It’s true the suburbs are no Chicago. There are no skyscrapers (no John Hancock Building, no Sears – I mean, Willis – Tower). Most things are spread out, so you can’t just hop on the train, and you have to get in the car to go to work, the store, even the park where you ride your bike. There’s also less of certain things, like boutiques or restaurant options, cheap apartments or people to run into at the corner coffee shop. We have some farms. We have bigger houses. We brag about lower crime rates.
But you who have lived in suburbs, tell me this: have you ever tried to find a bakery? At least in the Chicago area, it’s not easy. The few there are aren’t much of anything special, or overpriced, or hard to get to. One exception would be Vesecky’s in Berwyn, a long-time favorite of my family’s, which makes addictive hoska, that eastern European sweet bread with raisins and soft yeasty insides—if you haven’t been, go. And another exception would be this adorable little shop in Downers Grove, a long-standing establishment that is like one point for suburbs everywhere, and I say that proudly: Ingram’s Busy Bee.
The truth is, I’ve grown up loving the suburban things about Downers Grove, including its cute downtown—they have a little barber shop! and regular festivals! and gorgeous historic houses!—and its Tivoli theatre (where I recently saw and cried through the beautiful movie UP—have you seen it?), but I didn’t get to try Busy Bee until this year, mainly because it’s only available mornings (and never Mondays), and I’m usually not.
Last month, though, on a rainy Saturday in my flip-flops, walking over from the library where I’d met my brother who took the Metra into town, one bite was all it took for me to know one thing for certain: Ingram’s Busy Bee Bakery makes amazing, you-will-love-them, and-all-of-this-just-for-one-dollar? pastries.
First, there are the sweet rolls—soft, flaky dough laced with icing, surrounding a sweet center of cream cheese or fruit jelly. Then there’s the coffee cake—melt-in-your-mouth goodness that has you coming back for bite after bite. I also loved a cinnamon-roll looking thing where every tiny morsel was rolled in cinnamon and sugar, the kind that covers your hands, leaving you to lick the last little bits from your fingers.
Last Saturday, we grabbed a bag full (for a grand total of $4) and headed to one of the flower-lined benches along Main Street, but not before stopping at the pizza place next door, which sells pizza by the slice, among a menu of other options.
The owner wrapped our slices in sandwiched Styrofoam plates and a paper bag when we said it was to go, but she didn’t flinch when we sat down at the red-and-white checkered tablecloth instead, burning the roofs of our mouths with the hot sauce and cheese.
And I guess somewhere between the pizza and the 15 minutes we spent pulling out sweets from a white paper bag while we watched cars drive by, I decided the suburbs have a few things going for them at least, which I’m glad to have found, especially last month and last Saturday, sitting next to someone from the city, while we sat under perfect blue skies and, ate.
Speaking of Downers Grove! You had to know another plug for the party was coming, right? If you’re nearby, stop at the pavilion in Gilbert Park on August 8, which is just a beautiful walk of pretty houses with big porches from the downtown area of Downers Grove. I’d love to meet you!
Ingram’s Busy Bee Bakery
5126 Main Street
Downers Grove, IL 60515-4601
Main Street Pizza
5124 Main Street
Downers Grove, IL 60515
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.
15 thoughts on “The Thing About Downers Grove, IL”
i love the suburbs, and most people think i’m crazy because of it. after working in the loop and visiting friends in the city on the weekends, i’ve decided city life is just not for me. too busy and crowded and busy. too many cars, not enough space. makes me anxious.
glad you’ve found this little bakery — makes it even more of a gem, i think, that it’s in downtown downer’s grove of all places. i’ve never really explored their downtown area…maybe we can have our next lunch date there? of course, i could also check it out Aug. 8, for a certain party at a certain park… 🙂
One of my best friends is from DG and her family is all about the Busy Bee. I love the name!
Honestly, all the suburb-hate out there (mainly by city dwellers and angsty suburban teens) really annoys me. Most of us grew up perfectly content in the burbs. When I moved from downtown Milwaukee to a suburb last summer I was kind of sad to leave the city. But I’ve grown to absolutely love the fact that I have a garage, a lovely yard, a nice neighborhood and am still less than 20 minutes from downtown. There are great perks to living in each.
Jacqui – I couldn’t agree more. I love the city to visit, and I appreciate a lot of things about it, but I’m happy living out of it, at least right now. And yes, we absolutely should have a lunch date in DG. And see Julie & Juila. And celebrate at my blog party. I’m starting to think you’ll have to stay in Illinois just so I can get all these chances to hang out!
Postcollegecook – There’s a lot of value, I think, in learning to be where you are, all of you in all of it, taking it for what it is. I love that you were sad to leave the city but have grown to love the suburbs and its benefits. It shows that it’s less about where you are more about who you are and what you make of it.
YUM. i’ll need to find downers grove next time we’re in and around chicago! thanks for the rec… in chicago, i love the bleeding heart bakery. but it is more than $1!!
What a great job you’ve done describing all the great little MidWestern towns there are — tucked between the bigger cities. I’m a city girl myself — but there’s something about the mood… the AIR, even… in the suburbs — and even farther out in the more rural areas — that makes sense.
Haven’t seen “UP” yet — but I take it you’d recommend it?
JessieV – Yes, you do! (And I love the earl grey cookies at Bleeding Heart!)
Lo – Thanks for the kind compliment, and for appreciating the suburbs! Yes, you absolutely have to see Up. I never knew a Pixar movie could touch me so much.
What a nice post. I live in suburbs (of general nashville area) and we have the cutest downtwon and square (downtown Franklin) with lots of festivals…kind of a sophisticated Mayberry.
Adorable town! It reminds me of where i live…I love cute downtowns.
I love Busy Bee!! And you are right it is very hard to find a good bakery out in the suburbs. If you ever make it to Geneva you need to check out Cocoa Bean. Its REALLY good.
Angela, That sounds lovely! Cute downtowns are one of my favorite things.
Hannah, Where you live already has my attention, through your “day in the life” galleries on Flickr. GORGEOUS!
Katie, Yay! Another fan! Making a mental note about Cocoa Bean because you clearly have good taste. Last time I was out there was for the Christmas festival, and it was so insanely cold, but everyone kept trooping on, headed for popcorn and caroling. Those people must be on to something.
More posts about the Chicago suburbs please! I am reading them with avid interest. 🙂 I hear the Deerfield Bakery in Deerfield is good–great coffee cakes, but have never tried their breads.
Elizabeth: Your comment makes me so happy because it has me imagining all the excitement of a move—the new places to explore, the new home to live in, the new people to meet. I can’t wait to hear how things go for you. And BTW, I am pretty sure the Deerfield Bakery is where my office gets bagels and coffee cakes from once a week! I’ll have to check, but I know it’s in that area, at least!
OK, it IS the place we get coffee cakes from! I recognized the logo as soon as I Googled the site! (Still not sure about the bagels…)
I would never live somewhere I couldn’t do everything I need in a day by foot (without being dependant on a car), but it is great to read about suburbs with thriving walkable downtowns. I have been on the hunt for suburban Metra stops worth a visit from Chicago, and I think many other Chicagoans like me would enjoy short escapes from the city if only they could figure out where to go. The issue is that many Metra stops are surrounded by a large parking lots with nothing in walking distance, or you just find massive streets and strip malls, so I’m glad you shared this. Food is a great thing to plan a daytrip around and a great reason to get Chicagoans to explore suburban gems.
Sam, I think you’re right – there are a lot of cool suburban Metra-friendly getaways that won’t require a vehicle, and DG is a great one. Hope you get to visit sometime soon!