One of the true treasures to be found in Starved Rock Country is a satisfying selection of brunches.
Every town, it seems, has an eatery that offers a version of that magical melding of breakfast and lunch, be it by buffet or by menu.
Acknowledged to be among the best is the lavish buffet at the scenic Starved Rock Lodge. But there are others who swear by the generous buffet array at Hank’s Farm Restaurant near Ottawa and the mostly home-made and budget-priced buffet at John’s North Star Inn in La Salle.
We have provided profiles of all three buffet brunches as well as looks at the outstanding menu brunches offered at Brandy’s Restaurant in Peru and one of the area's newest restaurants, the Lone Buffalo in Ottawa.
Starved Rock Lodge
With a unique country ambience that compliments the high quality and attractive presentation of its food selections, Starved Rock Lodge has offered Sunday brunch for several decades.
Located in the heart of Starved Rock State Park, the Lodge's main dining offers Sunday brunchers a wide buffet assortment of freshly prepared breakfast and dinner entrees in a rustic atmosphere.
In fact, besides the food, the historic pine log lodge — complete with its massive fireplaces — and the park around it, has long been one of Illinois' top tourist attractions.
"The atmosphere of this dining room, which is surrounded by Illinois Valley history and lore, is one of our restaurant's biggest assets," said Food and Beverage Manager Josh Ossola. "Views from almost any table are outstanding and no one ever goes away from our Sunday brunch hungry. You won't find a better deal for a meal in the Illinois Valley."
Ossola explained, "And a visitor's brunch experience here at the Lodge doesn't necessarily stop with the end of the meal. After a brunch here, many people go on hikes to nearby canyons or enjoy a relaxing conversation out in the Lodge's Great Hall.
"This place is a meditation destination that, for many, transcends beyond the meal."
And although the park has seen record crowds in recent months, it's not impossible to get a seat at the restaurant.
"Despite what people may think, the Lodge is a different place on weekends than the park's lower level," said Ossola. "Yes, we get busy here, but it is never overwhelming — we never have much of a problem seating customers even on the park's busiest days. We are constantly evolving this restaurant to accommodate our guests as the park's popularity grows."
On any given Sunday, guests can dine on such breakfast items as scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, sausage, French toast and delicious homemade sausage gravy and biscuits. If a dinner selection is more your style, the Lodge chefs cook up fresh pasta, fried chicken, fish, and a variety of vegetables. Garden, pasta and fruit salad can also be found on the long line.
Ham and beef hand-sliced at the carving station are also hearty and delectable selections for meat lovers.
To top off the massive meal, save room for dessert. The Lodge's Sunday brunch also features more than 15 feet of desserts served with homemade Artisan ice cream, which should satisfy most anyone's sweet tooth.
Ossola said the selections are so varied, everyone should find something they like, but if they can't on the long food line, he suggests trying "an amazing, hand-created omelet from our expert omelet specialist — Mario Fuentes."
He said, "Mario has been here cooking at the Lodge for 20 years and, believe or not, we have customers driving in from many places across North Central Illinois who come to our Sunday brunch just for one of his fantastic omelets. He has quite the following. His huge omelets are not to be believed."
Ossola credits Fuentes and the rest of the dining room staff for the restaurant's continued success.
"Each and everyone are incredible," he said.
Sunday brunch seatings are every half hour beginning at 10:30 a.m. and ending before 3 p.m.
The main dining room and its adjacent veranda also serve breakfast, lunch and dinner on the other days of the week.
Prices for Sunday brunch at the Lodge are: Adults: $15.95; Children, 10 and under: half price; and children 3 and under: free.
Reservations are appreciated.
Starved Rock Lodge
Hank’s Farm Restaurant
Hank’s Farm Restaurant offers an abundant array of tasty food at its well-known Sunday brunch.
It’s not always the exact same buffet, but there always are both breakfast and dinner items to choose from, including eggs benedict, French toast sticks, mini omelets, biscuits and gravy, salads, fried chicken, turkey and roast beef and home-baked breads.
Plus, there also is a separate large dessert display. Expect to find various pastries, including slices of pie and cake, doughnuts, cookies, fruits and even a chocolate fountain.
The restaurant is located in a remodeled dairy barn a few miles northeast of Ottawa.
Situated on Route 71 just south of Interstate 80, Hank’s is a good place to gather with guests arriving from the metropolitan area. Not only is it easy to find, but the private North Room can handle families or groups up to 65. Reservations are recommended. Seating in the main restaurant is at tables and cozy booths.
The buffet brunch prices are $16.99 for adults, $8.50 for children 5 to 10 years and $3 for children 1 to 5 years.
Parking is in the restaurant’s large lot. A porte-cochère at the main door offers a protected place to drop off and pick up folks.
