Knowing I am always out on the hunt for good local fare, some friends of mine were told about a place in Payson we just “had to visit,” and so, naturally, they scooped Kim and me up and off we went for a short drive south to Payson.
I could tell where we were going as soon as we rounded the curve past the school complexes. The lines of parked cars going two blocks in all directions told me everything I needed to know. We had arrived at Blue Skys, the restaurant opened by the Noble family in the formerly abandoned Payson bank building.
If you haven’t been to Payson in a while, this place will certainly surprise you. Bank on the outside, crisp, clean-lined restaurant inside, decorated with a wonderful collection of vintage firefighting equipment and memorabilia. If you are a firefighting buff, that alone should get you moving toward Payson.
The real reason for going, however, should be the food. My friends and I wanted to provide you with an accurate sampling of things, so we tried half the menu, literally, and here are our findings.
We tried several appetizers first — the usual pub fare for hungry men, of course. Fried cheese curds, mozzarella sticks and mushrooms. All three were delicious, but you can find those just about anywhere.
For the dinners, we went in on fried chicken, the Friday fish, and a pair of horseshoes. If you are a lover of horseshoes, this place is definitely for you. The standard horseshoe at Blue Skys weighs in at almost 2 pounds, and every bit of it is well done and flavorful. The fish was great, the fried chicken better, and we discovered one item we all want to go back for: the pan fries.
I know, I know. Home fries are breakfast food. Not here. Massive chunks of steak fry-sized fresh potatoes seared crispy on one side and perfectly done all the way through, mixed with tomato and peppers. These were, without a doubt, the best home fries I have ever had in my life. They were a meal on their own, and one I want to return again for. If you have to have one thing on the menu and can’t quite settle down on what appeals to you, build your meal around the pan fries.
Wait, there’s more. We forgot to mention dessert. Four, yes, four different hand-made pies were ours to choose from. After all we ate, dessert was almost out of the question, but Tori, our wonderful and spot-on waitress, wouldn’t stand for us to say no, so we relented. I would describe them for you, but I want you to visit for yourself.
Head south from Quincy to Payson, and you will find Blue Skys at the corner of Main and Illinois 96, right on the park. Tori or any one of the other excellent staff will take care of you, and you will leave stuffed and happy.
This semester has been an odd one for me. To say that I have been up to my chin in homework, almost to the point of being overwhelmed, is probably an understatement. One class, however, has been interesting.
I am one of the lucky 11 this semester. By being lucky, of course, I mean that I saved for two years to be part of the delegation of students who is going to spend two weeks of the Christmas break in England and France, deepening my understanding of two cultures very different yet very similar to ours.
As part of this class, I have had to learn to understand and appreciate British culture a lot more than I did, mostly so that I don’t go abroad and play the all-too-expected role of “the dumb American” who is devoid of knowledge about the rest of the world. Lucky for me that my grandmother came to the United States from England in 1952, and she is still alive to guide me along.
For one assignment, a cultural comparison, I picked cricket. To most Americans, including me, this sport can be baffling. Wait a minute! Right now all of my loyal readers are saying to themselves: “Greg is not a sports fan.” This, however, is not the case. What I am not, definitely not, is a Cardinals fan. Now before you go plotting against me, try to remember that I was raised my entire life by a dyed-in-the-wool Cubs fan grandfather, and in my rebellious years, I loved one baseball player: Carlton Fisk, the heavyset, baseball-clobbering catcher of the Chicago White Sox. My allegiance will always fall in the direction of Chicago when it comes to baseball, and I stick to it.
Because of this assignment I have gained a new appreciation for a sport that is also played in America, but will never likely be as popular as baseball: cricket. It has all the elements of sports Americans do like, but we just can’t seem to grasp how it works. To top it off, my new favorite player is Michael Carberry, pictured above. One of the best players in the game, Carberry was a steelworker two years ago. He was encouraged by friends to try out for Team England, and now he is one of the best players on earth. In baseball, most potential players never get a chance like he was given. You can’t walk on at spring training in this country, no matter how talented you might be.
Want to see this sport I am so newly thrilled about? Hop on the ESPN Willows channel and watch a game. Once you do you will understand, and you will contact me and help me build a team right here in Quincy. I spoke to the head of the amateur league in St. Louis, and he told me that all 12 of their teams will be happy to come up and teach us how to play.
