Chicago’s O’Hare International (KORD) is best known as the second busiest airport in the United States and one of United Airlines largest hubs. It’s not exactly recognized for being the friendliest GA airport around. So what’s a hungry aviator to do when flying around the metropolitan Chicago area?
The answer is to fly eight miles north of ORD to Chicago Executive Airport (KPWK). When arriving VFR from the south, fly the lake front corridor below 3,000 feet MSL in order to stay below O’Hare’s Class Bravo airspace outer ring. On the way, make sure to take the time to enjoy the only in Chicago views. Off of the left wing you’ll spot Navy Pier jutting out into Lake Michigan, the John Hancock Center and Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) framing the majestic Chicago skyline, the friendly confines of historic Wrigley Field, Northwestern University’s Ryan Field Football Stadium and the glistening white Bahai Temple.
Chicago Executive, formerly Palwaukee Municipal Airport, is the fourth busiest airport in Illinois and one of the top 10 busiest general aviation airports in the world. It consists of three active runways, covers more than 412 acres and is home to more than 325 aircraft. Palwaukee Airport originally got its name when pilots would follow either Palatine Road or Milwaukee Avenue until the roads intersected and then land — hence, “Palwaukee.” This thriving Class Delta airport of entry has a long, diverse history and a plethora of aviation services available on the field.
Chicago Executive is the perfect launching pad for a multi-faceted culinary excursion. Within five miles you’ll find almost two dozen hotels, nearly 100 eating establishments and range of day trips to keep anyone busy. Hugging PWK’s east side is Milwaukee Avenue, known as suburban Chicago’s restaurant row, and the gateway to the journeys that follow.
Start eight miles southwest of Chicago Executive at Arlington Park Racetrack. The ponies will be running this year from May 4 through Sept. 30. Arlington Park has many distinctions including being the site of the world’s first million-dollar purse. This north shore social destination is not only great for viewing some of the country’s premiere thoroughbreds but also the perfect place to just hang out. Besides world-class horse racing, Arlington hosts “Party in the Park on Friday” and “Summer Bash Saturday” featuring live music and “Family Day Sunday” providing kid friendly activities such as pony rides, a petting zoo and face painters.
After losing a few bucks, grab your clubs and hit the links. Five miles northeast of the racetrack are two worthwhile golf courses. The 18-hole championship golf course at Chevy Chase Country Club was originally designed and built in 1927 by renowned architect Thomas Bendelow and renovated in 2002 by Bob Lohmann. Alternatively, visit Rob Roy Golf Club. This 51-acre, 9-hole regulation par 36 course will challenge duffers and pros alike.
By now, you will be hungry. The Chicago area food scene has become a mecca for molecular gastronomists such as Grant Aches at Alinea Restaurant and Homaro Cantu at Moto Restaurant. It has a thriving locavore movement spearheaded by Bruce Sherman at North Pond and Paul Kahan at Blackbird. It even has its share of reality celebrity chefs like Stephanie Izard at Girl & The Goat and Sarah Grueneberg at Spiaggia. Even with all these options, the best suggestion is to keep it old school.
There are two Chicago culinary institutions that one must partake when flying into Chicago Executive. Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria has been specializing in Chicago-style deep dish pizza for more than 40 years. What makes a Chicago-style pie special? This knife n’fork deep dish monstrosity actually is more delicate than it seems. It has a rather thin crust that encompasses the bottom and the sides. The “backwards” filling of mozzarella, vegetables, meat and a chunky, spicy tomato sauce is extremely flavorful but can be a gut buster.
What makes Lou Malnati’s special? Even with 33 locations, the family-owned labor of love doesn’t skimp on quality ingredients and stays true to Grandpa Malnati’s original recipe. The restaurant has a relatively large bar and grill style menu. Many items are fine on their own but don’t waste the calories. Do not stop or hesitate at the appetizer, salad or sandwich sections. Head right for the pizza.
The first tip is to open up the pocket book and splurge on the extra $.75 for the Buttercrust™. Second, the pizza generally takes at least 20 to 30 minutes to bake so call ahead and pre-order. Lastly, forget the extra ingredients and the fancy toppings. Stick with the “Malnati Chicago Classic” ($7 to $20.75). This monster is made with a blend of lean sausage patties, extra cheese and plenty of garlicky tomato sauce. That’s right, sausage patties. Not crumbled up pieces but large patties to ensure a little bit of meat with each bite.
