Food Excursion: Cherry Valley Cafe

The CVFTA crew visited a new restaurant today. Though we had plans to check out Murasaki, the place appeared to be closed. After intense debate, we ended up going to a place called the Cherry Valley Cafe.

Cherry Valley Cafe
216 E State St
Cherry Valley, Illinois 61016-7708

Cherry Valley is a small town bordering Rockford and it has stayed that way for a long time. There is a main street made with actual red brick you would imagine to see in days long past. The cafe itself also fits the old-time feel both inside and out. Even the staff have that "Flo-esque" personality of 60's waitresses. If you like that old diner feel, this would be a great place for you to check out.

They serve a large variety from steak and burgers to all-day breakfast. Burgers, for example, can come with a small soup and also chips or fries for an extra fee. I'd suggest spending extra to get the fries because they are unique and worth trying out.

Our order consisted of:
Country Fried Steak (Cream of Chicken soup and hash browns)
New York Strip Steak (Onion Rings and green beans)
Mushroom Swiss Burger (vegetable soup and fries)
Swedish Pancakes
BLT Sandwich (Fries, no soup)

I had the Mushroom Swiss Burger. It came with fresh lettuce and tomato as well as a pickle slice. The fries were really interesting. They had extra breading or something that increased their flavor and texture over normal fries. The burger itself was good; about what you would expect from a diner styled restaurant.

I was told the strip steak was lackluster, but the country fried steak was flavorful and not over cooked.

I was also told that the Swedish Pancakes were good and on par with a local restaurant that specializes in breakfast foods.

Overall, a nice little restaurant and worth checking out. Prices are pretty average. Expect to spend around $10 per meal give or take a few dollars with a tip. This place is good if you enjoy that small town atmosphere.

You can see more photos here (larger versions available).


Katsucon 19 (2013) Photos and Report

Check out my Katsucon photography article for info on my technique!

Check out these image galleries for photos of the convention:
Photography Banzai Gallery:

My dedicated gallery website:

Facebook (you can tag yourself after liking the main page):

Scott S. (aka. Robot, aka. Saihawkeye) and I took the long road trip from northern Illinois to National Harbor Maryland last week to attend Katsucon 19. It is a large convention that is kind of a little sister to the largest convention in the area called Otakon. I had attended Otakon in 2011, so I can at least provide a little perspective on how they compare. I'll say right now that I liked Katsucon more.

The main convention hotel.
I literally decided to attend around a week before the convention. Without a room, I ended up finding one of the lower cost options around 1.5 miles from the convention on Oxon Hill Road (Clarion Hotel to be specific). The hotel itself was pretty nice, but I still kept my gear with me at all times throughout the trip to be on the safe side. Ideally, I would have much preferred a hotel on-site, but it was good enough and didn't hinder me too much. There is a bus called the NH1 that travels to National Harbor and has stops near the hotel making it workable if you time things right (the bus hits each stop on a 30 minute interval). My days were from morning to late evening.

Katsucon registration price spans from $35 to $70 depending on when you get your badge. Given my last minute trip, I ended up paying the full on-site price of $70. That price is a bit over the top considering my home convention called Anime Central tops out at $60 and is a much larger convention. I can't really comment much on the level and quality of panels, but the schedule shows 24-hour programming, which is nice. Registration on Friday morning wasn't too bad. I ended up waiting a while, but nothing too extreme.

The best thing about Katsucon, at least to me, is the cosplay. If you are interested in cosplay and photograph, this a convention you should plan on attending. The location is amazing and the cosplay quality is high. National Harbor and the main hotel called the Gaylord have some really amazing backdrops that help make your photos even better. The one negative is that you should expect the best locations to be very busy and difficult to access at times. The other negative is that February on East coast can have large fluctuations in weather. Friday had great weather above 50 in the daytime, but Saturday and Sunday were cold and windy with a little snow at times. I did buy a badge, but ended up spending the majority of my time just walking around taking photos of cosplayers. The convention is so packed full that it isn't difficult to spend all day taking up photo opportunities if that floats your boat.

Weather on the harbor isn't really an issue in regard to getting nice light because the main hotel has a large open area with a gigantic glass top. This hotel alone is worth the trip. There are multiple levels with even a few little slanted roof buildings inside.

Inside the Gaylord (convention hotel)

I ended up with over 1000 uploaded photos this time, with from 1 to 5 photos per person. As you might know, I spend most of my time doing hallway cosplay photography. This time I took a few photos of friends and friends of friends quite a bit on Saturday.

Impromptu Magi Shoot
The convention went pretty smoothly, but there were a few quirks. On Friday, the popular gazebo area was blocked off due to a youth convention that was happening at the same time. There was said to be various problems with them over the weekend, but I was personally pretty oblivious to any issues besides the access restrictions. The Gazebo was eventually split into to parts, allowing us to get our photo ops, which was nice.

The popular Yaya Han at the Gazebo on Sunday.
Katsucon and Otakon have a different feel. I like Katsucon a bit better due to the location and 24 hour feel to the convention. I was off-site so I can't say from first hand experience, but if you manage to get a room at the Gaylord, you should be able to experience the convention all day or night without having to worry about the weather or your safety. As I also said, they have programming that spans the early hours meaning there should always be something to do. At Otakon, the place gets a bit unappealing after dark, so it isn't quite as fun in my opinion (though August daylight hours are longer, which is good for Otakon).

A great location for constant convention action.
I personally had a nice experience at the convention and would eventually like to return. The expense of big trips like this makes it difficult though. Overall, if you have an interest in large conventions and want to see some great cosplay or even just want to stay at a really amazing hotel for a weekend, Katsucon is worth checking out.

Check out my Katsucon photography article for info on my technique!

San Jose Taqueria Food Excursion

We recently visited a restaurant off of East State Street in Rockford Illinois specializing in Mexican food.

The interior is top notch with elaborate furnishings and features like a fountain and clouds on the ceiling.  It is probably designed to mimic the style of high end homes and buildings in Mexico.

Walls were textured and adorned.
All three members of CVFTA were present for the excursion.

We ordered :
Quesadilla Dinner
Taco Dinner (steak)
Super Nacho
Guacamole Appetizer

I ordered the iced tea.
Quesadilla Dinner
The Taco Dinner
Super Nacho

I had the taco dinner and the iced tea.  The prices were reasonable and the food was pretty good.  I especially liked the iced tea.  It had a light sweetness to it as well a taste of lime that went really well together.  The tacos came with flavored rice, beans, and some guacamole.  The flavor of the tacos was decent on its own, but they seem to be flavored mildly enough that you should use the bottles of hot sauce that are available on the table to get your ideal level of spice.

Overall, the food was pleasant and the restaurant was fun to look at inside.  It's worth revisiting in the future to try out more of the menu.

You can see more of the photos I had taken here (with larger versions available).
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