As an English major and a writer, I have been intrigued by the Spoon River Drive since we moved here more than 15 years ago. Every year, I say, “This is the year we’re going to check it out.” And every year, it comes and goes before I realize it. But once we got the bike, I knew I would finally be able check that item off my to-do list — and check it, I did.
It all happened as a result of the hubby seeing an installment of WEEK-TV’s You Gotta Eat highlighting a place in Norris called Tracy’s Supper Club. I have since learned that Tracy’s is a rebirth of the bar and restaurant that was formerly called Viano’s, an area favorite with a 75-year history. The owners maintained as much of the establishment’s old charm as they could, right down to restoring the vintage bar.
We headed out one Sunday morning to explore the historic drive and try this new Ride to Eat location. We had waited a couple weeks after the official drive so that we wouldn’t have to deal with all the stop-and-go traffic and related frustrations. The timing actually was quite opportune, as the leaves turned late this year and were at their peak color for our adventure.
What I failed to realize was that it was late October and quite chilly outside. We had just got on our way when I realized there was no way I was going to finish the ride without gloves. Unfortunately, I failed to pack them when we embarked on our trip, so I was in a bit of trouble. About then, we arrived in Kickapoo, and I remembered there is a good-sized truck stop right by the interstate.
We stopped to top off our fuel, and I headed in to try my luck. Great success! They had a decent variety of shop-type gloves, a little big for me but good enough to keep me warm for the day and then serve Wally in the yard.
From there, we went by Wildlife Prairie Park and toward Hanna City. It had been a few weeks since our last ride, so the fresh air was a welcome change to the busy weekends we’d been having. Just as I found myself easing into the ride, we entered Farmington and quickly realized something BIG was going on.
We had come upon the final stages of a massive fire at the Crossroads Bar. Fire departments from all over the area were there, and a faint smell of smoke lingered in the air. At first, we couldn’t tell what happened, but the detour took us only a block away from the scene, and the sight was crazy. Everything was scorched, black and wet. The first responders seemed exhausted, their steadfast bodies sagging under the weight of their work and the emotion of the loss. Well, not all was lost.
Later, I read a news story that reported the owner’s bike was in the bar at the time of the fire, and somehow … somehow… that bike survived. Not only was it pulled from the ash, but the owner was able to fire her up and ride home!
The plan was to go past Farmington and backtrack to Norris to enjoy a bit more of the drive than the direct route would provide. Somewhere along the way, we either missed a turn or went too far — I’m still not sure. Of course, we love the adventure, so we didn’t care. I just pulled out my trusty phone/GPS and figured out where we were and how to get where we were going.
Overall, the ride was glorious. With every mile, stress peeled away and left me feeling light as air … and hungry. Fortunately, Tracy’s was easy to find and ready to serve.
The main dining area is a large room with a bar and many tables. The kitchen is toward the back, just off the bar so that you can almost see in. There were only a few diners scattered around when we first arrived, but that changed pretty quickly after we sat down.
The menu features everything you’d find on any traditional family restaurant’s lineup: steak, chicken, catfish, sandwiches and so on. On Wednesdays, you can get their World’s Greatest Fried Chicken — a super-popular option — as an all-you-can-eat special.
Wally suggested the Rangoon appetizer, which he loved for the same reason that I only liked it: jalapenos. These unique creations had bits of the pepper in them, adding what he called, “The perfect amount of kick.” I admit they were tasty but the kind of spicy that makes my lips burn. If you enjoy the spice in life, you definitely should give them a try; if not, I highly suggest you at least taste them to find out what you’re missing.
Wally’s wings were crispy with just the right amount of heat — warm but not overpowering. The portion was quite hefty, as well, so he was more than happy to share a couple with me in exchange for some of my crinkle fries.
The burger at Tracy’s was excellent. Instead of your typical thick juicy patty, they make them thin and almost crispy on the edges like a certain steakburger chain is known for — but better. On first sight, it seemed the meat was dwarfed by the fresh veggies topping the sandwich, but the taste test proved it all balanced out nicely.
Our bill was modest for a meal with an appetizer and a couple beers, making it obvious why so many chose to dine there. Well, that and the chicken that seemed to be at every table in the place.
With full bellies, we stepped outside into a bright and sunny day, something we had missed during the slightly chilly ride in. As we left Norris, we noticed several more restaurants and wondered how such a small town could support that much dining. Then, we quickly got to Canton and figured they must attract outside business.
A quick trip down IL 78 to US 24, and we were nearly to the river. The last time we had taken this road, after we had visited Dickson Mounds, we were in awe of the view from the crest of that final hill into the Illinois River Valley. So, we came prepared this time, especially with the foliage in its colorful glory.
As we cruised along the waterline, I noticed ducks packed in the water. I mean, they were everywhere! It was clear why the area was reclaimed for a preserve. After taking in the beautiful river scenery, we crossed over into Havana and retraced the return path we took on our prior journey.
At Goofy Ridge, there’s another preserve — the Henry Allan Gleason Nature Preserve. While we’ve never stopped to look around, we have noticed horse trailers parked there before. But those numbers were nothing compared to the brigade of truck-trailer combos parked here, there and, well, anywhere.
Not too much later, we came across a group of riders following a trail across the road. A bit later, there was another one riding along the road for a short bit. Not knowing how the horses would react to the bike, we took it easy and passed them slowly with no issue. We were still glad to leave that potential situation behind.
Edging onto the ramp to take I-474 back around Peoria toward home, I became a bit anxious. I’m not sure if I was sorry to be ending our ride or ready to be home to relax my way to Monday morning, but I didn’t argue when he suggested taking the highway all the way back instead of a less direct route. What I did know was that I needed that ride, and writing this now, I know I need another one soon.
Note: Tracy’s Supper Club is located at 130 South Main Street in Norris. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.