The Wright Stuff: Our FLLW Road Trip, Summer 2014

Chris and I are back from our Frank Lloyd Wright-themed Summer Road Trip!

We spent time in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania, toured eight Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, and overnighted in four Wright-designed homes. We spent more than 37 hours in the car. Chris drove our sporty little two-seater, a.k.a. "Betty," while I co-piloted and helped with tolls, playlist selections and of course, snackages. 

There is such beauty and creativity flowing through the walls of Mr. Wright's buildings. I've never seen homes that captivate like his. One evening, the sun will shine a triangle at your feet, and in the morning, there will be a bigger one on the wall. Who needs to hang wallpaper or pictures when there is such beauty in light?

We packed Betty to the gills and started our trip with a short stay in Pittsburgh, PA, where we visited some family and had our traditional Friday night pizza and wine. Then we took off the next morning, driving 10 hours to Beaver Dam, WI, where we spent the night at the Arnold Jackson House.
The house, now a Bed and Breakfast, is a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian-style home. It is in a cute cul-de-sac neighborhood with a sprawling yard. The house has an upgraded kitchen, plush carpeting and normal (non-FLLW designed) furniture decorating it. While most of the FLLW homes we've toured/rented feel a bit sparse at times, this one felt cozy and welcoming. Just like Elizabeth, the owner. She was a delight, and before turning in for the night, we shared a glass of wine with her (and a friendly cat) on the patio and munched on a homemade pizza. Elizabeth had seen the recipe for it on TV earlier in the day, and was compelled to try it. It was tasty, but we could only nibble at it because we had stuffed ourselves with a late lunch of delicious Mexican food at La Tapatia Bar and Grill.

The next morning, after a lovely breakfast of toasted focaccia, poached eggs, melon and strawberries from Elizabeth's garden, we headed to Madison, WI, to tour FLLW's Unitarian Meeting House.
I'm not religious, but if I were, this would be a beautiful place to worship. It has an airy, unfussy, open feeling which matches the accepting and nurturing mission of the Unitarian church. There is no "front row" as all the pews face each other, and the benches, while not uncomfortable, ensure no one is nodding off during the message. It was completed in 1951 and Mr. Wright was part of the congregation of his "country church" -- he even gave the first address here. 
I believe in God, only I spell it Nature. - Frank Lloyd Wright

After our meeting house tour, we headed over to Middleton, WI, to the National Mustard Museum
We of course couldn't miss it (we visited a hot dog museum last year) because it isn't a proper road trip until you've done some quirky sightseeing. We saw the world's only mustard vending machine, sampled several mustards at the Tasting Bar (including a chocolate Merlot version) and chuckled at the "Keep Calm and Mustard On" and "Poupon U" t-shirts for sale. And, the jar of WI-made hot pepper mustard we took home will be delicious on grilled burgers and hot dogs, or we may do as our friendly "Confidential Condiment Counselor" suggested, and try it on a slice of cheese pizza. Yum.

After we had our fill of mustard, we headed back to Madison for lunch at the famous Ella's Deli and Ice Cream Parlor, which has a working carousel on the outside and floor-to-ceiling animated displays on the inside, including a model train.
The menu, or binder, was more than 20 pages long, with choices like a strawberry drink topped with cotton candy, dill pickle soup, a grilled pineapple and barbecue beef sandwich, and eight different kinds of stuffed baked potatoes -- not to mention numerous salads, hoagies, burgers, and ice cream treats. In the end, we settled on an order of fried pickles, a melty Reuben, and a "special of the day" burger made of a mix of Wisconsin beef and house-made pastrami. Or was it corned beef? Mmmm. I don't remember because then Chris took it to the next level with an order of the "Dill Pickle Cooler." It was basically a tall glass of shaved ice and dill pickle juice. Of course, he made me try it first. It tasted salty and sour, but not terrible, and I think it would definitely be better with gin or vodka in it. It just might be the new Bloody Mary. I'll call it "The Pickler." (Wink.)

We stuffed ourselves with Ella's goodies, then made our way to Lake Delton, WI, where we spent two nights at FLLW's Seth Peterson Cottage
Set off a gated, gravel path in the middle of Mirror Lake State Park, it is a rustic, yet comfortable oasis, and we had a hard time packing up to leave when it was time to move on. The cottage is perfectly appointed with floor-to-ceiling windows lining one side of the house, a dining table facing the lake, simple stone walls and floors, and a magnificent fireplace. The kitchen was small but worked just fine for the dinners we made together there. It was peaceful and serene, even during the late-night thunderstorms that passed through. During our stay we glimpsed a deer, a raccoon, various birds, squirrels, chipmunks, mosquitoes, and the world's largest spider -- which Chris bravely dispatched while I screamed and ran around. Seriously, it was bigger than my fist. Yikes!
A week or so before we left on our trip, we stocked up on shelf-stable foods like tuna, canned chicken breast, olives, pasta, jarred bruschetta and other versatile sauces, and most of the produce from my organic box delivery. I wanted simple options for great meals, and our choices worked out well.
 Cottage Pasta with tuna, mushrooms, hot pepper sauce, zucchini, garlic scapes, olives and bruschetta.
 Cottage Rice Stew with shredded chicken, purple/yellow/white/orange carrots, tomatoes, squash, garlic, olives, tomatoes.

