Illinois diner caters to truckers, locals and more with old-fashioned, down-home food
By Mark H. Reddig
Host, Land Line Now
Crossroads – the dictionary says it’s a place where two roads or paths intersect – or a point at which a vital decision must be made.
Robert Johnson sang about selling his soul to the devil at a crossroads.
But in Mount Olive, Ill., Crossroads means really, really good food.
That’s because Mount Olive is home to a longtime roadside restaurant of that very name, the Crossroads. Although in the case of the restaurant, it’s not at a point where two roads cross, so much as between two historically important roads – Route 66 and Interstate 55, which replaced it.
Bryan Spoon, an OOIDA Senior Member from North Carolina, says he remembers the Crossroads restaurant from when he was very young.
“I grew up in Mount Olive, Ill., where it’s located, so it’s been open on and off my entire life,” he said. “There were times when it wasn’t open, when it was between owners, but I’ve know about it all my entire life.”
The restaurant isn’t just a childhood memory for Bryan Spoon. He has an even more direct connection to the eatery now.
“Every time I go in there, I know somebody, ’cause I’m from that area,” he said. “The individual who owns it now, Shain, he was a year ahead of me in high school.
“The lady that does most of the cooking in there … her name’s Paula,” he added. “That’s Shain’s sister. Paula was my babysitter when I was like 5, 6, 7 years old. So, I mean, it’s a part of the community there.”
On the outside, the Crossroads looks pretty ordinary, a plain building with a slanted yellow roof typical of buildings constructed in the 1950s and ’60s. Its location couldn’t be more quaint. It’s surrounded by tree-covered land and fields full of crops, a little out of town, closer to the highway it was built to serve.
In fact, the current owner and operator of the Crossroads, Shain Tooley, says it’s still a favorite among over-the-road truckers.
“We have a lot of truck business, a lot of repeat truckers,” Tooley said. “They kind of try to do their routes … finishing in the evening and eating dinner with us, and enjoying our breakfast special in the morning.”
And the food – as Bryan Spoon describes it, it’s what you’d expect: good, old-fashioned home cooking.
“It’s one of those nice, little restaurants that truckers are always looking for, that’s got a different kind of menu,” he said. “One of their breakfast things is called the Wildcat, and that’s Mount Olive’s home team. It’s a huge plate of biscuits and gravy and eggs; I mean it’s just amazing.”
Other local flavor on the menu includes “the traditional kind of central Illinois area horse shoes and pony shoes. I mean it’s a heart attack on a plate, but it is really good.”
That last thing Bryan said, that particular menu item, might have made you do a double take – horseshoes.
That doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of thing you want showing up on your plate. That is, until he explains what that means in central Illinois.
“A horseshoe? They’re kind of a staple to that central Illinois area,” he said. “It’s bread on the bottom, and then a couple of hamburger patties, and then you throw the fries on top of the hamburger patties – it’s all like a big, open-face kind of a meal. And then you drench the entire thing in liquid cheese.
“It is one of those things where you come to central Illinois, you definitely got to have one, but don’t have too many