Friday, August 15, 2014

Illinois River Valley Fried Chicken Run

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Land of Fried Bird and Ravs 

Today's post is a long time coming. Over two years old in fact. I was originally going to do one big special about all the great fried chicken options down in the Illinois River and Lasalle County regions but haven't gotten around to completing it so today I introduce part one. How do I remember this? I actually shared these trips over at not long after they happened so I'm able to look back. First stop up is directly across the street from what I believe to be the best fried chicken in the country. Lanuti's, Lanuti's, it's my kind of bar. Lantui's has that old school atmosphere, that's for sure. I was first put on there thru the Central IL Turtle Crawl thread from LTHforum. Open and running Wed-Sun. I never felt such a realistic time travel than when I stepped inside that early evening. 

Ladd, IL

Sinatra playing on the speakers outside and then inside with the three stooges on the flat screens, the TV's are about the only things that have changed at this tavern since the 40's. I met up with Grub Seeker for a drink which turned to four before we headed over to the Cherry Supper Club for dinner down the road. As far as fried chicken goes, I have not had Lanuti's but I think it's been determined who's is best as Rip's Tavern across the street had a full house as they always do while Lanuti's had just a few old timers in for an early dinner. They actually have been busy with people eating on previous visits to the bar. I still plan to try their family style fried and I'd also like to try their tenderloin sandwich which they label "Lanuti's own".

The view at da bar

Marty, the current owner was bartending when we rolled in around 4p on a Sunday. Great guy, he made us feel right at home as if we were regs. It was quiet at first but things started picking up before we left. Marty's family used to own the Ladd Lanes bowling alley down the road and he bought Lanuti's from the original family of owners who are also neighborhood family friends. He said he hasn't changed a thing and the bar is mostly the same as it was in the 40's. It sure does seem that way with all the old Schitz stuff still around as well as the classic old fashioned bartenders uniform which he was in. I asked what the most popular drink was these days and he told us it was what we were drinking, the $1 drafts of High Life. They do sell alot of their ice cream drinks w/ alcohol too. After we ate at Cherry Club it rained so hard we decided to let it pass thru and when it did I was hungry again like I always am. We went back into Lanuti's so I could try some ravs and spaghetti while placing an order of 1/4 dark from Rip's to go.

Homemade Ravioli is mentioned on the menu

Thru LTH I knew "ravs" were a popular Central IL eat and were really tortellini and Marty the owner confirmed this. He said he's never known them any other way. A lifetime Valley guy. I gave the spaghetti/ravioli combo a try to compare how it was to Cherry Supper Clubs. I liked it for the homey taste. It was like my grandma would of made for us as kids. The huge plate was $10 with bread and salad and I ended up taking more than half back home and finished it off later that evening. Good people, great chat, cheap drinks and an endangered atmosphere for a bar are the biggest reasons to stop here. One day I'll say screw it and try the fried turtle (yep!) and a mixed ice cream drink, just to be able to say I have.

Ravioli/Spaghetti combo from Lanuti's

The next stop comes from a night I spent down at Starved Rock. I met up with the Central IL Fried Chicken Chief for some chicken and beer while down there. Beforehand me and my friend stopped for lunch in Putnam County which isn't LaSalle but it's of my belief that anything on the border or around the Illinois river and extended into the valley is fair game. Everyone does fried chicken down there. Rip's is without a doubt some of the best you can get...anywhere. But it doesn't end there. Here's another spot that I think is worth checking out. We stopped in for an early lunch at Ray's Place in Hennepin, IL right along the river. It's cool old time exterior looked like it was worth a stop for a quick bite and to relax a bit. Even though I knew nothing of Ray's, I knew fried chicken was on the menu.

