‘Tis the season for road trips, or in our case, motorcycle rides! Is there a better way to tour the Corn Belt? Well, maybe in a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro RS Convertible, but you have to take what you can get. There are so many wonderful small towns around here that boast some great mom and pop shops. You just gotta know where to look. In this month's Date Night for $50 or less, I explore a couple of local favorites and point the way for a handful of others to check out.

We have some good friends that live in Bloomington so when they pointed out a place in LeRoy that’s halfway-ish for us to meet up for brunch we were excited to try it. Owned by Epiphany Farms Hospitality Group, Old Bank Restaurant opened up for business in August of 2016. EFHG also has two other “farm-to-fork” restaurants in downtown Bloomington. Named after the historic building it now occupies, Old Bank Restaurant offers up a wide ranging menu of “made-from-scratch/home-style cooking.” I read up on a lot of crowd favorites, but since we were there on a Sunday, our group chose some scrumptious items from their brunch menu. Their branding is fun, with menu categories like “Opening Deposits (appetizers), Small Bills (sides), Safe Deposits (soups), etc.”, they certainly took the bank theme and ran with it. Some menu items I heard you can’t pass up trying: pretzel braid, crispy bluegill, Seoul burger, cornflake chicken sandwich and, surprisingly, the farm vegetables. I think most of these menu items stay year round, but some of the menu does change seasonally. 

As I mentioned earlier, we chose to order from the brunch menu, which is a new addition to the restaurant on Sundays. They also have a bar and drink menu, so for Sunday brunch I couldn’t pass up ordering a Bloody Mary ($8). My gluten intolerant friend went with the Mimosa since the Bloody Mary mix was not gluten free. The waitress was very kind and helpful in finding out that information for her. My-oh-my was I surprised when my Bloody Mary came to the table. I didn’t even bother to ask about it, I just ordered. Not only was it chock full of goodies on top (olives, pearl onions, jalapeño, pickle, lime, pickled carrots and red onions) it also came with a beer chaser (or a ‘snit’, for you aficionados out there….it’s a Wisconsin/Minnesota thing). It was a good amount of peppery spice and I loved the pickled carrot/onion salad on top.

For our meal, I went with the spring frittata ($9.95), my husband chose sausage biscuits and gravy (a whopping $12.75), and our friend ordered the buttermilk pancake stack with peach compote ($7.95 + $2) while his wife chose to drink her brunch. (Sorry to call you out, love.) I loved my spring frittata. Farm fresh eggs mixed with roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, and Swiss cheese….I have never had a frittata so flavorful. It was light and fluffy and I loved how it was served in three neat slices. It melted in your mouth. Sprinkled on top was shaved asparagus and kale, red onions and mustard seed that added a lovely flavor and crunch. Served alongside this wondrous creation was a medley of zucchini, carrots, and basil. The zucchini was a tad overcooked for me, but still had wonderful flavor. The carrots were cooked perfectly and added a beautiful pop of color and crunch to the dish.

The biscuits and gravy came out looking absolutely scrummy (I watch too much Great British Baking Show). And here’s my ‘but’……the price seemed a bit steep for two biscuits and a small ladle of gravy. I know Americans are accustomed to massive portions and this is a farm fresh restaurant, so I don’t mind paying for quality food, but I do wish that for almost $13 he would have gotten an extra biscuit. The sausage gravy had a fantastic flavor; mixed with cracked pepper, fresh herbs such as sage, and sprinkled with smoked paprika. The shaved green onion added a nice, colorful freshness to the dish as well. For the biscuits themselves we weren’t sure if they were a drop biscuit or maybe just a little overcooked. They had a very hard outer crust that I could barely get my fork into while I was reaching across my husband’s plate. He did also wish the sausage gravy stretched a bit further.

The buttermilk pancake stack was good too. Three big ol' pancakes can come as-is with whipped butter and syrup, or you can opt for a fruit/chocolate topping for $1.50-$2 more. The pancakes were fluffy and definitely worth the price. The peach compote, tossed lightly with cinnamon and a sugary syrup, were a yummy addition to the stack.

All in all, we did really enjoy our meals here. The service was great and I liked the small dining area. I would like to go back and try some of their regular menu items too (that pretzel braid is calling my name). Our total with tax, tip, and the hubby’s coffee ($1.99) was $38.90.

We parted ways with our friends and hit the road back to Champaign. But, we did save room for dessert, for we planned to make a pit stop at Dewey’s Drive-In on our way home. You can’t go wrong with small town burgers, shakes, and ice cream. They announce special flavors on their Facebook page too. They have homemade ice cream sandwiches, root beer floats, and malts, but I was dead set on a classic hot fudge sundae ($4.00 for a small). I can’t remember the last time I had one of those. It was just as expected: A good portion for a small and lots of hot fudge. My husband ordered the banana split ($5.50). Two little towers of vanilla ice cream flanked one that was chocolate and sat on top of a single banana split down the middle. The ice cream was topped with nuts, whipped cream, maraschino cherries, and strawberry, hot fudge, and pineapple toppings. My husband stated that, in his eyes, a true banana split come with the pineapple topping, not butterscotch. (Don’t tell him, but I prefer butterscotch). Our total at Dewey’s was $10.59. Grand total for our date: $49.49. Alcoholic drinks always put us over the edge (in more ways than one) at places, so for a cheaper date, it’s an easy thing to forego.

There are so many great places outside of our Chambana bubble. Head on over to Monticello and check out The Brown Bag Deli Restaurant. The Humble Hog and Just Hamburgers in Paxton are sure bets. C & C Kitchen, Taste of Thai, and Butcher Boy Burgers are a few of my personal favorites in Rantoul. For pizza try Angelo’s in Taylorville. We are especially intrigued by a tip from a friend about the Palms Grill Cafe in Atlanta, IL. Sounds fun! What are some of your small town favorites?

Old Bank is located at 201 E. Center Street, LeRoy. Dinner hours are Wednesday through Friday, 4 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 3 to 9 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Brunch menu available all day.)

Dewey’s Drive-In is located 620 E Richardson St, Farmer City, and open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

All photos by Bobbie Bonebrake.