Burn Your Tongue Off, Shake Some Quarters Loose at South Moon BBQ

Who:  South Moon BBQ

What:  Restaurant/”Mullet Room” emporium

Where:  100 E. Lincoln Hwy. (Route 30), Hinckley, IL, (815) 286-9227

When:
Monday-Tuesday, CLOSED
Wednesday-Thursday, 11am-8pm
Friday-Saturday, 11am-9pm
Sunday 11am-8pm

SouthMoonBBQLogo

South Moon BBQ in Hinckley, Illinois was on my radar from my story on Star Worlds Arcade (they were a sponsor of Star Worlds’ 30th anniversary party and Star Worlds’ owner supplies their games).  After flash mobbing and briefly attending the Star Worlds anniversary party (it got pretty crowded), my manfriend and I were hungry and wanted some air.  We punched South Moon’s address into the GPS and headed about 20 minutes south to Hinckley.

South Moon is easy to spot on the corner of Sycamore Street and Lincoln Highway.  I mean Lincoln Highway as in Route 30.  Coming from DeKalb, I know Lincoln Highway as Route 38 that takes you to the NIU campus.  Apparently it starts at U.S. 30 to the east and the route between DeKalb and Hinckley is smack dab where Lincoln Highway shifts to Route 38.

SouthMoonBBQoutside

So—fun facts!  You’re here to hear about the barbecue, though.  You order at the counter and the food is brought out to you.  We decided to split “The Chuck,” which is every meat they have on one bun.  It was as ridiculously huge as it sounds, maybe seven inches high.  Obviously not conducive to eating sandwich style, we picked and poked with forks and knives.  The meats included a bratwurst, brisket, pulled pork, pork chop, and chicken.

We availed ourselves of the many different sauces available on the side, which were also for sale to take home—Sweet St. Louis, Sweet Heat, Carolina Thin, Bad-Ass Brat Sauce and “Nitro.”  The last one we had to ask for and got an, “Okay, if you think you can take it” from the waitress.  Their website calls it Nitro, but I remember asking for ghost pepper sauce and the waitress knowing what we were talking about.  At over 1,000,000 Scoville heat units, the ghost pepper, also known as Bhut Jolokia, is the third hottest pepper in the world.  It was only knocked to number two in 2012 and number three in 2013.

My guess is it’s called ghost pepper because it haunts you and stays with you.  It took maybe five big gulps of ice water to calm my tongue down again.  When I say gulps, I mean I let the ice water just hang out in my mouth for a good minute or so before swallowing.

As far as the taste, I liked the pulled pork the best; hard to mess with slow-cooked pork.  The bratwurst was good, too.  Hate to say it, but the chicken and pork chop were a bit dry, though there’s plenty of sauce to go around.  Maybe “The Chuck” is a bit too ambitious and tries to be everything to everyone. I’d probably do the pulled pork sandwich on a return trip.  On the side we tried the fried potato salad smothered in a vinegar-y mustard sauce, which was quite good; I’m a fan of an assertive vinegar taste.  I’m curious to try their mac and cheese.  They had a great selection of craft beers, though we didn’t try any.

MulletRoom

The space was very large and inviting, with indoor picnic tables, kitschy memorabilia on the walls, ‘80s music playing (I remember Journey’s “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’”).  My manfriend geeked out about the pinball as soon as we walked in, although the two up front were vintage games either out of order or out of commission.  As promised, there was a game room a.k.a. “The Mullet Room” in the back.  I assumed “The Mullet Room” was an under the breath kind of in-joke, but there was a sign saying “Welcome to The Mullet Room” right there on the wall.  We played “The Simpsons” game which involves endless punching and jumping to save something for Maggie.  There was a good selection of roughly 15-20 games including two pool tables.  It was a spacious room and you paid with quarters rather than tokens.  We didn’t stay too long as my manfriend used his ghost pepper trauma as an excuse to get ice cream at Dairy Joy down the street.

SouthMoonGameRoom

The Mullet Room in all its glory

It wasn’t the best barbecue I’ve had but decent and definitely an inviting and comfortable atmosphere.  It’s a fun, spacious (yet not cavernous) place for a big group with lots of tasty beers to sample and games to play, only about 20 minutes south of DeKalb.

