Champaign, Illinois (WCIA)
Food, entertainment and rock & roll in Joliet
By Marcia Frost
Chicagoland is full of cities that offer activities you wouldn’t expect, but you would be very surprised to find out just how unexpected it is in Joliet, Illinois.
It all started with an invitation to the very first Illinois Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee. It was postponed to 2020 due to the pandemic and rescheduled for 2021.
It’s no secret that many great artists hail from Illinois, so the idea of ââstarting the induction and opening a tribute museum was a no-brainer for President / Founder Ron Romero. The non-profit museum, which will be in downtown Joliet on Route 66, has yet to officially open, but previews show it already has musical treasures from Cheap Trick, Train and REO Speedwagon.
Cheap Trick and REO were two of the inaugural class members at this year’s induction ceremony, which also included Chicago, Cheap Trick, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Dick Biondi, Larry Lujack, WLS Radio – AM, Ides of March, The Buckinghams, and chess records.
The Covid situation prevented some of the artists who were initially planning to come in person, but there was no shortage of musical talent on stage. REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin, the Ides of March, The Buckinghams and blues legend John Primer attended the event. Others, including Rick Nielsen for Cheap Trick and The Chicago Members, accepted their accolades via video.
The event took place at the Rialto Square Theater. This beautiful and historic venue is open again and offers a full program including shows such as Hocus Pocus and Swan Lake, as well as performances by Melissa Etheridge and Kevin James.
The museum and the Rialto are just two of the attractions to bring you to Joliet.
Our first stop on the first day was at the old Joliet prison, which opened in 1858 as a maximum security penitentiary and was closed to prisoners in 2002. A selection of tours are offered here, from self-catering guided to the haunted historical tour. (Check website for dates, times and prices.)
Some of these places should be familiar to those who have seen the movie Blues Brothers, part of which was filmed here. The architecture of this prison reminded me more of a castle in Europe than a prison. In fact, the same architect who designed the water tower in Chicago was responsible for its creation.
We learned during our tour that this is more than a correctional facility. This prison was at the dawn of the civil rights movement and a model for a lot of what should and should not be done in our country’s justice system.
Tours take you inside the prison compound, which includes cells, a school, and a church. They are planning special Halloween activities across the street in what used to be the Women’s Prison and will be Joliet’s Old Haunted Jail in October.
Our next stop was for lunch at Chevre Latin CafÃ© in downtown Joliet. It was an unusual menu and we had a delicious meal of rice bowls with plantains and Venezuelan empanadas, which are made with corn flour instead of just flour. Even the latte, with a fresh cinnamon cookie, was special.
Right next to Chevre is Cheesecakes by James. We must have sampled my favorite dessert and we have not regretted it. It was a real rich and creamy New York style cheesecake with graham cracker crumbs. We shared a slice of cherry and a slice of turtle.
The last stop of the afternoon was at Bishop Hill Winery for a tasting. Their selection is almost entirely made up of red wines, with grapes from California.
Joliet has plenty of hotels to stay at and we spent the night at Harrah’s Joliet. The grand hotel and casino is a few blocks from the city center for easy access to restaurants, museums and the Rialto Theater. We didn’t have a chance to try The Reserve steakhouse, but had some delicious wraps and lattes at the Cross Street Grill.
We started our second day with breakfast at the Joliet Route 66 Diner. It offers a friendly atmosphere and a large menu, with an emphasis on the breakfast you might want. It was an easy decision for me as they actually had something called âMarcia’s Platterâ: potatoes, onions, peppers, mushrooms, Swiss and American cheeses, with two eggs on top.
No one seemed to know who Marcia was, but she tasted great!
Before leaving the city, we explored the historical museum of the Joliet region. It shows the history of the region as well as Route 66, from its points in Chicagoland through the Midwest and California. The museum also offers tours and programs throughout the year.
For even more things to see, do, eat and drink in Joliet, visit their official tourism website.
Do you have specific questions about where to go or how to plan?
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Also, don’t forget to check out my travel stories on my Wine And Spirits Travel blog.