McHenry County, Illinois – a charming place to get away from it all. How to fill a weekend relaxing at a cozy B&B, shopping & sipping on Woodstock’s town square, and eating plant-based fare along the way.
Thank you to Visit McHenry County for hosting my stay! It was part of a bloggers’ weekend getaway to see all that McHenry County, Illinois has to offer.
McHenry County is about an hour and a half from the buzzing metropolises of Chicago or Milwaukee. But in spirit, it’s another world. It offers a slower paced way of life but plenty of things to do.
During my three days there, we had outings (and eatings!) in Woodstock and Crystal Lake. (They are towns in McHenry County, Illinois that are about 15 or 20 minutes apart.)
Cherry Tree Inn Bed & Breakfast
Ashley Rhoades, Sierra Holmes, Cadry Nelson, Theresa Goodrich, and Laura VanZandt
Our headquarters for the weekend – Cherry Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast in Woodstock, Illinois.
You may recognize it from the 1990’s era movie, Groundhog Day.
I stayed in the room where Bill Murray’s character supposedly stayed. (Although, Bill Murray didn’t actually sleep there, of course.)
And if you stay there and haven’t seen the film, no worries. There’s a copy of the film in every room.
This charming Victorian house has lots of dark, rich wood, and cozy nooks for sneaking away for board games and drinks.
While the B&B isn’t strictly vegan, the proprietor, Lori, is happy to whip up vegan meals and snacks. Just let her know your dietary requirements.
My friend, Laura, was on the trip as well, and she is also vegan. Lori kept us both well fed while we were there.
Lori greeted us with cherry cordial cocktails our first night. On the second, she made warm vegan bread pudding.
Our first morning there, she made oatmeal with blueberry compote and slivered nuts to sprinkle on top.
There were also vegan cherry and chocolate scones that were soft like cookies and paired well with a steamy cup of coffee.
But the real highlight was the second morning when vegan biscuits and gravy was on offer.
The gravy was dotted with Field Roast breakfast sausages and spiced just right.
I couldn’t help but ask if there was enough for second helpings. I was relieved when Lori said, “Of course!”
Although it wasn’t a part of our official weekend itinerary, I couldn’t miss visiting the one vegetarian restaurant in the area, Expressly Leslie in Woodstock, Illinois.
Expressly Leslie is a no-frills, order at the counter place with lunch served on paper plates.
There isn’t an exclusive, designated dining space. However, you can eat in the hall of the adjacent mall or outside on the patio when it’s sunny.
What it lacks in atmosphere it more than makes up for in flavor.
We ordered a sampler of all of the vegan dishes along with falafel and stuffed grape leaves.
(Four items on the salad menu aren’t vegan. The staff was very knowledgeable about which items to leave off.)
Look at this generous pile of colorful goodness!
Laura and I both ate our fill. And there was still enough left for 3 rounds of leftovers.
My favorites were the muhammara, which had a delightful understated sweetness to it, the spicy olives, and the Moroccan eggplant.
The eggplant was served cold but had flavors reminiscent of the fried eggplant at PF Chang’s (but with different spices, of course).
It tasted like they make their beans from scratch, because the ful (fava & garbanzo bean salad) was not at all mushy. The beans were al dente yet still had give to them.
If you’re anywhere near Woodstock, Expressly Leslie is definitely worth a stop.
Downtown Woodstock & Casting Whimsy Tea
After lunch at Expressly Leslie, take a walk around the adorable town square.
There are lots of local shops along the way, as well as Starbucks for your soy latte needs.
They have a farmers market in the town square on Saturdays in warm weather months.
In the middle of the square, you’ll see another location from Groundhog Day – the gazebo. I had to grab a picture while I was there.
(By the way, Woodstock was also a location for Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. And it was home to Orson Welles. There’s a statue of him next to the groundhog’s. Seriously!)
After that, head to Casting Whimsy Tea. It is next door to the movie theatre with an old timey marquee.
Casting Whimsy makes their own batches of tea with organic, fair trade ingredients.
It’s a small family business that celebrates all things nerdy.
For example, my favorite tea of the ones we tried was Make It So. It’s an Earl Grey variety. And if you’re a Star Trek: Next Generation viewer, then the name makes sense to you.
The menu is riddled with pop culture puzzles that are fun to unravel.
If you want to linger, there are board games on the tables. So bring in some friends and hang out for a while.
Speaking of hanging…
Pilates Body by Kirsten
The part of the weekend’s itinerary I was both most eager & most wary about was the planned aerial yoga at Pilates Body by Kirsten in Crystal Lake, Illinois.
My yoga experience consists of a handful of classes throughout my adult life and a few at-home videos. My favorite pose would have to be child’s pose.
But when I was a kid, I had a tree swing in my front yard. I spent many a summer afternoon coming up with tricks on it.
Aerial yoga uses a large piece of fabric as a tool for assisting with poses, as well as giving an opportunity for seeing the world from a new vantage point. It appealed to the 10 year old in me.
Jessi Rae, the instructor, assured us that the fabric could hold 3000 pounds. And it was attached to the beams of the building. She said that we could feel confident trusting it with our bodies.
