For foodies in search of gourmet ingredients, for creative types looking to let loose, for anyone hungry for a cheesy taste of nostalgia, downtown Naperville has something new.
Here's a look inside VOM FASS, A Colorful Affair and Everdine's Grilled Cheese Co., three new businesses joining the scene.
Nothing is off-limits for sampling at the first Illinois location of this German specialty ingredient shop at 121 S. Washington St. Rows of fruit vinegars, balsamic vinegars, olive oils, nut or seed oils, spices, spirits and wines that can form the "base ingredients" for five-star, home-crafted meals are all ripe for the tasting, says franchise owner Mike Aldrich of Elmhurst.
During the store's first weeks, Aldrich has seen one customer jump up and down out of excitement when she tasted a specific hazelnut oil, and another say of an aged scotch, "That is the best thing I have ever tasted in my entire life."
With an "old-time shopping experience" that includes sampling products, choosing a bottle and having it filled to order, Aldrich hopes to introduce more culinary kings and queens to their new favorite building blocks. Items cost between $10 and upward of $250, depending on the size and flavor.
Business card-sized handouts near many of the cognacs, Armagnacs, brandies and Calvados explain their taste, origin and use in recipes. For example, Calvados Napoleon is a 20-year aged selection of dry, distilled apple cider that's "an excellent sipping brandy," according to its calling card.
The store has a liquor license to allow sampling of spirits, but employees must dispense the samples. Aldrich says workers give customers a few drops, just enough to get a whiff and a sip of the drink.
A Colorful Affair
Artist Mansi Hans of Bolingbrook says art should be a stress reliever -- even for people who don't consider themselves creative. So when her now 12-year-old daughter brought home a B- in art class as a 7-year-old and felt like a failure, Hans knew she had to make art enjoyable again.
A few years later, she started A Colorful Affair in south Naperville, and this month she opened a second location downtown at 120 S. Webster St.
"It's not about grades. It's about self-expression. Art is about fun," she said. "We need to start playing with our hands again."
Inside her new studio, where kids and adults can come during drop-in hours, for birthday parties or to take classes, anyone can make art by following step-by-step procedures. The studio has the goods to create ceramics, mosaics, canvas paintings, scrubs, soaps, candles and an early favorite at the new downtown location, glass paintings.
Hans employs a staff of three other artists to guide the creativity of customers, who stay an average of two hours and usually spend between $20 and $40.
Someday, husband-and-wife owners Brian and Kelly Herkert of Everdine's Grilled Cheese Co. at 24 W. Jefferson St. hope to be open late nights to serve their cheesy grilled goodness to people leaving the bars.
For now, they're open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday selling grilled cheese with ham, pineapple, mac and cheese, sloppy joes, turkey and tuna to crowds that have remained steady since the shop's November opening, owners said.
The Herkerts, who met when they were both working in a downtown Naperville restaurant in 2004, got the idea to open a grilled cheese shop about nine years ago when they ran out of money in Australia as newlyweds on a backpacking adventure. While living inside a camper van, about the only food they could afford was bread, cheese and butter -- the perfect grilled cheese ingredients.
Since returning to Naperville, where they went to separate high schools and graduated five years apart, the Herkerts have given birth to daughter Everdine, 3, and named their first restaurant after her.
Grilled cheeses, which they sell for about $8 a sandwich, now look to be their life far beyond their Australian camper days.
"It's our favorite food," Brian said.