There’s something for everyone in Illinois from delicious food to exquisite art

Illinois is nothing if not diverse. From the towering skyscrapers of Chicago to the centrally located agriculture heartland, this Midwest state aims to please. The same can be said of the variety of products those who call Illinois home create, whether it’s food, spirits or works of art.

To highlight some of these extraordinary professionals, the Illinois Office of Tourism formed a program called Illinois Made, featuring those who craft, design and invent. Illinois Made gives an intimate glimpse into the creation process of artisans across the state on the Enjoy Illinois website by providing a behind-the-scenes view on what makes each maker exceptional. Here are a few of the hundreds of Illinois Made businesses that can be found throughout the state.

Pottery and Art in Alton, Illinois

The showroom at Mississippi Mud Pottery, which offers views of the iconic river in its name, abounds with one-of-a-kind stoneware items handcrafted by husband-and-wife owners Chad Nelson and Felicia Breen, who took over the shop and gallery from the original owners Ken and Brenda Barnett, in 1983. Family-owned and -operated is a big deal here. Tours feature a demonstration at the pottery wheel in front and a look in back at the kilns and glaze-applying process. Merchandise ranges from mugs, magnets and wind chimes to honey pots, garlic keepers and olive oil pourers.

Shopping at Optimo hats in Illinois

Shopping at Optimo hats in Illinois. Photo courtesy of Optimo Hats

Shopping for Hat and Desserts in Chicago

Even before you step inside Optimo Hats located in the historic Monadnock Building in Chicago’s Loop, you’ll be mesmerized by the beautiful hats that seem to be floating in its windows (credit the thin metal bars supporting them for this magical special effect). Founded in 1996 by Graham Thompson, who has spent his career recovering and advancing the lost art of fine hat making, Optimo has become legendary around the world for its uncompromising quality when it comes to its beautifully made hats that defy trends. Even if you’re not a hat-wearer, consider a visit to this shop a lesson in craftsmanship.

“All Optimo hats are made here in Chicago and home to our only store, located in the historic Monadnock building,” said Graham Thompson, founder. “The store layout itself is an experience of its own unlike anywhere in the world where we specialize in exceptional hats that are all made in our Chicago workshop on the southside.”
Among food-obsessed Chicagoans, Katherine Anne Confections is legendary — and for good reason. All of her sweet treats are impeccably made using pristine ingredients that add to the flavor — think Jersey cream from local farmers, seasonal Midwest fruit — as well as the world (fair-trade cacoa, anyone?). Katherine began making caramels and truffles back when she was a kid, and that passion comes through loud and clear in her extensive selection of handcrafted truffles, marshmallows and caramels all these years later.

“What makes our business a must-visit for travelers is our focus on the Midwest ingredients like Illinois cream, Michigan cherries and Wisconsin raspberries,” said Owner/Founder Katherine Duncan. “They make such great tasting sweets with vibrant, fresh flavors. In addition, we really narrow in on quality and work hard to make ridiculously delicious sweets.”

Whiskey Distillery in DeKalb

The folks at Whiskey Acres Distilling Co. take their tagline “from seed to spirit” very seriously, creating the only bourbon, whiskey and vodka made in the state from grain seeds sown, grown, harvested, distilled, barreled, bottled and sold on the same lot of Illinois farmland. Heck, even the water used is naturally filtered by the limestone aquifer found deep under their land. Whiskey Acres is one of two certified “on-farm” craft whiskey distilleries in the U.S. and the first estate distillery in Illinois. A fifth-generation farm family, the Walters know their DeKalb land inside and out, and it shows in their pristine spirits. Learn about their craftsmanship with a tour. Live music and food trucks add to the friendly atmosphere.

Eshelman Pottery - soup bowls

Eshelman Pottery in Elizabeth has the highest quality stoneware.

Pottery in Elizabeth, Illinois

Located in the countryside of northwestern Illinois, Eshelman Pottery is where Paul and Laurel Eshelman create contemporary, red stoneware utilizing glazed and unglazed surfaces for a visual and tactile contrast. These functional masterpieces range from cups to plates to serving dishes and are inspired by Paul’s vision of bringing people together around a dinner table. In line with that theme, all of the pottery glazes are lead free and the ware may be safely used in the microwave, dishwasher and conventional oven. Eshelman Pottery is featured in art shows across the country and can also be found in top-rated restaurants including renowned chef Grant Achatz’s Roister in Chicago.

High-Quality Shopping in Rock Island, Illinois

At his workshop in historic Rock Island, Wild Cherry Spoon Co.’s Tim McGuire crafts a variety of high-quality wooden spoons, spatulas, pizza cutters and other utensils and home products. Utilizing raw, ethically harvested urban lumber, each piece is hand chiseled before being finished with organic olive oil and beeswax. With a distinct style all his own, McGuire’s pieces can be found all over the world, including at a nationally recognized art museum as part of an esteemed culinary feature.

