Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Passing thru Central Illinois

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

-Breakfast, Pizza, Tenderloins and the IL State Fair

The 2012 Illinois State fair is set to begin this week. For those of y'all that were thinking about heading down and all others who may some day find themselves down around Central Illinois we have some spots that you should check out for chowing down. Lets start off in Springfield which is the home to the Land of Lincoln's state fair. We all know the fried and unhealthy goodness that goes hand in hand with state fairs and all there is to eat at them but lets start off eating a big breakfast before we get to walking around the fairgrounds. This morning we'll head over to longtime locals and visitors favorite Charlie Parkers Diner.

"Eat it and beat it" (Pic from: Roadside Trail Mix)

Charlie Parkers is an institution down this way and it's well known outside of town as well. It's been featured on Diners, Drive In's and Dives and is a popular stop for those on the campaign trail (Romney stopped in recently) and those in office down in Springfield. I'm not a big breakfast guy but I liked what I tried.

Pancakes as big as your plate

The pancakes are what most people here really enjoy due to both the taste and I'm sure size and I thought they were good. The Corned beef hash wasn't the best I have had but it's always great when it doesn't come from a can. I hear their fried chicken special is also very worthy. I'll be stopping in again sometime when the chance allows me too. Expect the place at most times as it's already popular place when stuff like the state fair isn't going on.

Corned Beef Hash from Charlie Parkers Diner

The Illinois State Fair

I got back to the state fair last year after a 10+ year hiatus from when I went as a kid. As an adult I will say it sure is alot more fun when your a child and get to run around and go on all the rides and eat the food your normally told you cant have. However I was still glad to go and we had a good time while there. I encourage anyone who's never been to at least experience it once. The same goes for Springfield so why not do it all in one go? Here are some sights from there.

Riding the ride that overlooks the fair

You name it, someones most likely frying it...

Some of the great rides in Illinois

Vose's Corn Dogs

As far as food goes there's one place that's a must and that's Voses. This is where you can find the best corn dog in Springfield and for those not in the know, it's where the Corn Dog was born. Voses is located at the Grandstand and is a fixture at the fair. They use their own secret batter which is the best you can get. Then they freshly fry them and you proceed to burn the roof of your mouth because your unable to wait since it smells so good. If your only going to eat one thing make sure its a corn dog from here. Good luck to you on only eating one thing though.

Voses Corn Dogs and lemon Shake Ups are where its at

Corn Dog from Vose's

Men at work


The State Fairs annual Butter Cow

Pork on a stick from the IL pork producers is my other eat of choice...

...unless your brave enough to try the Meat Man Parfait

The Illinois State Fair

Bernie & Betty's

After all the walking around and resisting the urge to order bacon fried bacon dipped in chocolate it's nice to have a place you can go sit down at and enjoy a cold one and get something that's not fried and served on a stick. Many folks down in Springfield would recommend Bernie & Betty's for their Midwestern tavern style thin crust pizza pie.

a locals favorite in Springfield

The inside of the place

Bernie & Betty's has that classic old school Italian restaurant feel. You can still visit 100's of places like this throughout the Midwest and most of them have been around for a while. The same goes for Bernie and Betty's. All of us who were eating there last year agreed that it was a great pie and something to seek out if you enjoy Midwest tavern thin pizza pie like we do.

Sausage Pizza from Bernie & Betty's

For more famous/popular eating stops in Springfield click HERE

Jones Boy Market

We stopped into Jones Boy last year after a day at the 2011 IL state fair. I forget where but there was a booth set up at the festival that was giving out samples of foods made from around that way. They had cut up chunks of brats for sample from Jones Boy and we really liked what we ate. They gave us a card and we took the 30 minute ride Northwest of Springfield.

Ashland, IL

Another great stop which if your near there is worth the detour. This was as old school of a meat market as I can remember. Just look at the old meat lockers and wooden cutting boards seen below which by the looks have been around for a while. Jones Boy is run today by John Jones. He describes himself as " is a 4th generation business owner in Ashland, a 3rd generation market owner, 2nd generation meat cutter, and a 1st generation Brat/BBQ Rib Specialist" There's a nice article from the Illinois times circa 2008 HERE.

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The Views inside with some pork cutlets and bacon made in house

It's the brats he makes that we ate which brought us here to his store. John makes many types of bratwurst including a cherry dipped brat, a prime rib steakhouse style and even an old world Swedish recipe with potatoes mixed in. But the star of the show and most popular brats here are his apple ones. I'm usually an original recipe guy when it comes to brats and tend to stay away from the ones stuffed with stuff or with different flavors meshed together but these were great. Its hard to declare one thing the best with so many options around. But these were some of the best non-original brats I have had. The bacon was also really good and those cutlets made for tasty breaded tenderloins. I recommend stopping in if your ever near here.

