Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014 12:01 am
Best of Springfield 2014
Food & Drink • Bars & Nightlife • Kids Stuff
Music & Entertainment • People & Places • Shopping Local
Music & Entertainment • People & Places • Shopping Local
FOOD & DRINK
BEST BBQSmokey Bones
2660 South Dirksen Parkway, 528-6410
There’s no shortage of BBQ joints in town, but this year, our readers have hand-picked Smokey Bones fare as the very best the city has to offer. Their secret? Slow roasting the juicy meat over hickory wood in two in-house cookers. Smokey Bones has many platter options, but purists will opt for the hand-pulled pork, cooked for nine hours, seasoned and served up for your mouthwatering enjoyment. Bring a wet wipe or two.
Runners-up: Hickory River, McCormick’s
BEST BREAD AND PASTRIES
925 South Seventh Street, 528-8548
Springfield natives know there’s only one place to go for the very best in pastries, breads, cakes and other goodies – Incredibly Delicious. Good luck deciding what to eat on the spot and what to take home. Patrick and Co. hand-make baguettes and bread every morning (try the challah or pepper parmesan), and then move on to the sweet treats like their decadent tarts, cakes and cookies. Stop in for hot cappuccino, artisanal breads, European desserts, and maybe even an impromptu French lesson.
Runners-up Bread and pastries: Panera, Hy-Vee
Runners-up Desserts: Cold Stone Creamery, Café Moxo
BEST MEAL UNDER $10
BEST SUNDAY BRUNCH
BEST RESTAURANT WHERE KIDS EAT FREE
Charlie Parker’s, 100 North Street, 241-2104
If you’re looking for one of those places where everybody knows your name, then head on over to the Quonset hut on North Street for a hot meal at one of Springfield’s favorite eateries. During busy times, you’ll have to wade through a gaggle of regular customers, but Mike and Cindy Murphy and their friendly staff are always ready to serve up a hot cup of coffee and perennial favorites like the breakfast horseshoe (egg on toast topped with meat, and gravy or cheese sauce with hash browns or fries) or tater tots loaded with bacon and cheese sauce. With affordable breakfast options and lunch specials around $7, you just can’t go wrong. Kids 3 and under eat free with a paid adult meal. Open Monday through Saturday 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Runners-up Best Meal Under $10: Chaditos, Café Moxo
Runners-up Best Breakfast: Sunrise Café, Le Peep
Runners-up Best Sunday Brunch: Mariah’s, Obed & Isaac’s
Runners-up Best Restaurant Where Kids Eat Free: Steak N Shake, Casa Real
BEST OUTDOOR DINING
BEST DOWNTOWN DINING
BEST BREWED IN ILLINOIS BEER
Obed & Isaac’s
500 South Sixth Street, 670-0627
BOS voters have spoken: Springfield’s oldest microbrewery is still its best. Obed & Isaac’s has been cranking out great beer in Abe Lincoln’s neighborhood since the Conn family repurposed the Booth-Grunendike house and Obed Lewis’ carriage house in 2011. Reader favorites include light ales like the Ditzy Blonde and seasonal brews like Blackberry Wheat or the pumpkin Jack-O-Ale. And, hey, the food is pretty great, too. Try the bacon-wrapped smoked meatloaf or fig pizza...and is there anywhere else in town that serves Poutine? It’s easy to see why Obed’s won best outdoor dining this year – their large (and dog friendly) space between the restaurant and the newly opened Wm. Van’s Coffee House features picnic tables, fire pits, an outdoor bar, bean bag toss and two bocce ball courts.
