I used to do a lot of mystery shopping and have decided to try to get back into it up here locally. I had submit a writing sample of what I would suggest for someone to do and eat who was visiting for the first time. There are really tons of things to do here but I tried to keep it interesting and brief. Here is a sample of my submission- hopefully it will give some folks some ideas on what to do locally or if they are ever visiting the area of Bloomington/Normal, Illinois!
Bloomington is an area full of local charm and rich history, as well as a bustling corporate and college location including State Farm and Country Insurance headquarters, a Mitshubishi factory and local agriculture. Bloomington is considered a “twin city” with the town of Normal offering up even more local flair. Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University offer a varied of performance and sports events as well as typical college town comfort. You will find many eateries, pubs, bars and coffee houses in the areas surrounding the universities. A must-stop location in Uptown Normal (located adjacent to ISU) is the local Irish pub Maggie Miley’s. The heritage behind this classic eatery dates back to the 1900’s and offers many traditional Irish favorites including bangers and mash, corned beef and cabbage and Irish beef stew crafted with Guinness. Located just down Main Street from Maggie Miley’s is a local institution that is any book lover’s dream- Babbit’s Books. This hometown treasure is packed full with books ranging from classics to best sellers and offers great deals on used books. Be sure to say hello to the friendly store pet Babbit the cat! If you are a fan of small distilleries, Desthil is a must visit location. A variety of hand-crafted seasonal brews are available at this classy gastro pub. The food here is simply amazing and ranges from classics like cheese soup and flatbreads to one of my favorite artisanal dishes Cedar Plank Salmon served with oven-roasted tomatoes and asparagus accompanied with a bed of peppery arugula topped with a roasted garlic vinaigrette and white truffle oil. If you happen to be visiting during the warm months the Downtown Bloomington Farmers Market offers up items true to their slogan: we only sell what we grow. Don’t miss the Artists’ Alley to find gems produced by local artists and artisans! While perusing the local offerings head into the Coffee Hound café for an in house roasted and brewed treat. If you are looking for a bite to eat there are a plethora of cafes, bistros, pubs plus fine and casual dining destinations. If you are looking for a casual culinary encounter I suggest checking out Lucca Grill which offers quality traditional Italian favorites ranging from pizzas and pastas to a variety of fresh sandwiches and burgers. If you are looking for a bit more of a culinary adventure Lancaster’s is not to be missed. Locally owned and operated this fine dining establishment offers an eclectic, seasonal menu ranging from wild to mild. Classics like chicken cordon blue and osso bucco are tantalizing staples but I suggest checking out their non-traditional protein options with specials that have previous included a dazzling llama entrée! Finish up your downtown Bloomington exploration with a trip to the McLean County History Museum for an unique stroll through exhibits that take you make in time to experience a cultural and educational opportunity to experience amazing architecture, historical events and cutting edge exhibits including interactive displays on immigration and living life on the prairie. Take come some complimentary recipes inspired by the different presentations and make sure to take a picture with a famous local celebrity- Abraham Lincoln cast in bronze sitting on a park bench on the east lawn.