Let's talk a little bit about food. In Chicago, you have to start with hot dogs. Where do you go for yours?
Easy: That'd be Superdawg. If there's anybody visiting from out of town, we end by making a trip there. It's been around forever; it's still a carhop. You pull up, and they bring these delicious, massive hot dogs right to your window.

And where do your loyalties lie on the pizza question - deep dish or thin crust?
Thick. I think that Lou Malnati's is the best pizza in the world, by far. I just love the stuff. I get it plain, just cheese, and they don't cut it. You cut it when you get home, and the crust stays crisp that way. I don't think there's pizza anywhere else like it.

You have a family, so I know that's always a consideration when you're going out to eat.
That's true. There are a few places we like to go. For breakfast, it'd be Lou Mitchell's. That's a stop you have to make. It's an old-style diner. When you come in in the morning, they give the kids and the wife a box of Milk Duds, and the husband gets the check - that's what they tell you when you walk in. It's one of those places where they're kind of rude to the dad but nice to everybody else. [Laughs] They bring you a prune before you eat your main course, and they serve these amazing egg dishes that come in burning-hot skillets. Everything is really delicious there.

There's also Feed, a great home-cooking, soul-food place that's pretty kid friendly. They do great barbecue, chicken, collard greens - it's Southern-style cooking. It's a great environment, a very comfortable and fun place to go for the family.

In general, we try to support some of the places in our neighborhood, Old Irving Park, and nearby. There's a really good Middle Eastern place called Shiraz. And I think Tank in Lincoln Square has the best sushi in town.

Everyone assumes musicians aren't outdoor types, but you try and take advantage of the parks in Chicago, right?
Yeah, I run all the time on the trails by Lake Michigan. The waterfront in Chicago is just another aspect that makes the city so special. To have such a beautiful waterfront in a Midwestern city is a strange but amazing thing.

The parks in Chicago are great, and not just for the physical beauty but because of all the stuff you can do. If you look at what the Chicago Park District offers in terms of classes, almost anything you can think of or want to try and do, they have.

Also, in the summer, a lot of the parks here do movie nights, when they'll show films on big screens outdoors. So you go hang out with your kids and your neighbors on the grass. I just think that stuff is really lovely.

What about musical activities for the family?
The Old Town School of Folk Music, for sure. It's a pretty amazing thing to have in a community; anyone - not just kids - can go learn how to frail a banjo or to do African dancing or whatever. They have music camps in the summer, as well, and our kids have gone to those.

Also, a place like the Hideout, which I mentioned - they do a lot of matinee shows for kids. Jon Langford and Sally Timms of the Mekons have put on plays for kids there. There's a really good group of people in Chicago doing shows for kids that aren't dumbed down, which I really appreciate. I like the fact it's not just Barney on Ice. [Laughs]

You're a pretty good salesman for the city.
Yeah, I'm feeling like I should get a job as spokesman for the Chicago tourism department. But, you know, Chicago has a really strong civic spirit; it's really kind of cool. I never knew anything like that growing up, even in a small town. That's one of the reasons why I love it here.


Wilco

Sky Blue Sky
(Nonesuch)

Change, it seems, has been the one consistent component in the continuing adventure of Wilco. Following the recording of the band's last studio album, 2004's A Ghost Is Born, front man Jeff Tweedy went through a major personal renewal, kicking pills and panic attacks, while the group endured another lineup shift, adding guitarist Nels Cline and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone. Since then, the group has toured heavily and released a live album, and Tweedy has put out a solo acoustic DVD. Many expected that the new Wilco effort would further explore the artier direction of Ghost - perhaps owing to Cline's impressive avant-garde background - but the record is actually something of a stylistic left turn. It'd be easy to characterize it as a throwback to the sound of early roots-oriented Wilco platters like A.M. and Being There, but the disc is actually closer in spirit to the more recent work of Tweedy's side band, Loose Fur. Milking the sweet sounds of '70s FM pop - everything from the blues-tinged balladry of Badfinger to the knowing jazzy grooves of Steely Dan - Sky Blue Sky is an inviting, almost-soothing sonic reprieve from the fractured, frazzled music and lyrics of Ghost. Having fashioned an album of subtle, understated beauty, Tweedy is sure to be castigated by a certain segment of fans and critics for abandoning the vaulting musical ambition of his last few releases. With the exception of one or two tracks, this is a fairly straight set of singer-songwriter folk tunes that manages to incorporate influences as disparate as Miles Davis, Harry Nilsson, midperiod Pink Floyd, and Abbey Road-era Beatles. Lyrically, Tweedy sharpens his recent crypto-poetic word exercises into linear narratives that are more personal in nature - and more potent for their introspection. Frequently soulful, occasionally inspired, and always enjoyable, Sky Blue Sky isn't a major musical statement, but that doesn't make it any less worthwhile a listen.  - B.M.