If you need something to snack on while waiting, share the Malnati Salad ($6.95 & $10.25). It’s a combination of romaine lettuce, diced tomatoes, black olives, sliced mushrooms, Volpi salami and gorgonzola all dusted with a touch of Romano cheese. Additionally, quench your thirst with a local Goose Island Brewery 312 Urban Wheat Ale. This light, golden, citrusy brew is nothing fancy, but like Lou Malnati’s itself, it’s perfect to recharge the batteries.
A few minutes directly north of the airport, straight up Milwaukee Avenue, is Bob Chinn’s Crab House. Look up the phrase “Chicago Culinary Institution” and the first hit should be Bob Chinn’s. “Institution” does not do Bob or his restaurant justice. At more than 700 seats and operating seven days a week, Bob Chinn’s consistently made Restaurants & Institutions magazine annual ranking of the Top Ten Highest Grossing Independent Restaurants in America.
Bob’s immense menu contains everything from dry-aged steaks, pasta, flown-in fresh seafood and shellfish to sushi and sashimi. A myriad of fish, from King salmon and Asian basa to Hawaiian Mahi Mahi and Mediterranean sea bass, can be served in any of Bob’s “Seven Ways”. More importantly, Bob Chinn’s lives up to its name. Crab at a crab house is a must and this place has some of the best. Bob’s crabs are available steamed, caked, chilled or fried. All come to Wheeling, Illinois – Massachusetts Johan, black tip Florida Stone, Hawaii Kona, Alaskan King, West Coast Dungeness and the occasional Chesapeake Blue – so pick your favorite.
Don’t forget to indulge in a Mai Tai. The Polynesian classic is a little sweet, a little sour and will make you feel like Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii. This place is constantly busy, always hopping and well worth the price. A Hawaiian shirt, Bermuda shorts or leather aviator jacket fit in perfectly. Great seafood in the Midwest is possible and has been served-up by Bob for over 30 years.
Not full yet? Take a factory tour of the Long Grove Confectionery Company ($2.00) for one last indulgence before heading home. Long Grove concentrates on both the macro and micro scale. Enter the factory and you’ll gaze on a chocolate Statue of Liberty, a 500-pound chocolate Santa Claus and chocolate reproductions of Monet and Seurat paintings. Unfortunately, that won’t satisfy your sweet tooth. What will satisfy are the salted caramels right out of the cooper kettles, the English toffees benched on marble tables and the hand-colored chocolate bon bons. Heavenly and decadent.
Chicago Executive Airport offers everything one needs in a GA airport. It has several extremely helpful FBOs, easy access to Chicago’s north shore and wonderful views. There are several airstrips scattered throughout the region but Chicago Executive should be the go-to hub.
Chicago Executive Airport (KPWK)
Elevation: 647 ft. (surveyed)
Sectional chart: CHICAGO
ARTCC: CHICAGO CENTER
FSS: KANKAKEE FLIGHT SERVICE STATION
Wind indicator: lighted
Traffic Pattern altitude: Piston aircraft 1,000 ft. AGL, Jets 1,500 ft. AGL
Runways: 16/34 5,000 x 150 ft., 12/30 4,415 x 75 ft. (right trfc rwy 30), 6/24 3,660 x 50 ft. (right trfc rwy 24)
WX ASOS: PHONE 847-465-0291
EXECUTIVE GROUND: 121.7
EXECUTIVE TOWER: 119.9
Signature Flight Support
1100 South Milwaukee Avenue
Wheeling, Illinois 60090
Phone: (847) 537-1200
Arlington Park Racetrack
2200 Euclid Avenue
Arlington Heights, IL 60006
Phone: (847) 385-7500
Chevy Chase Country Club
1000 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Wheeling, Illinois 60090
Golf Shop: (847) 465-2300
Rob Roy Golf Course
505 E. Camp McDonald Road
Prospect Heights, Illinois 60070
Phone: (847) 253-4544
Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria
85 South Buffalo Grove Road
Buffalo Grove, Illinois 60089
Phone: (847) 215-7100
Bob Chinn’s Crab House
393 S. Milwaukee Avenue
Wheeling, Illinois 60090
Phone: (847) 520-3633
Long Grove Confectionery Company
333 Lexington Drive
Buffalo Grove, IL 60089
Factory tours available by reservation: (888) 459-3100
The above airport information is not for navigational purposes. Please obtain up-to-date airport information from the FAA before flight.