Runners-up Best Outdoor Dining: Dublin Pub, Julia’s Kitchen & Lounge
Runners-up Best Downtown Dining: Maldaner’s, Saputo’s Runners-up Best Brewed in Illinois Beer: Rolling Meadows, Engrained
Burger Bar, 2765 South Sixth Street, 528-9030
Whether you pick a house specialty or build your own, you can’t go wrong at the Burger Bar, Doug and Karen Kent’s inviting burger joint on South Sixth Street. It’s a friendly and relaxing neighborhood-type spot perfect for catching a game on TV or meeting up with friends. Favorites include the Black & Bleu Burger and the Cowboy Burger – a juicy beef patty topped with BBQ and onion rings. The homemade chips are crispy, and pretzel bun upgrades offer a little something extra to the build-your-own options. Swing by on game day...the Burger Bar has great daily deals and food and drink specials on NFL Sundays.
Runners-up: Krekel’s, Arlington’s
Michael Higgins, Maldaner’s, 222 South Sixth Street, 522-4313
Michael Higgins came to town more than 30 years ago to work at Maldaner’s and in 1995 became the historic downtown restaurant’s fifth owner. While many know him for an elegant and elaborate menu (stuffed quail and pistachio-crusted wild salmon) and his dedication to local ingredients (food from local orchards and farms), he’s actually quite the mover and shaker on the local scene. He lectures at Lincoln Land, sits on the board of the Green Business Network, and is running for alderman in Springfield’s seventh ward. Higgins is always one to try a new idea both inside and outside the kitchen. He once convinced a local farmer to grow fava beans for Maldaner’s recipes. In 2012, he opened his own rooftop garden and beehives, to which he later added solar panels. This year, Higgins brought another innovation to Springfield when he imported the “parklet” street-side dining concept from his native San Francisco.
Runners-up: Jordan Coffey - American Harvest, Julia Hunter – Julia’s Kitchen & Lounge
The Chili Parlor
820 South Ninth Street
Same recipe, new name. But no matter what you call it, The Chili Parlor has been the Springfield spot for chili since Joe Rogers opened his business in 1945. After a brief hiatus and a contract dispute or two, daughter Marianne reopened the family business this summer to the delight of her many regular customers who have grown accustomed to getting their usual fix catered to their level of heat tolerance. The scale goes from mild, to medium, to medium with a touch of hot, to medium hot, to hot, all the way up to the infamous “firebrand,” which is definitely not for the faint of heart. Regular patrons know there are even more options. Ask for extra oil, no oil, light beans, no meat, or onions and cheese. And remember – in Springfield, chili is spelled with just one “l”.
Runners-up: Dew Chili Parlor, Dublin Pub
BEST CHINESE RESTAURANT
1899 East Sangamon Avenue, 789-0800
Head on to the north side to find what our BOS readers say is the best Chinese food around. With a long menu ranging from Thai to Cantonese, there’s no shortage of choices. In fact, China Star has more than 150 offerings like Crazy Noodle (stir-fried wild rice noodle), and Chow Gai Kew (breaded chicken in brown sauce). There’s nothing flashy about the place, but they consistently crank out crowd-pleasing plates that you can rely on like Mongolian Beef and the Hot & Sour Soup. Vegetarian options also available.
Runners-up: Hibachi Grill & Supreme Buffet, Hunan Chinese Restaurant
BEST FISH FRY
Carter’s Fish Market
1900 South Grand Avenue East, 525-2571
It’s a neighborhood fish fry! It might not look like much, but pull over on South Grand and stop on by the unassuming green fish stand known to the locals as Carter’s Fish Market. You’ll hear the sizzle of walleye, catfish and other lake-dwellers as cooks prepare huge to-go portions topped with extras like river fries, hush puppies or cole slaw by request. Like our readers say, at Carter’s, prices are low, helpings are big, and the taste is outta this world.
