Geovanti’s Bar & Grill – Champaign, IL

21 03 2009
  • 401 E. Green Street
  • Champaign, IL 61820
  • (217) 344-4600
  • Website
  • Menu
Geovantis Bar & Grill on Green Street near the campus of the University of Illinois

Geovanti's Bar & Grill on Green Street near the campus of the University of Illinois

It’s no secret that the one food I crave when I go home is the Italian beef.  It just doesn’t exist in Mid-Michigan.  While it’s obvious you can find the sandwich in Chicago, most people don’t realize there are a handful of places downstate that offer the sandwich.  They’re usually a Chicago-style place that specializes in sandwiches and pizza.  Lucky for me, there was not one, but two places right down the street from Huff Hall where I happened to be working.

Geovanti’s Bar and Grill is on the corner of Green and 4th Streets.  Think of Green Street like Grand River Avenue.  It’s right in the middle of a lot of off campus housing and it’s a short walk from campus of the U of I.  There are a number of bars and restaurants on a four block stretch of road.

I walked in to Geovanti’s just as they were opening at 11:00 AM.  There are two entrances.  There’s the entrance on Green, but there’s also an alley entrance.  I was on the phone and not paying attention, so I walked around to the front entrance.  Read the rest of this entry »





Huff Hall – Champaign, IL

21 03 2009
  • 1206 S. 4th Street
  • Champaign, IL 61820
  • (217) 244-9755
  • Website
Huff Hall on the campus of the University of Illinois set up for gymnastics

Huff Hall on the campus of the University of Illinois set up for gymnastics

Even if you’ve never been to the University of Illinois and you’ve never heard of Huff Hall, you are quite familiar with a term that was coined during the days when the IHSA boys state basketball championships played in the gym.  It’s actually pretty fitting that I’m writing about this right now.  The term “March Madness” is a term that was trademarked by the IHSA after a court battle that also gave the NCAA a right to trademark the term.  The IHSA still claims to have invented the term and they own the sole trademark to the phrase “America’s Original March Madness” which is how they bill their tournament these days

The phrase “March Madness” was first used in 1939 to describe the state basketball championships that were held at Huff Gymnasium.  The layout and design of the building made it loud and when the place was full, it was deafening.  If you’ve ever watched an IHSA small schools game, you know how loud it can get.

Huff Hall was built in 1925 as a multi-purpose gymnasium named after George Huff who was the school’s athletic director from 1895 to 1935.  It’s a 4,500 seat arena with a permanent upper deck and retractable bleachers in the lower area.  Like Michigan State’s Jenison Fieldhouse, Huff Hall is the home of the U of I’s volleyball, wrestling,  and gymnastics teams. Read the rest of this entry »





Jenison Field House

9 02 2009
  • 248 Jenison Fieldhouse
  • East Lansing, MI 48824
  • (517) 355-1610
  • Website
The entrance to Jenison Fieldhouse on MSUs campus

The entrance to Jenison Fieldhouse on MSU's campus

I wish my first visit to Jenison Field House was thirty years.  When I walked in to the building for the first time, the first and only thing I could think was, “I bet this place was loud.”  I knew of Jenison before I moved to Lansing.  Who hasn’t?  I loved watching the old clips of Magic Johnson in East Lansing.  I can only imagine what the place was like.  Sure, it’s huge, but those big cavernous ceilings had to make the place loud.

Jenison Field House is on the campus of MSU just off Kalamazoo Street.  It’s just a block or so from it’s replacement, the Jack Breslin Student Events Center (review HERE).  It’s a huge building.  At first, I was wondering how they would even do basketball, but figured it out after seeing the wrestling set up. 

