Sunday, June 5, 2011

There’s a New Kid in Town

Downtown that is.

“The north side of Springfield’s Old State Capitol Plaza has a restaurant: THE GOLDEN FROG CAFE. ‘We’ve refurbished and stained the original hardwood floors, put up a full wall....’ said owner Lori Miner about the building at 3 N. Old State Capitol Plaza that had been empty for some time.

“The restaurant’s signature sandwich is the chicken and waffle, which has chicken breast, Swiss cheese, crumbled bacon, and maple mayonnaise on waffles. Other sandwiches are roast beef, pesto turkey, poppy-seed chicken salad, Reuben, Cuban, grilled cheese (three cheeses, sliced apple and pear conserve) and Everything Thanksgiving (turkey breast, provolone and cranberry-thyme spread)” (Kathryn Rem, State Journal Register).

Milner used to be the breakfast and dessert chef at the very upscale and elegant Inn at 835. While called a Bed and Breakfast, I think that the Inn could also qualify as a boutique hotel.

The Golden Frog is located in the Buck’s Hat Store Building, which is listed on the National Register. When built in 1855, it was the first three-story building in downtown Springfield. The exposed brick walls and pressed tin ceiling (the most magnificent that I have seen) attest to the building’s historic nature. The exposed metal ductwork, coffee bar, and mis-matched patio furniture bring the café into the present.

Note the chair with its metal bird decorations. Be careful how you sit or you may get a beak in the back. And scattered around the room were frog statuettes and knick-knacks.

Dora ordered the chicken and waffle signature sandwich with a side of potato salad and shared a bite with both Chuck and me. This was an interesting take on the classic chicken and waffles which originated in Harlem back in the 1930’s, and the addition of salty bacon relieved some of the sweetness of the waffle and the maple spread.

Chuck’s choice was the Everything Thanksgiving with sides of potato salad and Golden Bean Salad. This latter was similar to the classic three bean salad—even though it only contained one bean. But the vinaigrette dressing was similar to the one that I use on three bean salad. Fortunately, the feta cheese was mild and smooth rather than the salty strong cheese you often find. The really good potato salad on both Chuck and Dora’s plates was made with a ranch-style dressing and also contained bits of bacon. The sandwich itself would have been very good if not for the overly sweet cranberry-thyme spread. This would have been better on a hot buttered biscuit than on a sandwich.

Having overindulged that morning on breakfast, I decided to just order a sandwich—the London Port Roast Beef—and forgo the sides. Mine was the better of our two sandwiches (We decided to each eat half of both sandwiches.) with thin sliced beef, horseradish cheese, and Dijon mustard. I especially liked the kick provided by the zesty cheese.

The Golden Frog has potential, but isn’t equal to The Feed Store located just across the plaza. Still, this lunch merits a score of 4.0 Addies.

There is always room for dessert…

So one afternoon we head off to another Springfield institution—Krekel’s. “William Krekel with his first location in Decatur, Illinois…in 1949. At Krekel's, the ice cream is a signature part of the menu. But surprisingly, the Krekel's story doesn’t begin with dessert. It all started with the main course back in 1949...the Krekel Burger. Today, thousands gather at any of the seven Krekel's locations in Central Illinois for burgers fries and shakes reminiscent of years past, a simpler time.

Fresh, never frozen, ground beef smashed onto a sizzling hot griddle; hand-made shakes in 16 flavors, chili made daily with our own special meat and piping hot fries are the staples that have made Krekel's a Central Illinois tradition” (from the Krekel’s website).

While the Krekel Burger has been voted “Best of Spring-field,” Dora is not fond of their burgers, and believe me, we learned our lesson with Steak ‘n Shake. So we stuck with ice cream—or frozen custard, as the woman staffing the counter emphatically told us.

Dora’s choice was a small strawberry frozen custard; Chuck chose the small strawberry shake; and I opted for the medium lemon frozen custard. Both Chuck and Dora’s strawberry confections were delicious with good strawberry flavor. But my lemon custard (for which Krekel’s is known) was less successful. Again, this was one of those dishes that taste good at the start and become less appealing the more you eat. I finally decided that I was tasting artificial lemon flavoring and way too much of it. Perhaps the unnatural yellow color should have been my first clue.

And both Dora and I agreed that Krekel’s frozen custard lacked the smooth texture and rich mouth feel of Culver’s. So based on the fresh flavor of Dora and Chuck’s strawberry desserts, we’ll give Krekel’s 3.0 Addies.

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