Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Wine Experience

Looking for a place in Central Illinois where you can try a variety of wines and good cheese? Look no further than The Wine Experience, attached to Super Liquors in Peoria, 818 E War Memorial Dr, Peoria Heights.

Here you can order a variety of wines by the glass, and this is a hefty glass of wine. You also have a choice of several nice sandwiches, such as a crab cake sandwich (which they were out of on my most recent visit) and an Oriental chicken sandwich, desserts, and the aforementioned cheese plate. I ordered one of these in the absence of the crab cake sandwich and the cheeses were excellent and accompanied by some quince spread and bread slices and an apple garnish. They also offer beers by the bottle for those beeries (thanks Pammy) who don't feel like partaking o' the grape.

A nice bonus is if you like your wine or cheese, you can stop by Super Liquors on your way out and pick up some to take home.

If you have a sensitive tush that protests after an hour of sitting on a wooden bar stool with a wooden back, you can scam a seat on the cushy couches.

The Wine Experience has live entertainment many nights, and are open Wednesday-Saturday.

On a side note, on of the reasons we ended up at The Wine Experience the other night was that we had been out at the Vintage Illinois wine festival at Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe. It was a nice time. For your $10 fee, you received 5 tasting tickets and a wine glass. We tried something from every winery there save for Mackinaw Valley, and the only reason we did not try their selections was because we have visited their winery several times.

We spoke to Mr. Furrow from Furrow Vineyard and Winery and we will certainly visit the winery soon. We picked up a bottle of their red wine that features their red barn on the label.

My personal favorite, and according to the gentleman who served it to me, also the show favorite, was Spirit Knob Chambourcin Estate Reserve. The wine tasted great, but what got me was the finish. I've never been one to gush about the oaky tannins or hints of pepper or black cherry or whatever in a wine, unless I'm poking fun. But this wine had a distinct vanilla finish, which was very surprising, and very pleasant.

We bought a bottle, and apparently they don't have a website, so if this bottle holds true to what we sampled at the show, we'll be contacting them or making the trek to Ursa, Illinois, which we had never heard of until we picked up the Spirit Knob brochure. Might be a good road trip to get in some geocaching.

April, 2007 - On a more recent trip to the Wine Experience, they do still have some excellent-sounding food options on the menu. We weren't hungry, so we passed. However, I must say, I miss some of the past "experience" of the Wine Experience. They used to have the leather-bound wine list with pages describing each wine in detail. This time, no description, just the name and price. And they used to deliver your glass of wine with a card showing the name, bin number and description, so if you liked it, you could easily buy a bottle later.
But, they did have a live band, and I had a great time.

July, 2007 - We went into Super Liquors only to find the Wine Experience filled with racks and bottles of wine. The Wine Experience has been turned into a retail/tasting area.

Vertucci's Chicago Style Eats

Vertucci's Chicago Style Eats is doing a bang-up business for lunch. I haven't been in for dinner yet, but I'll bet it's more of the same.

Located at 1104 N. Main St. in East Peoria, near the Shell station, Vertucci's has a good variety of Italian sandwiches, pizzas made from scratch, calzones, stromboli, Chicago-style dogs, polish sausages and salads. I've had the Italian beef sandwich and it is very good, served on Gonnella bread with your choice of sweet peppers, hot peppers, grilled onions and you can add provolone cheese for only 65¢ more. The beef has a great flavor and the onions are incredibly sweet.

Vertucci's will even deliver your order for $3-$5, depending on distance.

And if you're really feeling hungry, or wild and crazy, try the hot dog challenge. If you can pack away 12 hot dogs in 24 minutes, you get the dirty dozen for free.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Udder's Ice Creamery

When you're out at Northwoods Mall in Peoria, sometimes a pretzel just doesn't cut it. How about some ice cream to accompany your shopping excursion?
Udder's Ice Creamery, located on the second floor near the "food court", will fit the bill nicely. This business has been serving up frozen treats such as shakes, ice cream and soft serve since 1994.
Udder's also serves croissant sandwiches, deli sandwiches, hot dogs and slushes.

Udder's has since closed.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Tequila's Mexican Bar & Grill

Peoria has quite an abundance of Mexican and Italian restaurants. I'll bet you could spend two weeks straight dining out on Italian and Mexican and never eat at the same place twice.

Chillicothe, on the other hand, has more limited options for ethnic food. If you find yourself craving Mexican while in Chillicothe, Tequila's Mexican Bar & Grill, 226 N. Fourth St., is the place for you.

The chips they set down at our table with a side of salsa were the heartiest chips I've ever been served at a Mexican restaurant. These chips can hold their own without salsa. The salsa was good as well. Not too hot, not too mild.

I was interested to see that they have Huevos Divorciados on the menu, which reminded me of a dish I tried in Puerto Rico and loved. They offer several lunch combos for only $4.50, only $3.99 Thursday-Saturday. And I wish I had been hungry enough to try the asparagus al Grill sounds great.

I did have the enchiladas verdes, with chicken instead of beef. The chicken was very juicy and the tortilla was still firm, not falling apart like I have had at some places. I also felt compelled to have a margarita on the rocks, which was pretty tasty on this hot day.

The servers and employees at Tequila's were attentive and friendly.

