EDITOR'S NOTE: Mary Hall is a 23-year-old writer with an adventure-streak. In her new column, Windy City Wander, she'll seek to find hidden gems slightly off the beaten path in and around Chicago.
I love spontaneous adventures, and even more so when those adventures result in the disclosure of hidden gems.
A recent trek through the streets of Lincoln Park yielded the discovery of La Creperie — a French hole-in-the-wall staple in that neighborhood.
It's located in an area bursting with eclectic bars and restaurants. Still, there's a certain magic to La Creperie. There's a deep sense of nostalgia and culture permeating from the very walls, covered in French posters from baseboard to ceiling. The floor of the long, narrow space is original wood from when the building was a farmhouse.
And it's crowded, but in the best, homey way. The co-owner and founder, Germain Roignant, is originally from France — and the place has all the romanticism of the country. In a low-lit corner, a couple has their first date. Around a family-style circle table, parents and their children converse in French. Waiters weave in and out of the cafe tables, greeting the regulars.
And the food is excellent. The boeuf bourguignon (beef braised with burgundy, mushrooms, carrots and celery) is bursting with flavor, while the creme sauce of the poulet aux champignons (chicken in an herb cream sauce with sauteed mushrooms) made me slow my eating just to savor it. I almost licked my plate. Almost.
Follow up with one of their many dessert crepes: Nutella, peanut butter and chocolate or orange and lemon.
Then, walk across the street to catch a late movie at Landmark Century Centre Cinema on Diversity Street. This unique theater not only plays the blockbuster favorites, but indie and foreign films other theaters don't get.
If La Creperie is homey and nostalgic, Century Cinema is just the opposite, with modern stainless steel architecture on the inside and large, cushy seats. There's even a bar. Among the movies playing this weekend include "Anomalisa" and "Carol." Check out landmarktheatres.com for the entire list.
Needing to kill some time before or after the movie? There's a cute little bookstore just a couple blocks away, but with a twist. Read It & Eat on North Halsted is a charming nook to stop and browse cookbooks and foodie books from around the world. Case in point: I've been searching for an Andean cookbook for quite some time and Read It & Eat had a whole shelf dedicated to Peru, Colombia and Venezuela!
There are also books for every kind of diet, methodology or philosophy — there's even a children's section. The book nook hosts hands-on baking classes, author book signings and chef demonstrations almost every week in their kitchen along one wall. If you're lucky, you might even get a free sample.
This weekend, there's a $5 demo and tasting of cheesecakes celebrating the release of the new "The Eli's Cheesecake Cookbook," which includes 50 variations of Eli's classic cheesecake desserts and savory dishes from the now-closed legendary Chicago steakhouse, Eli's The Place for Steak.