We did a variety of yoga poses and strength moves, until we worked up to hanging upside down.
Doing aerial yoga ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip. I love exercise that feels like play.
Duke’s Alehouse & Kitchen
After a good workout, we headed down to Duke’s Alehouse in Crystal Lake for lunch. It’s a nice walk from the yoga studio with shopping along the way.
Duke’s has an airy restaurant space with tall ceilings, and a second level with seating as well.
We grabbed a large table and ordered several appetizers for the table – fried green beans, chips and salsa, and crudités. All of those shareable dishes are vegan as-is.
The green beans were tempura battered. They came with a thick teriyaki-ginger dipping sauce. This was a crowd favorite.
The crudités is served on a board with three kinds of hummus, as well a variety of dipping implements.
I’m typically not a beet fan, unless reubens or hummus are involved. The neon pink beet hummus has a faintly sweet flavor and just a nudge of that earthy beet flavor at the back end.
For my main course, I was still feeling the effects of hanging upside down for a while from the yoga class. So I wanted something that was a little bland. I went with the veggie burger, which is vegan by default.
They make the burgers in house with sweet potatoes and pinto beans as the base. Since it isn’t seitan or pea protein-based like a Beyond Burger, you should expect more smush when going in for a bite.
The flavor was very mild, and the lettuce on the sandwich looked like it had seen better days.
I added some of my vegan chili to the top of it for a chili burger. The brothy chili had big chunks of tomato and a subtle sweetness to it. It tasted like they might add barbecue sauce to the base.
After getting my sea legs under me, I was having some food envy over Laura’s order – a fried tofu and kimchi sandwich that’s vegan by default.
The thick, hearty fried tofu is piled with vegan kimchi that’s made in house, eggless mayo, and teriyaki served on a french roll. It was such a big sandwich that Laura had to finish it with a fork and knife.
The owner of 1776 Restaurant, Rhienna McClain Trevino, used to dine at the restaurant regularly under its previous ownership. She and her children have a number of food allergies, and they could accommodate her.
So when the establishment in Crystal Lake was for sale, she didn’t want to leave it to chance that the next owners would keep the allergy-friendly menu. So she bought it.
Once upon a time, the building was a KFC. Now it’s a fine dining restaurant with a large barn door separating eating spaces, and a wall of wines on one wall.
This upscale eatery is date night appropriate. But people can feel comfortable going in whatever they’re wearing – from yoga pants to cocktail dresses.
The menu changes by the season.
The night we were there, it included items like octopus, rabbit risotto, and duck liver mousse, which can be startling and uncomfortable for compassionate eaters. But there were options for vegans.
There was a veggie grain bowl that was vegan as-is. And the chef can create a personalized vegan option upon request.
At that time, they also had Beyond Meat sausages available to add to any meal. I’m not sure if that’s an ongoing option. Ask your server.
The focaccia bread that’s typically brought to the table isn’t vegan. But they brought us flatbread along with non-dairy butter for spreading.
Then for an appetizer, we ordered vegetarian flatbread (above).
The base is the same as the flatbread that was brought to the table as a starter. Then it’s topped with spinach, roasted tomatoes, portobello mushrooms, and zucchini. It’s vegan as long as you leave off the cheese that typically comes on top.
For my main course, I chose the vegan chef’s choice. The chef told me that he could prepare risotto with king oyster mushrooms.
The large mushrooms weren’t cut scallop-style, like I’d had recently at Loews Minneapolis Hotel.
The whole mushroom from tip to base was included and then grilled. The top part was really nice, but the base was pretty chewy. So I ended up just cutting off the base for easier eating.
I wondered if they used water instead of broth for the risotto, because it was very muted in flavor. I was wishing I’d added Beyond Meat sausage for added texture, flavor, and interest.
My entrée also came with a side salad. Keep in mind that none of the salad dressings on the menu are vegan. (They even add honey to the balsamic vinaigrette.) But they whipped up a vinaigrette sans honey for me and Laura.
Laura ordered the veggie grain bowl. It was a generous portion of wild rice, garbanzo and black beans, kale, and vegetables.
She did add Beyond Meat sausage to her bowl. And it was easily the best part of the meal.
Those sausages are a staple in my freezer. And the chef prepared it well – nice and crisp on the outside while moist on the inside.
Plan your weekend getaway
I really enjoyed my time in McHenry County, Illinois. I envision myself having more weekends there.
It’s just a 45-minute drive from Pig Minds Brewing in Machesney Park. So I recommend road-tripping in with a stop at Pig Minds for lunch.
Then continue on to the Cherry Tree Inn Bed & Breakfast to cover your morning meals. And don’t miss lunch at Expressly Leslie for a very filling, casual lunch that’s packed with flavor.
Thank you to Visit McHenry County for hosting my stay at the Cherry Tree Inn Bed & Breakfast, providing meals at 1776 Restaurant and Duke’s Alehouse & Kitchen, beverages at Casting Whimsy Tea, and yoga at Pilates Body by Kirsten.