Lunch at Ariston Cafe

2009/12/11 17:23:22
3 of us were on the road the day before Thanksgiving and stopped in at the Ariston Cafe in Litchfield, Illinois for lunch.  I had hopes that the visit would be the first part of a trip report but the only other noteworthy stop was a Saturday night pizza on the return visit home and I after the holiday and a lot of driving I just didn't feel up to documenting it.
I'll bet the building doesn't look a whole lot different than it did in 1935.

In 2006 it received some pretty noteworthy recognition.  The sign is actually a darker shade of blue but I couldn't get the software to do what I wanted, so this is close enough.

Much to my delight we were put in a back corner booth where a camera flash would be less noticeable.  I'm not really into Roadfood memorabilia (yet?) so I didn't ask if I could buy a logo glass but maybe next time I will.

From what I understand the horseshoe sandwich is native to the Springfield area and since Litchfield is less than an hour from there it's no surprise that it has spread.  I ordered the turkey version, which comes on toast with cheese sauce and fries.  To be honest I was expecting more but it actually turned out to be a good portion for lunch and a good value for the $8.95 price.  I know some are wondering...are the turkey and cheese prepared on-site?  I don't know and I didn't ask, but I don't see why they couldn't be.

One of the daily specials was a hot beef sandwich and that's what Kathy ordered.  Normally I think of this as being on toast but the Ariston serves it on untoasted bread, and she gave it good marks.  I swiped a taste of potatoes and gravy and probably would've been just as happy with this sandwich as with the horseshoe.

The 3rd order was cod and I ran into some pretty strong resistance when I pointed the camera at it so there's no visual evidence, but like the 2 sandwiches it tasted fine and there were no leftovers.  From what I can remember it was breaded instead of battered and the breading was fairly crisp and crumbly.
This was my 3rd visit and on the previous 2 (a pre-Thanksgiving Tuesday night and a post-Thanksgiving Saturday night) the dining room was fairly full, but this time we arrived before the lunch rush hit so it filled up behind us.  Our waitress was very friendly and efficient, even after she picked up a few more tables while we were there.
One final note.  I visited the men's room after eating and while it's a bit dated decor-wise it was exceptionally clean, and I feel that deserves mentioning.
If I lived near Litchfield I'd probably stop at the Ariston on a regular basis, and I'll bet there are a lot of people that already do.
post edited by Brad_Olson - 2009/12/11 17:31:24
Fire Safety Admin
Re:Lunch at Ariston Cafe 2009/12/11 17:31:34
Very cool looking exterior and the horseshoe looks delicious.  Thanks for the report and the nice photos.
Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Lunch at Ariston Cafe 2009/12/11 18:19:45
I absolutely love the look of that very classic. Take the color out of that pic and it is from 1935!
Re:Lunch at Ariston Cafe 2009/12/11 20:28:40
You ain't seen nuthin' yet folks!  If Brad took some photos of the inside of the Ariston, you'll really see how close it is to it's 1920's roots.  Unfortunately, even a thorough Google search for Ariston Cafe images only turns up more shots of the exterior of the building.

Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Lunch at Ariston Cafe 2009/12/11 21:01:10
BuddyRoadhouse...I thought you were going to chime in about the atrocity that is a "horseshoe" outside of Springfield

I would LOVE to see pictures of the interior. Anyone want to go there for lunch and take some?
Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Lunch at Ariston Cafe 2009/12/11 21:14:21
...and for good measure...and the (1000th <---------):

"When Frankie Valli performed Wednesday at Sangamon Auditorium, he mentioned that he had eaten dinner the previous evening at the ARISTON CAFE in Litchfield. The statement prompted a round of applause.     

The Four Seasons crooner said he visited Litchfield because it is the hometown of Robbie Robinson, Valli’s longtime musical director and keyboard player, who was introduced by Valli on stage.     

The Ariston Cafe, established in 1924 and in its current location since 1935, is one of the oldest restaurants on Route 66. Paul Adam, manager of the Ariston, confirmed the visit. “He came in with his group Tuesday night and had dinner,” said Adam. “He said he wanted to get into the Ariston. We were real happy.” Adam said there were 26 to 30 people in Valli’s party. The singer ordered fried shrimp with broccoli sauteed in olive oil. When asked if Valli was a good tipper, Adam would only say, “he was gracious.”

....and for dessert:

Re:Lunch at Ariston Cafe 2009/12/11 23:27:34

BuddyRoadhouse...I thought you were going to chime in about the atrocity that is a "horseshoe" outside of Springfield

I would LOVE to see pictures of the interior. Anyone want to go there for lunch and take some?

I wouldn't knock The Ariston's horseshoe, especially since I've had one!  Last time we stopped at The Ariston, I tried their Buffalo chicken horseshoe and enjoyed it a good piece.  Not the best horseshoe, I've had, but not a bad thing neither.

