Saturday, April 18, 2015

Steve and Mary E., Named Best Acoustic Duo 2015

Steve Champagne and Mary E. Rapier-LaLuna aka as Steve and Mary E., were recently named as "Best Acoustic Duo" by the Kankakee Area Music Awards. Chosen for their rich harmonies, classic acoustic vibe, and contribution to the music scene of the Kankakee County Area.
Steve and Mary E. performed for a sold-out crowd of over 500 people April 10, 2015 at the beautiful historic Majestic Theatre in downtown Kankakee Illinois. They were among many other industrious musicians from as far away as Taipei Taiwan to celebrate the roots, stems and branches of the musical tree from Kankakee.
Their 10 or so minute set included: Norwegian Wood, (Beatles' cover) an original wrote by Mary E., and arranged by Steve, titled "Laughin' or Drunk Dial" a sweet reminiscent song, in the vein of country, dedicated to all the little sisters in the house, the Dusty Springfield classic, "Am I the Same Girl" and the Little Rascal's hit, "How Can I Be Sure."
Although Steve and Mary E.,  were honored by Mary's hometown of Kankakee, they now call Michigan City home. One might say that anywhere they plant and sing, is home to them. Music is home! You can discover more about their music by visiting them on Reverbnation, where they have maintained a leading position for some time. Some of the local places that you may have caught a glimpse or listen to the dynamic duo is:

  • Ryan's Irish Pub- Michigan City
  • The Pickle and Turnip- Michigan City
  • Riverside Market - Michigan City
  • Michigan City Farmer's Market - Michigan City
  • Off the Vine - Momence Illinois
  • The Gallery Cabaret - Chicago Illinois
  • The Elbow Room - Chicago Illinois 
  • Illinois Making Strides event - Orland Park Illinois
  • and many other private events and venues. 

Ooo-La-La, Maxine's Restaurant & GastroBar a Little Francois on the North Shore

Maxine's Restaurant and Bar, located at 521 Franklin St., in uptown Michigan City, successfully captures the ambiance and flair of a cafe on a tucked away street in Paris. Recently, I took members of my family to the restaurant for a late Saturday evening supper. Now, this was not my first visit,being a local and all, but, it was the first full-meal experience. We were delightfully  met by the restaurant Dining Room manager, who cheerfully remembered me from the time before. (Even remembered that I am a radio show host and intend on having Maxine's as a featured guest!) It was close to a year ago that I visited Maxine's with a friend. We enjoyed a simple salad, soup and a small plate. It was delightful, but, the full-on dining experience would have to wait to a later date and believe me it was spectacular!

The menu boasts traditional French cuisine, with a blending of North American favorites. Let's call it French fusion. We kicked it off with a couple cocktails as it was close to impossible to settle on an entree for the evening. The selection was outstanding. So wonderful that it made the choice close to impossible. The custom made cocktails were very tasty and had a wonderful boutique flair to it. I chose the spiced pear martini, which was chosen off of their specialty martini menu. It was indeed special. The featured appetizer for the evening was a Yellowtail Tuna-cake with Sirachi aioli, pictured below and borrowed off of Maxine's Facebook page.
It was the perfect beginner. My dining companions enjoyed a crock of the signature French onion soup. Unlike many French onion soup creations, this was cooked perfectly with the perfect consistency and quantity of onions present. The broth was rich, dark and not overly cheesy. Perfection!
For our entrees we selected: Cioppino: a tomato base, mussels, crab, cod, scallops, shrimp, garlic, dish, served with French bread to dip the delectable gravy. One of my party chose the Maxine salad with salmon (cooked to order) while,  I chose the house ribeye steak topped with blue cheese. Each dish was delicious and served with your choice of sides as well as fresh, warm bread.

It is important to note that the $$ was very reasonable, almost shockingly low. Truly a value for the quality and overall atmosphere. A couple of items to note: Live music would have been a wonderful addition on a Saturday night. Maybe a cocktail pianist, acoustic musicians, anything more than that would totally steal from the sequestered feel of this quaint Saturday night getaway. Additionally, and this is not a reflection on the restaurant management, was the clamor of children at a table nearby. Now, I love children and have 3 of my own grand-babies, but, somehow on a late Saturday night, an all adult vibe is greatly appreciated. Again, this is a plus to the owners as they welcome any and all, it is merely an observation. Which brings me to this very important aspect of Maxine's and the restaurants of Michigan City, Indiana. All are welcome and encouraged to come on in! 

