Chicken-N-Spice and Everything Nice

Who:  Chicken-N-Spice

What:  Fast food restaurant

Where:  251 N. Chicago St., Joliet, IL  (815) 727-1100

When:  Seven days a week, 7:30am-10pm

ChickenNSpiceExterior

Exterior

Chicken-N-Spice may be my new favorite thing. It’s true, this opinion may be influenced by the fact that I was locked inside all weekend finishing a research paper and eating Ramen noodles. I’d call it “crave-worthy” under any circumstances, though. As I sorted through my end of semester bits and bobs, the pictures Charles took of our Chicken-N-Spice meal had me drooling. It was like the culinary equivalent of lying in the gutter and looking at the stars.

As I said, we made a day of it when we stopped in Joliet (well, night of it, in accordance with the pinball joint’s hours). I’m really not familiar with Joliet beyond the now-closed (and possibly haunted?prison that was in The Blues Brothers. Chicago Street Pinball (which I’m sure you read all about here and shared with all your friends) was the main goal of our trip, so we built our itinerary around that. I found a chicken place that got good reviews on Yelp, and going by the street names and numbers, it wasn’t too far away.

Chicken-N-Spice has been around since 1979, and the décor looks it (but I actually like a family rec room/dive bar ambience). Their claim to fame is their breast chunks. Having formerly worked in a hospital, the name strikes me as…a bit off-putting and clinical? It is an accurate descriptor, however, as they’re all white meat, and, as their website says, “never frozen, cut and seasoned right here in the restaurant daily!”

We weren’t sure how many to order as we tried to wrap our heads around what size they were, as the employees held their fingers out in approximate circumferences. The breast chunks were pretty big, maybe about the size of a tennis ball? I think we ordered six and took two home for later. You can see why they tout them, as they were absolutely delicious (I mean, they stirred my ardor so they had me quoting Oscar Wilde). Since they were so huge they were a bit tricky to eat, though. As it’s definitely not a bite-sized thing, and served piping hot, you’ll want to pause and set it down on a napkin or something as you grab some more hot sauce.

ChickenNSpiceMeal

Okay, maybe we ordered more than six. Definitely had leftovers, though.

On the side we had “jo-jos” (their version of fries, sort of a seasoned potato wedge type thing) as well as spicy rice and big, fluffy biscuits. Other sides include creamy pepperjack macaroni and cheese bites(!). They have a soup of the day and an extensive, affordable breakfast menu as well (a $1.79 sausage and egg biscuit? That might even be cheaper than McDonald’s. This place was a great deal). They also have their version of chicken and waffles, with little breast chunks dotting the edges like teddy bear ears; can be ordered with or without strawberries.

ChickenNSpiceGeorgeAndEddie

Meal special (and Charles’ crazy neon jacket in the reflection)

I know I harshed on Rockford’s Beef-A-Roo, as (to me at least) their roast beef sandwich was a pale imitation of Chicago’s. Chicken-N-Spice felt like Harold’s Chicken Shack with a breakfast menu. What more could you want?

The Passion of Rock ‘n Roll Beef-A-Roo

Who: Beef-A-Roo

What:  Fast food restaurant

Where:
3401 S. Alpine, Rockford, IL (815) 874-8550
(click here for six other Rockford area locations)

When:
Sunday through Thursday, 9am – 10pm
Friday and Saturday, 9am – 11pm

BeefarooSign

Charles and I rounded out our day trip to Rockford with a stop for sandwiches at Beef-A-Roo, a hometown favorite for over 40 years, with seven locations in Rockford (and three surrounding towns). Each location has a different décor theme, and we chose the Rock ‘n Roll location in Rockford at 3401 S. Alpine Road (singing this with appropriately altered lyrics along the way.  “Beef-A-Roo is the place to rock…”).

They have a surprisingly extensive menu. There are 12 different salads, including Chicken Bruschetta, Grilled Tuna, and seasonal offerings of Summer Berry and Harvest Chicken. There’s also an entire gluten-free menu and a B-Fit menu with 14 items under 400 calories.  In other words, their healthy options aren’t an afterthought like those sad, half-hearted bits of iceberg, shredded carrot, and two or three cherry tomatoes that call themselves salads at a lot of fast food joints. Nobody puts Healthy in a corner at Beef-A-Roo, apparently.

