After a couple of solo adventures to small communities near Champaign-Urbana, I decided it was time to bring my husband along for the ride. This particular trip was going to take me a bit farther away than my sojourns to Monticello and Tuscola, so I was glad to have another human to share the little road trip with.
This summer adventure took us south through miles of corn and soybean fields to Sullivan, which is an hour south and a touch west of C-U, right there in Amish country. We breezed by or through several tiny towns on our way there, including Seymour, Ivesdale, Bement, Hammond, and Lovington. Sullivan has a population of about 4,500, and sits just north of Lake Shelbyville, which I seem to forget exists as a whole recreation area just an hour away, with public beaches and everything.
The Okaw Valley stop was penciled in until we were reassured that the road-buckling conditions of the previous few days were in the past. I was not about to spend even a moment outside in the heat of the day, even for treats from an orchard. Thankfully, temps had calmed down a bit, so the orchard was a go.
Okaw Valley Orchard is about ten minutes outside of Sullivan. It’s a family-run orchard with, according to their website, 1,500 fruit trees that produce apples, peaches, plums, and pears. We just happened to visit on Peach Party day. On their Facebook page, they mentioned having all sorts of peach treats available, and that there would be free hot dogs and a peachy baking contest. The place was hopping when we arrived. The grounds have a similar feel to Curtis Orchard — for a C-U based comparison — just a smaller scale.
We parked and strolled by a chicken coop and goat pen, which housed their two goats named Lewis and Clark. Not sure which one this was that approached me looking hopefully for a nibble, but he was cute.
You can stroll through the orchard, as long as you don’t pick anything. Their website indicates that they will have U-pick at some point in the season; it just hasn’t happened yet. There was an outdoor grill situation happening out front and had we been looking for lunch, it would have been a tasty option. Larry’s Grill was serving things like an Apple Butter Burger and Monster Hotdogs. My mind was focused on obtaining peach delights.
Their country store was small, but filled with a plethora of items for purchase. As soon as we walked in the door, we encountered a front-and-center display that showcased the range of peachy items (as well as a few apple or berry treats) that were available to bring home, from peach butter and peach barbecue sauce, to peach pies and crisps and cakes. I immediately regretted the fact that this was our first stop, as a peach pie would not hold up well in a hot trunk for several more hours. With a little forethought I might have grabbed a cooler before leaving home, but alas, I did not.
Thankfully, there were shelves upon shelves of more stable items that we could choose from to bring home. There were jams, preserves, fruit butters, and applesauce, as well as savory things such as salsa and pickled veggies and even Bloody Mary mix.
This is tangerine, orange, and elderberry jam.
And of course, there were peaches.
At the counter inside the store, you can order slushes, doughnuts, peach fritters, and more. If you want to bring ice cream into the equation, they have cider floats, doughnuts a la mode, and doughnut ice cream sandwiches. There are also packs of doughnuts available for purchase. On this particular day there were peach and apple varieties, but a perusal of their Facebook page showed that they’ve also had lemon and blueberry available at times.
We kept it pretty straightforward and got an apple cider slushie (him) and peach slushie (me), and shared a peach fritter. The slushies were fruity and refreshing, with the peach having just a touch more sweetness to it. The peach fritter was just as I’d anticipated: doughy, with a sugary glaze and pieces of fresh peach throughout. I remarked to my husband that warming it up would’ve really enhanced the experience.
Unfortunately we couldn’t linger too long, as our showtime was looming. I selected a ¼ peck of peaches, peach butter, and sweet potato honey butter and we hopped back in the car to head into town. We no longer have little ones, but there was a nice sized playground next to the store, which would make for a fun visit with kiddos if you were looking to get them out and about (which I was always looking to do when mine were young).
We rolled into the downtown square with about four minutes to spare before the matinee showing of Million Dollar Quartet. The musical, which ran on Broadway in 2010, is a fictionalized telling of the actual jam session that happened at Sun Records in Memphis, featuring Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley.
