Regional road trips are all the rage right now. Many folks feel most comfortable hopping in the car with their loved ones and exploring sights that are off the beaten path. Some of those sights may even be in your own backyard! For plenty of regional travel ideas, check-in every week for a Downstate Illinois Road Trip Roundup on themed topics showcasing several destinations across the southern portion of the state.
Shawnee Forest Country in Southernmost Illinois
If you’ve got something to celebrate or even if you don’t, be sure these restaurants are on your radar.
Once a secret meeting place for such notorious villains as Charlie Birger and Al Capone, Tom’s Place in Desoto now serves as one of the most renowned restaurants in Southern Illinois. Proprietor and Chef Lasse Sorensen spent eight years as an apprentice in Europe and ten years preparing critically acclaimed Californian cuisine before his passion for cooking lead him to buy Tom’s Place. Now, Chef Lasse and his wife Maryjane strive to keep Tom’s Place on the cutting edge of contemporary cuisine, offering an ever changing variety of gourmet dishes and wines to their grateful visitors. Crisp linen, fresh flowers and soft candlelight create an atmosphere of comfortable elegance, evidence of the couple’s polished, personal attention to detail.
Located in Murphysboro, Cummare’s menu features authentic Italian cuisine featuring homemade sauces used in the lasagna and spaghetti, along with pizza dough and alfredo sauces, all made from recipes that have been in the family for years. The name Cummare means “best friend” in Italian. Once you come in and try their delicious food in front of the rustic fireplace, sip a glass of wine, or sample some of the fantastic Italian desserts, you will agree that the name is well suited for this cozy restaurant.
Are you looking to celebrate a special occasion in Metropolis? From company gatherings to personal milestones there are several restaurants that are ready to make your special occasion more special. Cordavino’s Italian Kitchen has a separate seating space to accommodate groups of 40 or less. You may choose to have a buffet style event or your guests may order from the menu. With a full bar and extensive wine selection drinks are available for you as well. If this is a quaint, private celebration Cordivino’s offers the unique Black Rock Grill dining experience which allows you to see your juicy steak cook right in front of your eyes at the table on a 775 degree black rock. Couple this with perfect desserts and you have a celebration to remember. Fat Edd’s Roadhouse is also a great place to celebrate in Metropolis. This bar and grill is open to guests of all ages. There is a separate banquet facility on the upper level that accommodates up to 75 guests for private parties and events. Again, meals can be provided either buffet style or from the menu. Fat Edd’s is a great place for drinks and the home to the Fat Edd’s Roadhouse Tea and Kryptonite specialty cocktail. Lastly, Bridges Dining Company located inside Harrah’s Metropolis Hotel is a great place to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or simply a night away from the house. Secluded from the lights and sound of the casino, this dining facility offers a robust menu full of selection. Cold beer on tap and speciality drinks can be ordered from the full service bar. And don’t think about having a celebration without a world-class dessert from Harrah’s. Once your appetite has been satisfied you can walk steps to Harrah’s Casino to complete the night of fun. Who knows? You may need to stay at the hotel and celebrate your big win with breakfast at Bridge’s the next morning!
Carbondale offers several eclectic eateries perfect for a celebratory dinner large or small. Flame Grill and Bar offers innovative menu choices from fine dining to the weeknight dinner out with a fun atmosphere. With bold decor, generous portions, and an outdoor patio, it’s the perfect foundation for a captivating dining experience. Visit the hibachi grill at Fujiyama Japanese Steakhouse for an exciting, entertaining meal. Serving a combination of hibachi style dishes and freshly made sushi daily, Fujiyama will be sure to please the whole dinner party. Global Gourmet serves up a combination of new American small plates and entrees along with an impressive collection of imported beers and wines. Enjoy an ever-changing menu in a classy space with a seasonal patio. Hunan Fine Chinese Cuisine offers fine dining and cuisine from various regions. It’s the place to enjoy an unforgettable dinner in an atmosphere of warmth and excellent service. Keepers Quarters is a gastropub serving elevated pub-style fare with a creative blend of sandwiches and refined plated entrees, appetizers, and desserts. Owned and operated by two brothers, Keepers Quarters offers no-frills food that prioritizes seasonal flavors from local food producers. Thai Taste is known for serving delicious Thai fare in an urban atmosphere. Meals may be customized for preferred level of spiciness. The signature pad Thai dish is a local favorite and can be topped with anything from tofu to shrimp. Underground Public House is a cozy pub focused on eclectic world beer cuisine and culture, featuring seasonal farm to table menus. Aside from lunch and dinner, there are more than 20 rotational craft beers on tap, and premium spirits and wines. Yamato Steakhouse of Japan offers delicious Japanese dining and takeout, with a modern interpretation of classic dishes. Made to order sushi dishes, make this a favorite. Quatro’s Pizza has been serving Chicago- style and thin-crust pizzas, pastas, sandwiches and salads since 1975. A favorite of locals and visitors alike. Grab a booth or push tables together, and don’t forget to take home the classic Quatro’s yellow cup. Italian Village has been serving up fresh pasta dishes and pizza for more than 50 years. Their updated interior and large outdoor patio make Italian Village a popular social gathering place for great food and fun. Pagliai’s Pizza is a family-owned casual Italian restaurant serving pizza and pastas for dine-in, takeout, or delivery. Push tables together or enjoy a private party in the event room, perfect for large groups.
Travel the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail of Southernmost Illinois through forests and farmland. Just when you think your GPS must be wrong, a sign points to a nearly hidden driveway. Suddenly a stuccoed Tuscan villa, glowing gold in the afternoon sun, appears before row upon row of grape vines. It’s Blue Sky Vineyard, one of 11 wineries on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.
Blue Sky’s building, modeled after a 400-year-old Tuscan villa, offers outdoor terraces overlook the vineyards and hilly countryside. After a few glasses of wine and a meal on a chilly autumn evening, it’s comforting to snuggle up in two suites upstairs and dream of the Shawnee Hills.
The oldest winery on the trail is Alto Vineyards. Its first release in 1988 sold out in three days. The following year the winery won its first medals in international competition and helped put Chambourcin, a dry, full-bodied red, on wine lovers’ radar. A second and third generation stepped up as Alto Vineyards racked up more than 500 national and international awards.
Von Jakob offers a variety of wines ranging from dry, complex reds to sweet and fruity dessert wines. It became the first winery in the state to produce a White Oak Port. It also brews beer on site and serves daily lunches as well as dinners in its Grill & Pub on Fridays and Saturdays. Two houses near Von Jakob Vineyard’s tasting room contain five suites that can be booked individually or as a whole house.
Enjoy a drive on the winding, hilly road leading to Pomona Winery. Instead of grapes, Pomona uses other fruits to make its wines. Kir, a best-selling aperitif inspired by the French bar drink, blends apples and black currants. Blueberries and strawberries transform into dessert wines while several varieties of apples become semi-dry and semi-sweet wines.
*Disclaimer – Due to mitigation orders that may be put on businesses, please make sure to call ahead to any of these establishments if there’s a possibility they may have limited seating.