When it was time to leave the cottage (sad sigh), we headed next to Belvidere, IL, to see the Wright-designed Pettit Memorial Chapel which was built in 1907.
Emma Pettit commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design the chapel as a memorial to her dear deceased husband, Dr. William H. Pettit, a beloved physician and humanitarian. The building sits near the Pettit's graves and is a somber, yet beautiful monument to a wife's love for her husband.

We departed Belvidere and made our way to Geneva, IL, a quaint commuter town and home to the Fabyan Villa Museum.
Wright re-designed George and Nelle Fabyan's Illinois farmhouse in 1907 and the house currently operates as a museum. The wealthy Fabyans were rather eccentric and their estate included a working farm, private zoo (monkeys, alligators, and bears), greenhouses, a windmill, a light house, Roman-style swimming pool, and various sculptures. Their lovely Japanese tea garden is well maintained, and is the perfect setting for many weddings this time of year.

Before touring the villa and grounds, we took a spin through Geneva and stopped in for lunch at Preservation Bread and Wine. We happened upon it and the minute I saw the menu, I knew we found a great spot. I'm a huge fan of intimate restaurants that make their own bread and serve great wines. You know you'll be happy no matter what you order, and I must say the Serrano ham baguette (with quince paste, idiazabal cheese, and mint oil) and the hot lamb meatloaf sandwich (with preserved lemon and pomegranate molasses, served on crispy focaccia) that we shared were to die for. If we didn't have plans, Chris and I would have just lazed the day away there with a bottle (or two) of wine.

When we finished at the Fabyan Estate, Betty zipped us over to the Emil Bach House. Built in 1915, the house is a gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie-style home set in Chicago, IL.
This summer it opened to the public for tours, parties, and overnight stays. So, we decided to do all of that. We invited some friends and family who were in the area, called up Conn's Catering,  and threw a summer soirée on the lawn, with passed hors d'oeuvres, a signature cocktail (pink lemonade, mint, club soda and vodka) and of course, lots and lots of wine.
Savory Meatballs 
Mini meatballs in a sweet and smoky honey mustard bbq glaze
Zucchini Cakes  
Baked zucchini and corn served with dill yogurt sauce
Crab in Cucumber 
Light creamy crab salad in a cucumber nest
Cheeseburger Sliders
Gourmet Cheese Board 
Imported French Brie, Smoked Gouda, Sharp Cheddar, Baby Swiss, Dill Havarti, and Stilton Bleu
Antipasto Platter  
Sliced mortadella, cappicola, prosciutto, Genoa salami, provolone, imported olives, cherry peppers
Sunshine Salad  
Tomatoes, fresh basil, hearts of palm, yellow squash with an olive oil dressing
Dessert Platter  
Iced Fudge Brownies, Gourmet Cookies, and Dessert Bars (And a coconut cream pie brought by a friend from Hoosier Mama Pie Company, in honor of Chris's upcoming birthday.)

We celebrated summer well into the night, enjoying our view of the gorgeous home set in the middle of the city and framed by apartment buildings. The owners of the home own The Lang House, a lovely Bed and Breakfast next door, and they have lovingly restored the Bach house to an impressive vacation rental with modern furniture, one-of-a-kind artwork, luxurious linens, a dream kitchen and an inviting tea house in the backyard. It was a delight to overnight there, and the next time we're in Chicago, this is where we'll stay.

The next morning, we made our way to Kankakee, IL, where we toured the B. Harley Bradley House
Frank Lloyd Wright designed it and the Warren R. Hickox House next door in 1900, and they are considered the first of his "Prairie-Style" homes. The massive Bradley House, its lakefront lawn, carriage house and covered walkways are quite impressive. It was home to several families including Joseph Dodson, renowned birdhouse craftsman and former president of the American Audubon Society. Most fascinating is that the house was also a popular restaurant called the The Yesteryear that served a wealthy clientele from in and around the Chicago area for more than 30 years!

