Saturday, March 26, 2011


for the last 18 months, we spent nearly every weekend traveling back and forth between st. louis and bloomington, indiana.  in a word: brutal.  the drive one way is almost exactly four hours, and if we timed it just right, and we were willing to suffer near-to-bursting bladders, we could make the drive without stopping.  countless times we considered stopping in effingham (about the half-way point) to eat at firefly, but our desire to get through that awful stretch of interstate 70 always trumped our desire to make a pitstop.  now that we don't have to make that drive as frequently, though, scheduling a little layover at firefly is much more reasonable.  so, on our last visit to bloomington, we made our first stop at firefly in over two years.  we're just sorry we waited so long to return.

effingham, il

on just about any other restaurant, we'd consider the gigantic lettering on the roof to be a bit tacky, but at firefly it just feels right.  (too, since they're tucked away from the interstate, the letter size is actually a necessity if folks are going to notice it.)  in any case, the facade is gorgeous, and we're nothing if not suckers for weather-worn 2 x 4s.  the interior is equally stunning, with vaulted ceilings, wide open windows, and gorgeously faded wood everywhere.  the splashes of color scattered about the huge room provide just enough warmth and taste, too.  we know most folks won't care, but we have to mention the bathrooms: their modern, sleek, clean lines make these washrooms more than layovers for handwashing.  they're more like sanctuaries.  clark likey.

we understand most people will be skeptical of fine dining in the middle of illinois, but we assure you that firefly is no joke (just peep the reviews from the chicago tribune and bon appetit).  and, as one expects at a higher end restaurant, the service is an important element of the experience.  firefly's waitstaff is attentive and never fussy, and the few servers we interacted with all had personalities.  nothing felt robotic or rehearsed, which we were thankful for. our main server was more than willing to find out about vegetarian options, directly communicating more than once with the kitchen to see what they could arrange.  the best part: chef niall came to our table to discuss vegetarian options with us.  he never made us feel like we were inconveniencing him, and he actually seemed enthusiastic to invent something for us.  as most of you know, these little things are what make all the difference when dining out.  what a relief to not have to worry about something meaty finding its way into our food.  thanks, chef niall!

even though the hummus platter is no longer featured on their menu, neither the server nor the chef hesitated when we ordered it.  it may seem a bit much to pay $10.50 for an appetizer, but we'd argue that you can't find a hummus platter this big in the entire midwest.  the thing is, it's not just quantity here; it's quality.  the hummus is creamy yet firm, mild yet robust (thanks to the pockets of garlic).  the grilled pita is nice, too, though we'd like to see less oil.  we're sure the chef would provide an oil-free version if asked, and next time we certainly will.  the inclusion of broad, fresh, plump leaves of green and red lettuce was much appreciated, as were the grape tomatoes and pitted black olives (though we'd prefer kalamatas).  we felt we were eating healthfully, which is rare for an appetizer, and we were thankful for the care the chef put into the dish.  nothing felt like an afterthought.

next up was the spinach salad, which came topped with almonds, green apples, a goat cheese croquette, and a strawberry balsamic vinaigrette.  the spinach was ultra fresh, the apples tart, and the goat cheese herby without being grassy.  the vinaigrette was interesting, refreshing, and we didn't mind that the salad was a bit overdressed.  we'd gladly order this salad again.  

since we were gearing up for our meal at northstar in the evening, we tried not to order too much food at firefly, so all we had left was a side of fries and uma's wild mushroom pizza.  the side of hand-cut fire-fries turned out to be a heaping bowlful, surpassing even the serving at terrene.  what makes these fries worthy of mention is the type of potato the chef is using these days: kennebec.  kennebecs are the bentleys of potatoes, and most chefs consider them the most well-balanced of the potato varieties.  while chef niall was at the table with us, he told us he'd be serving kennebecs to us, and you could see the excitement in his eyes.  needless to say, it's an awesome thing to see a chef fired up about his ingredients.  the problem, though, is that the fries came out too salty--a disappointment, to say the least.  we'd much prefer a non-salted kennebec to an over-salted one, and we're sure the chef would agree.  we just chalked this up to an accidental oversight, but we'll still be ordering the fries next time with light salt.

while lois was still working on some of the neverendingplatterofhummus, clark started on the uma's wild mushroom pizza.  the mushrooms delivered a wonderfully earthy flavor to the pizza; without them, the pizza would have been dominated by the savory cheeses (provolone and parmesan).  the crust was just the right firmness and proved to be more than just the support for the ingredients, as it had a pleasantly buttery and nutty flavor.  all in all, it was a good pizza; it's just not necessarily a pizza we'd crave more of.

we understand that effingham seems a bit out of the way, and we admit that it's perhaps a bit beyond the limit to what we'd consider the "st. louis area," but if you're up for a day trip to see part of illinois or just on your way east to, say, dragonfly and northstar in columbus, ohio, then firefly is easily worth your time.  we're already looking forward to our next visit.  what better way to break up the monotony of interstate 70 than some delicious, locally-sourced, vegetarian-friendly eats?


vegetarian-friendly score:
a- (high marks for their willingness to work with vegetarians, but the menu nevertheless remains primarily omnivore-centric)
Firefly Grill on Urbanspoon

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