Effingham Attractions

Celebrated chefs around the world use hardwood cutting boards and butcher blocks made by John Boos & Co., the oldest business in Effingham, with a history going back to 1887. Its flagship product is the Boos Block (4 to 16 inches thick), which takes three days to individually craft from hard-rock maple. While their products are available in many locations, a visit to their Effingham showroom and outlet means access to exclusive items offered only there as well as special prices on factory seconds. The company also makes counter tops, worktables and islands, and rolling pins.

Great American Popcorn in Galena

Great American Popcorn in Galena has been serving the tastiest treats since 1994.

Galena, Illinois Attractions

Great American Popcorn has been a staple in Galena since 1994. Family-owned and -operated, this beloved shop has earned many fans for its variety of popcorn made from the highest quality ingredients and the best non-GMO popcorn sourced entirely from American family farms. Handcrafted in small batches daily, Great American Popcorn flavors range from the classics to more inventive ones, such as Cheezy Garlic Bread, Churro Puffs and Honey Garlic. Over the years, they have created more than 350 different popcorn flavors and offer nearly 70 flavors daily in their downtown Galena shop. For decision-phobes, staff is happy to offer as many samples as needed.

For more than 20 years, Galena Canning Co. has been part of the Galena community it so proudly calls home. Their selection of canned and jarred sauces, preserves, dressings, dips, seasonings and more have become a staple in the area and beyond, recognized for the quality of ingredients used, made-from-scratch recipes and distinct flavor profiles. Three generations of home cooking in a jar, Galena Canning Co. has a number of bestsellers, including their All Purpose BBQ Rub, Fire in the Hole Salsa and Burger Starter Smokey Onion topper. Make the difficult decision-making process easier and opt for a basket or crate.

There are two ways to experience first-hand the award-winning wonders of Galena Cellars: Stop by their downtown Galena shop located inside a historic building that features three floors of seating to enjoy their wine and small bites or travel a short distance to Galena’s countryside and enjoy their wines at their vineyard. Either is a trip well taken to enjoy the variety of wines available from this family business that got its start in 1976 and three generations later is still going strong.

Sweet Treats in Geneva

Forty-one miles west of Chicago resides Geneva, home to All Chocolate Kitchen. In this quaint shop, three-time Guinness World Record holder Alain Roby prepares striking desserts and truffles from the finest Belgian and Swiss chocolate. Roby brings international acclaim to Geneva with his unique sculptures made from blown sugar. This celebrated chef merges the worlds of fine art and sweets by creating edible masterpieces for all occasions with a menu that includes homemade gelato cakes, truffles and pralines, French crepes, waffles and chocolate fondue.

Rockford Art Deli

Rockford Art Deli

Shopping in Rockford

How much does print shop Rockford Art Deli — or RAD as locals call it — take pride in the city it calls home beyond including in its name? Through their participation in 1% For the Planet and collab shirts with local and regional organizations, RAD has donated thousands of dollars each year to supporting local businesses, nonprofit and artists. A passion for high-quality prints, designs and vibes, RAD focuses on curating only ethically made, eco-friendly products, including its uber-popular 815 line of T-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, hats and mugs, which pays homage to Rockford’s area code.

Monticello, Illinois Glass Blowing

The modest town of Monticello in Central Illinois is home to Prairie Fire Glass, one of the foremost glassblowing shops in the country. Complete with roaring furnaces, Prairie Fire allows visitors to watch molten glass transformed into beautiful and practical works of art in the gallery’s working studio. Owned and operated by glass artist Jim Downey, Prairie Fire Glass opened in2002 and features functional artworks such as vases, bowls, jewelry and ornaments. The unique shop also stocks mixed-media work from local artists, including greeting cards, paintings, sculpture and photography.

Google customer reviews show how spectacular Jim’s work is as they say “His artwork is colorful and unique, everyone needs to come here” and “Beautiful blown glass, very friendly here.”

Sparkling Wine in Utica, Illinois

The Midwest might not be the first place you’d think of when it comes to stellar sparkling wines, but thankfully the couple behind Illinois Sparkling Co. did. Through arduous craftsmanship and an in-depth knowledge of the soil, Mark and Teri Wenzel have crafted a line of award-winning sparkling wines that range from Brut Ombré Rosé and Extra Brut to Demi Sec Rosé. While their wines can be found in a number of shops, the best way to experience them is to visit their downtown Utica Tasting Room, where you can enjoy everything from flights to small bites. Additionally, their seasonal Wine on the Hill and Cave Tastings are held at their winery and vineyard in Peru.

You’ll feel special when you visit the August Hill Winery and Illinois Sparkling Co. tasting room. That is our goal,” said Mark Wenzel, co-founder/winemaker. “Our guests can enjoy a tasting at the bar, gather with friends in the lounge, or relax on our three-season patio with a wine flight. Bonus: we are located 3-7 minutes from three fantastic state parks.” 

Illinois still has so much more to offer, so if you’d like to get more travel ideas and information just Subscribe to Leisure Group Travel magazine for FREE to get started

By Lisa Shames