14 Great Midwest Places to Eat, Play and Stay This Fall
Hot off the minds of travel writers across the region: your definitive guide on where to play, eat, drink and stay as the temperature lowers.
Eat & Drink
Pennyroyal Cafe and Provisions Saugatuck, Michigan
Butcher Melissa Corey, winner of the Food Network's Chopped competition, is making the west Michigan coast even more tantalizing. In spring 2019, the esteemed Chicago chef opened Pennyroyal Cafe and Provisions on 2 acres just an hour's drive from the summer camp she loved as a kid.
Her partners in culinary crime are Ryan Beck, a farmer and garden designer, and pastry chef Bryan Kemp. The food plays on nostalgia and "the magic of eating something when it's perfectly ripe," Melissa says. Almost everything served or sold is local, including fresh produce and flowers from Melissa and Ryan's farm (they are also life partners) in nearby Fennville.
After sampling dishes like duck confit sandwiches with cherry mostarda or corn muffins topped with mascarpone and candied bacon, be sure to browse the take-home goods (hence the "provisions") in Pennyroyal's white barn. It serves triple duty as farm stand, event space and home base for classes in cheese making and butchery.
Pots and Pans Bake Shop Indianapolis
A line often stretches out the door at Pots and Pans bake shop-and a parade of smiles files out, as customers tote home sweet and savory pies in flavors like Apple Crumble, Pineapple Passion Fruit, Biscuits and Gravy, or Beef and Mushroom. Sometimes, people don't even make it home, settling in on the benches outside with a warm slice.
"Usually when you have pie, you're sharing," says owner Clarissa Morley, who got her start at farmers markets and opened her tiny storefront in Indy's hip Meridian-Kessler neighborhood late last year. Hearty pot pies (including a popular vegan option called The Rogue) make up half the business; fall's sweet top sellers include Maple Pecan, Caramel Pumpkin, Sugar Crème Brûlée and Sweet Potato Toasted Marshmallow.
A master of the 'gram, Clarissa stokes pie appetites across the city and beyond with mouthwatering posts of daily specials and behind-the-scenes kitchen fun. One trend that she's noticed: Snow days unleash a craving for her comfort food. "People want to snuggle up on the couches with their pies," she says. "We've learned to be ready for them."
And pie isn't the only lure. Pots and Pans sells potted succulents from Clarissa's parents' wholesale greenhouse. Her bottled cold-brew coffee is a cult fave. And once per month, Burger Club members can show up in the evening for locally sourced grilled beef, served with the works on freshly baked buns.
Ethereal Confections Woodstock, Illinois
When Ethereal Confections says made from scratch, they're talking artisan chocolate bars, breads, pastries, syrups and even bitters for cocktails. You can buy many of the treats online, but driving to Woodstock from-well, just about anywhere-is worth every mile. A new cafe, 100-person events space and chocolate production facility fill up a 10,000-square-foot building on the town square. The spot, scheduled to open late August, marks Ethereal Confections' third move to a bigger place in eight years.
More space means more farm-to-table dishes like grain bowls, featuring microgreens and fried shallots, and wine and chocolate flights. There's even a speakeasy in the basement.
Sara Miller and Mary Ervin launched Ethereal in 2011. They recruited Mary's brother, Michael Ervin, to build a wholesale branch and explore a bean-to-bar biz model that involves farm visits overseas. "When we tried to buy equipment, the manufacturers would say, ‘How many tons a day do you want to roast?' And we would say, ‘Zero tons a day,'" Michael says. He tinkered with lentil grinders and bread proofers until he got the method right. To taste just how right he got it, try one of the dark chocolate Inclusion Bars featuring blueberry, almonds and lavender, or pistachios, cranberries and sea salt. All the chocolate is dairy- and gluten-free.
Ruby Coffee Stevens Point, Wisconsin
For years, Ruby Coffee didn't have a storefront serving the daily brew, and yet the mail-order business climbed the ranks among the nation's best coffee roasters, earning accolades from GQ and Thrillist. But in May, owner Jared Linzmeier fulfilled a longtime dream and opened a cafe in Stevens Point, where fans can enjoy locally sourced foods like buckwheat crepes, quiche and maple sausage, along with the famous coffee, served drip or pour-over. There's also a shop to buy gear like mugs and shirts, plus, of course, freshly roasted beans for brewing at home.
Jared learned about roasting on the West Coast. In 2013, he moved back into his childhood home in Wisconsin, started the operation in his garage and named it in honor of his grandma. His roasting facility in nearby Nelsonville is open to the public on weekends for tours and has a tasting room, but the spacious new restaurant makes it a lot easier for people to discover his coffee. And, if you stop in for breakfast or lunch, you might even spot 90-year-old Ruby Szitta sitting at a table, proudly sipping a cup of her grandson's brew.
Indiana Caverns Family Adventure Park Corydon, Indiana
The new Bat Chaser at Indiana Caverns Family Adventure Park feels like hang gliding, ziplining and roller-coaster riding, all at the same time. Your job is to hang in a sling-style harness that descends from a 50-foot tower along a twisting track through the treetops.
Back on ground level, kids can pan for gemstones Old West-style in a wooden trough. And subterranean steel walkways take explorers 100-plus feet down to the park's namesake: a network of big limestone passages (Indiana's longest cave system) that you can visit by tour boat. A caving package available by reservation includes a lighted hard hat so the extra-adventurous can climb, crawl and kayak through an undeveloped portion into the pitch-black darkness.
