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Springfield, IL - Fine Dining & Wine Scene

I’ve been doing my reading and research on restaurants in the Springfield, IL Area and, though many of the replies are related to articles from ‘04 - 05, there are a few that are more recent. One, noted that D’Arcy’s Pint has moved. It looks like the fine-dining scene was, Maldaner’s, Indigo, Augie’s, Red Coach Inn, Magic Kitchen Thai, Gallagher’s, Saputo’s and Café Brio. Has this changed much recently? The reason that I am asking is that my wife is being recruited for a position in Springfield.

I’m a ‘hound in Phoenix, who spends much time in fine-dining establishments, around the globe. While PHX is not NYC, San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans (pre-Katrina), Paris or London, it has a lot to offer - just got a new James Beard Award winner yesterday. If we were to relocate to Springfield, what would be in store for us?

I’ve looked at all of the on-line menus, that I can find. I’ve poured over ever PDF wine list available. It looks like there are some hot spots, but, from the research, not that many. Now, a lot of my research was probably limited by the differences in geographical references, between anything in the Midwest/East, and the West. Phoenix is 500+ sq. miles, and growing hourly. The Metro-Area incorporates a dozen smaller city-entities, that I know. I realize that Springfield is much smaller (120,000 vs 4.5M in the Winter), but I’m sure that some of the towns, that I would consider immediately accessible and next-door, are not in my search criteria, because of my lack of geographical knowledge of the area.

Since my wife is a great cook (could be a chef, if she wasn’t so good at other things) and we have no children, I’m most interested in fine-dining, since the “family” oriented spots would probably be just a diversion, when we do not cook in.

What I am looking for is an overview of the fine-dining scene in Springfield, and its environs, plus recs. for wine lists, that are notable, and wine shops, that are well-stocked. Also, as I have a 6K btl. cellar, that would be moved, what are the laws, charges, general feelings, about BYO[Wine]? Here, in PHX, there are a lot of laws, that generally preclude much. Also, I’d rather support the restauranteur and buy off their list, unless it’s a special occasion.

I have many more questions, but none that are food/wine oriented. I’ll have to locate some fora to post those to.

Thanks,
Phoenix ‘hound, Hunt

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  1. Well, I hope a native or current resident will chime in, but I live in Champaign, about 90 miles away, and have been going to Springfield for about 10 years or so, on many occasions, and I am afraid things are not too good for dining. It's mostly chains out by White Oaks. Cafe Brio is very good, and consistent, Saputo's is very old school red sauce Italian, okay but nothing great, Augie's was pretty good a number of years ago, but the last time I went several years ago was not very good. Maldaner's is not bad, been around forever. Not much cutting-edge cuisine to be found I am afraid. Can't speak to the BYOB scene, since I am traveling when I eat there and don't do that. Friar Tuck is a good place for beers especially, there is also a retail place called The Corkscrew that is very good for wine. If you get up to Champaign there are a number of fine restaurants, let me know if you'd like more info there, or peruse the postings.

    1. I'm not sure what type of geographic parameters that you want but I would definitely include St. Louis as within striking distance. It's right at 96 miles more or less of all interstate driving and worthy of some examination from the cultural sense.

      1. A big thanks to the respondents. Yes, fine-dining is quite important to both of us, and the picture is not a great one. Hm-m, maybe my wife needs to negotiate use of the corp. jet.

        Much appreciated, though not what I was hoping to hear.

        Hunt

        1. Bill,

          I've lived in the area all of my life and in general I'd agree with most of the statements made so far. To be fair, there are a number of decent options now that didn't exist five years ago, but this is definately a town ruled by chains, but as long as you aren't expecting Everest or Brigsten's, you can get a decent meal. For full disclosure, I have eaten in more good restaurants in New Orleans than I have eaten in what are considered 'good' restaurants in Springfield (I've never eaten at Maldener's for example, but I've been to K-Paul's). I also have a wife who doesn't enjoy wine, so I'm generally limited to what is available by the glass. Interestingly a new law passed in Illinois that allows restaurant patrons to take home unfinished bottles of wine rather than having to decide to drink it up or leaving it at the table. I'm pretty sure that BYOB laws are lax and it is usually up to the restaurant to decide their own policy---Magic Kitchen is a BYOB for example.

          A few dining highlights:

          Magic Kitchen is as good as a Thai restaurant as you are likely to find anywhere (although I suspect the appearance from the outside adds to the surprise of a decent meal; Think DIVE).

          Indigo is still rated pretty highly around here, I've been once, not bad, expensive for Springfield which means reasonable to most people outside of the city.

