Mystery Diner: Navigate your way to The 252

Seneca restaurant already a local standout

Our trip to The 252 started with an adventure.

For a Saturday date night, my spouse and I decided to try Seneca’s new casual dining restaurant. The 252 – named for its location at mile marker 252 on the Illinois River – opened in June. The restaurant is tucked away southwest of the village at Spring Brook Marina on River Drive.

Because our starting point was south of Seneca, my initial plan was to follow Route 170 to DuPont Road and then turn on River Road to reach the restaurant. Unfortunately, I didn’t account for the River Road bridge washout that happened in July.

When a “road closed” sign blocked our path, we didn’t let that deter our mission to visit The 252. A quick consultation with Google Maps provided a winding but quick detour. The 252 and Spring Brook Marina make the detour user-friendly with frequent signage pointing the way.

Luckily, if you’re traveling from the west, River Road is accessible. Wherever your starting point, it’s worth the trip.

Upon entering the building vestibule, diners walk straight ahead through a set of doors and up a flight of stairs. The boating-themed dining room has windows on all sides, where guests can overlook the marina and Illinois River. Watching the lights of passing barges added a charming touch to our date night.

The star of the show, though, is the food. If you’re looking for an outstanding destination dinner in your backyard, The 252 is it.

My spouse ordered a double Surf’s Up, one of the restaurant’s “Smash! Burgers.” The ground beef is seasoned and pressed into deliciously thin patties on the grill. The Smash! Burgers come in single, double or triple patties. The Surf’s Up also features a thick slice of cheddar cheese, bacon and a generous coating of tangy barbecue sauce ($14).

As usual, we swapped bites of each other’s meals, and I immediately coveted a burger. The meat’s flavor alone could carry a meal; when paired with the other ingredients, it achieved perfection. This easily rocketed into my top three favorite burgers of all time, which is no small feat.

That’s not to say my barbecue chicken dinner ($19.99) wasn’t a worthy contender. The tender grilled chicken breast was brushed in barbecue sauce and came with a choice of two sides. One of those sides – the seasoned potatoes – was a star of the plate. My previous favorite potato dish was a plate of salt potatoes at a restaurant in Oneonta, New York; they’ve now been demoted to No. 2.

Many of the dishes are made from scratch, including the coleslaw I ordered as my second side, and the basket of house chips we shared as an appetizer ($4). The chips arrived at the table hot and fresh from the kitchen.

The cherry on top of the meal was a silky slice of cheesecake for dessert.

The restaurant features a sizable drinks menu and an attentive staff that takes time to communicate with guests without imposing during the dining experience.

No matter what route you take to get there, The 252 is worth the detour.

• The Mystery Diner is an employee at Shaw Media. The diner’s identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a different restaurant and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a story.


WHAT: The 252 (at Spring Brook Marina)

WHERE: 623 W. River Drive, Seneca

PHONE: 815-750-0252