I've always heard really good things about Illinois Street, so one day a few weeks back I found myself in the area at lunch time so I stopped by. There were 7 policemen having lunch there at the time, so.... well, that was a sign of something.... [I couldn't quite get the nerve to spin around and take a picture of all of them at the table]
I place Illinois Street into the "Panera Segment", which means that it is a mix of sandwiches, soups and baked goods (and, I realize that Illinois Street may have existed far before Panera first came to town). Anyhow, they also have some breakfast items, and some frozen entrees and sides that you can but to take home.
My first visit, I tried the California sandwich, and you can get soup, salad or a side. I had the cream of mushroom soup. The California is a grilled sandwich which comes with cheese, bacon, mushrooms and tomato (yes, I also assumed it would avocado - isn't that what most places throw on anything that is dubbed "California"?) Anyhow, it was a tasty little sandwich, and the bowl of soup is a really nice sized portion, and it was creamy, woody and savory. The meal costs $9.40.
I thought it was a place that the Better Half would definitely like, so we returned on a Saturday. She had a grilled cheese (and you can add two veggies to the sandwich), and I had spinach melt. Again, very tasty sandwiches. The soup that day was the chicken velvet, and while it came highly recommended from the counter person, I needed to add some pepper and some tobasco, otherwise it seemed quite plain to me.
We've also tried the chocolate croissant, a donut and a cinnamon roll from the baked goods counter, and they're all very tasty, fresh and indulgent sweets.
I really enjoyed Illinois Street, and I think it's now in the mix for simple lunch spots, and I definitely want to try their breakfast. And, while I don't really care for cold cuts, their sub sandwiches are just enormous.
I suppose the one down side I recognized is that the grilled sandwich & soup combo here is maybe a dollar or more than a place like the actual Panera. But, it is a wide menu, and, I think Illinois Street is a great local joint. It obviously has a lot of good local support, but if you're waited to give it a first try like I did, I think it is worth heading over and trying it.
The verdict: 4 belly rubs (out of 5). Warm, homey, tasty.
One extra tip and recommendation - if you can't justify the prices of a Colts game, and if Purdue, IU and Notre Dame are too far away (or too expensive), but you'd like to get out to a little bit of football on a crisp fall afternoon - give Butler a chance (their schedule here). Yes, it is quite a bit lower level of football, but it is a great little setting over there, the team has been improving in the last 3 years, the crowds are getting better, they actually even do some tailgating there, too. And, it's a really affordable game. I especially recommend going if you're taking kids that are not quite yet into the full experience of a more expensive football experience. I believe they let kids still kind of run around behind the end zone. Give the Bulldogs a chance, there are still 4 more home games this year, including this Saturday against Campbell University at noon.