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Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009 07:43 am

Best of Springfield 2009


PHOTOS BY PATRICK YEAGLE

BEST CHEF

Sean Keeley, Ross Isaac

1710 S. MacArthur Blvd., 744-7677

This time of year, Sean Keeley, Ross Isaac’s head chef and owner, can be found perusing the meat and produce at the Old Capitol Farmers’ Market. He features these local ingredients each week in his restaurant’s ever-changing, globally-inspired, American cuisine. He constantly adds to his list of appetizers, which include a spin on pub food like the Cuban nachos — chorizo, grilled steak, roast pork and pico de gallo over cheese sauce and corn tortilla chips. He also appeals to clientele by offering popular entrees like the pork chop and New York strip alongside new culinary creations. “I provide a familiar feeling for the regulars,” Keeley says, “or if they see something new, they can go in that direction.”

Runner-up: Jimmy Oh, Jimmy Oh’s

BEST RESTAURANT OWNER WHO MEETS AND GREETS

Sean Keeley, Ross Isaac

1710 S. MacArthur Blvd., 744-7677

Meet Sean Keeley, the man behind Ross Isaac — MacArthur’s crown jewel. After working as a chef at Sebastian’s Hideout, the Crowne Plaza Hotel and Indigo, Keeley introduced his very own contemporary eatery to Springfield two years ago. He hoped to infuse fine dining with a comfortable, neighborly feel, and judging by the first-place nod from our voters, he succeeded. “I wanted it to feel like a local place,” Keeley says. “Now the staff knows our regulars by name.” Stop by and say hello to Keeley on $5 Martini Mondays; dine inside by candlelight or outside on the new heated patio.

Runners-up: Chad Reese, Chadito’s Mexican American Grill; Jimmy Oh, Jimmy Oh’s

BEST WAIT STAFF

Ross Isaac

1710 S. Macarthur Blvd., 744-7677

No matter how good a restaurant’s food is, if it takes the wait staff an hour to refill your drink, the enjoyment of eating out can be easily lost. The staff at Ross Isaac makes sure everything is ship-shape – and fast. Chef Sean Keeley says it’s a matter of good communication. “The way we service the food is designed around the server letting us know where they are in the meal,” Keeley says. “I’m just really lucky that everyone here gets along well. It’s kind of become a family camaraderie here.” Keeley says the service is good because his staff cares about the diners. “We’ve definitely made a lot of good friends since we opened … a lot of fantastic regulars.”

Runner-up: Red Lobster

BEST WINE SELECTION

Ross Isaac

1710 S. Macarthur Blvd., 744-7677

With more than 200 different wines, Ross Isaac is a natural choice for best wine selection in Springfield. Owner and head chef Sean Keeley personally picks wines to complement his constantly-evolving menu. From the Australian Woop Woop shiraz to the organic Chilean Cono Sur cabernet sauvignon, you’re sure to find a spirited companion for your meal. Keeley’s favorite is the Maipe Malbec served with a New York strip steak, which he charbroils in a chili chipotle butter and serves with garlic mashed potatoes and crisp onion frites. Vegetarians need not fret; Keeley makes a mean veggie pasta that he pairs with Joel Gott sauvignon blanc – truly a taste to behold.

Runner-up: Maldaner’s

BEST ITALIAN

Saputo’s

801 E. Monroe St., 522-0105

www.saputos.com

The people have spoken time and again. No Italian restaurant is quite so beloved by Springfield as Saputo’s. For more than 50 years, the Saputo family has used their old-world know-how to create classic dishes that would make mama proud, with a number of dishes using recipes that traveled over from the old country. Their anchovy salad, baked pastas and meatballs are always a perfect recommendation. Another recommendation? When getting the baked pastas, for the love of your tongue, wait until it cools down. If you can’t wait, well, that’s what dessert’s for.

