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Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010 03:07 pm

May we serve you?

Best of Springfield 2010

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Best bartender is the entire bar staff at the Brewhaus. From left are Mike Parkes, owner, Andrew Denton, Nate Short, Dennis Caveny, Owen Irwin and Keith Voegele. Not pictured: Michael Miller.
PHOTOS BY JOSEPH COPLEY

Brewhaus
617 E. Washington St., 525-6399

BEST BARTENDER
Brewhaus owner Mike Parkes, a perennial favorite in the best bartender category, seems to have trained his bar staff well. This count boiled down to a contest about which Brewhaus bartender would get the most votes and collectively the crew raced far ahead of the nearest competition, so we just decided to give the prize to the entire staff. Now headed by Nate Short with Keith Voegele acknowledged as senior barkeep, the other Brewhaus bartenders include Andrew Denton, Owen Irwin and Michael Miller. Their secret to success appears to be no secret at all. A consistent crew who know the esteemed craft of serving drinks well involves knowing your product and how to present it along with lending a listening ear to the plight of paying patrons.

BEST SERVER
Kate Catalano and Patty Sullivan, Brewhaus
Kate Catalano returns to claim her Best Server crown from 2009, but fellow Brewhaus server Patty Sullivan received nearly the same amount of votes so we elected to make the two equally best. What makes a good server in a bar? According to a random sampling of those who wait patiently for their drinks, it involves much more than just timely and accurate serving. Patrons claim Kate and Patty consistently show good humor, remember preferences, relate interpersonally and treat them with respect. Hmmmm. Sounds more like a friend than a server. Perhaps longevity is a key to good service as Patty worked nearly every Thursday night since the Brewhaus opened 16 years ago while Kate has walked the well-worn floors at least a couple nights a week for nearly five years. Whatever the reason, don’t forget to tip well and often. That makes for the best servers.

BEST BEER SELECTION
Could the fact the Brewhaus carries between 200 to 300 beers on hand at any given time give it the advantage in beer selection? Maybe it’s the paper lists that folks use to actually see all the beers offered, then check them off after consumption (it’s a long-term plan). Customers who dare play stump-the-bar in locating a variety of beer here most often lose. The knowledgeable staff, experienced not only in tasting, but armed with the facts and figures of production, manufacturing, location and distribution of one of the world’s great resources, also add to the appeal of the selection. Look for small modern breweries like Left Hand from Colorado, Schlafly’s out of St. Louis or ancient brews such as Spaten from Germany and Samuel Smith of England alongside a draft pumpkin ale, unique fruit beer, common Miller or Bud and classics like Schlitz, Stag and Pabst. Drink responsibly and with variety.

Ross Isaac’s chef and owner Sean Keeley.
PHOTO BY JOSEPH COPLEY


BEST CHEF
Sean Keeley, Ross Isaac
1710 S. MacArthur Blvd., 744-7677

A consistent winner in the Best Chef category, Sean Keeley opened Ross Isaac after several years of best-chef-ing at other restaurants around town. Now owner and operator all in one, his work continues to rise to new levels. Keeley takes the art of cooking to a place of constant creation, truly raising the bar of creative cuisine to delightful heights. Other restaurants may pride themselves on “favorites” and “standbys,” but Sean and staff offer a refreshingly challenging menu that’s “new, fresh and changes daily with ingredients from local farmers.” Along with venerable entrees such as the Double Cut Pork Chop, Rack of Lamb, Ahi Tuna and Veggie Pasta, the classic, but ever-changing Ross Isaac menu includes interesting appetizers, tapas and sushi often paired with imaginatively marvelous martinis to make a meal and a night of it. Sounds like a recipe for savory success.

BEST BEER GARDEN
Curve Inn
3219 S. Sixth St. Rd., Southern View, 529-5806

The Curve Inn has been around a long time and like many an old-timer just keeps getting better with age. When every joint in town tried to fabricate a beer garden to outwit the citywide, then statewide, public-places smoking ban (remember that?) a few years back, the Curve Inn took an extra step and made a special place of their out-of-doors space. And IT readers appreciate the effort as they made a preference loud and clear that the best beer garden around is at the Curve Inn. With plenty of room on several levels, easily accessible parking across the way and a consistent booking schedule of popular local bands every Friday evening, Amy and her top-notch staff created a pleasing place to be to accompany the above-standard libation selection and beyond-typical bar chow available at this local classic on the far Southside.

