Ham Hock Sunday
What better to do on the autumnal equinox than eat ham hocks in Zion, Illinois?
Some call it the first day of fall, but this year's equinox was a flawless simulation of a summer day, except for its length. In other words, hot and sunny. The day before, even before consulting any weather forecasts, we'd decided to visit Illinois Beach State Park, which is at the northern edge of metro Chicago in Lake County, only a few miles from the border with Wisconsin. I suggested it because we'd only visited it once, very briefly, when it was fairly cold, and fairly dark. I can't remember why we went there at such an inhospitable time, or even exactly when that was, though I think Lilly was a toddler at the time. I wanted another look.
Illinois Beach SP is, as you might guess, along the shore of Lake Michigan, divided into a north and a south unit by the inactive Zion Nuclear Power Station, which also sits on the shore. It isn't exactly a straight shot for us to get there: up Illinois 53, over on Lake-Cook Road, then up the I-94 Tollway, then over on Illinois 173. Took about an hour all together.
The first thing that always happens when we've driven about an hour in any direction is, "I'm hungry!" from one or more of the occupants of the car. We'd made it to the town closest to the park, Zion, Illinois, when Yuriko spotted a place called Green Tomato, which promised a Sunday buffet at a fairly friendly price. Buffets might not be the best thing for those of us who tend to be fat, but they do have an advantage on the road. That is, if you eat lunch there, you don't have to bother with dinner later in the day. Green Tomato isn't a chain that I know of, and certainly didn't look like part of one, but it looked wholesome enough, so we went for it.
Like most buffets, its food was on a bell curve. Toward to delicious end of the curve were Southern specialties. Though not completely Southern, we'd chanced on a buffet that featured a number of Southern dishes -- non-fast food fried chicken, pork barbecue, black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, various beans, green fried tomatoes, and for dessert, three kinds of cobblers and an outrageously fine bread puddling. Best of all, ham hocks -- served only on Sunday. It was a hard sell with the rest of the family, though. Lilly nibbled a bit, and then refused more. No one else even tried any. I ate a couple of helpings. Mmmm.