 It is important to note that there was seating near the bar and tucked away in lovely alcove seating. (this is where I sat with my friend the first time we visited Maxine's) We did not request private seating. A great deal of our recent conversation was about the incredible mural that covers the wall from ceiling to floor and along the entire length of the restaurant. (Make sure you look for the rabbit in the fine silk hat!) Another item to note, and again, it doesn't take away from the fabulous food was that either Maxine's really love Christmas and left Christmas decor up among the frogs, or it was a seasonal oversight. Because my family was so taken by the overall decor and feel of the place, they were in sensory overload. (They recently spent a very romantic vacation in France, so you can imagine)

Maxine's is truly one of the high points of Michigan City, Indiana. As the North-end, Uptown area of Michigan City continues to expand and develop, we are sure to see Maxine's continue to be one of the best places to dine in the City By the Lake. The independently owned and operated restaurants throughout the "route 12 corridor" are among the best, from Chicago to South Bend. Make a point of stopping in soon. It is truly worth the train ticket in from downtown Chicago, or a leisurely drive along the Lake Shore. Locals should give it a try as well, especially during the week when they have fabulous mid-week $12 Special.

Maxine's Restaurant and Gastropub, located at 521 Franklin St., Michigan City Indiana. 219.872.4500

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Galveston Michigan City; What a Pleasant Surprise!

Steve and I moved to Michigan City in May of 2008. After living in Indianapolis/Carmel area for a year we became very accustomed to some really good food and even better food choices. Moving to a new place and a much smaller place than the biggest city in  Indiana would mean fewer choices. Thus far we have not been disappointed. Michigan City knows its food and hospitality. Actually the entire route 12 corridor knows its food and hospitality!
We happened upon Galveston a couple times in the past. Once because we heard there was an open mic, and with Steve and I being musicians, this seemed like a nice way to get our foot in the musical door of the community. Another time it was a host to a back to school kick off. One other time we were there to actually dine. We haven't been back, because, well, we just haven't...until last night. In all honesty we were lulled by the 2 for $22 special that happens to be  their Tuesday night mainstay. 
Stepping back for a moment; Galveston's claim is that "Our community is the heart and soul of Galveston," and I couldn't agree more! 

We were greeted by a familiar face, a student from the local high school. Our local school community was present and welcoming by way of the host staff.  I saw yet another student busing tables. Across the room I saw one of my students enjoying dinner with a friend. The other side of the room one of my student's parents. It was community and it was bustling! We discovered that Tuesday night special is a big hit and the place was packed. We were told it would be 20 minutes until we would be seated. We found that there was ample room in the bar area to wait out the 20 minutes or so and they had a $3 Margarita special! The crowd was such that we didn't get served while we waited at the bar, but somehow observing the locals and taking in the specials, etc., filled the time and overshadowed what appeared to be an understaffed bar area. In actuality, the wait time proved to be less than 20 minutes. 
Galveston's hospitality is truly one of their strong points. The wait staff was pleasant, helpful and service was with a smile. We waffled between ordering off of the special's menu or the regular menu. Having not eaten there in a very long time we weren't certain. Many places cut back on special's night and we didn't wanted to have a good impression of the place. So, we ordered two different things of the special menu so as to get a good look at the gastronomical side of Galveston. Steve ordered the chicken shish-ka-bob with rice and vegetables. The waiter said with a smile, "good choice." I was in the mood for beef, hence the other reason Galveston Steakhouse came to mind. I ordered the filet medallions with mushroom sauce and a sweet potato. We both chose the house salad with blue cheese dressing. The other option would have been a cup of cream of mushroom soup. I am now wishing one of us would have ordered soup. Soup and dessert are 2 items that, in my opinion guarantee a restaurant knows how to cook from scratch. 
Every order comes with a dark sweet bread. The bread was fresh, warm and far too tempting for someone on a low-carb diet! How we resisted eating the whole thing, I have no idea! The salad, well, it was just a simple dinner salad, which is fine, because the food that followed was very good and more than enough. 
I suffered from food envy immediately upon seeing Steve's plate arrive. It was a generous assortment of fresh, grilled vegetables, including my favorite; brussel sprouts, GRILLED! The seasoning used to bring together the myriad of flavors was perfect. The rice was maybe the best seasoned rice dish we have both had in a very long time. Perfection. 
The medallions was equally good and very tender. The sauce, clearly house made with fresh mushrooms, not canned, (thank goodness) and the sweet potato was not your typical sweet potato loaded with butter, sugar and cinnamon, but it was served with a dark brown sugar sauce (almost caramel) on the side. Again, house made and delectable. Steve and I shared plates and were still able to bring home leftovers, which is Saturday Night Stever's absolute favorite thing to do. But Wait, we are not done yet...
On Tuesday nights you not only get a fabulous meal 2 for $22, you also get a dessert to share. The waiter asked if we would like one and at first we were reluctant, low-carbs, you know. He smiled and said, it is a homemade brownie with vanilla ice cream in a very luring tone. How could we resist his desire to please our palettes? The dessert was the perfect size for a sweet treat. The brownie was warm, fudge-y and delicious. Again, perfection. 
We will be back without a doubt time and time again. Galveston's claim to be the heart and soul of the community is spoken truth. High quality food, great service and a friendly atmosphere, along with affordable prices makes Galveston a shining gem near the water's edge.