Hennepin, IL along the Illinois River

This is a great stop, especially for some drinks. I've been to alot of old taverns and supper clubs where not much has changed and I love Lanuti's but the bar at Ray's Place was straight out of the movies. I felt like I was on set filming. There's also a dining area in a large room to the left. Like most towns around here it's one of the few spots to eat out at and I imagine it gets packed on weekend nights. The menu has quite a few options similar to the rest of the bars and supper clubs including what they call the "best fried chicken in Central IL"

My view at the end of the bar

There were a few regulars including some old ladies who were sitting at a table in the bar section talking about having fun. The other lady said, "that means we need some drinks", so they started to have some fun. The bartender/waitress was a really nice young lady who made us feel right at home. She even handed me the remote to the TV and told me to put on whatever I want. I knew the fried chicken was a go and opted for a basket (leg and thigh) since I knew more fried bird was coming. When I asked the bartender about the onion rings which are listed as hand battered, she told me they were very popular and I needed to try them so that was that. She wasn't crappin' me neither. Some of the best onion rings I can remember.

Ray's Place on the River: Central Illinois best onion rings

I had very high hopes for the chicken after the fantastic basket of rings and as is the case with most of these great fried chicken joints, they fry it fresh to order so it was about a 20 minute wait. It came out piping hot and I finally remembered this time around to let it sit for five minutes so the roof of my mouth wasn't singed. The chicken was very good, perfectly cooked making it moist and juicy with no resistance when eating it off the bone. Although this would be an excellent rendition of fried chicken in Chicago, it was just 'good' for the Valley. I guess I just prefer the beer battered to the other ways when it comes to frying but that's not to say I wont be back at Ray's. Ordering the same thing too.

Ray's Place on the River: Fried Chicken Basket

One of the older ladies who was an owner came over to make sure everything was ok as we were wrapping it up. She was also the bartenders grandma so it's all in the family over there and they do care. If you're ever boating the Illinois River they have a dock for you to stop at with your boat and pop in for some chicken along with some amazing onions rings, very friendly service and a really cool bar. Check it out.

The view from the bench across the street from Ray's

Next stop is from the same trip up above to Lanuti's. Unfortunately it's no longer in business but I'll still be sharing the experience here. But first up a little history lesson. There was a horrible mining accident here back in 1909 in which 259 men and young boys (no labor laws then) lost their lives. You pass the memorial and gravesite as you enter into town. Nowadays it a quiet place that I wouldn't even call a town. There's less than 300 people but there's also an awesome supper club that serves some excellent beer battered fried chicken with that familiar friendly service you seem to get everywhere down there.

Cherry, IL (RIP)

I like to take a seat at the bar when visiting local taverns like these so we had a few cold ones at the bar before sitting down. The bartender who's name I forget was a very friendly guy and also the restaurants owner. You tend to see the owners there all the time engaged with the locals enjoying what they do. After a few drinks we headed over to a table for dinner. There were a few other groups there for dinner but service was swift. One of the specials was the fried chicken family style dinner. It gets you three pieces of fried chicken, with a side of hash browns, a side of ravs and spaghetti and unlimited trips to the salad/cold pasta bar which also has a house made soup. The price? $9.00. Even before we ate I felt like I was ripping this place off.

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Soup and salad, plate of ravs and spaghetti

The salad bar which is in the dining room has quite a few pasta and potato salads as well as the old timers stuff and of course a bowl of greens. The soup that night was a beef, bean concoction that was a little sweet for me but you don't wanna fill up too much at the salad bar.

View from the table in the dining room

The fried chicken came out after 25 or so minutes and as seen in the pics below it was almost identical to Rip's. You have the option to get your hash browns "Al's style" which comes with onions, mushrooms and cheese and while they were excellent while the fried chicken was better. Crispy, super crunchy exterior, some of the best batter on a chicken you can get. As I snapped this pic the owner came up and asked "hey you're not that guy who takes pictures of food and posts them on that site are you?" I said no I think that's him and pointed across to jimswside. He and wife were very thankful for the reviews/rec's and rightfully so, their chicken is great. The Saturday special of prime rib is their big seller we were told. Too bad I'll never know. Helluva find regardless.

