The weather was a bit iffy this particular Sunday, but we really wanted to get some wind time before embarking on a major house project we’d been putting off for a while. After making sure all our rain gear was in the bags, just in case, we decided to check out the new BikerSpot advertiser in Bartonville, Sportz Nutz Bar & Grill.
Since Bartonville is just a short ride from our house, going directly there would never have been enough wind therapy to tide us over. So, we made an adventure out of it, deciding to make our way to Meadows Avenue Tap in East Peoria first. We had never been there before and wanted to check it out — a sort of reconnaissance mission for a future article.
Living on the far north edge of Peoria means we have a bit of city riding to do before we can cross the river. On this particular day, we opted to take Knoxville (IL 40) all the way through town to I 74, which provides a quick jump to the east bank. While we both hate the stop-and-go traffic created by all the lights on Knoxville, it generally flows quite well on Sunday mornings, and that day was no different. Staying in the left lane, we found ourselves moving right along with no trouble at all, avoiding all those who were turning off and on the thoroughfare in the right lane.
Once across the river, we exited onto US 150, also known as Meadows Avenue, which took us straight to the Tap. Admittedly, that road is in town, but it really doesn’t feel like “city” to me. I think it’s the way the road is kind of nestled down in a valley that makes it seem more rural. Even while passing the homes and businesses that line the road, it just seems like we’re in between worlds.
When we arrived at the Meadows Avenue Tap, we were greeted by a couple bikes outside — a good sign that they were indeed open. Inside, we took a couple seats at the bar and ordered a drink each. Planning to only stay for one, we took our time and looked around. I even did a preliminary scan of the menu to begin plotting our return trip, which I informed Wally would have to be soon after some of the options I saw. Done with our drinks, we realized it was well past lunch time, and I was ready to eat.
Back on the road, we made our way to the Cedar Street Bridge to cross back to the west side of the river. Now, when I worked in Pekin and had to make the trip to Bradley to teach twice a week, I used that bridge — and hated every minute of it. The high arch in the middle and the relatively low side rails just freaked me out, and that was in a car! On the bike, the experience is even less enjoyable, although less frightening than it once was. I did, however, take advantage of the great view of the Illinois River. I easily could see how the day’s wind was making the water a bit choppy, explanation enough for the lack of boaters.
Quite hungry by now, we made our way up the hill in Bartonville, easily finding our destination. Located at 3826 S. Lafayette Avenue, Sportz Nutz recently replaced the old Marshall’s Tap. Inside, it looks exactly like what you’d expect: a large bar, several tables, a concrete floor and a few TVs on the wall. Feeling right at home, we grabbed a bar stool each, checked out the lunch menu and ordered.
While waiting, we noticed a rather expansive set up just down the bar from us. Upon inspection, we realized it was a glorious Bloody Mary bar. Our bartender, Nina, explained we could get a generic 16 oz. version for $4 or take a pass through the bar for $6. Not only did the potential garnishes run the gamut, from olives and celery to hearts of palm, but the vodka options were outstanding. In fact, you can mix two varieties if you want something unusual. Wally, of course, did and asked for both traditional and cilantro vodka. One thing that’s unique about this particular Bloody Mary bar is that you tell the bartender what you want and she mixes it for you. I love that because the shaker always mixes better than a simple stir stick.
Our food arrived moments later, and it looked phenomenal! We both ordered Danny’s Wings, his dry rub blackened and mine sweet heat. They were meaty and cooked just right before being spun in the perfect amount of sauce. The sweet heat tasted exactly like it sounds: spicy enough to add some kick but with the sweet to tame the burn. Of course, I had to try some of Wally’s dry rubbed (for editorial purposes) and they were fantastic. Always a fan of blackening seasoning, I was not disappointed. The spice mix was one of the best I’ve had with a masterful blend of heat, smoke and an extra somethin’ somethin’ that added a glorious depth of flavor.
We also split an order of Loaded Fries. Oh, daddy! I’m telling you, that was one fabulous dish! The base of crinkle-cut fries held up better under the cheese sauce than any other kind I’ve had. Right there, they had me: still-crispy fries topped with warm melty goodness. But, it didn’t end there. No, sir. They went to a Miles’ favorite: BACON! That’s right, bacon. And, while I’m not a fan, Wally said the sliced jalapeños added the ideal touch of heat, easily mellowed with help from a small dollop of sour cream.
Thoroughly satisfied with our lunch, we vowed to return later this season — probably more than once. There was still so much to try: a full list of burgers and sandwiches, a few salads and even some fun seafood options like Popcorn Shrimp and Clam Strips.
Add in Sportz Nutz’ great prices and friendly atmosphere, and we’ll be back for sure!
As we headed out the door, I mentioned that Kickapoo Creek Road was reopened and suggested we take it since we had never ridden it before (it closed for replacement before we bought our first bike). He agreed and took off toward our route.
I was again reminded how many great roads can be found just outside of town. I mean, you’re curving around, up and down, along a bubbling creek that makes you feel like you’re on some distant back road, far from everything and everyone. But, you aren’t. You’re simply slipping along the edge of the city, oblivious to all the craziness that’s happening a very short distance away … sometimes just over a hill.
As we approached Farmington Road, he noted that we should make our way home to get the ribs on the grill (mmm … dinner), so we swung a left on Sterling and jumped I 74 by the mall. As we rounded the last corner on IL 6 before the final stretch to the house, I found myself pondering how different life was since we started riding. I don’t think it’s that we’re different people or anything; I just think we finally found a way for us to relax, without needing a week in the Caribbean to make it happen. It’s that whenever I get off that bike, all I can think of is the next time we’re going to ride and where we’re going to ride to. And, that’s why I can’t wait for Memorial Day weekend.