The Little Theatre on the Square is not named that because of its size, though it is on the small side. It was founded by someone named Guy S. Little Jr. in 1957, and in the years he ran it, there were some rather famous people who performed there, including Mickey Rooney, Alan Alda, Betty Grable, and Leonard Nimoy. Now, it serves as the only Actors’ Equity Association theater between Chicago and St. Louis, which means that its shows will have professional working theater actors, many of whom have or will go on to perform on Broadway or other larger productions. For a great background on the theater, this interview with executive director and producer John Stephens is an interesting listen.
The level of talent in Million Dollar Quartet was definitely on par with productions I’ve seen in Chicago and national touring companies. It’s a unique sort of show, in that the actors also need to be skilled musicians, as each of the people they were portraying were, and they have to match the voice quality and singing style of those legends. All of the performers pulled this off spectacularly.
Alex Canty, who portrayed Lewis, was a stunning pianist who was able to mimic Lewis’ ridiculously energetic style. He sat, he stood, he used his feet, and he ad libbed his way through what was supposed to be his big moment in the finale, as he lost power to the piano. Steve Lasiter, who portrayed Johnny Cash, sounded eerily like the Man in Black. Roy James Brown, who portrayed Carl Perkins’ brother Jay, sang mostly back-up vocals, but his upright bass playing had him laying on the ground, raising it behind his head, and playing it as Jennifer Barnaba, as Presley’s girlfriend, sat on it and sang.
An aside about these legendary artists and the music featured in the show: Sun Records founder and producer Sam Phillips has an interesting history of recording with Black artists in a time when segregation was pervasive. His signing of Presley was his way of selling Black music in a way that would be palatable to white audiences. This was alluded to a couple of times in the musical, and if you scan through the writing credits on the songs in the show that were made famous by these four men, many are Black songwriters.
The theater was packed, and we sat in the very last row of the balcony. We were definitely well below the median age of folks there, which was amusing. I guess that tracks for the matinee show in Sullivan, particularly one that features music from the 50s. Despite this, the crowd was very lively. The performers had audience members clapping, cheering, and Elvis (played by Taylor Rodriguez) even offered a scarf and a kiss on the cheek to a lady who’d screamed “It’s my birthday!” at the end of the show.
The show let out around 4:30 p.m., and it was time to head to dinner, which seemed totally logical given the fact that we’d spent our previous two hours with a theater full of seniors. But also, we do late breakfast on Saturdays so we were ready to eat. NorthEnd Pub and Grill is at the Sullivan Marina just about five minutes south of town. Note: Google will not get you to the restaurant. Have it take you to the Sullivan Marina and Campground entrance, then turn right immediately into the parking lot (if you don’t turn, you will find yourself winding through a sea of RVs). At the end of the lot is a staircase that leads down to the marina, where NorthEnd Pub and Grill is located.
The restaurant is seasonal, open from mid-May to mid-September. It’s one of those places where you can drive your boat right up to their dock and have a bite to eat. We do not have a boat, but this trip definitely had me thinking that we need a friend with a boat.
It’s a cute little place with a menu that has plenty to choose from, but is not overwhelming. We toasted the end of our day trip with margaritas in these fun glasses. It was good. Not the best margarita I’ve ever had, though with the options we have here in C-U my bar is high.
I was thrilled to see smoked deviled eggs on the appetizer menu. We make these on our smoker at home, and I never see them on a restaurant menu. They came out quickly with this fun presentation, and were smoky and creamy and delicious.
I chose one of the day’s specials, a Paradise Burger. It was a smash burger topped with grilled pineapple, bacon, cheese, and what they called “paradise sauce.” It even had a cherry on top! This burger now has me thinking that grilled pineapple should be a staple topping. It came with a generous portion of fries that were crispy and well-seasoned.
My husband ordered fish and chips, which came with a side of coleslaw. The fish breading was tasty and crunchy, and the fish was perfectly tender. The coleslaw had a sweet vinegar dressing, and was the perfect compliment.
It turns out, eating dinner at 4:30 p.m. has its advantages. We had a whole date, drove an hour home, and got settled in to put on a movie by 7 p.m. Amazing! All in all, it was a pretty nice little Saturday in Sullivan, and the peach butter and sweet potato butter were perfect on my English muffin the next morning.