Monday, July 5, 2010
Chicken on Route 66
Earlier this year, I stopped on a whim at a Route 66 museum in Illinois. Amidst the ephemera, pictures and postcards from a restaurant called White Fence Farm caught my eye. When Google research indicated it was still open, I vowed to make a trip during the summer. Over the Fourth of July weekend, Heidi and I followed through.
White Fence Farm is located in Romeoville, IL, about a 90-minute drive from Kenosha on the old Route 66. Perfect for a pre-fireworks lunch/dinner expedition. We drove down in the afternoon and arrived about half an hour before the opening time of 4:00 p.m. One of the first things Heidi and I noticed was an impressive old house opposite the sprawling parking lot, across an expanse of lawn. Mentally marking that for later, we killed time with the petting zoo animals (the smart ones were huddled in the shade) and posed with the giant chicken in front of the restaurant. Finally, a little before 4:00, we went inside.
It was apparent that we needn't have wasted time outside. The White Fence Farm buildings don't just house a restaurant, as it turns out, but a lobby full of old games, rides, and antiques. There were collections of Hummel figurines. Fun house mirrors. Fortune telling games. The weirdest claw machines I've ever seen, some containing boxed jewelry and small MP3 players. A display counter full of spats and gaiters. At least ten penny-farthing bicycles hung from the ceiling, and a room full of old cars museum around a corner. I also wanted to try counting the chickens - they're everywhere in the collections and decor, from wall molding to carpet patterns to bathroom drains.
When we'd had our fill of the diversions, it was time to get our fill of fried chicken. The hostess directed us inside to the Carriage Room, one of many dining rooms within White Fence Farm. I don't know how many people the entire place could hold, but it's a huge number. Despite the early time, the room began to fill up as we ate.
The meal was definitely worth a mini road trip. Heidi and I ordered the classic fried chicken dinners, served family style. First came the relishes: cole slaw, pickled beets, corn fritters, cottage cheese, and bean salad. Then a heaping plate of fried chicken was set down in the middle of the table, and we went to town. We finished up with dessert, including creme de menthe ice cream: surprisingly strong and tasty.
I bought a $3 mug, Heidi bought a t-shirt, and we headed out to explore the house across the lot. Heidi asked the girl at the register about it: it is owned by the White Fence Farm people, but nobody is currently living there. The girl said it would be okay if we wanted to go up to it and look around, though I could practically see her thinking, "Um, I just work here..."
The house was great, so I'm glad we were nosy about it. The location is terrible now, but I'm sure once it was an ideal place to build a home. The architecture was vaguely southern plantation, with a few odd additions. There was a corner room with a weather vane, and an enclosed in-ground pool in back. Both structures were open and in disrepair. It's fascinating and creepy to examine the random things left behind in abandoned buildings, even if this house may not qualify as abandoned. The empty pool, with its peeling liner, contained a big chunk of concrete and a lawn chair. In the weather vane room was a table, and on that table were a smaller table and an old plastic rocking horse. It all begged for a story; some kind of narrative to explain how everything fit together. It couldn't be too hard to find out - this is a stone's throw from a bustling restaurant owned by the same family - but even that knowledge couldn't completely dispel the air of mystery.
We drove home in the early evening, having our fill of sunshine and chicken and mystery houses for the day. If anyone wants to take another random day trip this summer, sign me up.