A town that sits along the path of the original Route 66, Dwight, Illinois is a small community of about 4,000, but one where you can get a surprisingly good meal.
Dwight was laid out in 1854 by three railroad engineers who split the land into quarters with the final piece going to two brothers from Bloomington (who also had links to the railroad). The founders’ plan was to purchase a block of land along the railroad and put the station at the point where the four quarters met. A second railroad was later constructed linking Dwight to Streator.
The railroad played a significant role in Dwight’s existence and still today Amtrak trains run though - and stop - in the downtown. A ticket from Chicago’s Union Station to Dwight can be purchased for as low as $9. In 1860, it was the train that brought its most famous visitor to town, England’s Prince Albert, Prince of Wales.
Today the historic rail station designed by Henry Ives Cobb still exists and is on the National Register of Historic Places as Dwight Railroad Station. One other building in town is on the National Register, the Frank L. Smith Bank, opened in 1906.
The town has an interesting history and you’ll definitely want to at least take a little walk or drive around to get a peek at the significant places of the past in town. It’s also worth noting that trains aren’t the only mode of transportation that played a big part in Dwight’s history. It was also one of the towns along Route 66, also know as “The Mother Road,” one of the earlier highways in the country, established in 1926. It ran from Chicago to Los Angeles and along with it brought the need for service stations and restaurants to feed hungry travelers.
Reminiscent of those old family diners where you’d get a milk shake and a sandwich on your trip, the Old Route 66 Family Restaurant offers typical diner food in a space filled with Route 66 memorabilia. You can get breakfast, lunch and dinner when you visit. So, whether you’re in the mood for pancakes or a BLT or fried chicken, you’ll get a hearty portion of home cooked classics that taste like what your grandmother might have prepared with a hefty serving of love. Most entrees come with a cup of steamy homemade soup and you’ll find an old-school glass cooler full of pie slices to choose from for dessert.
Meats are hand-cut and a lot of the recipes have been passed down through the three generations who have run the restaurant. If you’re planning on spending your day in Dwight, begin here with a hearty breakfast!
Then before you have lunch swing by the Route 66 Visitor Center, which sits right across the street from the Old Route 66 Family Restaurant in the Ambler’s Texaco Station, which has been restored to look like it did in the 1940s and is full of period gas station and route 66 memorabilia. The 1933 station was identified as the longest operating gas station on Old Route 66 and remained in operation until 1999.
When you have worked up an appetite for lunch, Cheery Red Roasters BBQ offers authentic wood-fired, slow-smoked barbecue by Chef Duncan Miller. You may want to consult their list of daily specials before you decide what day to go. On Monday, golden chicken wings are $1.50 each, on Wednesday, turkey pot pie is $7 and on Friday a 1/2 slab of ribs is $14. There’s a variety of fun and interesting starters to begin your meal, including Cowboy Nachos, Country Corn Fritters, Fried Green Tomatoes and a Pickle on a Stick. Sides include kidney bean salad, brisket baked beans, cinnamon apples, Italian green beans and more. Even if all that sounds good, the stars of the place are the smoked meats and you have a variety of sandwiches, platters and combos to assemble a meal fit for a foodie carnivore.
Now is a good time for a stroll to see some of the historic buildings mentioned earlier while you let your food settle before an impressive dinner at Station 343. Dining here is a unique experience that combines small town charm and city-caliber food. Housed in an 1881 building, it is not just a place to enjoy a good meal, but also a memorial to the 343 New York City firefighters lost on 9/11. The couple who opened the restaurant wanted to honor first responders - Pete Meister was a firefighter in nearby Cullom for 8 years - both those who died in doing their job and those who continue to serve today.
The decor reflects that mission with a vintage 1917 Seagrave fire truck as part of the interior, a glass “flame’ wall, uniform pieces and other bits that go along with the rustic fire station motif. From flatbread pizza to firehouse nachos, there are several casual sharables with a twist to enjoy. The entrees seem more akin to what you’d find in a chic and modern Chicago hotspot than a small town eatery - grilled salmon with lemon dill sauce, lobster mac and cheese, bacon wrapped filet, a flight of jumbo scallops, a brined and grilled porterhouse pork chop with roasted apples and caramelized onions, shrimp Alexander. The cocktail list is as impressive as the food and you’ll find happy hour specials from 4:30 - 6:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. You’ll leave wowed by the creative presentation and high quality ingredients and with a better appreciation of the firefighters serving your community.