Jones Boy Apple Brats on the grill at home

So if your riding to the State Fair I have you covered on not just where to stop at with a cooler so you can bring home some fun stuff for the grill but also where to eat at en route there or back home. Most people associate either Iowa or Indiana with the breaded tenderloin but its not all horseshoe's, corn dogs and chili down in Central Illinois.

Hallie's on the Square

Longtime favorite on Route 66 in Lincoln, IL

Hallie's on the Square is the "Home of the Schnitzel" and its been family owned since 1945. It's history goes back to an old place called "The Mill" It was there in Lincoln where patron could get sandwiches anytime day or ight. The building was in an old farm house and had a dutch them to it. over the years they became well known for their famous breaded schnitzel and it was very popular up until the late 80's and then it was abandoned by 1996. However the owner of Hallie's on the Park is related to one of the people who ran the Mill and they serve the same famous sandwich at Hallie's here today.

Famous Schnitzel Sandwich

Whats the difference between a tenderloin and a schnitzel? Not too much as far as I'm concerned. Now I'm no Tyrgyzistan when it comes to tenderloins but damn this is one exemplary example of a slab of fried pork, which to me is a tenderloin. But then again I've only had a few while in Iowa and those beer battered ones from over there look like they could be my first ex wife. Hallie's schnitzel wasn't really edible as a sandwich but was a perfectly fried butterflied 'loin with the batter having a really nice spice kick. I liked each bite dipped with the slightest bit of their famous sauce which tasted like ketchup kicked up with fresh ground pepper.

The insides

Ariston Cafe

For those headed home the opposite way of Chicago I finally got the chance to stop in at the oldest restaurant along Route 66 recently. The Ariston Cafe located in Litchfield, Illinois has been up and running since 1924 when it was founded by a Greek immigrant in Carlinville. The Cafe moved to Litchfield in 1929 and then into its present location along old Route 66 in 1935. It's been all in the family since day one which means it still is today.

The Oldest Restaurant on Route 66 (Litchfield, IL)

Along with us on this Sunday afternoon there was an eclectic mix of local families there for some after church eating and bikers riding the old road. It seemed to me as if most everyone in there had been at least once. They were doing good business and most people there seemed to be enjoying their weekend brunch buffet which I guess is really popular with the people of Montgomery County. Add that to the fact it is said to be the oldest running restaurant and it's in the Route 66 Hall of Fame and you can see why while lots of other places are long gone Ariston Cafe remains.

Our view from a booth

Ariston doesn't open until 11a so they don't have a breakfast menu. Except they do their buffet on Sundays which was an option and looked/smelled very tempting. My buddy said he was going to go with the breaded tenderloin and how that's pretty much what he always goes with when he's down in Central Illinois and is eating at a bar or regular old restaurant. He told me that tenderloins too are very popular down there and usually very good. Our waitress confirmed his thought when she rec'd that as her favorite thing there. I went with an old diner classic, open faced roast beef sandwich served with real mashed potatoes and real gravy. We split the two in half to share.

Open Faced Roast Beef Sandwich

The roast beef was very good and downright comforting. About everything you could expect. But I left wishing I had just got a breaded tenderloin of my own instead. They had a nice example. It was definitely hand battered while being perfectly fried and a pleasure to eat the half I was allowed. It was big enough to still go outside the bun but not to the point where you couldn't eat it as a sandwich because of it. The people working this place were all very nice and welcoming and the tenderloin is terrific. I would recommend a stop to anyone passing thru hungry for some non-chain food. I look forward to finding out where the other great places with top notch breaded tenderloins are at down in Central Illinois. Happy Cruising and Enjoy Illinois Y'all.

Breaded Tenderloin from Ariston Cafe

Charlie Parker's Diner
700 West North Street
Springfield, IL 62704
(217) 241-2104

Bernie & Betty's Pizza & Fine Food
1101 South Spring Street
Springfield, IL 62704
(217) 528-1821

Jones Boy Market
201 West Editor Street
Ashland, IL 62612
(217) 476-3914

Hallie's on the Square
111 South Kickapoo Street
Lincoln, IL 62656
(217) 732-6923

Ariston Cafe
413 N Old Route 66 (at Route 16)
Litchfield, IL 62056
(217) 324-2023

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