Low-brow foodie heaven, and the best day ever

There are few things better than for-no-good-reason days off. Kristine and I are fortunate enough to have leave time to spare, and decided to take a day trip to the northern reaches of Chicagoland. A little retail therapy at IKEA and Mitsuwa seemed in order.

And on the way down, my lovely and brilliant wife asked if we needed to look for a Chick-fil-A while we were in the Chicago area. (Chick-fil-A doesn't get any closer to Wisconsin, and neither of us had ever experienced the phenomenon.) With Swedish meatballs and Japanese candy already on the menu, this was looking like a pretty solid outing.

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We hit IKEA at about 10:30, and wouldn't you know it? The restaurant is on the third floor, exactly where we started our shopping. Meatballs for me, mac and cheese for her, and I'm kind of blissing out. I don't think IKEA meatballs are a guilty pleasure, exactly, but they are definitely buffet-style junk food. Still, a great combination of sweet and savory.

A bag full of goodies later, we disembarked from the blue mothership and consulted the internet for the closest Chick-fil-A. Turns out, it's right down the road from IKEA. "I don't care if I just ate, I'm eating again," said the discerning food critic.

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The reason this location of Chick-fil-A, while appearing on the company website, didn't show up on Google Maps is that it just opened on September 15. As a result, those red-and-blue flashing lights and cops directing traffic weren't so much there for accident recovery as they were for crowd control. Yes, there were two lanes of drive-thru and both were packed. The pedestrian line poured out the door. (Shades of SONIC's debut in the Madison area.)

Nevertheless, we managed to get into the line, and in short order, two chicken sandwiches were ours. Finally, I have perspective on what Wendy's and McDonald's are taking on with their less-processed chicken breast sandwiches. These things actually tasted, looked, and felt like chicken. Good chicken, not dry, stringy chicken. I'm ready for a Wisconsin location, thank you.

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It turns out that Schaumburg has become a little slice of low-brow foodie heaven, because IKEA, Chick-fil-A, and the all-in-one Japanese market Mitsuwa are in a line, more or less--like an Orion's Belt of "I really shouldn't eat like this".

Our radar at Mitsuwa is still tuned primarily to the candy and sweets section. This used to be true because we were in over our heads with the rest of the grocery offerings (unless our Japanese friend Emily was there to guide us). It's still true now, but not because of culture shock. It's because we know we can get most of Mitsuwa's core offerings at markets in Madison. So we're magnetically drawn to the candy that we can't find anywhere but the internet.

With three packages of HI-CHEW in our pockets (actually two HI-CHEW and one Kanro), we made a quick exit from the bustling Mitsuwa. This, along with a stop at the slightly absurd but irresistible Belvidere Oasis, would have been a pretty good day. A great day, even.

But then we got back to Madison. And, after a few errands, we discovered the best part.

[EDIT: Holy crap. I was in such a hurry to finish this post before the delivery guy got here, I completely forgot about the bag of meat! For a mere $35, I made two pounds of locally-produced charcuterie my very own, thanks to the Underground Food Collective. Stay tuned for another 2-pound meat CSA offering next month. Can't tell you how jazzed I am about the nduja. Now, on to the thrilling climax!]

The skimpy, crowded bit of Sprecher Road that runs under the Interstate, that's been under construction forever and will be forever--that's a nightmare to navigate in the winter--has finally been remedied. In an email a few months ago, I told our alder (council president Lauren Cnare) that what I really wanted was a temporary blacktop lane to spread traffic out. Just a little loop off to the other side of the support columns, to give people some breathing room.

And now it's there.

LOOK, MADISON, AT WHAT I HAVE DONE FOR YOU.

I'm serious, this is the best day ever. I'm gonna go eat some more candy.