All that might interest me more if I lived nearby and stopped there often on my lunch break, but we were tourists and we wanted to try their namesake.

I’m from Chicago, so the image I had in mind of a roast beef sandwich was different from what was on offer at Beef-A-Roo. I was thinking, of course, of the Italian beef sandwich served on a long, Italian-style roll, smothered in hot peppers and giardiniera and dipped in its own juices. Apparently this is only a Chicago thing (or found at places featuring “Chicago style” fare in other cities).

I know, I know. This is a travel blog (albeit a micro-travel blog amenable to a grad student’s micro-budget). I should be open to new experiences and local customs. The heart wants what it wants, though, and I was so excited for a little taste of home just off I-39, that I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed. I don’t know how to describe a non-Italian beef roast beef sandwich other than, “Um, a fancier version of Arby’s?”

BeefarooFood

Okay, I’ll try: The Beef-A-Roo roast beef sandwich is sort of like a hot version of a deli lunch meat sandwich, served on a hamburger bun, with all the toppings custom ordered. It was tasty enough, and probably healthier than the Italian style of my dreams. Charles and I each got the Classic Roast Beef, with some horseradish on the side (Charles tells me it’s a Polish tradition to have horseradish on Easter to give believers a taste of Christ’s suffering. “Except I like horseradish, so I’m not suffering”). The fries were quite tasty, thin and crisp. The cheese sauce was that neon orange stuff you get in a little container. The rock ‘n roll interior was fun (although seemed more like an all-encompassing 1950s theme). The employees were friendly and one came over to our table offering Starlight mints and Andes candies.

BeefarooInterior

I might stop by again if I’m in Rockford and looking for some cheap eats, but I will skip the roast beef. Maybe try a salad with a side of horseradish to put my Chicago homesickness in perspective.

The Great Pork Tenderloin Debate at The Igloo

Who:  Igloo Drive-In

What:  Diner restaurant

Where:  2819 4th Street, Peru, IL  (815) 223-0848

When:  Seven days a week, 10:30am-10pm

IglooSign

You may have noticed this blog about hidden gems of Northern Illinois has been a bit heavy on coverage of the Illinois Valley (i.e., the land that’s spitball distance from Starved Rock).  It is where I spend most weekends I’m not in DeKalb.  I do have some adventures in Rockford and Joliet to share with you.

You’ll have to wait for those, though, as this entry’s about what I’m told is a quintessential Illinois Valley experience:  The pork tenderloin.

My local guide told me it was an Illinois Valley thing; anecdotal conversation and Internet research told me it was a Midwestern thing. Apparently there’s a movie about what a quintessential Indiana thing it is, and in Iowa, people debate what makes for the best pork tenderloin sandwich as passionately as Chicagoans do their pizza.

Charles and I stopped at the Igloo in Peru, Illinois to experience the pork tenderloin sandwich. A smallish restaurant with a bit of a family rec room feel, the Igloo has been around since 1937. Rich, the owner, came to talk to us .He asked about this blog and was happy to share info about the place. He said it wasn’t uncommon to see four generations at a table, the great grandparents full of memories of coming there as a kid. The piles of Igloo T-shirts and merchandise for sale at the counter spoke to its longevity and iconic status.

IglooShirtsCook

Igloo T-shirts and friendly cook

IglooInterior

Igloo interior

So, onto the food. I started out with the ravs. The locals call ravioli “ravs”…except it’s actually tortellini, served in broth.  It made for a pleasant, filling soup.

IglooRavs

Ravs and broth

“Pork tenderloin” made me think of a slow cooked Sunday dinner, the kind people mean when they say, “I miss Sunday dinners with the family.”  In sandwich form, the meat is prepared similarly to a Wiener Schnitzel or chicken parmigiana where it’s flattened very thin with a tenderizer, then breaded and fried. It’s so thin that it’s much wider than the bun. I ordered it with standard fixin’s of mustard, pickles, and onions (actually, I think ketchup is also a standard topping, but I asked them to skip it). It was good, but it was so thin and heavily breaded that I honestly tasted that more than the meat. Charles ordered the Italian sausage with peppers, onions, and marinara sauce and said it was really good.

