March 29, 2015

Illinois’s Gem—The Great River Road by Christine DeSmet

These days I’m always looking for the fudge shops in my travels because I write the Fudge Shop Mystery Series, but when I was a little girl, it was all about adventure of seeing exotic things. (I eventually found chocolates and fudge; more on that later.)

The exotic travel started when I was about six, after my family had moved from Illinois to Wisconsin. Soon after our move to a farm in the cheese and dairy state, we began periodic drives south to visit our Moline, Illinois, relatives. We always wended our way south along the Mississippi River on Illinois Hwy. 84.

Little did I know back then that the quiet highway was part of the Great River Road, established in 1938. The GRR uses federal, state, and local highways and crosses 10 states from Louisiana to Minnesota.

As a girl, I was as awestruck as Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, traveling past locks and dams, and catching glimpses of huge barges, clamming boats, a power plant, and small fishing and farming communities such as Savanna (chocolates at the Marketplace!).

The road took us on south to Thomson, Albany, and Cordova (with an international car raceway right next to the highway), and Port Byron (named for the English poet), and then on to Moline to visit my grandparents.

Today, this route is a perfect weekend getaway or even a week’s vacation route. And I did find yummy food along the way.

After leaving my relatives in Moline, and heading north and hungry, consider the Port Byron River Bottom Chop House, and also Casey’s General Store where you can get pizza and caramel chocolate pecan cookies.

Heading north again on Hwy. 84, stop in Thomson for lunch at the Heirloom Market and Cafe, featured on the Travel Channel. The grilled cheese sandwich is probably a “must have,” with cheddar, Swiss, and provolone cheeses, with bacon, tomatoes, and honey mustard sauce. Pick up locally harvested honey and books at the market, too.

Continuing north on 84, a lot of people stop at Poopy’s Pub N Grub, a tavern in Savanna, Ill., dedicated to motorcycles including a gift shop and free tent camping.
Motorcycles not your thing? Savanna is also the home of Land of Oz Dolls, museum-quality dolls made by internationally-known artist Connie Zink, who is also a master gardener.

Remember to pause and observe the wildlife on your trip! There are many parks and nature areas along the route. All types of birds abound along the Mississippi River flyway, including eagles and ducks. Hanover, Ill., has a fall Mallard Festival.

Continuing north from Hanover, catch Hwy. 20 (part of the GRR) and head to Galena. This is a tourist destination but one that’s still quaint and filled with history.

You can easily spend an entire weekend in Galena enjoying sites such as the President Ulysses S. Grant home (very worthwhile tour), and the Civil War encampment grounds. The Encampment event happens April 24-26.

Galena is known for its many antique and art shops, its spas, golf course, its Bed and Breakfast inns (many!) (, restaurants, and of course fudge!

For a dinner in a historic place, try the Log Cabin Steakhouse restaurant, which has been operating since 1937. In 1975, Foti “Frank” Rigopoulas took over the Log Cabin Steakhouse restaurant—not to be missed if you like those traditional supper clubs with relish trays on the table filled with carrots, celery sticks and such. Frank came from Greece in 1954, worked his way up from dishwasher in Chicago then headed west to the Great River Road and Galena.

A great time to visit Galena might be during the Great Galena Balloon Race with lots of kids’ activities June 19-21.

If you’re the outdoor type, take your family slightly east of Galena to the Apple River Canyon Park. It’s a hidden gem with a shallow river for wading, tubing, and fishing. As a little girl visiting this place, I felt that fairies must live here. It’s green, lush, and lovely. And because this is the driftless area—glacial hilly terrain that continues into Wisconsin—you’ll be amazed
that a state known for being flat has a gorgeous, rocky canyon. 

Before you head out of Galena or over to the Apple River, remember to buy your fudge! Galena has three fudge shops. Try the locally owned Galena Kandy Kitchen, which was opened in 1974 by a Chicago transplant, George Paxton.
I hope you travel the Great River Road in Illinois soon. It’s a weekend trip back into history and literally a trip into the heart of our country. For me, it’s a road that takes me “home” no matter which direction I roam.

Christine DeSmet’s new Five-Alarm Fudge debuts April 7. It’s part of the Fudge Shop Mystery Series (Penguin Random House).
First-Degree Fudge enjoyed 10 weeks on the Barnes &Noble mystery bestseller list. The series also includes Hot Fudge Frame-Up
In celebration of that, Christine DeSmet is offering one lucky winner a 
half a pound of Kilwin's fudge because Kilwin's has helped her with research on fudge-making. The winner can choose their favorite flavor:
Remember to leave your contact information with your comment so Christine can award your prize if you're picked! 

Christine is a writing teacher at University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies where she mentors writers of novels, screenplays, plays, and short fiction. She directs the “Write-by-the-Lake Writer's Retreat” every June, open to all aspiring writers. She's a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, Writers Guild of America, and Wisconsin Screenwriters Forum.
Visit Author Christine DeSmet at her site for more information on her work: 

(Information Provided by Author,, and all other websites listed. Click on the links in this post to learn more!)


