Let’s take a quick look at the many places to eat in McLean County outside of Bloomington-Normal.
I am always ready for a good ribeye steak, and steak nights at The Longbranch Again in Cooksville and The Town Well in Stanford certainly are fun. The Longbranch Again has a weekly steak/rib night every Saturday. The Town Well has two steak nights a month — the second and fourth Thursday. Be sure to try the twice-baked potato at The Town Well.
Two venerable beer and burger places are Kicks Bar & Grill, on the edge of Towanda, and the Merna Tap in Merna. Kicks has become a popular stop for Route 66 travelers and some call Merna Tap “a Great American Roadhouse.” The Merna Tap opened circa 1925.
This is Fred “Fats” Underwood’s 43rd year owning/operating Fat Albert’s and serving the Fat Burger, which certainly makes him the dean of the three restaurants on U.S. 24 in Gridley.
Scott Hamilton, owner of The Vault Bar & Grill in Danvers, has meticulously retained many of the historical features of the building, built in 1911 for a bank that later did not survive the Depression.
Bumpers Pub and Play in downtown Colfax is one of the unique restaurants in Central Illinois. Owner Jim Fitzpatrick kept and refurbished four of the eight lanes of the Colfax Lanes bowling alley and replaced the other four lanes with a bar and grill.
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Kemp’s Upper Tap, Lexington Social, The Shake Shack and Uncle Vait’s Route 66 are popular destination restaurants on Main Street in Lexington.
Veteran restaurateurs Tom and Elaine Kapotus have been operating the Dixie Truck Stop restaurant since 2010. Many may remember Tom and Elaine from when they owned Bloomington Square and later the Woody’s in LeRoy, El Paso and Minonk.
The three restaurants in downtown Downs are in historical buildings and Gameday Grill recently opened across Interstate 74.
LeRoy, the third largest municipality in McLean County, has the most restaurants (10) outside of Bloomington and Normal. I enjoy stopping by Millie’s Grill & Chill and picking up a Maddie Melt ribeye sandwich, special ordered with pepper jack cheese.
Two of the three popular Heyworth restaurants underwent major remodels before opening under new owners.
The locally owned Chenoa Family Restaurant opened in 2013 and was an investment of approximately $900,000.
Carlock, Saybrook and Bellflower also have restaurants. I don’t believe any place in Hudson is serving food at this time, except for Casey’s.
Why did I zero in on McLean County restaurants? I retired from the McLean County Health Department and am much more familiar with most of the restaurants and the towns in McLean County than outside of McLean County.
From Larry’s notebook:
Firehouse Pizza drive-thru and delivery: The third Firehouse Pizza in Bloomington-Normal has opened in the former Teresa’s Italian Ice location at 1525 Fort Jesse Road. The owner calls it the “World’s Smallest Free Standing Pizza Place.”
The Chanticleer: The owners have closed the successful restaurant in Eureka and have it for sale. This was a Larry and Kay favorite.
Arby’s: The franchisee decided not to renew the lease and closed the restaurant at 610 W. Raab Road after 20 years.
La Patrona taco trailer: The father/daughter owners recently moved it from West Market Street to 1012 S. Main St., Bloomington.
A Larry favorite menu item: The chorizo taco salad (shredded lettuce) at Gracie’s Tacos & Wings, 1414 S. Main St., Bloomington.
20 Bloomington-Normal restaurants we wish would come back
Gil’s Country Inn
Gil’s Country Inn, a longtime, family-owned restaurant in Minier, closed in 2013 after the economy took its toll. The restaurant was particularly known for its fried chicken.
Lancaster’s Fine Dining, 513 N. Main St., a downtown Bloomington mainstay for nearly 16 years, closed its doors in August 2014. A struggling economy and the upscale restaurant’s location in a neighborhood of bars were factors.
Bennigan’s, which billed itself as an “Irish American Grill & Tavern” closed its Normal location in July 2008 after the chain filed for bankruptcy. The eatery, 115 S. Veterans Parkway, was replaced by Wild Berries, which was later closed and razed. Owner Tartan Realty Group of Chicago now plans to build a four-unit development at the site.