          I like Augie's, the food is well prepared, fresh and the menu changes constantly to match what is available to the chef.

          Sebastian' downtown is also very nice and has a decent wine list for the area....not extensive, but unusual for Springfield.

          There is a small Italian place called Tuscany on the west side that is surprisingly good--best in town IMO and comparable to what you'd find on the vaunted Hill in St. Louis.

          D'arcy's is pub food, but very good pub food---extremely busy.

          A new Vietnamese/Thai place just opened last year called Little Saigon and it is very, very good---I have little experience in Vietnamese cuisine (le Colonial in Chicago a few times), but I eat here often.

          There is a place in a small town nearby called Gambino's that is mostly a lunch-counter type place that does cajun/creole on the weekends that I have not tried, but at least has legit roots as the owner is originally from Baton Rouge and has NOLA in the blood---I'll be going soon.

          Probably some of the best options in town are private clubs like Panther Creek, Illini CC, Island Bay Yacht Club and the Sangamo Club. If you have a 6000 bottle wine collection, you'll probably find the dues modest at most and there is some interesting dining going on in these places. Again in the spirit of full disclosure, my wife works at Panther Creek CC so I won't say much about it except to say that the menu rotates seasonally, the chef tries to be somewhat daring with the daily specials and the wine list is limited. The dinner menu can be found here: http://www.panthercreekcc.com/Dining/...

          The other places are easily found on-line and while I haven't eaten at Illini or Sangamo, I've been to Island Bay a number of times and it has been excellent every time (and I don't have any connections to that place).

          Outside of Springfield the field opens considerably, Champaign is an easy 90 minute drive as are most parts of St. Louis. Downtown Chicago is 3.5 hours depending when you leave, Milwaukee is but four hours away if you avoid the Chicago metro area and Peoria is less than 90 minutes away as well. There are charming restaurants in smaller towns like Lincoln, Taylorville, Jacksonville, Carlinville which are all within an hour's drive.

          If your wife cooks, she'll probably find the local grocery scene dissappointing, but there are some bright spots: Robert's seafood has super fresh fish and shrimp, Humphrey's Market has old-fashioned full service butchers and Incredibly Delicious bakes some otherworldly bread. There are some surprises if one seeks them out.

          I'd be willing to answer any non-food wine questions to the best of my ability if you are interested, my email is Caligari66@yahoo.com.

          One more thing, the best thing about the Springfield dining scene is that Chicago is only a 3.5 hour drive away and New Orleans is but 2 hours away by plane!!!

          6 Replies
          1. re: chris in illinois

            Wow, what a comprehensive list with great details.This is definitely a Permalink for me, as I do full research of the area.

            As for the clubs, I had looked over Panther Creek's menu and it did look very interesting. Definitely a place that I'd like to check out, if we do move to the area.

            We are in the "preliminary" stages, but I wanted to get an idea of what might be in store. If we do join a club, much will be decided by proximity, but the wine & food would be very important. While we're both golfers, we can have fun at a less than stellar course, but it's not the same for the food services arena.

            Your comments, along with all others, are greatly appreciated and will go a long ways toward a final decision. At the worst, we have some good recs. if the recruitment visits begin!

            Thanks,
            Hunt

            1. re: Bill Hunt

              How has the job search gone???

              If you are heading to Springfield for a recruiting trip I might be able to arrange a visit to Panther Creek.

              Good Luck!

              1. re: chris in illinois

                Chris,

                Thanks. Right now it's in the hands of the recruiter's office, so I do not know. Judging from the positive reviews of Panther Creek's dining room, that would be one place that I will want to check out. Any comments on their wine list? That is a very big aspect for fine dining with the two of us.

                Appreciated,
                Hunt

                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  I'm no expert on wine, so take this with a grain of salt:

                  The wine list is by no means extensive, but typically has an interesting choice or three in each category (for example: Consentino-The Zin---maybe not as good as Ridge does Zin, but this one is excellent. Charles Krug Cab. Cuvasion Merlot. Kim Crawford un-oaked Chardonnay.

                  Nothing Earth shattering, but usually a decent choice or two.

                  1. re: chris in illinois

                    Thanks Chris. Greatly appreciated. It looks like this might not be the best fit for wife, so I'll be asking the same questions on the Texas board, as she's now being recruited for a system position in Corpus Christi.

                    I really appreciate the feedback that I got on this thread and who knows, maybe the recruiter in Springfield can change wife's mind.

                    It's great to get reports from 'Hounds!

                    Hunt

                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      Well, good luck where ever you end up (or stay) and be sure to let me know if you take a trip to the Land of Lincoln!