Fried Chicken from the Cherry Supper Club

After we ate we had some old fashioneds at the bar and the owner was telling us how his son was the chef and him and the wife look after the place during winter when he heads off to Florida. His wife cant and wont go with because she's got her horses he told us. "Cant ever leave the damn things". He told us his son had worked all over the country in kitchens of all sorts including Ponderosa (gotta pay your dues I guess and those bills too) but man, I wonder if he once worked at Rip's. It's almost identical chicken except Rip's might be a little more heavily seasoned. If Rip's has a line out the door as it most always does, Cherry Supper Club is right down the road and there's other food options aside from the sensationally stellar fried chicken too.

The bar at Cherry Supper Club (RIP)

I also spied quite a few spots that looked like they deserved a shot at the crown. I snapped pics of them so I wouldn't forget about 'em and a few months later we were back to try one of them to see if they had any chance at the crown. Pictured below is a bad pic but it's called JT's and its across the street from the now defunct Cherry Supper Club. Notice the neon chicken sign in the window.

J T's Bar & Grill (Cherry, IL)

a peak inside and some Rav's to start

It's always fun when I can be the guy accompanying the fried chicken king for his first trip somewhere down there. That was the case for this stop which I honestly hadn't remembered much from however a few things did pop into my head upon seeing the pictures. First up is that JT's makes a great plate of hash browns. I wish this side dish would catch on in some city bars as they're almost better when inebriated at night then when hungover in the morning.

Fried Chicken and Dressed Up Hash Browns

The other thing I now remember about JT's is that they offer two different styles of fried chicken. The original style is what you see up above. A pretty typical flour batter with plenty of black pepper specks added in. They also offer a batter similar to that of Rip's and also Cherry Supper Club pictured up above. While I prefer the batter style I actually liked the traditional style from JT's a bit more.

J T's offers two different fried chicken recipes

So as you can see we're off to a pretty great start and with Fall weather near I plan on taking a trip down and checking a few more heralded spots off the list. There's so many random bars and they all serve fried chicken so for all anyone knows the biggest piece of gold has yet to be found. I'll leave you with some random pics I snapped while down there on these eating excursions.

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The Big House Tavern (Peru, IL)

Corral Inn Tavern (Cedar Point, IL)

jimswsides old (RIP) favorite Cap'n Jack's, you never know when the rest will close...

It's not all fried chicken in Central IL either. There's some wonderful old towns and great state parks extending all along the Illinois River Road Scenic Byway. A real treat during the summer and Fall.


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Matthiessen State Park. An old steam boat mural, an old abandoned steamboat along the river

The Village of Hopewell, Illinois

302 N Main Ave
Ladd, IL 61329
(815) 894-2124

Ray's Place on the River
108 N Front St
Hennepin, IL 61327
(815) 925-7111

Cherry Supper Club (Closed)
120 N. Main St
Cherry, IL 61317
(815) 894-3520

J T's Bar & Grill
101 N Main Ave
Cherry, IL 61329
(815) 894-2933


shelby said...

I'm sorry but JT's beer battered fried chicken was a thing of immense beauty. They retired and closed this year. It's just not the same when I head home for visits now. Rips is good but so greasy and no watery side salad that is famous in the IL Valley. One of the best things about this food is ordering carry out and getting the soggy, grease filled piece of bread at the end that comes under your chicken. I know many turn up their noses at this but I literally eat that bread bite by bite with the salad or coleslaw to finish my meal. Yum. I truly crave this style chicken and I live in Austin where delicious food abounds. It's seriously a very small region that makes it like this and sadly it's dying out.

Matt said...

Sad to hear JT's closed. More sad news, Lanuti's closed in April 2015, but the bright side is that they are looking for a new owner.

Unknown said...

I moved from Chicago to Vegas 2yrs ago, and I love Jim Shoo sandwiches. I'm trying to find a place out here in Vegas, that serves jim shoo sandwiches. And I wanna know where can I find a place that makes me please!


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