Runner-up: Bella Milano

BEST BAR TO WATCH A SPORTING EVENT

Buffalo Wild Wings

4420 Wabash Ave., 546-9453

Even as you watch your team screw up their chances of making the World Series, ahem, St. Louis Cardinals, all’s not lost if you’re at Buffalo Wild Wings. Our voters seem to agree, picking the far-west side bar over downtown’s Sammy’s for the first time. There’s ample parking and indoor and outdoor seating, several big screens that give sports fans a front-row seat to the action and 14 different sauces like honey barbecue, Asian zing and mango habenero to douse your wings and tenders. If you feel the need to flex your muscles, check out the blazin’ sauce — maybe after a few beers.

Runner-up: Sammy’s Sports Bar

BEST GREEN-FOCUSED BUSINESS

Food Fantasies

1512 Wabash Ave., 793-8009

www.foodfantasies.com

Other grocery stores have small “organic” sections, but Food Fantasies is basically organic heaven. “Green” may be so hip and in today, but Jerry Caslin and crew did it way before it was trendy, and still does it best. Must be why they’re celebrating 20 years of business this year. Their produce is locally grown, their meat free of chemicals, their brands natural and healthy, and their breads freshly made in-house and only using whole wheat, which they grind in the store. Vegetarians and vegans delight in Food Fantasies (shocker of the week: Springfield’s not exactly the easiest place to renounce meat), but there’s something for all of us, special diet or no, and not just mega-healthy things. Their snack food is wonderful, too, and different from everywhere else (Pirouline Chocolate Wafers. Yum).

Runner-up: Goodwill Industries

BEST GYROS

Gyros Stop

2907 S. MacArthur Blvd., 698-6463

If our readers think it, it must be true. For the second year running, Gyros Stop has the best gyros (yee-ros) in Springfield. In keeping with tradition, the Greek eatery piles thinly sliced, zestily spiced lamb meat, plenty of sour cream and cucumber sauce, onion and tomatoes on homemade pita bread. Feeling adventurous? Try the BBQ, chicken or western gyros or sample other Greek specialties like the souvlaki (shish kebab), spanakopita (spinach pita) or seganaki (flaming cheese). Last year’s Best Greek winner, Yanni’s, placed second, and Fat Moe’s, a new restaurant in Monroe Plaza, placed third.

Runner-up: Yanni’s, Fat Moe’s

PHOTOS BY PATRICK YEAGLE

BEST CHOICE FOR A SPECIAL OCCASION

Bella Milano

4525 West Wabash, 547-0011

The billboard at the corner of Wabash and Park reads: “Real chef, real dining, real good time.” And it seems that IT readers agree, choosing Bella Milano as the perfect choice for a special occasion.

Bella Milano combines delicious Italian dishes and a romantic, yet relaxed setting with a feel of fine dining, making it the ideal location for birthdays, anniversaries, or an evening out with that special person in your life. Preparing to celebrate its fourth anniversary, Bella Milano’s exquisite Italian dishes include its ever-popular steaks, pasta, seafood and oven-baked chicken.

Coming in a close second is Ross Isaac, which offers a rustic-style atmosphere to accompany its fabulous American cuisine with a global influence. While walk-ins are accepted, owner and chef Sean Keeley strongly recommends reservations, particularly on the weekends and when legislators are in session. Third place goes to Saputo’s, the family-owned Italian restaurant that has been helping Springfieldians celebrate special occasions for decades.

Runner-up: Ross Isaac

BEST SALADS

Bella Milano

4525 Wabash Ave., 547-0011

If you think salads are boring, Bella Milano is working to change your mind with their exciting and unique creations. Try the strawberry grilled chicken salad with poppy seed dressing for a slightly sweet flavor. You could also go with the safe bet — their popular Milano salad. It combines two kinds of lettuce, green onions, prosciutto ham, a blend of cheeses and their signature dressing. Head chef Lennie Ferrigno says Bella Milano’s salads stand out because of the top-quality, fresh ingredients. “Our salad is our main draw,” he says. “But the whole meal is a good experience.” The Olive Garden, with their endless soup, salad and breadstick deal, was another popular choice.

Runner-up: Pasta House

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