Runners-up: Firefighters’ Club, Little Flower
BEST FULL-TIME BUFFET
Hibachi Grill Supreme Buffet
2309 South MacArthur Boulevard, 698-6033
The first thing most people notice at Hibachi Grill is its size. The place is huge! And that means they have plenty of room for food. There you’ll find a seemingly endless selection of Asian and American cuisine with everything from crab rangoon and sushi to chicken nuggets and mac & cheese. There’s so much food that it would be impossible to sample it all in just one sitting, but it sure is fun to try. Carry out options available. Open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Runners-up: Hy-Vee, Holy Land Diner
2907 South MacArthur Boulevard, 698-6463
2345 West Monroe, 546-3442
4127 Wabash, 546-8830
Springfield is full of traditions, and a new one seems to be voting Gyros Stop to our BOS. This marks the Greek eatery’s sixth time on the list, and the honor is well deserved. The classic gyro (pronounced “yee-ro”) is just $5.75 and comes loaded with tomato, onion and tzatziki sauce accompanying a huge pile of succulent and seasoned gyro meat. If you’re not a big fan of tradition, fear not – other versions like the BBQ or western gyro are sure to hit the spot, or try a gyro burger or the many Greek specialties like spanakopita (spinach pie), saganaki (Flaming Cheese), or baklava. Believe it or not, they even serve gyro horseshoes…this is Springfield, after all.
Runners-up: Yanni’s Gyros, Chi Town’s Finest on Jefferson
661 West Stanford Avenue, 492-8800
Some things in Springfield are so predictable. You’ll hit all the red lights on South Grand, at least one local football team will win State, and you’ll find yourself driving to D’Arcy’s if you’re in the mood for the best horseshoe around. D’Arcy’s does horseshoes right. It’s your choice of meat or veggies spilled out atop Texas toast, loaded up with fries, and topped with a huge helping of traditional or spicy homemade cheese sauce. Feeling extra hungry? Try the supreme. That’s ground beef, tomatoes, bacon and scallions under spicy cheese sauce served with a side of hot sauce. We’re not sure exactly what makes D’Arcy’s shoes the best around, but our theory is that it has something to do with that secret cheese sauce. IT reader Tony agrees. “That cheese sauce makes me so happy,” he says. “Can I have a to-go quart-sized container of it?” Good luck, Tony. It’s worth a try!
Runners-up: Dublin Pub, Corner Pub
BEST ICE CREAM
Cold Stone Creamery, 124 South Sixth Street, 523-6666
What’s not to love about Cold Stone? No matter if you rely on their signature creations or build your own, it’s easy to find something to satisfy that sweet tooth of yours. We’re a little embarrassed to admit how much time we spent downtown…um…”researching” for this entry. After much work (somebody had to do it) we narrowed our favorites down to three. The Peanut Butter Cup Perfection (chocolate ice cream with peanut butter, Reese’s cups and fudge), Coffee Lovers Only (coffee ice cream with almonds, Heath Bars and caramel), and The Pie Who Loved Me (cheesecake ice cream with Oreos, graham cracker pie crust and fudge). It’s like Mel Gibson said in that one movie: “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our ice cream!”
Runners-up: Baskin Robbins, Krekel’s Custard
BEST INDIAN RESTAURANT
Gateway to India, 3115 Chatham Road, 726-6890
We know, we know, it can be hard to venture out and try new things. But trust us, Gateway is the perfect place for lovers of ethnic foods and newbies alike. The food is authentic and flavorful but not overpowering, and beginners will find a wait staff willing to answer questions along with a lunch buffet that makes sampling many dishes easy. Try Bombay’s famous street food, the aloo papri chaat or kadhaai stir-fried with vegetables. The menu is quite large, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, go with the mutter panner. The trusty staple of any Indian menu, it’s a dish with peas and cheese in tomato and onion gravy served with naan or other Indian bread. Gateway to India is closed on Monday.
