Midwest food, even food inspired by the Southwest, can often taste bland. So, WJBC's Colleen Reynolds is offering up some unique menu items in B-N restaurants. (Photo by Colleen Reynolds/WJBC)
By Colleen Reynolds
I will admit that my biggest complaint when dining out is that food can be a little bland here – not enough kick. I think that’s a Midwestern thing. However, with the ever-changing restaurant scene, I am finding there are some unusual menu items popping up and I’m highlighting some here. I’m sure there are many more and I hope you’ll add to the list in the comment section under this post or email me and I’ll add them to the list.
WJBC Anchor/Reporter Stephanie Pawlowski and I bonded recently over our love of a delectable appetizer at DESTIHL – the Beer Battered Asparagus which is hefeweizen-battered asparagus, maple chipotle sauce and grilled lemon. According to Stephanie, “I like it because it’s unexpected. You could probably go a restaurant in a big city and find something like that and it’s just really, really good.” She adds, “You don’t have to feel guilty about eating your vegetables.”
Shawn Smith of Lincoln remembers an extremely memorable trip to the Twin Cities at the urging of a co-worker who is into gastronomy. Smith says his colleague recommended Taqueria El Porton on Main Street in Bloomington because it is, ‘the most authentic Mexican restaurant in Bloomington-Normal.’ Smith decided to try Beef Tongue because it is a favorite dish among many patrons. “The flavor was great but it was a little chewy; it had a weird texture.” Smith says, “I’ve always been willing to try anything. I also have a can of Haggis that I haven’t gotten around to eating but I will once I get the turnips and make mashed potatoes to go with it.”
One of my favorite spots for lunch in Bloomington-Normal is A. Renée. It has a lunch trio for $10 that I’ll wax on about in another post. However, it also has an unusual sandwich, at least for these parts. The Muffaletta is a New Orleans favorite and I recently took my friend Larry Butts to A. Renee and he tried the sandwich which he had never had before anywhere. He fell in love. “The Muffaletta is a slightly spicy taste sensation that is sized perfectly for anyone who wants a filling but not heavy lunch. It is a sandwich combination of cured meats, cheeses and (my favorite) olive spread. It does not get much better than a Muffaletta from A. Rene.”
I asked a co-worker at Heartland Community College, Janet Hill-Getz if she could come up with any unusual menu items that she enjoys regularly. Janet laughed and said the Fish Taco from Moe’s Southwest Grill. According to Janet, the item, while common elsewhere, is a bit of a delicacy here. “There are not too many seaside delights readily found in Central IL that rival, in my opinion the simple, yet flavorful fish taco at Moe’s.” She really got into it and exposed the virtues. “There’s a satisfaction in its compactness and swift delivery - perfect for a lunchable, lightly spiced and not too heavy selection in any given weekday.”
I need to stress that I am not a culinary cruiser, meaning I don’t like to try new things and I don’t like anything too exotic. However, I urge you to consider these items because even though some may sound scary, they are delicious. One more caveat here. I haven’t ventured into enough ethnic restaurants in Bloomington-Normal so there are probably other, more exotic menu options. Let me know of others and I'll post them.
The muffuletta sandwhich from A Reneé has layers of marinated olive salad, capicola, mortadella, salami, pepperoni, ham, Swiss cheese and provolone.
More unusual menu items found in B-N restaurants:
• Cajun Crawfish and Scallion Rangoon from Swinger’s Bar and Grille-Served with a sweet and spicy sauce
• Dolmas from the Garlic Press Market Café- Grape Leaves Stuffed with Seasoned Rice
• Kung Pao Prata from Flat Top Grill-Grilled onions, peppers and cheese with a choice of chicken or beef sandwiched between roti prata bread
• Grilled Duck Rolls from Lancaster’s Fine Dining-Duck breast, red pepper and onion wrapped in bacon and drizzled with honey-balsamic sauce
• Blackened Ahi Tuna Sliders from Baxster’s American Grille-Features tomato, onion, avocado & wasabi mayo
• Beef Brisket Burrito from Nate’s Diner-Brisket plus green pepper, onion, sour cream and salsa.
Colleen Reynolds can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.