Eye On Illinois: Readers help construct culinary checklist

Asked and answered.

Saturday’s column invited readers to share their favorite menu items from an Illinois restaurant in hopes of creating a “must-eat” list for summer road trips, drawing inspiration from the state’s $6 million “Time for me to drive” tourism campaign. Email and Facebook responses were swift and abundant. There’s nothing in it for me aside from caloric intake, but keep watching this space for periodic recommendations. Hopefully we’ll get at least one dish from each county.

Jonathan Bilyk, a former newsroom colleague at The Times in Ottawa, was first to respond, reminding me of a cuisine I discovered upon moving there in 2007: beer nuggets, a DeKalb County original.

“My personal favorites are from a place just outside of DeKalb, in the town of Cortland, called Dough Brothers Pizza (they also have a Chicago-style deep dish pizza that rivals anything, anywhere). Other great options for beer nuggets? Pizza Villa (the original, I believe) and Fatty’s Pub and Grille. But definitely unique to DeKalb and very addicting.”

The next check-in came from Will County, where reader Joli Frattini has been a fan of Merichka’s since 1953 – only 20 years after the eatery opened. “Amazing garlic poor boys for YEARS” at both the Crest Hill and Joliet locations, she promised.

On Facebook, Northwest Herald reader Andrea Martin said the quest should “start with an awesome breakfast at Syrup in Algonquin off Randall Road.” There are restaurants in St. Charles and Aurora as well. She specifically recommends “The Irishman with a side of thick-cut bacon cooked just right – you will have enough for two or three meals. It’s so good and it’s thick-cut pieces of corned beef in the skillet.”

Mike Cerveny emailed a Lee County suggestion: “A restaurant well worth a visit for lunch or dinner (closed on Monday) is the Beaver Den Tavern and Grill in Paw Paw. A female-run business, the owner, who is from Paw Paw, believes in using only the best and fresh ingredients and serves up some very tasty food.” Mike shared the daily specials but highlighted the big burgers, house-recipe French onion soup and fish night.

“Friday night is fish night – get there before 5 p.m. to avoid a long wait – their fried shrimp rivals New England coast stuff!” he said.

I wasn’t surprised two Facebook friends suggested Rip’s fried chicken in the Bureau County village of Ladd, but it’s worth noting one grew up in Fulton on the Mississippi River and the other is a grade school pal from Libertyville, not far from Lake Michigan. That chicken is a serious draw.

This only scratches the surface of recommendations already received, but I’m hungry for more. Let’s keep building this culinary checklist.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Local News Network. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.