by Sara Benson
If you are like me, you’ve been to every single restaurant in the Champaign-Urbana area–at least twice. And, although you might get excited about a new restaurant coming to town, there’s something about the recent string of chain restaurants that makes you cringe just a bit.
If this describes you, even a little bit, you’ll be glad to hear that just 15 minutes away in St. Joseph there’s a quirky new family-owned restaurant that is worth the drive. The Wheelhouse is bike inspired (you’ll note the decor), quirky (the menu describes appetizers as “Smalls, as in you’re killing me”) and, yes, gourmet (there’s a picture of the chef/owner and former First Lady Michelle Obama because he won a healthy recipe contest and a trip to the White House!).
Of course, you’re probably most interested in the food.
I’ve eaten there twice: once for dinner (date night) and once for brunch (with a girlfriend) –and both times were a pure delight. The drinks are wonderful–I especially like the local gin that is really smooth–including the coffee mix from Columbia Street Roastery. The food is delish–I really loved the Challah French Toast with pecan butter–yum!
Many of the ingredients are locally sourced — farm to table is taken seriously here — and the food options are both interesting (try the duck prepared three ways appetizer) and delicious. Some dishes are still a work in progress, though, just like the restaurant is – and they will freely admit that.
The owners couldn’t be more delightful people. The chef, Ryan Rogiers, is the Culinary Arts Instructor at Richland Community College and is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy located in San Francisco. His wife, Abbie, is a native of the area. They are parents of four children.
As a result, creating a family-friendly environment is intentional. I really appreciated the gender neutral bathrooms and the not-the-usual-suspects kids menu, too. Although I haven’t brought my daughter yet, there were plenty of children in the restaurant both times, and comfortably so.
Don’t worry about high chairs or boosters, those are covered here. The bathroom doesn’t have a changing table just yet, but ask the management and they will be happy to show you a place to change your child’s diaper.
The Wheelhouse is full of eco-friendly details. The bar was built with wood from shipping pallets; the tables were handmade of reclaimed barn wood. And the restaurant makes use of gently loved eclectic plates and cups collected over the years. It is very much is still a work in progress; the building’s facade is scheduled to be updated, better signage will be posted out front, and outdoor dining space has yet to be established but is in the works.
As for the bicycle theme, it’s a reflection of the restaurant’s location: soon you’ll be able to bike all the way there on the Kickapoo Rail Trail. Phase 1 of the bike path literally ends outside the parking lot, but it’s not complete yet. Until then, the drive will have to do.
What a refreshing addition to the Chambana area restaurant scene. So, I’ll see you in St. Joseph at The Wheelhouse for friendly service, great food, and good company.
The Wheelhouse is located at 109 N. Main Street, St. Joseph. Directions from Champaign-Urbana: Take I-74 east to the St. Joseph exit 192. Turn right on Main Street. Restaurant will be on the right, just south of Route 150.
Sara Benson is a lawyer, librarian and mom to an 8-year-old daughter. She lives in Champaign with her foodie vegetarian husband and three cats.