IglooPorkTenderloin

The pork tenderloin sandwich, Igloo style

We spied a handful of arcade games in the back near the bathrooms, but didn’t check them out as we were on our way to a play.

I regret that I have but one pork tenderloin sandwich experience to share with my audience, but based on what I’ve read about the various preparation methods, I think I’m in the “less breading, more pork” camp. It’s possible this is one of those “it just tastes like home” kind of things, if the area has a nostalgic pull for you. I’d head back to the Igloo for the friendly atmosphere and maybe check out their take on burgers and fries and their frosty mug root beer. Lord knows I spend enough time in the Illinois Valley.

Reaping the Harvest at Boggio’s Orchard (Don’t Forget the Fudge)

Who:  Boggio’s Orchard and Produce

What:  Apple orchard, market store, family play area

Where:  12087 IL Hwy. 71, Granville, IL  (815) 339-2245

When:
Monday-Saturday:  6-9am donuts and pastries; 9am-6pm market open
Sunday:  6-9am donuts and pastries; 9am-5pm market open

BoggiosSilo

Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, I remember idyllic fall Sundays at apple orchards, filling bushels to the brim with fresh apples right off the tree.  Now that it’s fall, my Facebook feed is full of friends taking their kids there.  The manfriend (okay, maybe if you’ve been reading this long we’re friends now and I should just tell you his name is Charles) told me Boggio’s was the best orchard that wasn’t too far of a drive.  So, on an unseasonably warm Sunday right before Halloween, we headed about an hour south and slightly west of DeKalb to tiny Putnam County, the smallest county in Illinois, to check it out.

The sign was a bit hard to spot from the direction we were heading, but we could see the parked cars and rows of fresh pumpkins.  I didn’t realize there were so many different hues of pumpkin—they had Jack-o’-lantern orange, yellow, and pale ivory pumpkins lined up in rows like Legos.  We headed inside to the market shop and checked out all the apple products and paraphernalia.  We made sure to get some apple cider donuts; Charles was afraid they might be out.  They also had fresh fudge made on site, and I have to say it was about the best fudge I’d ever tasted.  Good enough to prompt strange cravings a year from now, I reckon. They happily handed out free samples and we left our consumption at that.  I especially liked the tiger butter, a mix of peanut butter and vanilla.

BoggiosFudge

We chatted with the people behind the counter a bit and they told us Boggio’s had formerly been in Hennepin but moved to Granville in 1992 under new ownership. The cashiers explained that the wooden contraptions on the wall were apple seeders.  I heard it as “cedars,” but they explained that they were designed to remove seeds from apples meant for processing.  I tried to Google more information about them and found a bunch of stuff about Apple computers.  Maybe it goes by a fancier and less prosaic name I’m not aware of?

BoggiosAppleSeeders

Apple seeders

We had a lot of driving in the 815 to pack into the day, so we didn’t stay that long.  Charles was ready to go after we bought a few small things but I insisted on checking out what was behind the store and wandered around snapping pics.  He really missed out, as there was a guy singing and playing guitar, a corn maze, a petting zoo, and kiddie hot rod rides.  I didn’t see anyone picking apples, and they only seemed to have a few small rows of trees, though the website says it’s a u-pick-em joint.  Maybe there’s another section I missed.

BoggiosAttractionSign

To do list

BoggiosKiddieHotRod

Kiddie hot rods

Boggio’s was a great place to take kids with plenty for them to do.  For adults just passing through, it’s a great way to enjoy the fall weather before winter clamps down and stock up on some gifts and treats for yourself.  We were lucky and got there on one of the last really warm weekends, complete with ladybugs crawling all over us and seeping into the car.

