PEORIA — Because a lot of people don’t know that Childer’s Eatery in Junction City Shopping Center is now open for dinner, we got seated right away on Friday night at the table of my choice — one on the patio with filtered evening light and a breeze.
Immediate seating is a big change from Sunday morning at Childer’s when there’s usually a wait. My guess is that no waiting on Friday night isn’t going to last long, however, when word spreads about the restaurant’s top-notch evening menu. It includes all their breakfast and lunch offerings, with a few very special entrees added in.
Both Childer’s locations (the University Street location is not open for dinner) recently changed their menu and added some very imaginative dishes. They also made it much easier for folks with dietary restrictions to know what they are eating. Vegetarian dishes are marked with a “V” and gluten-sensitive with a “G.” As a gluten-sensitive diner I was thrilled to find a huge selection, and even more items can be made gluten-sensitive by changing out the bread or other ingredients. Save for Core Eatery where everything is gluten-free, Childer’s might just have the best gluten-sensitive menu in Peoria.
We started the meal with drinks — a blueberry-cucumber Moscow mule ($6) for me and an All Day IPA ($5) for my companion, who was happy to find his favorite beer on the menu. The mule came in a metal mug topped with mint leaves and a lemon wedge. I admit I ordered the drink out of curiosity because blueberry and cucumber didn’t sound like a great combination, but I actually loved it. Made with Effen cucumber vodka, Blue Curacao, key lime juice, ginger beer and blueberries muddled in the bottom of the cup, the cocktail was just the right amount of sweet. Very refreshing on a summer day.
We ordered the spinach and artichoke maria ($6.99) as a starter. I love plain old spinach and artichoke dip, but there was nothing plain about this one. The dip was topped with roasted cherry tomatoes and surrounded by carrots, cucumbers, celery, peppers and house-made corn tortilla chips. Not much was left by the time the entrees came.
My companion ordered the stuffed pork chop ($15.99) and I ordered the bourbon salmon ($14.99). Once the plates came I was jealous of his meal — stuffed with fuji apple and andouille sausage, the chop lay in a bed of butternut squash puree and sauteed kale. The whole thing was drizzled with maple dark ale mustard. He said the pork was properly cooked and all the flavors balanced nicely. My dish came with a thick piece of salmon served on a bed of poblano, butternut squash and bacon hash. The salmon was cooked perfectly and the flavors were nice, though I would have liked more of the bourbon glaze to balance out the savory hash.
We were too full for dessert, though we did inquire. None of the three delicious-sounding sweets were gluten-sensitive, but our waitress did offer to make us a desert with Childer’s gluten free pancakes and waffles.
I was impressed with the quality of the food for the cost, a fact which is likely to make Childer’s as popular for dinner as they are for brunch. And the fact that Childer’s is open on Sunday night when I regularly take my father to dinner (a lot of non-chain restaurants in Peoria are mysteriously closed on Sunday night) is a guarantee that they will be seeing a lot more of me.
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.