Star Worlds Arcade

StarWorlds

Who:  Star Worlds Arcade

What:  Retro video games and pinball

Where:  1234 E. Lincoln Hwy. (Rte. 38), DeKalb, IL, (815) 787-4599

When:
Hours of operation:
Tuesday-Thursday, 3pm-10pm
Friday, 3pm-11pm
Saturday 11am-11pm
Sunday 12noon-8pm

What’s New:
Fall FunFest 30th anniversary party October 4, 2014:
4pm photo shoot (free)
5pm-11pm – $25 includes all you can play video games and dinner

If you’re a gamer in the DeKalb area, chances are Star Worlds Arcade is no hidden gem but an old favorite.  You might have caught the 2011 documentary short  about the place (and if not, you can order it through the link).

As a casual gamer new to the area, I’d been meaning to check it out for some time.  I’d pass it often on its fairly isolated (though less than a mile east of NIU) stretch of Route 38, especially last summer as I headed back and forth to the city, slowly retrieving the last of the boxes from my old apartment.

I finally checked out Star Worlds with a new friend recently.  The arcade is on the small side, giving off a cozy basement feel.  Every inch of the place is filled with love for video games, with paraphernalia everywhere such as Pac Man drapes and board game versions of video games (who knew that was a thing?  Not me).  I didn’t feel uncomfortable or out of place as a woman and casual gamer (though, admittedly, my new friend yammered on about pinball like he was getting paid for it).

IMG_20140928_181812

Pinball Wizards welcome

I spoke with Star Worlds owner Patrick O’Malley, who was so friendly and excited about the place you’d think he just opened it and could barely believe it.  In fact, they’re coming up on their 30th anniversary. Asking him what he did before Star Worlds, he said “Nothing; I was 12 years old.”  A native of Maple Park, IL (a further jog east down Route 38), he started collecting video games at a young age.  His house was the hangout for all his friends.  “Finally, my parents said, ‘Look, we love your friends, but get them out of here.’”  It wasn’t a business in a cute, air quote kind of way, but an officially licensed one (in his parents’ names ‘til he turned 16).

IMG_20140928_175817

Owner Patrick O’Malley with new Japanese arrival Pop’n Music

You might wonder how a small niche business stays afloat in this day and age, and the answer is having fingers in many pies.  “In the arcade, we have 40 games, but overall we have over 600 machines now.  I supply other restaurants and bowling alleys and bars.  We do have a warehouse, because with that many machines, you know there’s stuff that’s gonna be coming in that you’re looking for parts for and stuff like that.”  Starting out in Maple Park, the business moved to DeKalb 10 years ago to be closer to the college town spots he supplies.

IMG_20140928_181722

Wall to wall video love

Games are rotated near weekly, and he gets a particularly robust crop in the fall when summer attractions they supply such as Wisconsin Dells have closed for the season and head back to Route 38.  O’Malley also keeps repairs the games for Star Worlds as well as other locations.  “Oh yeah, I would never be in business if I had to pay someone to fix this stuff,” he said.  With all the crop rotation, a few old favorites can always be found there, however.  “The original Pac Man that my parents’ friends gave me as a graduation present when I opened the arcade when I was a kid, I keep that one there.  That Burger Time will never go anywhere, that’s my mom’s favorite game.  If I get rid of it, she’ll kill me.”

O’Malley said his current favorite games are the newer music based ones such as Dance Dance Revolution.  He was particularly excited about Pop’n Music, a Guitar Hero-esque Japanese game where you choose a song and hit the notes as they fall from the sky.  “We have the only one in Illinois.  Some of our friends actually had it imported; it took like three months to come over on the slow boat from Japan.”

Star Worlds’ 30th anniversary is actually January 11th, 2015 (it’s near my birthday, so I asked the specific date).  “It’s January, so we could have a blizzard going on [then],” O’Malley said, “so I’m having an event on October 4th at 4:00.  I’m trying to get as many people, like a flash mob, out in front of Star Worlds for a huge picture together.  There is no charge for that whatsoever.  What we’re doing to kind of give everyone a chance to have something cool for coming out is, when everyone checks into this picture they’ll get a coupon.  At the end, once this picture is taken and we’re done with it, we’re gonna draw one lucky winner and they’ll win a $200 birthday party at the arcade here.  Then at 5:00 we have the rest of our event, Star Worlds Fall FunFest.  That’s a $25 ticketed event that we only have a limited amount of space for.  Everything will be on free play that night for the guests along with dinner and tournaments.”  Party is sponsored by South Moon BBQ (where O’Malley also supplies games), Pita Pete’s, Billy Mitchell’s Hot Sauce, and Video Game Scoreboard.