It feels really good to be back in Quincy. I spent last weekend on yet another service mission for Quincy University. No exotic location this time. We went to East St. Louis. I probably don’t need to explain to you much more. The name of the city should be enough. I was very lucky to go with some
After returning from there, I quickly thought of a list of things for us to be thankful for, and for all of us to run out and visit here in town.
No. 1: Grocery stores
This one seems odd, doesn’t it? We have seven dedicated grocery stores in Quincy, although my personal favorite is the Harrison Hyvee (many of you have no doubt spotted me there, regularly, every Friday evening), they all have good things to offer. East St. Louis does not have a grocery store. Not a single one.
No. 2: Parks
This seems like another no-brainer. We have lots of them and they are beautiful, functional and safe. I love the overlook at the river end of Chestnut Street, and I could spend days on end at Quinsippi Island just looking around. East St. Louis doesn’t have any that are safe to visit. The closest thing I saw to a park was the playground at a homeless children’s shelter.
No. 3: Low prices
What? I know I don’t usually talk about money. This time, however, I have to refer to the consumer price index, the measurement achieved by averaging the price of basic staples for existing, like bread, and milk, and so on. Quincy falls in the average range by my count. In East St. Louis, milk starts at $8.13 per gallon. Even our average home prices are astounding, but East St. Louis may actually have us beat. Since one out of every nine homes is abandoned and up for grabs to the lowest bidder, prices are extraordinarily low.
No. 4: Crime
We all know the big problem we have in Quincy, and we know that the police are cracking down on it constantly, waging what seems to be a never-ending battle with the stuff. In East St. Louis they have the same problem, but that is not the biggest one. In East St. Louis, one out of every 225 people in the population will die by homicide this year. We definitely do not have that problem.
I came home with a profound appreciation for all things good about Quincy. If you don’t feel the same way, step outside and look around. We are living in paradise here!
It is that time again. I predict we have about three weeks at most before the leaves all turn. This means that it is time to plan those great fall color runs, camera and art supplies in hand, around the area. I wanted to suggest two places not too far away where you might find some concentrated color to stare at and enjoy. Both of these destinations are close to Quincy and close to one another, making for one good day of fun sightseeing. They are also free to visit,
so your only expenses will be gas and food, unless you plan ahead and pack a basket lunch.
Head northwest out of Quincy on U.S. Highway 24, aiming for the scenic town of Rushville, and make sure to enjoy the scenery along the way. Once in Rushville, hop on U.S. Highway 136 and head east toward the Illinois River. Once you reach the split where the highway connects to Illinois Highway 97/78, you are almost there. At this junction there are two signs, and you have two choices of places to go. You can choose either direction, but I recommend turning left, and follow the sign pointing you to:
Destination Number 1: Dickson Mounds.
Situated on top of a once-massive population center of the Mississippian People, Dickson Mounds is a historic site dedicated to early Illinois archaeology. Although the archaeological museum and its famous collection are indeed interesting, as are some of the turn-of-the-century buildings on the property, they are not the main attraction. Bring your camera and long range lens, or binoculars, and yourself, and head to the top floor where the museum tour begins. Once there, head for one destination: the observation deck. Once you are out on the deck you are about to look out across Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge, a massive marshland surrounded by hills and trees. You can see for the better part of twenty miles in three directions.
If you brought lunch with you, Dickson Mounds is the place to have it. If you didn’t, save up your appetite and continue on to:
Destination Number 2: Lincoln’s New Salem.
To get to New Salem, leave Dickson Mounds and head back south to the 136 junction and follow the signs for Illinois Highway 97. You will cross the Illinois River and pass through beautiful downtown Havana, Illinois on the way, then snake down Illinois Highway 97 through the Spoon River delta plain to Petersburg. If you would like to go antiquing or grab a quick bite, the historic square at Petersburg has some great places to offer you. Once you are through Petersburg, keep an eye out for the entrance to Lincoln’s New Salem State Park on the right hand side of the highway. It’s easy to spot. First you pass a sawmill, then a derelict keel boat, and then there is a gigantic bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln on horseback marking the entrance. Drive up hill until you reach the parking lot and find a nice spot to park. Once parked, you have two things to do. First, change out lenses if you brought a short lens along, and second, if you skipped lunch, grab something to eat at the Lincoln League store, located next to the parking lot. Everything is inexpensive and all of the proceeds go for keeping up the historic site. I recommend the horseshoe sandwich.
