People from all over the world come to the United States each year to drive Historic Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica. Although many sights once along the Mother Road no longer exist, including much of the pavement itself, several businesses are making a comeback, either in their original states or as museums. One such business is The Palms Grill Café in Atlanta, Illinois. The diner has been fully restored to look as it did when it opened in 1934. The diner, including home-style entrees and fresh-baked pies, creates an authentic Route 66 dining experience.
Route 66 runs right through tiny Atlanta, Illinois, population less than 1700. What better way to capitalize on the traffic passing through the town than to open a diner, where visitors can experience the taste of the old Route 66 and leave a few of their vacation dollars? The community raised $500,000 through public and private donations for the restoration and used old photos to take the café back to its 1934 start. The café reopened in 2009, the building and equipment owned by the Atlanta Public Library and the space leased to a vendor/operator.
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I first heard about The Palms Grill Café at the 2013 Illinois Governor’s Conference on Tourism, where the restaurant won a “Lincoln Award,” for excellence in tourism. Skip and I finally made it to the restaurant a couple of months ago as we were exploring part of Route 66. The experience was true Route 66, from the décor to the food and even the conversation with the waitresses.
The tables, booths, bar, floor, light fixtures and antique cash register were matched as closely as possible to the original diner.
We arrived in mid-afternoon, past the lunch hour, but the place was still hopping with other late diners, including several locals, a travel writer from California making his way east along Route 66, and a family from Sweden. According to the information gathered from its guest books, The Palms Grill, or “The Grill,” as the locals call it, have had visitors from 51 different countries.
Being the barbecue lover that I am, I ordered a smoked potato with pulled pork. True to its name, the baked potato had a nice, smoky flavor to it, and was piled with smoked pulled pork. The dish was served with a choice of mild or hot barbecue sauce.
Skip ordered the Ponyshoe, the mini version of the popular Central Illinois Horseshoe, although there really was nothing mini about it. The dish came with a generous amount of French fries covered with pulled pork (diners have a choice of several meats) and smothered in a white cheese sauce.
I usually don’t drink soda (or “pop” as we Midwesterners call it), but when I saw that they offered pineapple-flavored Fanta, I had to try it. I was familiar with grape and orange, but I’d never heard of pineapple. They also offer strawberry Fanta. I was happy that the beverage is made with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, and enjoyed the treat.
That wasn’t the end of the treats, though. We had to try the pie, since that’s what The Grill is especially known for. We had triple berry a la mode. Yum. The heated pie’s flaky crust and sweet berry filling contrasted nicely with the cold vanilla ice cream, the perfect ending to a diner meal.
We chatted on and off throughout out meal with the waitresses working that day, Angel and Fonda, who filled us in on diner details. Finding the right uniforms to fit the 1930’s era was difficult. They finally found them in a hotel housekeeping uniform catalog. Fonda, sometimes called Flo, comparing her to the character from the old Alice sitcom because of her talkative nature, wears the uniform but won’t wear the apron, nametag or scarf around her head. She prefers to do her own thing. Angel and Flo put the icing on the cake, bringing the authenticity of an old diner to life. Or should I say they put the ice cream on the pie?
Before I left, I had to stop and try out the old pinball machine, where I discovered I had lost my talent I used to have with them. I was tempted to play again, but it was time to move on, time to visit more of Route 66.
The Palms Grill Café, located at 110 SW Arch Street along Historic Route 66 in downtown Atlanta, Illinois, is open seven days a week. Check the web site for exact hours.
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