Green Gables is gone. It did not take long for a windswept fire to destroy the 1929 building, often described as an iconic local landmark and known for its legendary double cheeseburgers. Although located near Lake Bloomington and with a Hudson address, Green Gables was usually on top or near the top of the list when someone would ask on Facebook where to find the best burger in Bloomington-Normal.
Another question sometimes asked on Facebook: What local restaurant should Guy Fieri of "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" visit if he came to B-N? Green Gables and Lucca Grill were usually the overwhelming favorites for Guy to visit.
There are many Green Gables stories, however, one of my favorites was the Budweiser draft beer story told to me last summer when I interviewed Green Gables third-generation owner Amy Tague.
Amy said Green Gables has had only one draft beer on tap since her family put in draft beer years ago, and for all those years, it had been Budweiser. Then, one day during the pandemic, Amy was told there was a problem. The beer distributor had not received Budweiser draft, so what did she want to do? Amy said to put in Bud Light draft as a temporary replacement until the next Budweiser draft delivery.
Amy was still smiling when she told me, that surprisingly to her, the Bud Light draft sales were so much better than the Budweiser draft sales had been that they decided to keep Bud Light as the single draft, no more Budweiser draft.
If Amy and her husband Kyle decide to rebuild Green Gables, I truly hope they can, and good luck to them.
From Larry's notebook
- Jim's Steak House — Be sure and congratulate owner Greg Comfort on 37 years last month of being at the helm of a top flight, traditional steak house. Greg still enjoys telling the story about his dad, whose name was Jim and founded Jim’s Steak House in Peoria, buying The Brittany in Bloomington in 1985. He sent the then-27-year-old Greg and a young chef to Bloomington and gave them a week to convert The Brittany to a Jim’s. Greg still uses the original broiler that is designed to reach 1,200 degrees and has been rebuilt four times. His USDA high choice or prime steaks are dry aged 28-30 days and cut in-house.
- Bloomington Texas Roadhouse, by the numbers — Averages serving 5,500 steaks a week to 7,000 guests a week with bar sales 15% of total sales and a cost of $6 million-plus to build/open the restaurant. The numbers were given to me by Chris Hernan, managing partner of the Bloomington Texas Roadhouse, who added that the numbers were above the company average.
- Merna Tap — Now has an expanded $50,000 kitchen with a new cookline. In 2019, co-owner/general manager Katie Schott purchased what she describes as a “Busch Light & Burger Bar” and has made many changes, including the new kitchen, new restrooms, a new dining room floor and a large patio/beer garden. “A great American Roadhouse” is how some describe the venerable tavern that dates back to the 1920s and is only 4 miles from the edge of Normal.
- Herradura Mexican Restaurant — Has 69 different tequilas. Owner Armando Martinez recently told me that when he opened in 2009 after spending much more money than he had planned converting the former La Peep to Herradura, all he could afford was two bottles of tequila. His wall of shelving above the back-bar with the bottles of tequila is often called the “Wall of Tequila.” He says he sells a lot of margaritas.
- Fusion Crunch — Was recently opened at 616 N. Main St. in downtown Bloomington. The owner describes the menu as a fusion blend of cuisines featuring appetizers, salads/noodles, fun foods, burgers, tacos/quesadillas/open sandie, pasta, bowls, platters and sides. It currently is open for carryout for dinner.
- Panda Express — Construction has started for a Panda Express at 1901 W. Market St. in Bloomington, with the plan to open late this summer. This is the long-vacant site of a demolished Citgo station.
A Larry Favorite Menu Item — The Pork Tomatillo entrée at Medici.
20 Bloomington-Normal restaurants we wish would come back
Gil's Country Inn
Gil’s Country Inn, a longtime, family-owned restaurant in Minier, closed in 2013 after the economy took its toll. The restaurant was particularly known for its fried chicken.
Lancaster's Fine Dining, 513 N. Main St., a downtown Bloomington mainstay for nearly 16 years, closed its doors in August 2014. A struggling economy and the upscale restaurant's location in a neighborhood of bars were factors.
