I have to preface this by saying, I might be a little biased. My mom has worked as a waitress at the Longbranch for many years and I eat there almost every time I go home. My aunt is a hostess and my sister-in-law waits tables a few times a month as well. The Longbranch is located in the middle of the country in an unincorporated section of Iroquois County locals call L’Erbale (pronounced La- Rab). L’Erable is comprised of pretty much only a downtown. There is one street that runs through this old French Canadian settlement that has a few houses, the tavern, and the oldest frame church in Illinois. The tavern is an old building itself. From the outside, it would seem this building has seen better days. Once you get inside, you might still think that, but once you sit down and the waitress puts your food in front of you, you know you’ve found one of those hidden treasures that not everyone knows about.
The Longbranch serves a dual purpose. During the day, the bar is open and they serve lunch Tuesday thru Saturday for farmers in the area. There’s only a few tables out front and the space is pretty tight. At night, the Longbranch only serves it’s full menu on Friday and Saturday night. Wednesday is Taco night, the first Thursday of the month is smelt night and there’s been talk of adding a BBQ night during the week. At first glance, you would think this is a small restaurant and you could walk in on a Friday night and be seated right away. You’d be wrong. Reservations are suggested for peak meal times both nights. As amazing as it may seem, people still travel from all over the region and as far away as Chicago to eat dinner in this tiny community.
The chef is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. His family has owned the bar for several years and he got his start cooking there while in high school which ultimately led to his decision to go to cooking school. Since he’s returned, the menu has changed drastically. The menu staple and what brings people in from all over is still the Prime Rib. The Longbranch has ruined my dad on the dish. The ‘Branch serves the dish three ways. There’s the Prime Rib, the King Cut Prime Rib, and the Prime Rib Sandwich. My dad always goes for the sandwich and because of the incredible flavor and tenderness of the meat served in L’Erable, my dad can’t order it anywhere else without being disappointed. We finally convinced him to stop ordering it when we went out to eat elsewhere.
I stopped in for dinner on a Saturday night after working all day in Champaign. The menu leans more towards a fancy restaurant than a pub. There are no sandwiches or burgers on the menu. There are a number of steaks, chops, ribs, and lots of seafood. On Friday nights, there are usually a few basket specials of deep fried goodies with fries. Since I have “connections” I can usually convince the chef to throw a few chicken strips in for me on a Saturday night and take it home. My aunt, convinced me to stay and take a table since it was still early and the dinner rush hadn’t hit yet. I was seated in the bar area at the table squeezed back in the corner. This is usually the last place they seat people because there’s not much room. I didn’t want to take a table away from someone else, so I just went there. I looked over the menu trying to figure out what I wanted. I was in the mood for a sandwich, but that wasn’t an option. I considered the ribs which come with a Bourbon BBQ sauce, but instead, I opted for the New York Strip steak.
The steak comes with choice of potato, homemade bread and salad bar. I just ordered fries and skipped on the salad bar. I love the bread. It’s nothing really fancy. It’s just a white bread, but it’s so soft and the whipped butter they serve with it is delicious. My steak came up after about 15 minutes and this was the biggest NY Strip I think I have ever had. I ordered the beef medium rare and I was surprised that it was cooked absolutely perfectly even though it was so thick. The fries are out of the bag fries so nothing special. The steak is seasoned with a grill seasoning that I’ve never been able to totally figure out. I can get the salt, pepper, dehydrated onions and garlic, but there’s still something I can’t put my finger on. Every time I have a steak I remember that it’s probably the best steak I’ve eaten in a while. Most of them are hand cut in the kitchen and seasoned to perfection.
The Longbranch isn’t the easiest place to find. It’s not the kind of place you would see driving by and think you would get a gourmet meal from a chef that has worked in Chicago kitchens. You would expect sub-par bar food, but what you get is a meal that should cost you twice what you’re going to end up paying. The atmosphere is amazing. The waitresses all know the regulars and there are quite a few of them. New people are always amazed at the quality of food and the small town atmosphere you get at the Longbranch. It is quite a ways off Interstate 57, but totally worth the detour if you’re even close to the area.
I’ve been e-mailing the producer of Diner’s, Drive-In’s, and Dives on almost a monthly basis with no response to try an get The Longbranch on the show. I know it would be a perfect restaurant for the show. If you agree, e-mail producer David Page at DDDinfo@mac.com to nominate the “Branch and get Guy to L’Erable.