Jenison was opened in 1940 and was the home to Spartan basketball until 1989.  The facility is now used for Women’s volleyball, gymnastics, wrestling, and indoor track & field as well as a practice facility for a number of MSU sports.  There is permanent seating in an upper deck that runs around the entire facility.  The surface is a multi purpose rubber which is used for track and field.  When other events are held in the Field House, a curtain is dropped to divide the arena into a smaller area and portable bleachers are brought in to fill out the empty spaces.  Read the rest of this entry »





Crisler Arena

18 01 2009
  • 333 E. Stadium Blvd
  • Ann Arbor, MI 48104
  • (734) 998-7236
  • Website
Crisler Arena on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor

Crisler Arena on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor

When I got the e-mail asking if I was available to shoot men’s basketball at Crisler Arena, I have to admit, I was a little pumped.  Growing up in the far away land of Central Illinois, Ann Arbor was this far away, mystical place we saw on TV every Saturday afternoon.  I would have been in junior high during the Fab Five years and there were wars at my house over college basketball.  My brother was a Michigan fan while I rooted for Duke.  This was also about the time Nike was coming out with “authentic” apparel.  My brother had the Jalen Rose jersey and matching shorts.  I had a number of Duke shooter shoots.  As far as we were concerned, Crisler Arena was one of those places we’d never go to, but would have given anything, at that time, to see a game there. 

Well, I got my chance 10 plus years later.  Crisler Arena is on the campus of  U of M in the shadow of Michigan Stadium.  My first impression was, “wow.”  That’s not a good wow.  That’s a “I can’t believe this” wow.  The place is so run down it doesn’t look fit for a basketball program with the history and aura of the Michigan Wolverines. The seats were rusted, they were small and low to the ground.  From a broadcast point of view, Crisler is one of the worst stadiums I’ve ever worked at.  I’ve never been to Big Ten stadium where all of the cable had to be run from the truck.  After being there five minutes, all the expectations I had as a kid were squashed.  I’m really glad my brother hasn’t been there. Read the rest of this entry »





Circle K – Ann Arbor

18 01 2009
  • 1420 E. Stadium Blvd.
  • Ann Arbor, MI 48104
  • (734) 997-9405
  • Website
The Circle K on Stadium Boulevard and Packard Street in Ann Arbor

The Circle K on Stadium Boulevard and Packard Street in Ann Arbor

What’s my favorite thing about going to Ann Arbor?  It’s not Zingerman’s.  It’s not Blimpie Burger.  It’s the Circle K.  I made my to Ann Arbor through a snowstorm for work.  I left pretty early because I didn’t know just how bad the roads would be.  When I got to town, I made a quick stop at Zingerman’s Next Door to pick up some caramel’s for J.  I still had about a half hour before my call time when I got to Crisler Arena and I remembered that there was a Circle K about half a mile down the road, so I headed out back on to the unplowed streets of Ann Arbor.

The Circle K is on Stadium Boulevard not too far from The Big House and Crisler Arena.  It’s not the newest gas station in town, but they had what I needed.   A Polar Pop.  I’ve blogged a few times in the past about the Polar Pop, but I’ll remind you again, it’s more nostalgia than anything.  Yes.  It’s just a Pepsi out of a fountain in a styrofoam cup, but, unlike other gas stations, they charge less than a buck.  Actually, they only charge $.63.  Read the rest of this entry »





Merry Ann’s Diner – Downtown Champaign, IL

29 12 2008
  • 1 E. Main Street
  • Champaign, IL 61820
  • (217) 531-1160
  • No Known Website
  • Menu
Merry Anns Diner in downtown Champaign, IL

Merry Ann's Diner in downtown Champaign, IL

5:30 AM is still too early for me.  I was up at this ungodly hour because I had to be in Champaign by 7:00 AM for a basketball game.  My parents live a little over an hour away, so the alarm was set for just before 5:30.  Since the game was at 1:00, it meant lunch was actually going to be breakfast, so on my way in to town, I started scouting out breakfast joints.  I wasn’t having much luck until I had to detour off of Neil Street (the main artery of Champaign and the road that runs through downtown) because of construction.  I turned down Main Street and like a golden beacon, a simple sign that said “diner” jumped out and I found my breakfast spot.