Bennigan's, which billed itself as an "Irish American Grill & Tavern" closed its Normal location in July 2008 after the chain filed for bankruptcy. The eatery, 115 S. Veterans Parkway, was replaced by Wild Berries, which was later closed and razed. Owner Tartan Realty Group of Chicago now plans to build a four-unit development at the site.
Lox, Stock & Bagel
Lox, Stock & Bagel closed in May 2004 after 22 years at Normal's College Hills Mall, in tandem with the mall's conversion to the Shoppes at College Hills.
Zorbas, popular for serving Greek food, gyros and breakfast, closed in 2015 after its location at 603 Dale St., Normal, was sold to a developer. The eatery first opened in 1983 around the corner at 707 S. Main St.
The historic Grand Hotel, 1201 E. Emerson St., Bloomington, once served as a winter training quarters for a number of circus acts and was converted into a restaurant in 1937. The property was foreclosed upon by Pontiac National Bank in 2001, sold in 2002 and demolished a few months later.
Mr. Quick Drive-In
The Mr. Quick restaurant at Clinton and Washington streets had its grand opening in January 1966, with burgers starting at 15 cents and coffee for a dime a cup. The restaurant closed in 2001 and the city of Bloomington later bought the site and razed the building so it could widen the intersection.
Chicago Style Pizzeria
Chicago Style Pizzeria, 1500 E. Empire St., Bloomington, closed in 2015 after 22 years in business when owners Abe and Ruth Taha (Abe is pictured above) decided to retire.
Shannon's Federal Café
Shannon's Federal Cafe, 105 W. Front St., opened in 1997 after its owners took over the historic Federal Cafe in downtown Bloomington, which closed two years earlier. Shannon's closed in 2004 because the owners also ran Shannon's Five Star Restaurant, and the demands of both businesses were too much.
Damon's - The Place for Ribs opened in 1995 at 1701 Fort Jesse Road, Normal. The eatery closed in 2006 after business had declined; the site is now a CVS pharmacy.
Australian-themed Ned Kelly's Steakhouse opened in May 1992 in what was the former location of Bob Knapp's in the Brandtville Center (now known as Morrissey Crossing). It closed in August 2007 after the company's four Central Illinois locations were unable to compete with bigger chains.
Arnie's was a popular Twin City eatery for 25 years. Located at the Bloomington airport terminal, it closed in 2003, shortly after the Central Illinois Regional Airport moved to its current location about a mile east. A subsequent restaurant, Arnie's Etc., was open for about a year in the former terminal building, until it closed in 2005.
Diamond Dave's, a mainstay at the former College Hills Mall for 21 years, closed its doors in June 2004 in tandem with the gutting of the mall to create what is now the Shoppes at College Hills.
Jerry's Grille opened in 1999 in Bloomington's Brandtville shopping center, taking over the spot used by another eatery, Henry Wellington. It closed it 2005 and then became Goodfellas, which also closed.
After 33 years in the heart of Normal, Golden West closed in 2002, after the owners received a surprise offer for the site and decided it was time to sell. The building, 712 S, Kingsley St., was later resold to Tartan Realty and demolished in 2003.
After eight years at 407 N. Hershey Road, Bloomington, Ming's closed in 2012. The eatery was facing foreclosure at the time.
The former Central Station restaurant in downtown Bloomington, once a firehouse in days gone by, is now home to Epiphany Farms Restaurant and Anju Above.
Chevys Fresh Mex
Chevys Fresh Mex, 704 S. Eldorado Road, Bloomington, closed in 2011 after being open nearly nine years. The site has also been home to several other restaurants, including a House of Hunan, Shakey's Pizza and Butterfields.
The Caboose, a historic Bloomington eatery at 608 W. Seminary St., closed without fanfare in February 2012. The restaurant, with several owners and names including Chuck's Caboose and Barney's Caboose, had been a west-side fixture for more than 60 years.
Delgado's, a popular Mexican restaurant at 201 Landmark Drive, Normal, closed in May 2005 after after 24 years in business. It is now the location of Los Potrillos.
Carius, of Bloomington, is a former food program and plan review supervisor for the McLean County Health Department. His Facebook blog, Bloomington-Normal Restaurant Scene, has 33,000 followers.