Avanti’s Ristorante – Main Street
So many restaurants we wanted to get to. Unfortunately, we weren’t spending as much time in Peoria as we would have liked to. There are so many old favorites and so many new places that look amazing, but we only ended up eating two meals in town, so we had to narrow it down…by a lot.
We left the Peoria Zoo and headed over to the playground at Glen Oak Park so L could play for a little bit. I told her she had 20 minutes while J fed B. She got her 20 minutes and left without a fight. In an unusual move recently, she told us she was hungry and wanted pizza. That actually worked out really well for what we hand planned.
One of our favorite restaurants when we lived in or visited Central Illinois was Avanti’s. J used to walk from Bradley University Speech Camp to pick up dinner with her friends and my first experience was when an older cousin who graduated from Bradley took me to a Peoria Riverman game when I was in junior high.
The small chain of Italian restaurants has been around in Peoria since the 1960’s. The original location was just across the street on the south side of Main Street adjacent to Bradley University until the space was needed by the city to widen West Main in 1989. The restaurant moved to the north side of Main Street at the corner of College Avenue and has been there ever since.
We had had a couple of disastrous meals over the previous couple of days in restaurants and neither J or I were in the mood for that again. While we were sitting at the park, J called in an order for carry-out and with evening drive traffic on College Ave., it took us about 20 minutes to get to the restaurant. They do have the option for online ordering, but we always find that a little difficult to do on a smart phone, so calling was easy in this case.
The building, which was built to look like an Italian villa, sits pretty close to the intersection which leaves only a back lot for parking. The entrance is off College and the Friday night dinner rush was just starting so the parking lot was filling up fast.
The carry-out part of the business is done in a separate area from the main dining room. I can tell you from past visits that Avanti’s looks and feels like most Italian casual dining restaurants. It’s a very cozy space despite the fact the dining room is rather large.
I noticed an order being placed into the warmer as I was walking in. Turns out, we timed it great. My dinner was just done being packed up. I handed the cashier my credit card to pay the $16…which, as you’ll see, seems really cheap for the amount of food we got.
After finding a way out of the parking lot (again, lots of traffic, very busy intersection, no way to turn left when that’s the way we need to go), we got back to the hotel and started opening bags.
I ordered one of my favorite meals but did so in an unusual way. I chose the Italian beef sandwich, but instead of hot peppers and au jus, this one comes with mozzarella cheese and red sauce. You can do au jus, but there’s something about the way Avanti’s chooses to do their beef that makes it their own. Quite honestly, if any other place did this, I’d be an Italian beef snob, but the sauce and the bread is what makes this sandwich so good. Everything else is just a compliment to those two ingredients. The bread is…well, if you live in Central Illinois, you have a knock-off recipe for this bread (oh, look! Here’s one.). You’ll notice that recipe has a little bit of extra sugar in it and that’s what makes this bread so amazingly delicious. I had thought about getting pasta or a pizza, but I needed a sandwich just for this bread. The sauce is a little on the sweet side as well so you really need the meat to bring this back from too much sweet. The famous sandwich at Avanti’s is the Gondola…which is a ham, salami, and cheese sandwich. This sandwich, along with any other sandwich on the menu is so craveable due entirely to the sweet bread it’s served on.
J chose to go with pasta and did the Build Your Own Pasta option. She chose mostaccioli noodles with marinara sauce. You can also pick meats and other veggies for an added charge, but she kept it simple. The pasta comes with a slightly sweet sauce and, of course, some of that sweet bread to dip in it. Avanti’s was a staple those summers she spent at Bradley and this was one place that was high on her list of places we needed to stop at.
L had told me earlier she wanted pizza and as luck would have it, Avanti’s has pizza. We ordered her a 6″ pizza with pepperoni. I was actually quite surprised at how good the pizza was. In all the years I’ve eaten there, I’ve never ordered pizza. The 6″ pizza was a slightly thicker crust and the dough had some sweetness to it (surpised? Not really). There was a thick layer of cheese on top of the same slightly sweet sauce that was on my sandwich. L ate three of the fours pieces and I was able to take the last one for myself.
So, as you can see, a lot of delicious food for $16.
Avanti’s Ristorante has a special place in the memory book for both J and I. We both had experiences with this particular location long before we met and long before either of us ever thought of moving to Peoria. The food is always amazing, the value is fantastic, and you just can’t beat the bread. Seriously….the bread….