Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
-Fried Chicken Kings in the Illinois River Valley
It's been talked about here on S'C&C countless times, every little county, big city and region in America has a food specialty that's loved by locals and travelers alike. So today were checking one of these food favorites out. If you head south from Chicago down I-55 you'll eventually end up in Lasalle County located in upper Central Illinois which is home to many farmers and some fun little towns such as historic Ottawa, IL. The summer is a great time to head down there because it's also the home to Starved Rock State Park in Utica, IL which is a great place to camp or spend the day exploring the natural beauty of the area. As soon as you enter Starved Rock your covered by large trees and surrounded by waterfalls and trails with rivers for boating and fishing and all other sorts of natural wonders. Its easily one of the best if not thee best state parks in Illinois. Luckily I got you covered when it comes to the good eats of Lasalle County and where to get the best fried chicken, the regions food specialty.
Since 1936 (Ladd, IL)
Pretty much every restaurant and bar in the area does up fresh fried chicken made to order with a special recipe they've been using in the family forever. I am going to explore this area more as the weeks go by but I finally had a chance to try a much talked about and pretty damn well known place called Rip's in Ladd, IL. I had to share my experience right away since its the perfect time to head down to Starved Rock for the day and make sure you get to Rip's which opens at 5p Wed-Sun. I had been tipped on Rip's by my boy Jim and other food loving friends about their amazing fried chicken which is truly their specialty and expertise since it pretty much makes up the entire menu at this popular county tavern that gets packed with people from all over that are there to get some of Rip's world famous fried chicken. How good is it? Well it makes up the menu. You can get order it by a 1/4 half or 1/4 dark and its served on a paper plate with fries and a slice of bread and butter. Rip's almost always has a wait (that's well worth it) and has benches and seats outside and a waiting area inside with a bar that's bigger than the seating area. Also available with your fried chicken are fried mushroom's and the standard appetizer at Rip's which is a basket of drippings and some dill pickles.
Dill pickles and fried slurry pieces are the norm for an app.
When I first saw some foodie friends photos of Rip's chicken it was one of those times I didn't even have to try the food to know how good it was. The skin on the chicken made my mouth drool and I know right then and there it was the real deal and only tasted it with my eyes. It became a place high on my list of places to visit and we finally went after the US blew their chance in the Cup vs. Ghana we took off from Chicago around 7p and we were headed to Rip's for some of their world famous fried chicken and drippings and the 210 mile round trip is well worth the drive. They don't lie when they say "We're worth the drive". I was surprised to see that Rip's has its own sign on the state highway exits listing food, lodging etc...We finally got there about 8:30 and the dining room was still packed with large and small parties and there were even a group of kids in their mid 20's smoking outside who had told one of my friends they drove from over an hour and a half from down south to make their visit. Rip's has been around since 1936 and has regular customers from every Midwest state. People come from all over for the chicken and experience of the place. We decided to just sit at the bar which had a few spots open and order some drinks and eat there.
Pieces of fried slurry droppings from the chicken
We ordered some drinks as we waited for the chicken. Even when people are dining at the tables you order your chicken upon reserving your spot. It comes freshly fried in an expert fashion and you will without a doubt want to order a couple orders of dark or white or a combo of both. We chatted up with some of the charming small town farm girl waitresses and the bartender who's uncle owns the place and his grandmas recipe is what they use, so its all in the family. The couple next to us had ridden a motorcycle up from Peoria and brought an article they ripped out from a magazine that had just featured Rip's to show the owner who was in back frying the chickens with his staff. I had to get a couple orders of dark and got plenty of drippings and pickles which make a great combo when eaten together. A cold can of High Life, some chitter chatter with the other patrons around you and some drippings and pickles is a fine way to spend your evening.
Pickle with drippings
So after a few drinks and some conversation about 20 minutes had passed and then our chicken had arrived. Just upon first glance I got a little more excited than I probably should of been but there isn't a line out the door and around the corner by 6p on Fridays and Saturdays for nothing. The chicken has a slightly oily (in a good way) and deliciously light and very crispy coating. You can expect plenty of napkins to be brought out with your plate. Since it comes out fried fresh its hard to do but you gotta wait a few minutes so you don't burn the roof of your mouth and I did that by having a beer before I dove in. They have hot sauce available and I put some on the side for my fries and grabbed the leg and prepared to devour it. My oh my, the skin was magnificent and the meat cooked to a juicy perfection, as soon as I finished the leg I had to place an order for a 1/4 dark to go. The skin on the chicken I took home for leftovers was almost as crispy the next morning. This place has perfected the art of frying chicken and would be a legend in the south.
1/4 dark fried chicken dinner from Rip's
By the end of the night it started to clear out in the dining room but fill up in the bar with the yocal youngin's all starting the night at Rips for some food and fun. I'd be there every weekend if it was in my neck of the woods. Only thing I forgot was the mushrooms but there will for sure be a next time. I was very, very impressed and didn't mind the fact we weren't back in the city 'til Midnight. It was all worth it. Especially when you consider a dinner is like $3.50 "Everyone comes back" we were told by one of the waitresses and we for sure will be back. Sooner than later. I want some right now. But I'll have to wait for the weekend. Rip's is closed Mon & Tues.
Fried chicken from the high heavens
311 N. Main
Ladd, IL 61329
Closed Mon. & Tues.