Runner-up: Flavor of India
BEST JAPANESE RESTAURANT
Osaka Japanese Restaurant, 1665 Wabash Avenue, 726-8037
Osaka is like two great restaurants in one. If you’re celebrating a special occasion or just up for a fun floor show, turn left upon entry and take a seat on the hibachi side, where hilarious and talented chefs will juggle utensils, toss food in the air, and amuse you as they cook up a wide array of meats, veggies and seafood. Or, if it’s sushi you’re looking for, turn right and treat yourself to some yellowtail, eel, shrimp and other selections from a la carte and combo menus. Osaka has classic rolls like spider, avocado or spicy tuna, and more options from salad and Thai sections. Another strength is an elaborate drink menu. Wine is just $3 on Wednesdays with specialty drinks and martinis listed at $4 each Thursday. Call ahead for reservations, as this trendy Springfield hotspot fills up fast.
Runners-up Best Japanese Restaurant: Kiku, Mimosa
Runners-up Best Sushi: Happy Sushi, Hunan
BEST LATE-NIGHT EATS
1975 Wabash Ave, Springfield, 793-6871
With a full menu until midnight and open doors until 1 a.m. every day, Dublin Pub is Springfield’s choice for late-night eats. And why not? They have half-price pizzas and apps from 10 p.m. until closing time, and great apps like toasted ravioli, fried pickles and sweet potato fries. One reader gives Dublin a big thumbs up for their sweet breaded bacon wings. Or, if you go for a pie, select the buffalo chicken horseshoe pizza. The game is always on, the beer is always cold and the doors are open late.
Runners-up: Star 66, Gabatoni’s
BEST MADE-IN-ILLINOIS WINE
Hill Prairie Winery
23753 Lounsberry Road, Oakford, 635-9900
To find the best locally produced wine, you have to venture a bit outside of the city, 31.1 miles northwest from the Old State Capitol, to be exact. But we promise it will be worth the trip. There you’ll find Hill Prairie Winery, the family vineyard surrounded by a lush landscape and a 100-year-old barn that together make the perfect backdrop for enjoying a fine bottle of Illinois wine while listening to local music or attending one of many annual festivals. Popular selections from the Lounsberry family include Chardonel, Vignoles, Prairie Dew, Prairie Sunshine, Crimson Moon and Autumn Spice.
Runners-up: Danenberger Family Vineyard, Walnut Street
BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT
Xochimilco, 2941 West Iles Avenue, 546-3116
3210 Northfield Drive, 544-9206, 6901 Preston Drive, 483-1006
With three locations, a great lunch menu, awesome desserts like sopapilla and xochimi, vegetarian plates, and 13 combos, it’s no wonder that Xochimilco makes the BOS again this year. It’s fresh, tasty and authentic in a part of the country where real Mexican can be hard to find. It’s hard to pass up huevos con chorizzo and chili Colorado (beef in red chili sauce), but our choice is the tri-color burrito – a huge tortilla filled with meat and covered in red ranchero, melted cheese and green tomatillo sauce.
Runners-up: Casa Real, La Fiesta
BEST NEW RESTAURANT OPENED IN 2014
Julia’s Kitchen & Lounge, 107 West Cook Street, 670-1972
Julia Hunter hit all the right notes when she opened her new restaurant in Vinegar Hill Mall this spring. There she serves up southern charm and down-home favorites like fried green tomato BLTs, shrimp po’ boys and even grits. Her tapas menu has great choices like lobster mac & cheese, hush puppies, BBQ pork sliders, bacon-wrapped dates and sweet corn fritters. Our readers love the pulled pork horseshoe and the mac & cheese and rib-eye sandwiches.
Runners-up: Arlington’s, III Tomassos
300 East Laurel, 528-9629
It’s one of those hometown restaurants that you just can’t do without. Sure, the dining room is crowded and the wait staff is often sassy, but take one step inside Gabatoni’s and you feel right at home. The oven-cooked dough has a nice cornmeal undercoating and the pies come in 7, 12 and 16-inch diameters. There are plenty of standard build-your-own options along with specialties like bacon chicken alfredo and the famous EBA – everything but anchovies. The taco pizza is delicious, but use a fork…it’s piled high with meat, tomatoes, black olives, lettuce and cheese and served with sour cream and salsa.