Merry Ann’s Diner is located in the One Main building which is a development companies’ prototype for downtown buildings.  I know they also built a “One Main” in Normal, IL near Illinois State University even though the street is not Main Street.  The “One Main” name comes from the address of this original building. 

I was not aware that there was a second Merry Ann’s in Champaign.  I had eaten at the location farther down on the corner of Neil and Kirby Streets near the University of Illinois (review HERE).  I was surprised when I actually saw the name of the diner on Main was Merry Ann’s.

I got back downtown just before 10:00.  The diner isn’t very big and it’s set up pretty much the same was as the diner on Neil Street.  Most of the booths but up to the “kitchen” with little cutouts for the waitress.  This way, the waitress never has to go out into the dining room….unless you happen to be sitting at the two or three tables near the door which are separated from the counter.  The diner is setup with a row of booths, a lunch counter, and another row of booths.  When I walked in, I wasn’t sure there was any available space.  All of the booths looked full.  I thought maybe there was one down at the end, so I started walking that way.  That’s when I noticed the stools at the counter, so I just sat down there. Read the rest of this entry »





Urbana Garden Family Restaurant – Urbana, IL

22 12 2008
  • 810 W. Killarney St.
  • Urbana, IL 61801
  • (217) 328-1514
  • No Known Website
  • No Online Menu
Urbana Garden Family Restaurant in Urbana, IL

Urbana Garden Family Restaurant in Urbana, IL

It’s always fun when you’re in a strange city to go out to eat with the locals. I was working at Assembly Hall for a University of Illinois basketball game with a few other guys who live in the area. I’m somewhat familiar with the Champaign/Urbana area, but not nearly as familiar with the local joints, so I was happy when one of my co-workers took the lead and suggested we go to Urbana Gardens for dinner.

Urbana Gardens sits near Interstate 74 in Urbana a few miles from campus. It’s one of those down home, friendly restaurants where it’s more about having a good time than white table cloths. Five of us left the arena together for lunch. When we showed up at Urbana Gardens, we were relieved to see the holiday shoppers didn’t make it down this far. The place was pretty empty for a Saturday night and we were seated at a table together. I sort of felt sorry for the other patrons. We were loud. The guys I was with all have a sarcastic sense of humor and the waitress was playing along, so things got a little noisy. The table sitting next to us didn’t seem to mind as eventually, they started asking questions about our line of work.

The waitress came with drinks. I ordered a Coke. We also had one coffee, a Sprite, an iced tea and two Arnold Palmers. The waitress looked at the first guy that ordered it and said, “you’re going to be surprised I actually know what that is.” I had no idea, but after a quick Internet search, I now know it’s half iced tea and half lemonade. The waitress had a system when it came to keeping track of orders and she wasn’t about to let anyone mess it up. She started with the first guy to her left. He asked what the specials were and eventually decided on chicken fried steak. He asked if it had mushrooms and if so, to keep it off. The waitress asked if he was alergic and just didn’t like them. He said he didn’t like them. She said she would have to check if it even had mushrooms because the gravy was already made and if he was alergic, she’d pick them off….if he didn’t like them, he’d just have to deal with. That sounds mean, but she was being sarcastic and messing around with him. It was all in good fun and I don’t think she would have actually made him eat them. Read the rest of this entry »





Jack Breslin Student Events Center

7 12 2008
  • 1 Birch Road
  • East Lansing, MI 48824
  • (517) 432-1989
  • Website
The view from our seats for a Michigan State basketball game at the Breslin Center

The view from our seats for a Michigan State basketball game at the Breslin Center

A year ago, when I stood in the Peoria Civic Center and watched Bradley University almost upset Michigan State, I never imagined that I would see this year’s Bradley/MSU from a seat in the Breslin Center.  Earlier in the week, J and I made sugar cookies like we do every year from my grandma’s recipe.  She took a few to work and one of her co-workers said he’d like some more.  He’s got access to MSU basketball tickets and I offered up a trade.  Two dozen home made sugar cookies for two tickets to the Michigan State vs. Bradley basketball game.  I lived up to my end of the bargain and two days later, J came home with a pair of tickets.