From Kankakee, we wearily drove through heavy construction, detours, and highways packed with Fourth of July vacationers to the town of Ann Arbor, MI. We didn't have a chance to stop for lunch, so it was good that I packed some sandwiches with leftovers from our party. Finally, we pulled up to the private drive of Wright's Palmer House and all the stress from traveling melted away. It is a sight to behold.
Billy and Mary Palmer lived in the Wright-designed Usonian-style, 2,000 square-foot home for more than five decades and were the original owners of the house. A few years ago, it was sold and made available as a rental. It is in remarkable condition, and while gorgeous on the outside, once you make your way inside, all you can do is oooh and ahhh.
The house is impeccable, complete with the original furniture and a fantastic stainless steel kitchen with butler's pantry. Also, there are no right angles in the house. Even the drawers are angled. And the light in the house...oh the light. Take a nap on the Wright-designed sofa and a triangle-shaped ray of light will shine on the ceiling above you. Walk down the hallway at sunset and the cutout windows will reflect their shapes on the opposite wall. Sleep in a hexagon-shaped bed and refresh yourself in a triangular shower. Or, make your morning coffee via the sunny glow of the kitchen's skylight. And, be sure to have a glass of wine on the patio and watch the mama and baby gophers, deer, rabbits and squirrels frolic in the secluded two-acre lot that neighbors the lovely Nichols Arboretum. Divine!
If you must leave the house, I recommend Grange Kitchen and Bar for dinner (local, farm-to-table, and served MI wines). Chris had a salad with spinach, goat cheese and pickled strawberries and I enjoyed a smoked trout salad with house made ricotta and pickled ramps. For our main courses, Chris had their "Whitefish Cakes" with greens and a lovely remoulade-type of sauce. I had the "Brioche Crusted Walleye" with mushroom ragout and fingerling potatoes. Both were delicious! The waiter refilled our wine glasses, then returned a few minutes later with a complimentary "Farmers' Market Sundae" (rhubarb compote, buttermilk ice cream, lovage granita, celery) which was really nice of him and also perfectly refreshing on a sticky summer evening.

For lunch, endure the long line of tourists and get a Reuben from Zingerman's Deli. I have to admit that while it's not as great as one from Katz's, as far as non-NYC Reubens go, it was really tasty and absolutely worth the wait. Chris and I split a #48, Binny’s Brooklyn Reuben (Zingerman’s pastrami, Swiss cheese, Brinery sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on grilled pumpernickel bread) and a #123, the TNT Cowboy Reuben (BBQ-sauced, hand-pulled beef brisket topped with coleslaw and provolone cheese, served on a grilled paesano roll). But, we got them to go and went back and enjoyed them at the Palmer house, because nothing compares to a picnic lunch in a Wright home.
Oh, and the kitchen in this house was amazing -- surrounded on the inside with brick and bird-shaped window cutouts that let you either peek into the dining room or out onto the front walkway. We had a nice attitude adjustment and dinner in on our last evening at the Palmer house. I used up all the veggies, olives and such that we had left in a pasta dish, thinning a red pepper dip (with a bit of butter and wine) for the sauce. We sat at the formal dining table and watched the house make art out of shadows and light. Who needs TV?

We left Ann Arbor and headed back to Pittsburgh area where we stopped at Primanti Bros. It's a Pittsburgh tradition, and a road trip must-do. If you don't put fries and coleslaw ON your sandwich, you my friend, have not had a real sandwich. Chris got the #2 bestseller: the Pitts-burger (burger, fries, coleslaw, tomato) and I ordered the limited edition sandwich, "When Pigs Fly" (turkey, ham, bacon, a fried egg, coleslaw, French fries, cheese and tomato). We split them so we could share some of each, and devoured the towering sandwiches in minutes, washing down our gluttony with some cold Iron City beers. (P.S. Only we PA-born folks know what the #1 bestseller is, and you'll have to buy us a Primanti sandwich to find out.)

The next morning, we headed home to NJ. Around lunchtime, we decided to stop at the Powerhouse Eatery on I-80. We've literally passed it 100 times on various trips, but never tried it. It seemed like a good time to check it out, so we did. Old machinery, pipes and fans tower over the dining room -- it's not just a gimmick -- this is an actual restored powerhouse. We had a great lunch (french dip and strawberry shortcake for Chris, a sausage "carnival" sandwich and peach pie for me) and then we took Betty home via the rural route, driving through small towns and farmland instead of the highway.

When we pulled Betty into our parking lot, the sun was shining and it felt good to be home safe and sound, on a beautiful summer afternoon. But, Chris planned a fantastic trip, and I can't wait to see where we go -- and what we'll eat -- next summer!

A building is not just a place to be. It is a way to be. -- Frank Lloyd Wright


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