Runners-up: Coz’s Pizza and Pub, Bernie and Betty’s Pizza
BEST PORK TENDERLOIN
229 West Mason, 492-1110
Where else? Sportsman’s Lounge is the place in town for a big, juicy tenderloin. The no-frills Mason place offers plenty of variations on this Midwest classic. Get it grilled or breaded in a salad, regular or buffalo-style as a horseshoe or try the full-size standard for about $9 (with a half portion for $7). If you’re digging in for the big boy, come hungry. The thinly sliced pork monstrosity hangs over the edges of the plate. Swipe an extra bun for $1, and enjoy!
Runners-up: D’Arcy’s Pint, Dublin Pub
BEST RESTAURANT OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Old Luxemburg Inn, 1900 South 15th Street, 528-0503
In the day of chain restaurants and franchise locations, the Old Lux stands out as a blast from the past. Most people in town have fond memories of this local haunt, which opened its doors in 1938. And all these years later, they’re still serving up great standards at a good price. There on South 15th you’ll discover great meat and seafood options. The Old Lux is one of the few places in town that still serves fried clams, and both their steak and fried chicken dinners are among the best around. Getting the lobster tail? Try it fried.
Runners-up: Arlington’s, Abe’s Hideout
BEST ROMANTIC DINING
BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT
Bella Milano, 4525 Wabash Avenue, 547-0011
The lights are low, the music is soft and the décor is fashionable, making Bella Milano Springfield’s favorite place for a first date or an anniversary dinner. From start to finish, the food is fantastic from a simple house salad dressed up by Milano’s tasty homemade dressing, to pizzas made with original dough and sauces and then fired in a brick oven. Although you can’t go wrong with Italian staples like lasagna or baked mostaccioli, think about going for the veal and portabella ravioli or a mouthwatering meat dish like Bella Milano’s pepperloin. It’s an eight-ounce fillet rolled in cracked pepper and marinated all day long before the chef pan-sears and serves it for your enjoyment.
Runners-up Best Romantic Dining: Nick & Nino’s, American Harvest
Runners-up Best Italian Restaurant: Saputo’s, III Tomassos Italian Bistro
BEST SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
Chesapeake Seafood House
3045 Clear Lake Drive, 522-5220
Talk about a great place for a meal. Chesapeake makes its home in an 1800s mansion on five acres across from Bergen Park. And don’t let the name fool you – they have more than just seafood. You can choose from the finest cuts of meat in addition to fresh seafood from around the world. Show up for a host of early bird specials or come at dinnertime for special catches, shrimp plates and fried treats. Or go for succulent lobster tail, or crab-stuffed mushrooms (perfect with a warm bowl of baked French onion soup). The Chef’s Choice is Oysters Rockefeller…12 oysters with spinach bacon cream sauce and cheese. And be sure to request the dessert menu, where you’ll be tempted by turtle pie, death by chocolate, and other rich indulgences.
Runners-up: Carter’s Fish Market, Old Luxemburg Inn
BEST STEAK RESTAURANT
Alexander’s Steak House
620 North Bruns Lane, 793-0440
After it made the list as a runner-up last year, Alexander’s takes the top spot in the Best Steak category this year. Part of the fun at Alexander’s is the choice, because each guest can choose his or her own hand-cut slice of beef from 12 varieties in the locker before it’s laid out over the hot charcoal and cooked to order by the pros. Or, if you trust your own abilities, grab a drink and grill it yourself on the fire pit. If steak’s not your thing, choose from chicken, pork or seafood. Dinners come with a salad bar, potato choice and toast.