Also, thanks for those fine pictures of The Ariston's interior.  I notice that most of them are taken during daylight hours.  After dark, The Ariston takes on a more moody appearance that really accentuates its vintage ambiance.

Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Lunch at Ariston Cafe 2009/12/12 07:58:56
It seems like such an interesting place with a good history..I mean...if Buddy Roadhouse and Brad_Olsen, and to a lesser extent, Frankie Valli says it's good....

The owner Nick seems like a great guy:

Did anyone get a chance to speak with him at all? Looks like his son is following in his footsteps so the Ariston will be around for quite a bit.

Double Chili Cheeseburger
Re:Lunch at Ariston Cafe 2011/08/17 16:50:26
This is going to read like a commercial, but I swear it isn't.
I visited the Ariston Cafe last week (on Friday) for lunch with my husband, brother, and some cousins who live in Illinois.  I was sort of doubtful about this -- some of the other Route 66 places we've visited in Missouri and Illinois were either closed or creepy. 
But I was absolutely bowled over by the place.  The atmosphere is wonderful. The service is unsurpassed.  And the food was great!
I was tempted by the horseshoe, but  I had to try the fried chicken.  So I ordered  the fried chicken "sandwich" -- which was actually a bone-in wing and a bone-in breast (I ordered "all white"), served on toast.  Crispy, hot (so hot it burned my fingers) and very well-seasoned.  You get one side with the "sandwich" -- potato chips, fries, or cole slaw. I got the cole slaw and gave it to my husband, and he said it was very good.
My brother ordered fried shrimp, which came with the soup and salad bar.  He brought back a few tomatoes for me to try, and they were fresh, ripe and delicious.  He said the shrimp was exactly what he wanted and hoped for.
I think everyone else had hamburgers or cheeseburgers (except one cousin who had a "Sierra chicken" sandwich), and everyone loved their food.
The whole table shared some toasted ravioli, as well as deep fried green beans, which aren't on the menu, but are available for the asking.  The green beans come with either ranch or blue cheese dressing, but because we ordered two orders, we got both.  Also very good.
And finally, dessert:  the waitress brings you a tray of goodies to choose from, but in addition to the displayed items, there was also a note on the tray reading "strawberry shortcake." She explained that they don't put it on the tray because it is so fragile.  I ordered it.  It was some of the best strawberry shortcake I've ever had.  Very fresh strawberries, and a pile of whipped cream on top, but it was the "cake" that was the star.  It may not be to everyone's taste, but it is the kind of shortcake I love -- two square slices of not-too-sweet shortbread-like "cake,"  maybe half an inch thick, interspersed with the strawberries (and which got even better once it soaked up some of the strawberry juice).
 It reminded me of the "short pie" that my mother used to make from an old Bisquick recipe -- which doesn't turn out the right way any more because Bisquick has been reformulated.  But it was even better than that.  Again, it might not be everyone's version of strawberry shortcake -- if you want sponge cake or biscuits, that's not what this is -- but it was the strawberry shortcake of my dreams.  The portion was huge, and I couldn't (quite) finish it.
Staff took photos of our family so everyone could be in the pictures, and because several of us were out-of-town visitors, the waitress brough us complimentary postcards and refrigerator magnets.  We got there about 1 p.m., after the initial lunch rush, and they did not try to shoo us out, even though we lingered until about 3:15.  (Although the waitress did say that she was wondering whether she needed to bring us the dinner menu!)
The Ariston is a must-stop for Route 66 devotees, but even if you aren't one, you will enjoy it. 
post edited by rumaki - 2011/08/18 11:59:35
Filet Mignon
Re:Lunch at Ariston Cafe 2011/08/17 22:55:24
I'll chime in and add my big thumbs up to the Ariston Cafe. It is certainly one of the cooler places I've dined in and we loved the food and the service. The owner came by to chat and here's a man who is a perfect custodian of a national treasure but it sure isn't a museum piece.
Thanks for the review and EatingTheRoad, thanks for taking the time to hunt out those pics.
Re:Lunch at Ariston Cafe 2011/08/17 22:56:20
rumaki, welcome to the Ariston Cafe Fan Club.  I have to admit, it's been a few years since I've stopped in for dinner.
The Ariston used to be a semi-regular stop for us as we drove back and forth between hometown Chicago and home-away-from-home Kansas City.  But after making friends a few years back with The Dr. Of BBQ, most of our mid-trip meal stops take place in Springfield, Illinois.  We either chow down on his amazing 'Que at his trailer location, or if he's off work, we'll hit a Springfield hot spot with him.
Unless Jack takes a vacation and leaves town, I figure it will be awhile before we make it back to Litchfield and the Ariston.
The Dr. Of BBQ
2709 South 6th Street
Springfield, IL 62703

(217) 744-9999

Ariston Cafe
413 N Old Route 66
Litchfield, IL 62056
(217) 324-2023