Kenosha is the red-headed stepchild of the Chicagoland area. Despite the millions of people that cruise through it on their way to Milwaukee, Lake Geneva – even Racine – not many ever venture too deeply into the depths of Kenosha proper. In fact, if not for the World Famous Brat Stop, most people might never spend a minute off to the side of I-94 at all.
While Kenosha isn't the cultural melting pot that Chicago is, or the sausage-and-beer Mecca that Milwaukee remains, it has a lot to offer that you can't find in between the two metropolises without breaking the bank on fuel prices. Kenosha is the only Wisconsin locale to be serviced by Metra – so grab yourself a $5 weekend pass and make the round-trip trek for next to nothing.
The Electric Streetcar Circulator
Transit from an ancient era, eco-friendlier for a new age
It wasn't so terribly long ago that Chicago was serviced by a fleet of streetcars. Occasionally, you can still see a track here and there buried in the roads around town, but the electrically powered transit system is now only in old photographs and memories. Not so in Kenosha. When you disembark from your modern-era Metra train, you can jump on the Electric Streetcar Circulator and take a two-mile trek around town.
With four stops on the loop, the five refurbished electric streetcars take you on a trip through the city’s Harborpark neighborhood, two different historic districts, the downtown business district and a scenic view along the lakefront. The recently reworked tracks ensure safety along the lines, and the electric power source give the streetcars a zero-emission carbon profile. (Kenosha bus lines also operate on compressed natural gas to keep the transit system carbon-neutral.) The best part? The fare is part of the old-school experience: only a quarter to ride.
Gargantuan piles of "Garbage"
Franks first opened its doors in 1926 at the hands of Anthony Franks, and has served Kenosha's hungry ever since. With a menu featuring homestyle favorites like pancakes, club sandwiches and burgers, Franks is a classic railroad-car-style experience. There's but a few stools and a handful of booths – be prepared to wait out the crowds or show up early.
The main reason to be there as the sun cracks over Lake Michigan is the famed Garbage Plate. A huge pile of hash browns, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, onions, up to three different kinds of meat (ham, bacon or sausage) mixed in with five(!) eggs make up the full garbage plate. If you don't feel up to the full pile, the half Garbage Plate is just 3 eggs, but still full of all the fixins that make up the plate.
Not in a good mood? Double check the website for the "diner etiquette" section, detailing how one should act in their establishment. You might think twice about grumbling your way through the morning.
Washington Park Velodrome
Two wheels, two legs, tons of speed
Milwaukee has the Brewers, Green Bay has the Packers, Chicago has – well, Chicago has just about everything. Kenosha's claim to sporting fame is its 80-year-old Velodrome, where professional and amateur bicyclists alike arrive to test their mettle against other two-wheelers.
Races in the open-air track take place throughout the summer, and if you want to get in on the action, Monday night training races take place for a $2 fee to get your big wheel, BMX or 10-speed on the track. Interested in racing for real? Join up with the American Bicycle Racing group and take on the 333 meters of concrete that makes up the Velodrome.
Tough to find, worth the trek
If you're looking for a soda-jerk and general-store experience from yesteryear, you could do far worse than Jack's Cafe, inside Andrea's Gifts on 60th Street. For 97 years, Jack's/Andrea's served as a soda shop, ice creamery, tobacconist and general store for the town populace. Nowadays, Andrea's offer a variety of chotchkies and gifts to fritter your income away, and their walk-in humidor and signature blends of pipe tobacco (still kept in glass jars) will please those that remain smoke-friendly.
But in a tiny corner of the Andrea's experience, there still remains Jack's Café. While the focus of the place used to be entirely on the soda shop experience, it's been relegated to less than a quarter of the store. No matter – you can still get a killer black cow, as well as Orange Dreams, sundaes, malteds and specialty mixed sodas like the Summer Breeze. Also available is a full breakfast and lunch menu, an excellent cup of coffee and a great patty melt.
The Wine Knot
Comfort and class on the menu and in the glass
Despite a name based on a lame play on words (why not?), the Knot tries a lot harder than it has to, in a market that one might not think would appreciate a bistro-style place. While the easy assumption for Kenosha would be a "cheese curds and High Life only" diet, the Wine Knot offers much loftier fare.
The menu straddles the line between finer dining and upscale versions of homestyle food. Pork confit, braised short ribs and duck breast shares space with meatloaf and hamburgers. Oh, and the wine? With 60 different selections of wine on hand, 30 different bottles available by the glass, and wine flights a steal starting at $8, the Knot is a wine bar that'd be welcome in any city neighborhood, let alone one that’s 60 miles to the north.