Every time I say my workload is tapering off at work, I get slammed with a new round of headaches. As such, I was ready for a chill weekend with friends back up in the Chicago ‘burbs*. We had three plans: hit an all-you-can-eat sushi joint, smoke some fine cigars, and check out a few cool stores. Rather than regale you with a blow-by-blow breakdown of our exploits, I thought I’d instead show you what I miss about living in the suburbs and then fill you in on the smokes themselves.
We started with the sushi at Sushi Ya. For $20 they’ll bring you all the maki, nigiri, and appetizers your belly can handle. I’m a big fan of Peoria’s own Sushi Popo, but they don’t have a deal like this. I ordered some gyoza, and John ordered us half a dozen different types of roll. They served it up on a giant plate, and I’m really regretting not taking a picture. Good stuff. We followed that up with a few more rolls, and I ordered some mackerel, red snapper, and yellowtail nigiri. The latter was especially delicious.
Then John took us to Binny’s Beverage Depot. Picture a good-sized store, say an average Barnes & Noble. Now fill it with booze and a cigar humidor. Bam, you’ve got Binny’s. They had several microbrews available, as well as several whiskeys and other spirits I’d never heard of. Their humidor was very well stocked, and they hire an expert in each store to take care of their humidors. I took advantage of some of their club member deals and bought a few cigars for cheaper than I’d even see online. John collects cigars, and he got his hands on a fist-sized butane lighter.
Cigar lighter... or light saber?
That’s John in his Man Cave. It had couches, heat, a kitchenette, a bathroom, and an entertainment center. I need to build me one of those, because my only options in the winter are to hit a smoke-friendly bar in Peoria (they have an enclosed patio to get around the ban), endure the cold, or hit a friend’s place and smoke in his heated garage. None are very convenient.
There’s nothing like Binny’s in Peoria. There are some decent liquor stores, sure, and I’ve seen plenty of good microbrews at some of them. But spirits and smokes on this scale? Not even close.
We visited an Apple Store. I can’t afford to do anything but drool in there, so I guess it’s just as well Peoria doesn’t have one. It would be nice to have the option, though.
Sunday we visited the Bellicoso Cigar Lounge. Jaw, meet floor. A gorgeous lounge in the front opened into one of the largest humidors in North America, which I showed you for Photo Friday. It’s hard to beat a place that has a trunk full of cigars at hand.
I'll have the lot.
Nothing even close in Peoria. Hell, we don’t even have a proper cigar shop these days, just some small humidors at a few of the discount smoke places. Word is the lady downtown closed, and even then her humidor had a window onto the street that made it cold and dry in the winter. There used to be a Tinder Box in one of the malls, but they went out of business. To get the cigars we love, my friends and I pretty much have to travel or order online. If I had a bajillion dollars I think I’d open a good cigar shop.
Sadly, I don’t have a bajillion dollars. Hell, I probably don’t even have a bajillion Zimbabwean Dollars, which is what, a quarter these days?
I can’t imagine there’s not a market for these places in Peoria, but for some reason it’s just never happened. In the ‘burbs there are all kinds of unique restaurants on most corners. Peoria? Mostly chains. Yeah, there are some exceptions, but not near on the level up north. Of course, then I remember all the traffic and nonsense they have to put up with every day, and I decide maybe it’s not so bad after all out here. The ‘burbs, like the city, is a great place to visit, but not necessarily somewhere I want to live.
At least we can still get a decent breakfast. Check out this spread from Café Miele:
I ate most of it.
This is why I took the time for a karate workout before breakfast. You’re looking at a Fiesta Skillet (four eggs with chorizo, onion, jalapeño, and diced potatoes) with pancakes and peaches & cottage cheese. I love breakfasts like this, and fortunately I can get something similar at the Le Peep on University.
We made time for three cigars across the two days. John started me off with a Calle Ocho. I’m not sure whether it was the Sumatran or Nicaraguan blend, but I enjoyed it. A smooth, light smoke that didn’t hammer me too hard considering I hadn’t had anything to eat yet that day. Clean draw, good construction, no complaints.
That same night I selected a Kristoff cigar. They caught my eye in the Binny’s humidor, and the manager explained they were made in nearby Aurora, Illinois. A local cigar? Cool! I found this medium-bodied Ligero very satisfying. I took my time with it and had to relight from time to time as a result, but it never turned harsh or bitter. A great smoke that needs to be in my humidor more often.
Sunday after lunch I lit up a JFR, which stands for Just For Retail. With no band and no frills, this cigar is supposed to be exclusive to retailers, a premium cigar at a more affordable price to help retailers compete with the various online cigar merchants. This wasn’t bad, but I was very disappointed with its draw. The dense center made for some burn issues, and the tight draw persisted even after I used a draw poker. The cigar itself was light and pleasant, and it did give up a fair amount of smoke despite the draw, but it was too high maintenance for my tastes.
All in all, it was a great weekend and we declared mission accomplished at the end of it. They kicked my ass a bit for not finishing Lie with the Dead yet, and I needed that, too.
Now if the frickin’ weather would let up I could go back to having a smoke on the front porch while I write.
*Up until about 10 years ago, that area was actually Chicago’s boonies. Then the sprawl sprawled and made it the ‘burbs.
About Mike Oliveri
Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.