  1. You know, you can never go wrong with fudge as part of a series. :-) I haven't read any of the Fudge Shop Mysteries yet, but I will be. Thanks!
    coolestmommy2000 at gmail dot com

  2. Hi Christine, As a fudge lover forever, it was interesting to read this blog today. We have another thing in common. I am a native of your neighboring state of Kentucky. In fact, I love just across the river from Metropolis. Your books sound like great fun and I'm very impressed with your multiple talents and projects. I wish you continued enjoyment and success with all of them. It was nice meeting you today. Linda

  3. I'v always enjoyed my trips to , and through Illinois. It's a beautiful state. And Fudge is also my all time favorite, but mine has to be peanut butter. : ) I'm not a big fan of chocolate. Your books sound great, I am going to have to add them to my list to read. Thanks for sharing.

  4. As an Easterner, a "Broody New Englander" and New Yorker, I never had much truck with the Prairie State. My few visits to Chicago left me unimpressed. Sure there was a decent art museum and an aquarium, but the zoo was antiquated and the bagels weren't New York. A summer spent working in Moline left me hungry for sophistication, not fudge.

    Now, years after that summer and actually years after my last visit to Chicago, I live in Phoenix, Arizona. Here it is a badge of honor to come from Illinois. We Easterners are few and considered snooty. (Looking at the last paragraph I can only wonder why.)

    In my circles, as an arts oriented person, it is a big deal to have gone to the Chicago Art Institute, to have attended the Chicago theatres, and even to have graduated from Northwestern as opposed to The Ivy League.

    At least I'm smart enough to keep quiet. Heck, I, too, like a tray of carrot sticks, celery, olives, etc. in a restaurant; and Cincinnati bagels, which in New York are considered "reform", aren't so bad. I've even been able to adapt to Chicago pizza.

    What I can't adjust to: The Cubs. We have Cubs fans up the wazoo here. Come on folks, think Red Sox, Yankees, and okay, The Mets. Seriously, The Cubs!

    Of course, we have the Diamond Backs; and after a bad start, they are winning approval here in Phoenix. There playing just like The Cubs, a team destined to never make it to the top. Forget that one aberrant year; the Backs will make the displaced folks from Illinois proud.

    So here's to Illinois. I love you even if you aren't Maine.

  5. Following the trail you laid down, there are wonderful sights to see, points of interest to learn and re-learn and plenty to eat along the way. It would be a fun trip. And you really have my curiosity up about Five-Alarm Fudge.

  6. Great post:) your book sounds really good:)

  7. My father had lived for a time in Chicago during the 1920s when the city was a dangerous shooting ground for gangsters and, according to Papa,a place where rats roamed the garbage bins for food. In 1964 I drove Papa and Mama back to Chicago to visit old relatives and friends for a weekend. Much had changed since those turbulent years, but it was still, Papa said, windy windy windy!

    Thanks for Illinois ride!

    Salvatore Buttaci

  8. What lovely comments from everybody! It's so fun to see how a blog like Annette's stimulates memories of growing up as well as pride in all our states. Thanks for all the great camaraderie and comments. Every response to my guest blog post has been fun and enlightening.

    Christine DeSmet
    Fudge Shop Mystery Series

  9. I love your new cover, Christine! I'm thrilled that this series has gotten the attention it deserves. I long for fudge each time I read a new book. Good luck.

    Karen Wiesner

  10. Hi Christine--I wanted to buy one of your books when we were at the UW Writers' Institute, but I wasn't prepared. I'm going to look for one of your books at B&N next time I go. Do you recommend a specific book to a new reader? As for fudge, I love anything with caramel in it. Who doesn't!

    Kaireetaylor at

  11. Kairee, it's always good to start a series with Book 1, which in my case is First-Degree Fudge, which features diamonds on the loose. However, all the books are written as stand-alones. If you like lighthouses, try Book 2 first. If you like true-life secrets of history of an area (Door County, Wis.) coming out in a plot and a touch of royalty paying a visit, then try the new one on shelves at B&N this coming week, Five-Alarm Fudge. Thank you for your comments and for coming to the conference in Madison. I'll put your name in the hat for fudge!

  12. Christine,
    I loved both other books, in the series, and have been looking forward to "Five-Alarm Fudge"! Congratulations! patucker54 (at aol dot com)

  13. Thanks, Patricia, for reading my series. I've got your name in the hat! --Christine

  14. Can't wait until Five-Alarm Fudge comes out! The first two books were great adventures, and I know the third will be just as much fun. Great fudge recipes in the books as well!


    Every time I see a delivery truck painted like a Holstein I have to chuckle; and I always think of the Fudge series!

  15. I've lived in Illinois my whole life. I've been an avid camper for the past 35 years. I find Illinois parks lacking in basic amenities and comforts. I attribute this to the fact that Illinois DOES NOT charge anyone a fee for using state parks. All other states we've visited, including Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, as well as those out west, charge even day-use people by the car-load. You can buy a resident or non-resident pass, either daily or for the year. I think with that kind of infusion of money, the beauty of Illinois parks could really be enhanced. I'm not talking about making them more "RV-friendly", but improving trails and markers, enhancing picnic and fishing experiences, etc. Illinois needs to charge folks to enjoy the parks, so there can be more to enjoy.


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