Feb 9, 2015

A commoner dines at Paul’s Confectionery, Decatur, Ill.

Most cities are fortunate enough to have at least one diner/lunch counter/greasy spoon that appears to have been frozen in time for the last several decades – or one that at least looks like it’s been that long since the place had a good cleaning.  The place carries on a tradition – and a menu – that has been largely unchanged for generations (if only we could say the same thing about the prices).  And let’s face it, progress, growth or making it more modern would kill its charm.    

In Decatur, Ill., this place is Paul’s Confectionery, which traces its origins in the city to 1924 and has been operating at its current location since 1945.   

Located just north of downtown Decatur on old U.S. Highway Business 51 (northbound on Water Street), Paul’s Confectionery can be easy to miss among the gritty neighborhood buildings if you’re not careful.  Only a couple of painted signs on the corner building stating “Paul’s” and a Pepsi insignia mark the place.  There’s also no street parking, so you’ll probably wind up finding a place for your car behind the building or on the side street. 

Approaching Paul's Confectionery from the back.
Fortunately, on my visit to Paul’s a while back, I was accompanied by my girlfriend and her family, who have been indoctrinating me on all things worth trying in Decatur.   From them, I was told the chili was legendary, and sure enough, the chili was the only thing Paul’s was promoting on the outside of the building.

It's clear they don't budget a lot on advertising.
Once you step inside, it’s easy to see why Paul’s is considered Decatur’s oldest eating place.  You have your classic lunch counter stools with a clear view of the grill area, as well as no-frills table and booth seating.  Yep, it has the classic diner look and feel all the way, right down to the napkin dispensers and condiments on the table to the plastic-coated menus. 

And here’s a closer look at where Paul’s specialty simmers throughout the day …

But my favorite part of the décor was the pie board with lights indicating which flavors they had available.  Think of all the options … apricot, gooseberry, custard?  Who even makes that many varieties anymore?   

We chose a booth, and perused the menu.  Did I mention they’re proud of their chili?

However, the back of the menu makes you realize Paul’s is clearly much more than your standard chili parlor.  One glance, and I immediately wished we had arrived in time for breakfast.  And the list of sandwiches made me think the old grill must still get quite the daily workout. 

Still, I came for the chili, so chili mac was what I got. 

It's spaghetti, not macaroni, but it still looks yummy.  Bring on the Alka Seltzer! 
And the girlfriend couldn't resist getting the chili burger, which is definitely NOT the type of burger you should expect to eat with your hands.

Fork, please.
I wish I could say I enjoyed Paul’s chili as much as the place’s regulars and devoted followers, but it turned out it wasn't for me.  Chili tastes are rather subjective, and I prefer more spice, tomato flavor and beans in mine. Paul’s chili seems to be milder and more about the meat, which is probably perfect as a topping on the chili burger, so if I were to try it again I would definitely go the burger route.  For what it’s worth, my girlfriend was grinning from ear to ear during her meal. 

But as anticlimactic as experiencing Paul’s chili was for me, I was surprisingly pleased with my first-ever Green River soda – poured from the fountain and served with a spoon for stirring. 

The Green River soda, with straw and stirrer. 
When you go to Paul’s Confectionery, there really should be no other drink option.  A Green River is neon green in color, and its lime taste is sweet and refreshing.  It’s another Midwestern/Chicago thing that still lingers in downstate Decatur. 

So, even though I wasn't a huge fan of Paul's signature dish, I have to recommend the place for its other diner staples and for its historical significance.  You just don't find greasy spoons like this very often anymore.  they still do things the old-fashioned way, and they deserve your business.    

No comments:

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...