Once you are ready, head into the park and prepare to be amazed. You will be transported back to 1832, when Abraham Lincoln was just getting started on his own. Log cabins abound in this recreated village, and all of them are nestled deep inside the forest land of the state park. Modern fixtures like streetlights and obvious garbage cans are missing, the road is graveled instead of blacktop, and everything will be “rustic” wood color with a vibrant, leafy background.
Go wild with your camera. If you want a group photo, any of the park interpreters will be glad to help you as well.
Once you are done, you can either head back the way you came, or take the easy way, following the highway south to Springfield for a quick trip back on the interstate. If you do return the way you came, keep a clear eye out for deer, because they abound in this area and never seem to stray far from the roadways.
Enjoy yourself, and share some of your fall photos with us here at the Local Q.
It’s midterm season at Quincy University, and to be honest, I am overwhelmed. For the first time since coming to Quincy I can honestly say that. In the past two months, I have been awake at 6:00 AM and going to sleep at 2:30 AM because of homework assignments and other work. I am tired, worn out, and, well, my brain is getting full.
Fortunately, the midterm examinations signal a time to go blow off steam with my good friends, most of whom are firearms enthusiasts. Outside of Quincy,
of course, guns are not welcomed much. In my hometown, only the bad guys seemed to have them. Here, they provide stress relief, and after midterms, stress relief will be in order.
For my friends and I, the spot for stress relief is Cannon Dam, just south of Monroe City, Mo. At the east base of the dam is one of the best-kept public ranges I have ever been to. We coordinate times and all bring some ammo and our favorite pieces. On the way out, of course, we all co-op on lunch materials, and we try to encourage people who have never shot before to come out and learn safely with us. It is a real treat to live in a community where outdoors sports are so encouraged and enjoyed by so many people.
What does this amount to? A weekend where our study guides become paper targets, we get to laugh, relax safely, skip drinking parties, and blow off some steam with good food and in good company. It is a great time. I am really glad we have so many places around Quincy for this kind of activity. Between the boat clubs, the trap ranges, and the state ranges across the river, there is no shortage of places to go, people to meet, and fun to be had. Join me on the second week of October if you like. That will be the date, and you know the place.
The big challenge, of course, will be to come up with an interesting, challenging menu to impress my friends. This is the third year, my friends have high standards for quality food and they enjoy a wide variety, so I will really have to be on my game.
We’ve reached the end of summer and looking forward to all the good features of the fall season: hunting, leaves changing color, and so on. The unfortunate thing about fall is that for many, it signals the end of the summer grilling season, and that is no good! If you have a spot to grill that will keep
you going all winter, I have a suggestion or two for things to keep that summer flavor going and introduce some healthy options to your grilling repertoire!
Most people who know how to grill well can usually tackle most meat varieties. A skilled griller can also nail down fish and vegetables, since they go so well with grilling. There is one other forgotten addition to the grill menu few people do, or do well: Fruit. I know, it sounds odd, but I hope you will be adventurous and follow my suggestions below:
I know, this one seems obvious. Pineapple goes well with almost anything you pair it up with. This classic island favorite is usually thrown into kebabs, but that’s it. Try grilling some pineapple rings and serving them on top of hamburgers next time.
This fruit is normally found dehydrated in Quincy, broken into chunks and thrown into trail mix. If you get it fresh, you can add a great Hawaiian flavor to hotdogs and Polish sausages. Slice mango horizontally and throw it on the grill for a few minutes to get a decent sear, but not wilt and burn. After you pull the slices off, throw on the links and put your mango into a food processor or blender with a tablespoon of yellow mustard and some diced onion. Once the dogs are done, serve on a bun with the fresh relish you have just created. In Hawaii, this is called a Puka-dog.
Starfruit, Grapefruit, Lemon and Lime.
