Being in the pasta club at Bernardi's, we heard that Mona's and Capponi's in Toluca were celebrating their 75 anniversary in February.
The pasta club signup is available at the web site. Once you join, you will get e-mails detailing the pasta of the month, and notice of special savings and events.
StfRon used to have lunch at Mona's every Sunday after church when he was a wee lad, so that's where we headed last Saturday night.
On this cold, blustery night, we entered through the bar, where StfRon was not allowed as a kid.
The lounge decor is quite nicely vintage, with a white marble look to the tables and bar top, vinyl booths and barstools with wooden backs. The rat pack tunes complete the feel.
The restaurant was bustling at 5:00, and there were several large group tables being set up. We're talking tables of 12 and 20.
We noticed that all the employees were wearing pink shirts, and there was a board proclaiming that there was a Suzanne B. Coleman breast cancer benefit. Seemed odd, because it sounds a lot like Susan G. Komen. Either quite a coincidence, or someone dictated it over the phone. In any case, $1 of each meal was going to a good cause.
We were seated in one of the back dining rooms, which has a neat stone fireplace along one wall. The walls are covered in nicely darkened paneling with a nice scalloped wood trim at the ceiling. You can't find trim like this at Lowe's.
In the dining room, we were a little disappointed to not hear the same tunes from the bar being piped over the sound system, but there was some lighter music playing.
Looking around, there were several older patrons dining with kids and friends, who have probably been coming to Mona's for decades.
Our waitress, Teresa, was funny, cheerful and efficient throughout our meal.
We each went with meals we've had at Bernardi's many times over the years. I had the chicken Parmesan, an unbreaded, marinated chicken breast next to some spaghetti, the whole thing topped with their signature meat sauce and cheese, accompanied by two hearty slices of garlic toast.
StfRon had the 1/4 fried chicken, all white meat, with a side salad topped with thousand island dressing and a side of tortellini with meat sauce. StfRon claims the dressing at Mona's still tastes like he remembers it as a kid, but that Bernardi's is good, but not exactly the same.
I had some of their new dipping oil with the bread that was brought out when we were seated, mixed with a little Parmesan cheese. It was very good and nicely seasoned. You can buy the oil to take home, for about $5 a bottle.
We could tell our meals were prepared by a different chef (since we're used to Bernardi's) but everything was very good, nonetheless.
We finished our meal by sharing a dish of peppermint ice cream, another treat from StfRon's youth at Mona's. The ice cream did not have the peppermint crunchy candy in it that we remembered, so we asked our waitress, and she said the ice cream used to be Prairie Farms, but now is Blue Bunny.
Sunday while at Kroger, we looked for Prairie Farms peppermint ice cream, and found no Prairie Farms ice cream at all, so maybe they don't even make it any more.
I did notice that Mona's had something on the menu that Bernardi's does not, tortellini served in chicken broth. It sounds like a refreshing light meal, and I almost ordered it.
On our way out to pay our bill, the manager seemed flustered by the crowd and was explaining to a couple that they do not accept reservations for groups less than 12. The couple said they had called and were told they could get in no problem, with a table of six. The manager said they must have spoken to someone in the kitchen. If so, it's too bad the person who answered the phone did not tell the caller that they would not have a reservation.
The good news is, the wait for a table was only 30-45 minutes, which would be on the low side at a restaurant in Peoria on Saturday night at 6:30.
75 years is something for a restaurant in central Illinois to be proud of. If Mona's keeps the food, service and atmosphere going the way they are, they should be around for many more decades.