(Author’s Note : This post has absolutely nothing to do with the Chicago Blackhawks)
With Bears camp finally and officially open, you, the Bears fan, could be making the trek down I-57 to Kankakee. Sure, maybe you’ve been to Bears camp before. You know about the Culver’s, the world’s best Buffalo Wild Wings and the really cool, old-school Jimmy John’s right off the Olivet Nazerine campus. Heck, I thought I hard a firm grip on all there was to see and do in Bourbonnais. Brother, was I wrong.
Friday morning, as I opened up my Facebook account for the first time, I noticed a lengthy note from my old college pal Bill Yohnka. Bill and I were at Lewis University in Romeoville at the same time in the late ’90s-early ’00s and had kept in touch a little bit over the years. These days, Bill is the Economic Development Director for the city of Kankakee. In his post, Bill laid out some of the quirkier and more interesting spots to see and visit while in Kankakee.
So, here it is right from the horse’s mouth :
1. Tiny Tap
235 S West Ave. #1, Kankakee
This is the best “sports bar” in Kankakee County, and it doesn’t even have to try. The walls aren’t covered flat screens or contrived, cute memorablilia, but the stools at “Tiny” are occupied are genuine sports fans and characters. People may not know how to use a smartphone but are trained in the ways people chatted before anyone cared about being “Re-Tweeted.”
Look for: A small man that wears authentic German lederhosen. He once won an award for the worst euchre game in Kankakee history. The plaque is on the wall at “Tiny” … if you find him, he will point it out.
2. Sauce Buns at Jaenicke’s Drive-in
605 Armour Road, Bourbonnais
They will make you a Chicago Style dog, but you might get a funny look. The classic item is Red Hots featuring a secret bean-free chili sauce and steamed buns. But then they take it one step further: The Sauce Bun. The sauce bun is just what it sounds like, the locally famous sauce with no hotdog. Oh, we know that we are essentially buying an empty hot dog bun. We don’t care. The history of the Sauce Bun is shrouded in secrecy. Did they run out of franks? Was someone allergic? Was it a joke to see if anyone would buy a hotdog-less hotdog? We may never know.
Look for: Amazing chalk art by business co-owner Justin Irps as you place your order.
3. Blue’s Café
1190 W Station St., Kankakee
At Blue’s Café, it is perfectly okay to order your pie first. Regulars at blues Café know that you don’t want to chance it your favorite pie may not be available when you finish your meal. All the pies are made fresh locally each morning. The food at Blue’s is very good and reasonably priced, even if it is sometimes lost in the shadow of amazing pie.
Look for: A seat at the counter and be ready for an impromptu Kankakee area history, culture and politics education.
4. Kankakee County Speedway
213 W 4000S Road, Kankakee
If you think it is loud at Soldier Field on 4th and goal, it still really doesn’t compare with the earthshaking rumble of the Kankakee County Speedway. This isn’t the corporate world of NASCAR or some super sophisticated road racing sports car event. No, but it is high-tech, high-horsepower and high-intensity dirt track racing. Friday night racing returns on Friday, Aug. 8 after the Kankakee County Fair concludes.
Look for: What? … I didn’t hear you. Oh, ear protection … Yes, look for ear plugs because it will be loud. Also, look for some NASCAR stars to stop in Kankakee to compete but it is rare for them to top the local racers.
On July 25 and the 26, downtown Kankakee comes alive with more than 35 bands on four different stages over the two days. The event is entirely free and entirely eclectic. Shock G of Digital Underground, famous for “the Humpty Dance” and Matthew Sweet are two of the headliners, but the event will include plenty of blues, jam bands, a dance battle and even a jug band. Find out more at merchantStreetMusicFest.com.
Look for: Craft beers featuring Brickstone varieties.
6. Acting Out Theatre
200 N Washington Ave. #1i, Bradley
On July 25 – 27, the Acting Out Theatre Company will present a special outdoor presentation of “Les Miserables” on the banks of the Kankakee River at the Shapiro Developmental Center (100 E Jeffery St, Kankakee). This ambitious outdoor theater company will be staging a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” next summer in it’s natural habitat — a junkyard.
Look for: Some amazing set details built to match the historic architecture of the site.
7. Twin Gazebo #1
199 S. East Ave., Kankakee
Back in 1999, the Kankakee area was rated the worst place in America to live by the places rated almanac. To add to the insult, David Letterman decided it would be funny to donate twin gazebos to the community as a tourism book for the future. The gazebos are still here. One is at Depot Park in downtown Kankakee, the site of Merchant Street MusicFest.
Look for: Quality craftsmanship, though I doubt you will find it in these prefabricated gazebos.
8. Twin Gazebo #2
Intersection of Cobb Boulevard and Wildwood Avenue, Kankakee
The second gazebo is near the banks of the Kankakee River at Cobb Park. This park is ideal for tennis (featuring lighted courts), walking, jogging, frisbee and visiting a small, underwhelming but slightly famous gazebo.
Look for: Someone with a boat. This is a great part of the Kankakee River for boating, sking and fishing.
9. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bradley House
701 S Harrison Ave., Kankakee
The original of Wright’s Prairie Style creations was built in 1900 on the banks of the Kankakee River. There is some controversy. Wright also designed homes in Highland Park, Illinois. They also make the claim being the first. The home has been carefully restored and is now open to the public for tours and events.
Look for: Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architectural features in the other historic homes of the Riverview historic district.
Schuyler Avenue, Kankakee