekend’s ripest pickings: Jonathan, Melrose, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious and Empire.

It was an absolutely perfect fall day, and the trees were gorgeous. So lush and colorful!

Unfortunately, the orchard was fresh out of the beloved honeycrisp apples, but we still had a great time finding the best ones on the trees, and trying out each of the above varieties as we went.

Bobby was a big fan of the Melrose, which are supposed to be great for long-term storage.

Good thing, too, because a peck of apples is close to 11 pounds! We have a lot of eating and baking to do.

I have a feeling that apple pies, muffins and cupcakes (cough, Mara, cough) may be involved.

Once we had our fill of apple-y goodness, we made our way to Duke’s Alehouse & Kitchen.

This place was awesome! Their food is predominately local and sustainable, which would certainly make Mama Bender happy. 😉 Both the menu and website have information about the farmers who supply their produce, meat and more. Not to mention the fact that the items on the menu are creative and intriguing. Case in point: the soup of the day was butternut squash served with mini pancakes and maple syrup, while one of the sandwich specials, the “Barron Burger,” was bison topped with a grilled bison hot dog, American cheese and peanut butter on a pretzel bun. Can you imagine?

The four of us started out by splitting a large flatbread pizza. It was called the Chorizo and Goat Cheese, and was served with fire-roasted tomatillo salsa and grilled peppers.

Oh my, this was incredible! The chorizo had a slightly spicy kick to it, and the goat cheese was all around fantastic, both creamy and full of flavor. The pizza was made with a whole wheat crust, and we quickly devoured all the pieces!

For my entrée, I chose the Slagel Farms BBQ Pork Shoulder Sandwich, which was topped with their house-smoked cheddar cheese and served on a toasted pretzel roll with sweet potato fries.

I had half of the sandwich and saved the other half to enjoy again later. The BBQ flavor was the perfect balance of smoky and sweet. The fries, on the other hand, were impossible not to demolish all at once. So salty, so delicious, so craving them again as I write this post. 😉

Once our bellies were satisfied with the savory, it was time to embrace the sweet. Mara directed us to Yumz, a self-serve gourmet frozen yogurt shop.

There were a plethora of flavor options – peanut butter, red velvet, cookies and cream, peppermint. You name it! We sampled a few of the options while perusing the instructions on the wall.

Ultimately, Mara and I both decided to go with the strawberry and cake batter twist. Yes, the combination was as fantastic as it sounds! I topped mine with real strawberries, brownie and cheesecake bites. Did I mention we were in the mood for something sweet?

Bobby and I shared and both agreed that it was one of the best fro yo places we’ve visited to date. He liked it because it had less of the tart yogurt feel of a Red Mango or Yogen Früz, though I argue that’s the best part about each of those locations. 😉 Either way, we both thought this was another hit and wonderful recommendation from Mara, the best foodie date tour guide I know. Also, I may or may not have wanted to steal find out where their decor was from.

Aren’t those chairs awesome?! Their lighting was super eclectic, too. (Photo courtesy of Mara.)

We had such a great time on our double date! It was by far the best way to spend a fall afternoon!

Unfortunately, my Wildcats did not have quite as successful of a Saturday with their heartbreaking last-minute loss to Illinois. Hopefully the Packers can end the football weekend on a high note.

What has been the highlight of your weekend?


1 Michelle (Peachy Palate) October 2, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Some amazing photos! Quick question….do you use flash when taking pictures of food in restaurants or in the kitchen at night?? Just got my little pocket digital back and pictures are just coming out grey!

2 Jenn (eating bender) October 2, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Great question! The short answer is that I basically never use my camera flash. During the day, this is easy enough because a lot of the light is natural and coming in from the windows. At night, it gets tricky, but I either find a source of artificial light that is strong enough to keep the photos in focus or honestly, don’t take the pictures at all. There have been many situations where I scrap pictures because it’s simply too dim in the restaurant and everything comes out blurry. Never fun, but that’s just an example of how far I go to avoid using flash. 😉 I hope that helps!

3 Melissa @ TryingToHeal October 2, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Ah, what fun with Mara and the hubs! I cant’ wait to go apple picking with Whit this year!

And I LOVE the idea of that restaurant and their local and sustainable mission! So awesome!

4 Erica October 2, 2011 at 5:04 pm

SO jealous of your apple picking! That is the one thing the South is lacking….Hope you enjoy all that fresh goodness. And the meal afterwards looks perfect. Especially those sweet tato fries

5 broccolihut October 2, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Apple picking? Gourmet fro-yo? yes, please!!

6 Alyse October 2, 2011 at 11:23 pm

Wow the picture of those radio flyer wagons took me back! What a fun double date…and what delicious, apple-inspired baking you have in store!

7 withasideofhope October 3, 2011 at 7:23 am

Apple picking looks like so much fun! I’m hoping to go sometime this week :)

8 Megan (Braise The Roof) October 3, 2011 at 10:08 am

I haven’t made it apple picking yet and I really want to before all the trees are picked clean! Did you happen to gauge whether they had any more weekends left in them? PS, they opened a Pinkberry right down the street from me- dangerous!

9 Foodie (Fab and Delicious Food) October 3, 2011 at 10:21 am

Cute pictures! I love apple picking! Looks like everyone had a great time!

10 shannon October 3, 2011 at 3:43 pm

only 11lbs of apples? I’ve picked 40lb so far this year 😉 haha, but i have shared a bunch! clearly i need to start whipping up some treats…

11 Rose October 3, 2011 at 6:50 pm

What an awesome double date idea. Love you ladies!

12 janiek October 4, 2011 at 4:11 am

Oehh i love those chairs!

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