Located off an I-70 access road, a visit to the quaint and rustic Firefly Grill capped off a rather lackluster daytrip I made to Effingham, Ill. earlier this summer.
In an area otherwise populated with all the usual highway dining suspects, Firefly Grill is a real breath of fresh air, and a pleasant discovery to make. It takes some work to find the place; you have to first wend your way though the chain restaurants off the exit and back a little ways. When it comes into view, though, there’s no mistaking you’ve come to the right place. It’s basically a big old barn with firewood stacked out front and the name of the joint in big red letters scrawled across the roof.
Besides the fab food, the charming lakeside setting and the upscale casual vibe, Firefly Grill apparently finds it easy being green. Meaning eco-friendly. In fact, Bon Appetit has named it the No. 2 eco-friendly restaurant in the country. Yep, right here in little old Effingham. Farm-to-table doesn’t get much fresher than this. On-site gardens supply herbs and produce for use in the kitchen. The staff takes pains to get to know the farmers, fishermen and foragers from whom they source mostly local and organic products (of course). Inside, the soaring ceiling is made of what looks like reclaimed wood. Overall, Firefly Grill makes a great first impression, as well as a second and third.
I was flying solo for my visit, as I often do on freelance assignments, and didn’t feel at all out of place. I brought a book in for company, but never even cracked it open, occupied as I was instead by the food and décor.
The one-pager dinner menu boasts “contemporary Midwestern” cuisine by way of small plates, brick oven pizzas, soups, salads, steaks, pastas and fish dishes. I struggled to make decisions, torn between halibut, a Szechaun pork tenderloin and other tempting fare. Red meat reigned supreme in the end, and I went with something called a Montana Mignon, a beef Wellington-esque concoction with filet, housemade boursin cheese and barbecue sauce all tucked into a puff pastry crust. Sides are all ala carte; I opted for Brussels sprouts with lardons and parmesan cheese.
The server had warned me that the steak would be served rare/medium-rare to prevent the pastry crust from burning. This made me a little nervous. I like my meat pink, but not bloody, which I let her know. Still, when the dish arrived and I cut in, it was really, really red in the middle. She told me the kitchen could take the filet out, sear it a little more and bring it back, but I was already a few bites in and it tasted so good, I might have stabbed her with my fork if she’d tried to pull my plate away. The combination of boursin and barbecue sauce was rich and fantastic, and the puff pastry layers shatteringly light and yummy. The serving size was a little small, but packed with flavor. I left the very center bite of meat behind, but devoured the rest.
Likewise, the Brussels sprouts were treated with respect, not overcooked to mush. The sprouts had been halved and roasted to preserve a good crunch, and the crispy bacon lardons and parmesan cheese really upped the flavor ante. I should also mention the housemade sourdough bread boule I received with sweet whipped butter. I only managed one slice and would have cried to see the rest go to waste. The server kindly wrapped up the remaining loaf for me to take home. I sliced and toasted it for lunch the next day, and it was awesome.
One good thing about keeping the portions on the smallish side, I had plenty of room for a dessert. Again, narrowing down on one was something of a challenge, and although a trio of housemade sorbets sounded light and summery, I couldn’t get past something called “liquid cheesecake.” I do love me some cheesecake.
My little parfait was pretty as a picture, a cute dish with layers of pudding-like not-too-sweet cheesecake filling, fresh berries, and panko-crisp graham cracker crumbs with a mint sprig on top. I usually prefer chocolate desserts when I dine out, but this was perfect for the season and sooooooo good. I think I might have even inspired the ladies dining next to me to order one for themselves.
Firefly Grill isn’t cheap; I dropped over $50 on my dinner and that’s without any wine (alas, I still had to drive all the way back to Indy after I ate). Then again, I felt ok paying for food and service of this quality. You could get away with a lower bill by choosing less expensive menu options or sticking with small plates. The chefs and cooks here obviously put a ton of tender loving care into the plates they’re putting out, and the whole experience was so much more satisfying than stopping in an Applebee’s or Chili’s off the road. If you happen to be driving by on I-70 or I-57 and you’re in the market for a good meal, I highly recommend giving the Firefly Grill a go.
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