I have been to a number of college basketball games, but surprisingly, never as a spectator.  I do a lot of work for sports networks that broadcast these games and that’s how I usually go…including last year’s MSU/Bradley game that was aired on ESPNU.  I had been to the Breslin Center one other time, but that was for a volleyball game earlier in the year, so I was really looking forward to getting to go to a game.  J had never been to a college basketball game either, so it was a treat for both of us.

Before we ever got inside the Breslin Center, I already had a sour taste in my mouth.  Parking sucks.  Really sucks.  I tried looking online for a parking map before we left, but couldn’t find anything.  There were no signs directing you to a public lot and everything near the arena had a temporary sign out front that said those lots were for passes only.  I finally found a paid lot on Kalamazoo heading back towards Lansing and by the time we got there, it was almost full.  We were one of the last cars they let in and one of the parking attendants had to move their car to create more parking spaces.  The spaces were really tight and my mid-size truck didn’t want to fit very well.  Had we not left the game five minutes early, leaving would have been a mess. Read the rest of this entry »





Spartan Stadium

9 11 2008
  • 248 Jennison Fieldhouse
  • East Lansing, MI 48824
  • (517) 355-1610
  • Website
A full endzone at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing

A full endzone at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing

Finally!  When we moved here, I was really hoping to shoot a football game at Spartan Stadium and Michigan Stadium.  Spartan Stadium finally happened.  Michigan Stadium will have to wait and hopefully happen next year.  I’ve now shot games at six of the eleven Big Ten football stadiums (Memorial Stadium (IL), Ross-Ade Stadium (Purdue), Ryan Field (Northwestern), Kinnick Stadium (Iowa), and Camp Randall (Wisc)).  From a working standpoint, Spartan Stadium doesn’t rate that high.  Lack of elevators and access knock it down a lot.  Putting the camera deck in a location that’s not cut off totally from the public knocks it down too.  Parking, however, is one of the best.  They let us park not far from the truck which is outstanding.  I don’t have to carry all the stuff I may need two miles.  I can leave my rain gear until it rains.

So, as most of you know, Spartan Stadium sits on the campus of Michigan State University near the other sports facilities on MSU’s campus.  The first thing I noticed is that it looks much bigger from the outside than it does inside.  The luxury suites and press box tower make it look huge, but that structure also takes away a lot of seats.  Still, the facility hold close around 75,000, so it’s not small either.  Read the rest of this entry »





Monical’s Pizza – Gilman, IL

22 10 2008
  • 625 US Highway 24
  • Gilman, IL 60938
  • (815) 265-7272
  • Website
  • Menu
Monicals Pizza in Gilman, IL about 40 miles north of Champaign.

Monical's Pizza in Gilman, IL about 40 miles north of Champaign.

This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about Monical’s, so I won’t rehash the whole history.  If you’re interested, there’s more information on my review about the store in Champaign, IL (review HERE).  As a quick recap, Monical’s is a Central Illinois based pizza chain that my family ate at very often.  The choices were either Pizza Hut or Monical’s.  Like everything else with my family, I chose Pizza Hut because I liked their bread sticks better and everyone else chose Monical’s, so we ate at Monical’s a lot.  Even though J grew up in Illinois, she had never been to a Monical’s.  They don’t go that far north, but there were a couple stores in the Peoria area where we lived before moving to Lansing.  We still never ate there. 

J and I were home on a short vacation to see friends, family and my new niece.  We got up on Monday and needed to make a grocery store run and find food.  We could do both by driving fifteen miles south to Gilman and that would give her a chance to finally try Monical’s Pizza. Read the rest of this entry »