Last time around, we had just started exploring African-American history past and present in Springfield, as it is inextricably tied to the issue of slavery in Lincoln’s day and how the city has developed since then.
In addition to visiting the Springfield and Central Illinois African-American History Museum and the various sites tied to the 1908 Race Riot as shown on the city’s self-guided, eight-marker tour, I was fortunate to be able to spend some time with Douglas King, a founder and board member of the museum.
King is a treasure trove of information, peppering me with all manners of historical tidbits about folks who had an influence on the history and culture here—names like Eva Monroe, an early founder who came to Springfield in the late 1800s and founded an African-American orphanage. Then there’s the Lawrence family, who used bricks from homes destroyed in the 1908 Race Riot to build a school, and Free Frank McWhorter, a former slave who purchased his wife’s freedom then his own and moved to Illinois in about the 1830s, eventually freeing close to 20 family members and incorporating what is believed to be the first African-American town in the U.S., called New Philadelphia.
King filled me in on numerous current entities in town as well, such as the African Hut, Boyd’s Soul Food Restaurant, Carter’s Fish Market, Boyd’s New Generation Restaurant, PT’s Barbecue, Popeye’s and Max’s Lounge, among numerous others. This is just the tip of the iceberg of the Afrocentric history and places that dot the landscape here.
History and recreation a plenty
For history buffs, the Springfield area offers a great deal of sites and attractions, like the Illinois State Military Museum, which traces the life and career of John A. Logan, a general serving under Gen. William T. Sherman during the Civil War; and the Edwards Place Historical Home, a beautiful Italianate mansion and the oldest home in Springfield.
The Dana Thomas House is one of the most popular attractions in town, as it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1902; the Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site celebrates the life of its namesake—Nicholas Vachel Lindsay—a noted poet in the 1930s; and the Air Combat Museum is filled with historic military fighter planes, artifacts, flight–related exhibits and other memorabilia, just to name a few.
Popular recreation and outdoor attractions include the Washington Park Botanical Garden, Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, Henson Robinson Zoo, Dreamland Park and Knight’s Action Park/Caribbean Water Adventure/Route 66 Drive-in Theatre.
A feast for the culinary senses
For a city this size, Springfield has a lot to offer on the culinary front. From great Greek, to Japanese, Seafood, Indian, Irish, European, Mediterranean fare and more, you’ll find something to suit your food fancy. Always ready to take one for the team, I, of course, did quite a bit of sampling while in town!
Located in a historic structure, Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery & Eatery is one of the best places to sample Springfield’s great beer brewing tradition. In addition to a wide range of brews, they serve up a wide range of delicious appetizers, sandwiches, flatbreads and salads.
Their popular Sunday brunch includes items like the Slinger, made with andouille sausage, breakfast potatoes, fried eggs and sausage gravy over thick–cut toast; Papa Conn’s Original Breakfast, batter-dipped cinnamon raisin bread deep-fried golden brown with warm maple syrup and served with ham, sausage or bacon; the Meat Lover and Eggs, featuring Italian pork sausage and bacon on a sausage and gravy base with mozzarella and cheddar cheese then topped with two sunny side up or scrambled eggs; and the Spinach and Eggs Breakfast Flatbread. This midday delight is made with fresh spinach and mushrooms on a generous base of Alfredo sauce and mozzarella cheese topped with two sunny side up or scrambled eggs.
Fresh ingredients locally sourced from Illinois farmers take center stage at American Harvest Eatery—what I would call one of the best restaurants in the country. I wouldn’t be surprised if their chefs, husband and wife team Jordan and Aurora Coffey, started appearing as James Beard culinary award-winners in the near future.
The food here is beyond outstanding, and although they have several perennial favorites, the majority of the menu is created seasonally using the freshest ingredients from local farmers to create some of the most amazing dishes you’ll ever have. For example, there’s the butternut squash bisque with apple butter and chévre grilled cheese; a pumpkin couscous salad with cider vinaigrette, pepitas, feta and grapefruit; and the sweet onion Tart made with gruyere béchamel, arugula and a fried egg. The braised pork shank with acorn squash, brussels sprouts, pearl onions, owl bacon and maple glaze is to die for, while the sweet potato ravioli featuring Tuscan kale, fried hazelnuts, sage brown butter and feta, and the Jail Island salmon with glazed beets, wilted cabbage and horseradish mustard crema are sure to blow your mind.
Another of my absolute faves in town is Indigo, which has a distinctive yet eclectic Japanese-European vibe highlighted by outstanding wines and of course, fantastic food.
Starters include unusual pairings such as the hot dates—sun-dried dates stuffed with blue cheese and pecans wrapped in bacon and baked to a golden brown with balsamic reduction; the duck enchiladas with black bean and duck confit, corn tortillas, enchilada sauce, chili emulsion and Chihuahua cheese; the volcano shrimp, made with tiger shrimp cooked in Sriracha, Sambal fire sauce on Boursin cheese crostini; or any one of their delicious maki sushi rolls.
New Zealand rack of lamb, Canadian lobster, yellow fin Tuna and the most remarkable chilean sea bass you have ever had that didn’t just come out of the water are among their numerous entrée options. Although all of their dishes are plentiful in size, you would be remiss not to order a shareable side of the lobster mac, where lobster is paired with edamame and pasta and baked in a decadent six-cheese sauce. It is heart attack on a plate but well worth every single bite!
I definitely don’t want to leave out a lot of the other noteworthy restaurants in town, including the Brickhouse Grill & Pub, Saputo’s, Los Agaves, Amberjack Alehouse, Osaka, Thai Kitchen 2, Augie’s Front Burner or Fat Moe’s Chicago Style Eatery, among numerous great restaurants in and around town.
I can’t wait to come back!
From Lincoln to historic sites and attractions, a wealth of Black history past and present, fascinating diversions, eclectic culinary options and more, Springfield is a wonderful Midwestern travel destination.
Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for www.Examiner.com and as a senior travel writer for SoulOfAmerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website. Lysa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 1908 Race Riot Sculpture: www.epa.state.il.us/black-history/sculpture.html
- 1908 Race Riot Self-Guided Tour: http://visit-springfieldillinois.com/Documents/SCVB1908RaceRiotBrochure2012.pdf
- Air Combat Museum: 217-522-2181, www.aircombatmuseum.org
- American Harvest Eatery: 217-546-8300, www.americanharvesteatery.com
- Dana Thomas House: 217-782-6776, www.dana-thomas.org
- Edwards Place Historical Home: 217-523-2631, http://edwardsplace.org
- Illinois State Military Museum: 217-782-9365, www.springfield-il.com/attract/military.html
- Indigo Restaurant: 217-726-3487, www.indigocuisine.com
- Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery & Eatery: 217-670-0627, www.obedandisaacs.com
- Springfield and Central Illinois African-American History Museum: 217-528-2725, http://spiaahfmuseum.org
- Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau: 800-545-3700, http://visit-springfieldillinois.com
- Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site: 217-524-0901, www.vachellindsay.org/historicsite.html