But when you’re done dining, there’s no need to be in a hurry to leave. The grounds include walkways and a pond. There also is the Curious Goods shop. It’s loaded with holiday and home decor items. On Sundays it’s open from noon to 5 p.m.
Hank's Farm Restaurant
Address: 2973 Route 71, Ottawa
John’s North Star Inn
For just over 30 years, John’s North Star Inn has been a fixture in La Salle and a favorite place for locals and visitors to enjoy a generous buffet brunch.
“I think it’s pretty hard to beat our $9.95 price,” said John Somolski Jr., who, with his parents, John and Sharon, established the restaurant in 1985.
Diners have a lot to select from including scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, waffles, doughnut holes, little muffins, cherry tarts, pineapple fritters, cinnamon rolls, cobble, fruit and Sharon’s potica bread. The potica bread, a Slovenian nut roll, actually is more of a pastry. It’s loaded with walnuts, milk and honey and tastes just great.
The restaurant’s famous fried chicken only is served with the bunch on Mother's Day, Father's Day and Easter.
The serving staff is cheerful, helpful and ready to give tips on what to try from the brunch.
Seating mostly is at tables for four, although for groups the tables can be joined, plus there is a larger round table.
John’s North Star is a great restaurant for families, including those with members who require walkers or wheelchairs.
The large parking lot is right outside the front door.
John's North Star Inn
Address: 1840 Saint Vincent Ave., La Salle
Brandy’s Fine Foods and Cocktails
Brandy’s offers a terrific Sunday menu brunch from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Located on the Illinois River waterfront, the restaurant has a cozy and intimate atmosphere.
Inside there are eight high tables for four, and five low tables for two. If you have a preference, a reservation would be a good idea, especially if your party includes folks having trouble getting around, or you have a group and will want to have two or more low tables combined.
The brunch menu features egg dishes, salads and sandwiches as well as a few $7 cocktails, including Brandy’s Signature Bloody Mary.
The egg dishes range from steak and eggs — an 8 oz. rib eye — for $17 to a classic two-eggs with meat, fries and toast for $9. There also are build-your-own three-egg omelete, eggs benedict and its vegetarian alternate, eggs Florentine, which is topped with a delicious white spinach sauce.
The sandwiches include burgers, pork tenderloins, Monte Cristos and a prime rib burrito.
There is excellent, cheerful service and orders come quickly while they are still hot.
Parking is on the street, but pretty close to the door.
Brandy’s Fine Food & Cocktails
Address: 1519 Water St, Peru
The Lone Buffalo
Since The Lone Buffalo — an upscale restaurant and craft brewery in downtown Ottawa — celebrated its grand opening in February, the reviews of its brew and cuisine have attracted diners from across North Central Illinois.
The eatery, under the auspices of its parent corporation, Tangled Roots Brewing Company, is open daily with an inviting brunch menu in place between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. every Sunday.
The 10,000-square-foot Tangled Roots/Lone Buffalo features plenty of seating all situated around the visually-striking twin copper kettle beer brewing system.
The farm-to-table menu selections for brunch, lunch or dinner are prepared from Midwestern food sources or markets from within 350 miles of Ottawa.
Among the highlights of the brunch fare entrees are "Chicken and Waffles" with Louisiana Hollandaise sauce and bourbon syrup for $13; "German Chocolate Pancakes" served under coconut icing for $11; and the classic "Biscuits and Gravy" topped with a fried egg for $11.
Popular with Sunday brunch guests is the "Bottomless Mimosas" option where diners may enjoy unlimited glasses of mimosas included with a choice of chef-selected entrees all for a flat price of $25.
Catering to vegetarians, Long Buffalo chefs will prepare "Veggie Hash" from seasonal vegetables for $12; "Sweet Potato Hash" with chorizo for $12; or a unique beet salad with chunks of spiced pecan, goat cheese crostini under a tasty beef vinaigrette for $12.
For those seeking a lighter meal, several sandwiches choices are available off the brunch menu — a bison burger soaked in bourbon onion marmalade for $12; a pork belly Reuben created from house-cured pastrami, white cheddar and sauerkraut for $10; and shrimp tacos complete with citrus slaw and avocado for $12.
The Long Buffalo's chef de cruise, Scott Seese explained, "Few people realize that brunch is one of the favorite meals for chefs to prepare. Our Sunday brunch here is a direct representation of our regular daily menu. We use farm-fresh ingredients here in all our meals and we try to prepare each of them as healthy as possible.
"We make a lot of different hash dishes each Sunday for our customers — with and without meat in them."
Reservations for Sunday brunch at The Lone Buffalo are recommended.
The Lone Buffalo
Address: 808-812 La Salle St.
Website: the lonebuffalo.com