BEST BAR FOR SPORTS
Buffalo Wild Wings
4420 W. Wabash Ave., 546-9453

We’re not talking actual sports games in the bar just those on TV and readers must have gotten that message by choosing Buffalo Wild Wings as the best bar for sports. The restaurant and bar includes 5 really big screens and 40 plenty big screens making available around 10 different sports shows simultaneously on a total of 45 TVs. And as they are wont to say at BWW, “they can curb your appetite” for almost any sports show you’re after by encouraging you, the valued customer, to check out the in-house sports program listing, look for the game you want, then let the nice folks there dial it in. The only problem here is avoiding confusion from watching too many things at the same time. Hey that’s what the beer and wings are for, to put your mind and belly at ease while observing the wonderful world of sports all at once.

BEST PICKUP BAR
Floyd’s Thirst Parlor
210 S. Fifth St. 522-2020

Perhaps it’s the cool-colored neon lights snaking around the bar ceiling or maybe the largest collection of Mike Manning paintings in the Western world that make Floyd’s the best place for a pickup. Then again it could be the extensive beer selection, fine bar staff and cool tunes on the jukebox along with the cozy corners and dark booths positioned here and there around the club. On third thought there’s that recently remodeled upstairs with games and nooks allowing for a mingling of the minds and other things, perfect for finding that special someone in need of a pickup. Whatever the reason, IT readers preferred Floyd’s Thirst Parlor for playing pickup and that’s all the reason we need. A final thought – it might just be the pleasing personality of bar manager Morris Cooper behind all this wickedly wonderful and practically pernicious picking up, in fact that must be it.

BEST PLACE TO EAT AFTER 10 P.M. &
BEST HANGOVER FOOD

Steak ’n Shake
1580 Wabash Ave., 787-0392
4211 Conestoga Dr., 698-9439
3186 S. Dirksen Pkwy., 529-5823
2465 N. Dirksen Pkwy., 492-5925

Judging by the number of nominees, it’s clear that Springfield is not short on late night restaurants. But an overwhelming majority of voters declare that one of Steak ’n Shake’s four locations is the best place for curing those late night munchies. Though the restaurant doesn’t have the fastest service, the steakburgers – cooked-to-order – are made with fresh, Angus beef. And the freshly cut fries are distinguishably thin. The restaurant also serves chili, chicken tenders, a variety of salads, patty melts, and chicken, turkey and grilled cheese sandwiches, as well as hot dogs, a variety of breakfast foods, and much more.  There is surely something that appeals to everyone.  And, might we add, you have not had the full Steak ’n Shake experience until you’ve had one of their thick, creamy shakes. Now, there was a time when we would have said that the meals are pricey, but just like its competitors Steak ’n Shake has affordable combo meals for “under” $4, and half-price drinks now include  2 to 4 a.m.

Not knocking the food at Steak ’n Shake because there is none finer for the market, but the choice in this category most likely was mistaken for best food before a hangover. We reached this conclusion by observing the late-night crowd that stumbles into the black-n-white-all-night restaurant after the bars are closed and thinking it would be easy to confuse and hard to distinguish if food consumed while intoxicated came before or after the hangover. No need to overthink this one because the classic Steak ’n Shake cuisine works well before, during or after anything, including a hangover. Any longtime resident of Springfield can hardly let this category slide by without mentioning those long-gone, all-night legendary eateries from the past, such as Mr. Ted’s, the Georgian, Steak ’n’ Eggs and others now faded into our collective hung-over memories.

Cathy Sagle, manager of the Corkscrew.
PHOTO BY JOSEPH COPLEY


BEST WINE SELECTION
Corkscrew Wine Emporium
2613 Chatham Rd., 787-1990
Friar Tuck Beverage
2930 Constitution Dr., 698-1116

We honestly intended this category to address wine selections at a restaurant, but readers decided it was all about the wine store and went with a tie between the Corkscrew and Friar Tuck’s. The Corkscrew concentrates entirely on that friendly fermented juice of the vine with a wide selection of wines from around the world and frequent wine tastings to further familiarize yourself with their exquisite and extensive offerings. Friar Tuck’s carries many, many varieties of wines and also offers other alcoholic refreshments as well, possibly disturbing the delicate sensibilities of avid wine connoisseurs, but not likely to stop anyone really interested in finding a particular wine of choice. Both stores are fully stocked with plenty of vino to go around and come equipped with a staff ready and willing to help choose the best wine for you.

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