I recently visited Rantoul to check out ET’s Downtown. ET’s serves up classic American fare. And just to clear the air up top: no, it has nothing to do with the Reese’s Pieces-loving alien.
I went to ET’s on a weekend for lunch, not really having a problem finding the place. Like most rural, Midwestern towns, Rantoul's downtown area is about one city block and the plazas are made up two to three storey buildings. Coming from a small Midwestern town in Southern Illinois myself, I can vouch that each tiny downtown looks just about the same. Nestled in the middle of one of these plazas is ET’s, simple on the outside with just a couple black awnings and the name decaled on the windows.
Once inside you’re welcomed by the smell of frying food (eau de diner, my favorite). There are seating options on each floor, and nice bar on the main floor. ET's décor choice is pretty classic sports bar: large screen TVs, beer-themed condiment caddies on the tables, some sports memorabilia on the walls, and an open kitchen.
It’s a cozy and casual place frequented by regulars. I always get a kick out of places where the wait staff recognize patrons. And in this particular case a host jokingly greeted a couple with, “Oh, no. Not you folks again.”
I started off with an appetizer: sriracha candied bacon ($8). Candied bacon seems to be an ET’s staple, as you can find in items all over the menu: mac and cheese, sandwiches, and burgers. The candied bacon is indeed sweet with a nice kick of the sriracha. I wish it was a bit crispier, but it did come with a nice char. It’s a nice snack for an appetizer and would be really delish on a burger; luckily, you can do just that. The dish comes with about five strips of bacon and is a nice shareable to pregame your meal.
ET’s has three barbecue sauce options at the ready on the tables: pepper vinegar, sweet and spicy, and sweet, so I knew I’d be ordering something off the menu I could use those for. There is a barbecue section on the menu, and I stuck with a classic: a pulled pork sandwich and a side order of sweet potato fries ($8; $2 for fries). I like when a sandwich comes undressed so I can control my own sauce, which is how their sandwiches come. The meat in the pulled pork sandwich was really yummy and seasoned well, but I made sure to try all three sauces.
The sweet and spicy sauce was good, if not a little pickle-y, with strong notes of apple cider vinegar. It could have been spicier, considering it was called “spicy.” Black pepper should not be considered spicy. Sorry not sorry.
The pepper vinegar is definitely very vinegar-y. While it also had a nice flavor I would be curious to see if it could be altered a bit for a salad instead, or a dressing for coleslaw. Which, by the way, the pulled pork sandwich at ET’s does not come with coleslaw on top, but it does come as a side so don’t forget to order some to throw on there. Coleslaw makes any barbecue better.
The sweet sauce is pretty basic as far as barbecue sauce goes. It has a nice tangy flavor to it. I noticed that all their barbecue sauces have a vinegar tang to it, which is delicious, but does cause them to be quite thin. So be careful, because it will get messy.
I ordered some sweet potato fries to go with it, just because I love sweet potato fries. They’re crinkle cut, so points to ET’s! They were also yummy and crispy and came with a sort of honey mustard dipping sauce. I am not the biggest fan of mustard (read: I hate mustard with the passion of a thousand suns) so I had a friend try it who offered the following verdict: “Solid. Still a bit runny for my liking, but solid.” So, there you go.
Struck by the name “crack chicken” and by the several times I overheard someone ordering it, this sandwich seemed like a no-brainer ($7). What is “crack chicken,” you ask? Well, according to ET’s it’s shredded chicken in cheese sauce with candied bacon (there it is again!). It had me at “cheese sauce.” It came on a nicely toasted, buttery bun and oh, yeah, this sandwich could be addictive, but it was delicious. The warm sandwich is a delectable comfort food lunch time meal. I paired it with a side of onion rings that were crisped to perfection and I was not regretful of my carb overload in the slightest. I would strongly suggest giving this sandwich a try; I would definitely order it again. I’d try topping it with some coleslaw for a nice tang, too.
To wrap it up, I ordered dessert. I decided to try a couple options: carrot cake and a slice of snickerdoodle cheesecake ($4 each). I don’t care what the calendar says, retail says it’s fall, and what retail says goes. I hate ending this review on a bit of a dud, but the desserts were disappointing. While the carrot cake’s icing tasted homemade and wasn’t overly sweet, the cake was far too moist and tacky. I was really looking for that airy cake texture and just didn’t find it. As for the snickerdoodle cheesecake, the consistency was off and it tasted more like an eggy dish with a dash of cinnamon. Plus, it looked like a breakfast quiche so it was confusing and not very appetizing looking.
So maybe desserts aren’t ET’s strong suit, but it’s worth venturing to downtown Rantoul for a nice sandwich or burger. I’d recommend it for a friendly, hometown vibe with nice service, something without hipster frills or airs. It’s good ol’ diner food, and that’s a winner in my book.
107 E Sangamon Ave
M-Th + Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Photos by Remington Rock