All the sour fruits, right? They are until you add fire. Slice any one of these traditionally sour fruits in half, or the case of star fruit, in several horizontal slices, and let them grill, cut side down. The smoke from the grill will infuse flavor into the fruit, and the heat causes a reaction with the sugars contained naturally in the fruit, producing sweet flavor. Sweet lemon, you say? Once done, squeeze over grilled fish or pork.
Grilled watermelon? Yes, but tricky. Here’s how to do this one: slice your watermelon into one-inch slices, then remove the rinds. If you grill the rinds they impart an awful flavor into the fruit. Cut the watermelon remaining into squares or circles, and cut a spoon-depth divot on one side. Grill the divot side first until it has a good sear, then flip. Add a decent-sized dollop of Feta or another sharp cheese, then grill until the down side is seared and the cheese as has started to melt. Serve as an appetizer.
I was leaving my job the other day at QU, and as I walked out the door, I happened upon some old brochures titled “Quincy Folklore.” I guess the vintage greeting card images on the covers were too much to resist, so I grabbed them up. Old ghost stories are always fun to read and laugh about, after all. Once, on a drive up north in Jo Daviess County, Kim and I stopped at an abandoned house for some photographs and heard the sound of a piano playing, even
though there were no people around for miles. I am up for another good scare like the one I had that day.
I need your help, however, with a good translation. If you are an expert at local haunts and ghost stories, can you help me find these places?
The trouble I am having is that the locations listed in the brochures are rather vague. When one says “a house at the intersection of 12th and Kentucky,” that could mean four possible spots to go looking for ghosts. Because I haven’t tracked down all the exact locations, I thought I would share a few with you in case you wanted to go looking for ghosts. Halloween is just around the corner, after all, so it is time for a good scaring!
Number 1: The Commandant’s Quarters at the Illinois Soldier’s Home. Located between the power plant and the petting zoo as I understand it, witnesses allegedly saw the ghost of a soldier entering and leaving the house.
Number 2: The Confederate House. Located at the intersection of 2nd and Vermont streets, this home allegedly sheltered rebel sympathizers during the American Civil War, and children living in the house in the 1880s reported seeing a ghostly figure resembling the devil there. The home’s nickname at the time was “the old rebel house,” so no doubt the exact spot is on file at the Adams County Historical Society.
Number 3: Burton Cave. I really want to go to this one. This cave, located “four miles east of Quincy,” was the location where, in the 1880s, picnickers visiting the cave saw two different apparitions during the onset of a thunderstorm. I want to visit this place the most, but I have no idea where Burton Cave is, or if it is gone, where it once was.
Number 4: The old Madison School location at 26th and Maine streets. Allegedly this plot was originally occupied by a home wherein a murder took place, and unexplained troubles still occur in the vicinity.
Have you been to any of these places? Had any odd experiences elsewhere in Quincy? Share them so I can go and have myself a good, “old-fashioned” scare.
I promise this is not another plug for a fraternal club or a campus organization. I have done that too many times already. This post is about our schools here in Quincy.
As many of you know, I am a history/secondary education major at QU. This semester, unlike the last few, I am in deep at schools in the area. I am lucky this year because I get to spend time at two public and two private schools to experience observation and interaction. I can’t really say which ones because that
is against the rules. Ask your kids. If I am in their class, they will tell you.
One thing I have observed going from school to school is the level of community involvement. Schools in Quincy are not a proverbial babysitting service, but centers of life for our youth and many parents. If you are not aware of this, it is high time to pitch in: volunteer at a Quincy school.
You can contact the school district headquarters or the individual schools. Consider volunteering for one day. That is the challenge. Give one day this year to volunteering at one school here in Quincy. One suggestion, however: do not volunteer at your child’s school.
Seems like an odd request, doesn’t it? Here’s why I suggest going elsewhere: your kids are already in good hands. I can say honestly from my experience that the kids in the Quincy schools are in some of the best teaching hands I have ever seen. We should all be proud of the strong caliber of teachers here in town. They are well-educated, personable, knowledgeable and excellent people to teach your children. Give your kids a break and go volunteer some time at a different school.
If you stand as a crossing guard for one day, you will be affected by the kids you meet for the rest of your life.
As parents and grownups, we often complain that we just don’t connect to or understand young people today. Why not get some direct contact in and see if you can gain some insight? You will be amazed at how rewarding it is to pitch in at any of our schools.