6/14/07 — Tequila's is operating a cart near the courthouse in Peoria. It's a good way to give them a try if you don't want to drive all the way to Chillicothe.
One lunch hour I sampled the chicken hard-shelled tacos. The chicken was shredded, juicy and wonderfully seasoned. Two tacos set me back a whole $3 for lunch.

December 2008 — Tequila's has opened a location in Washington.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Smoking Pleasure by Work

I do admit to smoking a few cigars in my early to mid 20s. The last really memorable cigar I had was about 10 years ago when a friend and her husband smuggled me a Cuban back from a cruise they were on. They thought it was hysterical that a skinny girl like me would smoke a Cuban. And smoke it I did, in my bathrobe in my apartment at the time.

If you're looking for a great selection of fine pipes, cigar cutters, a walk-in humidor full of a wide array of cigars and even gourmet chocolates, look no further than Smoking Pleasure by Work, 456 Fulton Street, Suite 128 in the Twin Towers in Peoria. This shop has been locally owned an operated since 1963.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Red Zin

When you're looking for a nicer dining establishment, don't overlook Red Zin, 456 Fulton St. in Peoria. Replacing The Grill on Fulton a couple years ago, right near the Civic Center and all the happening downtown bars, Red Zin is top notch.
They have many creative appetizer choices, unique salads to accompany your meal, excellent seafood, pork and beef entrees, and a tempting dessert selection. We recently tried the fallen chocolate cake. StfRon proclaimed it unextraorinary, but I thought it was fabulous. Almost like eating brownie mix!
Add to the mix some great wine options (try the Ravenswood if you like Red Zinfandel) and live piano music, and you're starting, or ending your evening on a high note by visiting Red Zin. And don't forget, they serve lunch, too.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Peoria Hofbrau

If you're looking for a cozy German-style bar and restaurant, look no further than the Peoria Hofbrau, 2210 NE Jefferson Ave, Peoria. I should know, my family and I practically live there, and it's where StfRon and I met one fateful Thursday more than 5 1/2 years ago.
This is the kind of place where everybody knows your name after you spend a couple of evenings there. And they do a great lunch, too, although I rarely get out of work for lunch. For a German restaurant, it's funny how people rave about the chili dogs served at lunchtime. When I do go, I go for the braunschweiger sandwich.

The Hofbrau has a great selection of beer, and if you try 80 different beers and get your tour card stamped, you can immortalize yourself on the wall of fame, or shame, depending on how you look at it. Plus, when you're halfway done with your tour, you get a free dinner.

There are lots of great dinner choices here. If you happen to be in on a Friday or Saturday night, be sure to check out the specials. They're usually fabulous. I must say, though, I have never tried any of the rabbit specials, which I'm sure are great, but I just can't bring myself to eat a rabbit.

They serve up a unique plate of nachos here, tortilla chips covered with ground beef and shredded cheddar, toasted nicely in the oven and served with sides of sour cream, salsa and hot peppers. Not exactly German fare, but delish nonetheless.

The Hofbrau has some great wine choices, too, and some of the best group of workers you could hope to find.
We've met a lot of great people over the years at the Hofbrau. One of them has recently passed away, Randy Franks. Randy was the quintessential gentleman, unless he was telling one of his jokes. He waited tables and bartended at the Hofbrau a few years ago. He was always at the ready with a light for your cigarette, another drink as the last drops were hitting your tongue, a great suggestion for an after dinner cocktail, and a good laugh. And man, did that guy have ears! He could hear a comment from clear across the bar while he was carrying on a conversation with some other people, and next thing you know, after he finished talking with them he'd be down commenting about what you had said. He could hear an emptying glass from a room away.
We've missed him over the years. Prost, Randy.

The Outsider Gallery

Bishop Hill is a great place to visit. There are many neat shops to poke around in, historic buildings and charming restaurants. It's like stepping back in time. The Outsider Gallery features unique works by area artisans. There are bowls and baskets made of paper, eggs carved with beautiful Victorian lace patterns, even a fun collection of socially incorrect art.
We stopped in and were quite amused by some of the selections.
Take a gander on the web at and then take the drive.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Nut House

There's a little treasure of a shop tucked away at 311 Main Street in Peoria. It's called The Nut House, and it's been in Peoria for around 100 years. The Nut House roasts fresh nuts every day, carries homemade and diabetic candies and are a great resource for gifts or for candies for your wedding or other party. They carry fun candy like rock candy and Jelly Belly jelly beans, too.
Visit on the web at

Monday, June 05, 2006

Maurie's Candies

I shudder to think what my life would be like if I had never been introduced to caramel apples from Maurie's Candies, 522 Court Street in Pekin. I was sitting at work, minding my own business, when a co-worker brought in a bag of caramel apples and offered them to our department. I tried one, and was hooked. It's the best caramel apple I've ever had. I guess they can only make them for a short time each fall, with their super-secret caramel recipe calling for the right climatic conditions.

Maurie's also has plenty of other homemade candies, books, gifts and magazines, too.

My co-worker may rue the day he brought those apples in. Every year as soon as I start thinking fall, I start bugging him about whether the apples are ready yet. Not living in Pekin, I like to have that inside source...