Fall FunFest will also feature “special gaming celebrities,” including Walter Day, founder of Twin Galaxies, an organization that tracks video game world records.  O’Malley considers Walter Day a friend and mentor.  “He’s taught me a lot.  He has always just given me opportunities.  He kept on giving me opportunities and I was just like, ‘Okay, this is not what I planned,’ but I’m someone that, in 30 years of business, as in life, I look at it as, opportunities do only come across often once in life and if you don’t take them, I don’t want to be someone that’s gonna regret not taking an opportunity.”

IMG_20140928_194817

Video game hall of fame!

Mr. Day was featured in the movie King of Kong:  A Fistful of Quarters.  Day’s current venture is a set of baseball card-type video game hall of fame cards, 18 of which are affiliated with Star Worlds.  Cards for three of Star Worlds’ high scorers will be unveiled at the FunFest.

A Quick Bite of the Sandwich Fair; Gene’s

SandwichFairSign

On Saturday, September 6th, I made it to next to last day of the Sandwich Fair.  No, it’s not an ode to the joys of bread-bookended meats and cheeses, it’s a step into another world (at least for this ex-city girl). Running for five days straight right around Labor Day, the Sandwich Fair is the pride and joy of Sandwich, Illinois, which stretches out over DeKalb, Kendall, and LaSalle Counties. Sandwich is about a half hour drive south of my starting point, DeKalb. Admission was $9.00, and parking was free.

Unlike other temporary fairs that shoehorn booths and rides into otherwise occupied space, shutting down village streets and redirecting traffic, the Sandwich Fair is a permanent fixture on the landscape.  It’s been running strong since 1888 when the Sandwich Fair Association purchased the land where it sits.  (Click here for a map of the grounds).

SandwichFairChick

Petting zoo chick and friend

My friends and I were hungry on arrival and quickly made our way to the pulled pork sandwiches and sugary lemon shake-ups.  Thus sated, we meandered around the livestock pens.  (Pro tip:  Though the animals on display are champs, they’re still animals – watch your step and plan ahead with shoes you don’t mind getting dirty.  While we’re on the subject of bodily functions, though they had portable toilets to accommodate the crowds, I was pleasantly surprised that they not only had real bathrooms, but bathroom attendants).

SandwichFairBathroomAttendant

Friendly bathroom attendant

It was a lovely end of summer day petting fuzzy animals, checking out a steel drum band, a pig raffle, a baking competition (all the goodies were just for show behind glass, though), and a photography exhibit.  I felt like we barely scratched the surface of everything the fair had to offer.  Saturday’s big attraction was the NTPA sanctioned tractor pull.  Early in the day, my bones rattled at the wall of sound that was the 12:30 show, but I was unable to talk my crew into staying for the 6:30 show at the end of the long, hot day.  It also required extra admission cost – $10 for the grandstand seats and $20 for reserved and “hot seats.”  Maybe next year.  For more information on the tractor pulls, see the official Sandwich Fair website or check out a sneak peek on YouTube.  There were carnival rides and bands as well, with the day before featuring country star Easton Corbin.

SandwichFairMaggieMilkingCow

Kids learning farm work with Maggie the Milking Cow

Lunch was reasonably priced ($3.00 pulled pork sandwiches?  Yes, please).  We were quite pleasantly surprised that parking was free.  The parking lot was a breeze getting in, with plenty of attendants gesturing guests into neat rows.  It was quite an ordeal getting out, though.  Everyone was forced to exit in one direction, with people from rows ahead of you constantly braiding into the exit traffic.  We were stuck there a good 40 minutes.  Forewarned is forearmed:  Fill up the gas tank, pack some drinks, snacks, and music.  Focus on the gentle, fuzzy lamb you made friends with mere hours ago.

SandwichFairPhotographyExhibit

Photography exhibit

We capped off the day in Sandwich at Gene’s (125 S. Main Street), where I was introduced to the glory of the beef roll, which I’m told is a LaSalle County specialty.  It’s like that old Chicago standby, the roast beef sandwich, but instead of a drippy (but delicious) mess of a sandwich roll, it’s wrapped in a freshly made pita, and eaten with a fork and knife.  When I say “pita,” don’t think of those sad little grocery store wedges for scooping up hummus.  Freshly made pita is a hot, bubbly, pillowy blanket of perfection.  In addition to beef, several sandwiches get the roll treatment; other options include turkey, gyro, and even a vegetarian lover’s roll.  I may have to investigate this roll phenomenon in future entries.