Heartland International Film Festival Indianapolis
Indiana's longest-running film festival has exploded into an 11-day celebration with 300 screenings, 200-plus rising filmmakers from around the world and, often, some serious star power. Guests at the Heartland International Film Festival have included Robert Downey Jr., Jessica Biel, Rob Reiner and Robert Duvall.
Show up for screenings of more than 100 documentary and narrative features, plus the winning short films from the Indy Shorts International Film Festival. Parties, panels and Q&A sessions fill out the days, with a Filmmakers' Brunch to close the festival. In 2019, the popcorn starts popping on October 10.
Milwaukee Ballet Milwaukee
The 50th anniversary season for the esteemed Milwaukee Ballet opens October 17, 2019, with a reprisal of the company's first full-length production, the lighthearted Coppélia.
What's new behind the scenes: completion of the 52,000-square-foot Baumgartner Center for Dance. The main company and the dancers of next-gen Milwaukee Ballet II (plus hundreds of Milwaukee Ballet School and Academy students) rehearse here. And for the public, the space also includes a 190-seat performance studio that hosts more intimate breakout sessions with smaller audiences.
The center will host the ballet's free programs for public school students (more than 200 participate every year) and kids working to overcome physical challenges in a joint program with the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. Main performances will remain at the Marcus Performing Arts Center and The Pabst Theater.
The Big Bounce America Elk Grove Village, Illinois and Indianapolis
When the world's biggest bounce house rolls into town, even adults get a time slot. Run, climb and crawl through ninja warrior-like features for up to three hours at The Big Bounce America. A DJ drops beats to inspire your air-time.
New this year: The Giant obstacle course, plus airSPACE, a five-person-wide race slide. Afterward, chill among floating aliens and celestial spheres.
Designated sessions cater to young kids, teens and adults at the 10,000-square-foot play place. For the first two weekends in September, get your bounce on at Busse Lake Boating Center in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. The fun moves next to Waterman's Family Farm in Indianapolis for the third and fourth weekends of the month.
Ragdale Lake Forest, Illinois
Toast the season with the well-costumed spirits of residents past at an old-money estate on Chicago's North Shore. At the Ragdale artists' retreat, the annual Rags to Witches preview cocktail party (October 18, 2019) gets all the points for setting. Trees line the drive to an 1897 country house and historic barn on the 5-acre property that architect Howard Van Doren Shaw once called home. On October 20 this year, costumed characters roam the grounds on stilts while kids search for candy in an imaginary pet cemetery. Inside, artists host creative play stations where kids can make creepy crafts, record scary sound effects and take selfies with giant animal heads.
There's no rough at Topgolf. In fact, there's nothing rough at all about a place where you can sit back in a weather-protected bay, take turns hitting microchipped balls onto huge targets in the turf, and toast your success with margaritas, martinis and good food.
The concept launched in London in 2000. Since spreading to the United States, it just keeps expanding. Chicago has two monster complexes and a third in the works; Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Detroit, St. Louis and Columbus, Ohio, have one apiece.
Swing Suite, Topgolf's compact cousin, offers eating and drinking bays with simulated targets on a big screen. You'll find them in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Bixbee Imagination Station Chicago, Illinois
For an Insta-worthy shopping experience, point the family SUV toward Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. Through September 22, 2019, you can dive into a pop-up fantasyland of interactive rooms inspired by kiddie brand Bixbee, whose backpacks and lunch boxes come with names like Sparkalicious Butterflyer and Shark Camo. At Bixbee Imagination Station, kids and parents tour immersive rooms inspired by whimsical designs. We're talking dinos eating pizza, floors that emulate the bottom of the ocean and a huge taco for you to climb inside.
Tickets run $23 for adults and $15 for kids. A percentage of sales supports education for kids in the Chicago area. And Bixbee's buy-one-give-one model remains the same. Each backpack purchase provides a bag filled with school supplies for a child in need somewhere in the world.
Break Room Therapy Byron Center, Michigan
Spare the office copy machine, or the car that just cut you off at 70 mph or the Road Closed sign that made you late picking up the pooch from doggie day care (again). At Break Room Therapy, unleash your anger on printers, old radios and glass breakables in a safe space. The friendly staff will even give you the hammer to use. Pay for a 25-minute session and choose from a variety of items, including TVs, dishes and computer monitors. Or bring your own objects for a discounted price.
The Whittaker Inn West Lafayette, Indiana
Built from the ground up, The Whittaker Inn sports contemporary-mod design on the inside and Midwest farmhouse on the outside, plus 25 acres of fall color.
Elizabeth and Andrew Whittaker, both Purdue Hospitality grads, made their careers in East Coast restaurants and hotels before returning to western Indiana to open their dream property this spring. Meet them at check-in.
Andrew, who doubles as head chef, makes breakfast daily and plans to roll out weekday happy hour tapas in September. Elizabeth's mom, Pam, bakes treats like Double Crizzle Caramel Pecan cookies for night kitchens on both floors.
Nobu Hotel Chicago Chicago
From taxi driver to boxer and mafia boss, Robert De Niro is now playing hotel owner. The not-so-fictional role comes to life in a few months with the opening of De Niro's Nobu Hotel Chicago. The actor launched the swanky project along with fellow actor-producer Meir Teper and their longtime friend, famed Los Angels chef Nobu Matsuhisa.
In the Nobu restaurant, look for dishes like Jalapeno and Black Cod Miso. Head to the sushi bar for creative bites and sips, or to the rooftop terrace above the booming West Loop neighborhood. Signature Nobu platform beds and yoga mats await in Japanese-inspired rooms.