BoggiosPleadingGoat

Pleading critter

Burn Your Tongue Off, Shake Some Quarters Loose at South Moon BBQ

Who:  South Moon BBQ

What:  Restaurant/”Mullet Room” emporium

Where:  100 E. Lincoln Hwy. (Route 30), Hinckley, IL, (815) 286-9227

When:
Monday-Tuesday, CLOSED
Wednesday-Thursday, 11am-8pm
Friday-Saturday, 11am-9pm
Sunday 11am-8pm

SouthMoonBBQLogo

South Moon BBQ in Hinckley, Illinois was on my radar from my story on Star Worlds Arcade (they were a sponsor of Star Worlds’ 30th anniversary party and Star Worlds’ owner supplies their games).  After flash mobbing and briefly attending the Star Worlds anniversary party (it got pretty crowded), my manfriend and I were hungry and wanted some air.  We punched South Moon’s address into the GPS and headed about 20 minutes south to Hinckley.

South Moon is easy to spot on the corner of Sycamore Street and Lincoln Highway.  I mean Lincoln Highway as in Route 30.  Coming from DeKalb, I know Lincoln Highway as Route 38 that takes you to the NIU campus.  Apparently it starts at U.S. 30 to the east and the route between DeKalb and Hinckley is smack dab where Lincoln Highway shifts to Route 38.

SouthMoonBBQoutside

So—fun facts!  You’re here to hear about the barbecue, though.  You order at the counter and the food is brought out to you.  We decided to split “The Chuck,” which is every meat they have on one bun.  It was as ridiculously huge as it sounds, maybe seven inches high.  Obviously not conducive to eating sandwich style, we picked and poked with forks and knives.  The meats included a bratwurst, brisket, pulled pork, pork chop, and chicken.

We availed ourselves of the many different sauces available on the side, which were also for sale to take home—Sweet St. Louis, Sweet Heat, Carolina Thin, Bad-Ass Brat Sauce and “Nitro.”  The last one we had to ask for and got an, “Okay, if you think you can take it” from the waitress.  Their website calls it Nitro, but I remember asking for ghost pepper sauce and the waitress knowing what we were talking about.  At over 1,000,000 Scoville heat units, the ghost pepper, also known as Bhut Jolokia, is the third hottest pepper in the world.  It was only knocked to number two in 2012 and number three in 2013.

My guess is it’s called ghost pepper because it haunts you and stays with you.  It took maybe five big gulps of ice water to calm my tongue down again.  When I say gulps, I mean I let the ice water just hang out in my mouth for a good minute or so before swallowing.

As far as the taste, I liked the pulled pork the best; hard to mess with slow-cooked pork.  The bratwurst was good, too.  Hate to say it, but the chicken and pork chop were a bit dry, though there’s plenty of sauce to go around.  Maybe “The Chuck” is a bit too ambitious and tries to be everything to everyone. I’d probably do the pulled pork sandwich on a return trip.  On the side we tried the fried potato salad smothered in a vinegar-y mustard sauce, which was quite good; I’m a fan of an assertive vinegar taste.  I’m curious to try their mac and cheese.  They had a great selection of craft beers, though we didn’t try any.

MulletRoom

The space was very large and inviting, with indoor picnic tables, kitschy memorabilia on the walls, ‘80s music playing (I remember Journey’s “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’”).  My manfriend geeked out about the pinball as soon as we walked in, although the two up front were vintage games either out of order or out of commission.  As promised, there was a game room a.k.a. “The Mullet Room” in the back.  I assumed “The Mullet Room” was an under the breath kind of in-joke, but there was a sign saying “Welcome to The Mullet Room” right there on the wall.  We played “The Simpsons” game which involves endless punching and jumping to save something for Maggie.  There was a good selection of roughly 15-20 games including two pool tables.  It was a spacious room and you paid with quarters rather than tokens.  We didn’t stay too long as my manfriend used his ghost pepper trauma as an excuse to get ice cream at Dairy Joy down the street.

SouthMoonGameRoom

The Mullet Room in all its glory

It wasn’t the best barbecue I’ve had but decent and definitely an inviting and comfortable atmosphere.  It’s a fun, spacious (yet not cavernous) place for a big group with lots of tasty beers to sample and games to play, only about 20 minutes south of DeKalb.