Lox, Stock & Bagel
Lox, Stock & Bagel closed in May 2004 after 22 years at Normal’s College Hills Mall, in tandem with the mall’s conversion to the Shoppes at College Hills.
Zorbas, popular for serving Greek food, gyros and breakfast, closed in 2015 after its location at 603 Dale St., Normal, was sold to a developer. The eatery first opened in 1983 around the corner at 707 S. Main St.
The historic Grand Hotel, 1201 E. Emerson St., Bloomington, once served as a winter training quarters for a number of circus acts and was converted into a restaurant in 1937. The property was foreclosed upon by Pontiac National Bank in 2001, sold in 2002 and demolished a few months later.
Mr. Quick Drive-In
The Mr. Quick restaurant at Clinton and Washington streets had its grand opening in January 1966, with burgers starting at 15 cents and coffee for a dime a cup. The restaurant closed in 2001 and the city of Bloomington later bought the site and razed the building so it could widen the intersection.
Chicago Style Pizzeria
Chicago Style Pizzeria, 1500 E. Empire St., Bloomington, closed in 2015 after 22 years in business when owners Abe and Ruth Taha (Abe is pictured above) decided to retire.
Shannon’s Federal Café
Shannon’s Federal Cafe, 105 W. Front St., opened in 1997 after its owners took over the historic Federal Cafe in downtown Bloomington, which closed two years earlier. Shannon’s closed in 2004 because the owners also ran Shannon’s Five Star Restaurant, and the demands of both businesses were too much.
Damon’s – The Place for Ribs opened in 1995 at 1701 Fort Jesse Road, Normal. The eatery closed in 2006 after business had declined; the site is now a CVS pharmacy.
Australian-themed Ned Kelly’s Steakhouse opened in May 1992 in what was the former location of Bob Knapp’s in the Brandtville Center (now known as Morrissey Crossing). It closed in August 2007 after the company’s four Central Illinois locations were unable to compete with bigger chains.
Arnie’s was a popular Twin City eatery for 25 years. Located at the Bloomington airport terminal, it closed in 2003, shortly after the Central Illinois Regional Airport moved to its current location about a mile east. A subsequent restaurant, Arnie’s Etc., was open for about a year in the former terminal building, until it closed in 2005.
Diamond Dave’s, a mainstay at the former College Hills Mall for 21 years, closed its doors in June 2004 in tandem with the gutting of the mall to create what is now the Shoppes at College Hills.
Jerry’s Grille opened in 1999 in Bloomington’s Brandtville shopping center, taking over the spot used by another eatery, Henry Wellington. It closed it 2005 and then became Goodfellas, which also closed.
After 33 years in the heart of Normal, Golden West closed in 2002, after the owners received a surprise offer for the site and decided it was time to sell. The building, 712 S, Kingsley St., was later resold to Tartan Realty and demolished in 2003.
After eight years at 407 N. Hershey Road, Bloomington, Ming’s closed in 2012. The eatery was facing foreclosure at the time.
The former Central Station restaurant in downtown Bloomington, once a firehouse in days gone by, is now home to Epiphany Farms Restaurant and Anju Above.
Chevys Fresh Mex
Chevys Fresh Mex, 704 S. Eldorado Road, Bloomington, closed in 2011 after being open nearly nine years. The site has also been home to several other restaurants, including a House of Hunan, Shakey’s Pizza and Butterfields.
The Caboose, a historic Bloomington eatery at 608 W. Seminary St., closed without fanfare in February 2012. The restaurant, with several owners and names including Chuck’s Caboose and Barney’s Caboose, had been a west-side fixture for more than 60 years.
Delgado’s, a popular Mexican restaurant at 201 Landmark Drive, Normal, closed in May 2005 after after 24 years in business. It is now the location of Los Potrillos.
Carius, of Bloomington, is a former food program and plan review supervisor for the McLean County Health Department. His Facebook blog, Bloomington-Normal Restaurant Scene, has 28,000 followers.