The other day I set out with a carload of friends for a barbecue contest. Unfortunately, things there were nowhere close to what I expected.
As it turns out, this proved be a real bonus for me.
Since we found no food and were famished, my friends and I set out to try a place I had heard rumors about, and we were all pleasantly surprised. We took
the 20-minute drive down to Hull, in rural, river-side Pike County, and had dinner at the Schoolhouse Café, a small restaurant in the converted cafeteria of the old West Pike Elementary.
If you have never met Lisa Smith, you are missing out. Lisa left Pike County some years ago to serve in the U.S. Navy and then returned to find her former school boarded up. This was not OK for Lisa. Using her business savvy and applying a lot of elbow grease, she purchased and re-opened the school building. Now it serves as a community center. A quick visit and you will find Red Hats meeting there, dance lessons, a fitness center and music lessons by appointment. If you live in Quincy these things may not matter to you, but they do for the community of Hull.
What should matter to you, however, is the food. As I said, my friends and I were famished, so we strode in and ordered, literally, everything on the dinner menu. Since it was Friday, the fish fry was the special, complemented by cheeseburgers and fries. We bought the equivalent of dinner for six people.
Comfort food was the order of the day, nothing fancy. Everything was served fresh and hot by Lisa’s daughter Lauren, who managed, somehow, not to laugh at us as we dug in like animals. The fish had been hand-battered and fried to order, the burger was cooked to a perfect “chef’s medium” and the fries were hot. Here’s the best part: Our entire meal cost about $30 bucks!
Now it is your turn. Take a trip to Hull. Bring a $10 bill, and don’t go on Saturdays, the only day the Schoolhouse Café is closed. The hours vary by day, so look them up on Facebook or give a call before you head down. Don’t forget to watch for deer on the road, too.
Ask for the special, and don’t be picky because you will like whatever is served.
One of the key elements uniting many advanced food cultures in the world is cheese. There are literally thousands of varieties produced in more than 60 countries. I have often lamented the lack here of the international cuisine I was used to back home, but one way I have learned to compensate is with cheese, meat, and wine. Those three items, all of which can be enjoyed interchangeably, are present here in Quincy.
Virtually every store that sells produce in the area has a variety of cheeses. Some are locally produced, like the Mark Twain brand from Missouri. Others are regional favorites like my old standby, Shullsburg, which is produced in southern Wisconsin not far from my hometown. Unfortunately for us, unless we personally know a cheese maker, we are cut off from unpasteurized cheeses in the United States because they are considered an unsafe food item. The rest
of the civilized world has no qualms about eating unpasteurized cheese, and they are lucky to have the privilege, as I hear those are the absolute best.
If you are seeking a food adventure that could be daring, exploring cheeses and the appropriate sides is a good way to go. You can literally take a world tour right here in Quincy if you select carefully. There are a few tips that you most know before you take your journey.
First, avoid those nifty snack stick/cheese combinations. Those are food murder. Instead, considering pairing your cheese selections with an appropriate meat and beverage. There are dozens of online guides for how to do this, and you can also visit my friends up at Spirit Knob Winery, who will be happy to help you. If you don’t like wine, don’t rule out beers and other drinks, either. A sharp cheddar pairs very well with a stout or dark lager.
Second, check the dates. Each one of those little cheese wedges you see at the store were cut from a block mold or a cheese wheel. Once a cheese wheel has been cut open and exposed to air, the bacterial growth process that created the cheese stops, changing the taste and putting a permanent date on freshness. At most stores, you can ask for a fresh cut from an unopened wheel. This will guarantee you a chance to get the amount and freshness you want.
Third and finally, be adventurous. Don’t let a name or a color scare you. Stilton is green because it is made with sage. Bleu cheeses contain veins of the mold that created them. They are still safe to eat, or they wouldn’t be in the store in the first place. Finally, once you open the cheese, ignore the aroma. One unique characteristic of cheese is that the aroma and the taste often do not match. If what you select is a “stinky cheese,” consider plugging your nose so you taste first, smell second.
Go on a cheese-tasting world tour and then share your results with us. If there is a brand or variety I have not tried, your opinion will steer me in the right direction