Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And the barbecue scene in Starved Rock Country is igniting.
Locals have long known the places to go for breaded pork tenderloins or fried chicken and ravs, with families developing their tastes and traditions of what’s best or most authentic over the years. Recently, there’s an up-and-comer to the restaurant scene as the region boasts six signature barbecue places, with three centered in La Salle-Peru. Each has its own flavor and offers a unique feel for anything from a night out, a quick bite or an outdoor picnic.
Location: 159 Bucklin St., La Salle Phone: 815-780-8374 Online: fb.com/hazesmokehouse Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. Sunday Smoke Signals: There is no part of the HAZE experience that isn’t exceptional (and fun), from the comfortable blues setting to the friendly staff to the wide variety of meats, side dishes and desserts — all
earning HAZE a top-10 ranking in the “Best Things Illinois” barbecue joint rankings. “What makes us unique is the overall BBQ and blues experience,” said Kegan Pakula, HAZE’s co-owner along with her
husband, Lee. “We offer house-smoked BBQ staples as well as steak, salmon, burgers, our take on comfort-food classics and an extensive bourbon selection. It’s all served in a sleek, comfortable setting with a full-service bar and a dining room that overlooks our massive grill, a large patio and outdoor concert venue.”
The sampler platter includes a variety of HAZE Smokehouse’s most popular meats and goes great after a plate of their famous, zesty, meaty ’Bama White Nachos as an appetizer. “The nachos aren’t like anything you’ll taste elsewhere,” said Pakula. “We have some guests who drive hours to feed their bama white nacho addiction.”
The dessert menu is amazing, too … if you somehow manage to save room. You gotta try: ’Bama White Nachos, peppered beef brisket, smoked-on-site pastrami, candied bacon
Stone Jug Barbeque
Location: 1920 Fourth St., Peru Phone: 815-202-2986 Online: stonejugbbq.com
Dining hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (kitchen closes); bar open until about 10 p.m. Bringing the party inside: Beginning as a catering service, word spread and hungry demands were made. Now lines file behind a sidewalk service window on Fourth Street in Peru’s downtown. Picnic tables and smells from the applewood smoked meats create the perfect backyard atmosphere, but as Illinois residents know, a winter’s day will freeze out this experience before too long.
That’s why Stone Jug is expanding to a quick serve, casual, 52-seat restaurant, equipped with a bar. The building will feature the originally restored stone of the saloon housed there in 1861, as well as original hardwood and ceiling.
The Memphis-style barbecue is made with all natural meats: no MSG, no tenderizer, no salt solutions. The made-in-house menu features standards, such as brisket, pulled pork, wings and St. Louis-style ribs. The sides are family recipes.
Watch on the Stone Jug Barbecue Facebook page for menu specials and events.
You gotta try: All the sauces (signature, peach chipotle, Alabama white, honey gold), corn bread
The Bullpen Location: 1014 Johnson St., Streator Phone: 815-510-9465 Online: fb.com/TheBullpenBBQAndDarts Dining hours: 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Sunday Barbeque bullseye: Standing proudly smack-dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood, the Bullpen continues its willingness to be different when you walk in the doors.
A combination barbeque place, full-service bar with a dozen-plus specialty beers on tap and multiple-machine haven for dart throwers (making the restaurant’s name a perfect mark on multiple levels), the Bullpen offers a relaxed atmosphere and excellent foods of both the smoked and non-smoked variety.
Beef, turkey breast, pork and Andouille sausage are all offered off the smoker along with steaks and ribs, with other favorites such as hand-breaded catfish, grilled salmon, burgers and chicken-fried chicken also offered. The Bullpen also features some unique appetizers and a specialty mixed-drink menu to complement its wide selection of beers.
For the brave (or just the hungry), the Smokestack sandwich features four smoked meats, two cheeses, bacon and the Bullpen’s in-house BBQ sauce. You gotta try: Smoked loin back ribs, maple bourbon pecan sweet potato casserole, BBQ egg rolls, the Smokestack
Tony’s Butt Shack BBQ & Catering
Location: 2380 Water St., Peru
Winter hours: 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday
BBQ with a view: Driving down Water Street through an industrial area nestled right along the edge of the Illinois River, you get the feeling Tony’s Butt Shack is something unique.
That feeling is definitely correct.
Located inside the South Shore Boat Club (which itself is located along the Illinois River’s north bank), Tony’s Butt Shack offers casual dining with a beautiful, panoramic view of the river the city was built upon. All meats are rubbed with spices before being smoked “low and slow.” In addition to a great selection of barbecue staples such as ribs, brisket, pulled pork and chicken, Tony’s offers pasta with homemade sauces, hand-pounded pork tenderloins, burgers and fried chicken. The tortellini and broth is a perfect appetizer.
“There are many, many ways to cook BBQ, as anyone can tell by watching any cooking show,” Tony’s said. “We prefer to keep it old-fashioned. We only use lump charcoal and a variety of woods. We absolutely do not start our fires with propane or lighter fluid. We keep it natural to keep the chemical overtones off the food. It’s a big difference.”
You gotta try: Captain Morgan spiced ham, St Louis-style ribs, beef brisket, tortellini and broth
Niel & Shorty’s BBQ
Location: 646 S. Main St., Princeton
Online: Search Niel & Shorty’s BBQ on Facebook Winter hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday
Sweet style: Niel & Shorty’s is the perfect stop visiting historic Princeton. Nestled downtown between the city’s antique shops, Niel & Shorty’s is comfortable and casual, the perfect oasis for shoppers. Diners seat themselves.
Owned by the Nichols family, the restaurant is named after their sons Ian (nicknamed Shorty) and Noel (nicknamed Niel). Maura and Shawn entered many barbecue contests across the state, perfecting their craft.
The menu offers the usual beef brisket, pulled pork and baby back ribs. The pulled pork features a sweet flavor with a must-try classic sauce.
The menu features the Swiss Army BBQ sandwich, piled with smoked brisket, turkey and pulled pork, with the message: “Good luck finding your way out of this sandwich.” Another sandwich highlight features a pork tenderloin, an area classic, topped with cole slaw and pulled pork.
You gotta try: Taffy Apple Salad, sweet potato waffle fries, pulled rib meat sandwich
Country Backyard BBQ & Burgers
Location: 1514 Creek Drive, Morris
Winter hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Bbq on the go: Country Backyard BBQ & Burgers is worth a stop, just off U.S. 6 in Morris, on the city’s west edge.
There’s no sandwich too creative for their menu, as it runs the gambit of seemingly every combination of pulled pork and deliciousness. Though a mouthful, the pork and mac and cheese sandwich is a match made in belly heaven. If it’s too much, the mac and cheese stands on its own.
Items are served in newspaper sandwich wrapping, adding to the restaurant’s character.
You gotta try: The pulled chicken topped with white bbq sauce, brisket taco salad, rib sandwiches (when available)
Story by Derek Barichello and J.T. Pedelty Photos by Doug Larson, Steve Stout and Katy Arnold