Runners-up: Texas Roadhouse, Nick & Nino’s
BEST SUB/SANDWHICH SHOP
Head West Sub Stop
1124 West Jefferson, 793-9101
530 East Capitol, 789-9101
3311 Robbins Drive, 726-9202
1281 Toronto Road, 585-7990
2432 Denver Drive, 744-7990
7032 Kings Mill Court, 670-0111
450 State Street, Rochester (inside Phillips 66 Station), 498-1182
136 South Oakland, Decatur, 791-6718
What a great local success story. It seems that every time BOS rolls round, Head West is on the list, and we always have to add a new location as they continue to grow. This year it’s no different, thanks to the sub shop’s new digs in Decatur. It’s a simple menu of regular and specialty subs with some standouts like the hummus (choice D) and reuben (A) along with brownies, Ben & Jerry’s, Jones Sodas and other goodies. It’s hard to find a good, healthy, fast meal that doesn’t break the bank, but Head West fits the bill. Pick 2 (a half sub, salad or soup) is still just six bucks!
Runners-up: Jimmy John’s, Penn Station
BEST THAI RESTAURANT
Magic Kitchen, 115 North Lewis Street, 525-6975
4112 North Peoria Road, 525-2230
Like many places on this year’s BOS, Magic Kitchen is all about the Springfield experience. Approach the small and remote Peoria Road location, and you may find a line of hipsters clamoring for a table. Look around, and each group will have their own random six-pack. That’s because it’s one of the city’s few remaining BYOB establishments (and remember, it’s cash only). But on to the food, which is the reason for all the buzz. Over the years, Magic Kitchen has created a loyal following not just among those who grew up attending nearby Springfield High, but with many in the capital city for their fine authentic Thai food. They serve all the regular entrees and vegetarian dishes, of course, and we recommend the garlic and white pepper pork or chicken, which comes mild, mild+, medium or hot. Hours vary by location.
Runners-up: Little Saigon, Thai Kitchen 2
Holy Land Diner
106 West Cook Street, 544-5786
If you’ve been to the State Fairgrounds Farmers Market recently, there’s a good chance you’ve bumped into Afaf Rashmawy selling a selection of Holy Land’s well-known Greek and Lebanese food. Their meat dishes are delicious, too, but for the vegetarians among us, there’s no better place in town. That’s because of the many options Rashmawy provides, from tabouli to baba ghannouge. If you like it as much of our BOS voters, there’s good news. Holy Land sells many items in bulk and offers occasional cooking classes at their Vinegar Hill location. Check Facebook for times. Holy Land has a daily lunch buffet and dinner buffets on Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Runners-up: American Harvest, Noodles and Company
BEST WINE LIST
American Harvest Eatery, 3241 W. Iles, 546-8300
Executive Chef Jordan Coffey and Sous Chef Aurora Coffee are doing a lot of things right at American Harvest, and one of those things is their wine list, which BOS readers say is the area’s best for the second consecutive year. Like many aspects of American Harvest, its wine list features local selections from Danenberger Family Vineyards in New Berlin. Choose from Desagacé Rouge (with Syrah, Marquette, and Arande grapes), Aura Aria Paper Moon (a dry, soft variety), the full-bodied Desagacé Vermilion and Stilettos In the Vineyard Rendezvous (a dry rosé). Bottles are half price every Thursday, and special events like a Late Harvest Dinner on Nov. 20 and Chef Todd Jackson’s tasting dinner on Dec. 18 feature meals with drink pairings. See website for details.
Runners-up: Indigo, Nick & Nino’s
Westwoods Lodge, 2406 West Jefferson, 698-9256
It’s a shame that you don’t hear more about Westwoods. The hunting-themed bar and restaurant just off of Veterans Parkway is serving up some of the most inventive fare around. We had the tackle box, a pick three (ours was gator, frog legs and fried clams) appropriately served in…you guessed it…a tackle box. But we’re here to talk about wings. Simply put, these are hands-down the best wings we’ve sampled in town. Like most places, they serve up traditional or boneless but what sets Westwoods apart is a bevy of interesting choices. The buffalo bleu (buffalo wings drizzled with blue cheese) were amazing, and next time we plan to try Asian ginger and garlic parmesan.
Runners-up: Buffalo Wild Wings, Show Me’s