Restaurant Profile: Homemade food and a comfortable atmosphere are just the start for a restaurant that encourages diners to spend time with their ‘cronies.’
“Cronies Grill, that’s it!”
Tim and Anne Bent recall the moment they decided on the name for their new restaurant. For as long as Anne could remember, her mother, Jean, had referred to her flock of friends as “cronies.”
“The name was very important – it needed to convey friendship, community, welcoming, a place to come together and have fun,” says Tim.
Tim and Anne met while attending a culinary school during the mid-1980s, married and had three children – Tim Jr., Joe and Andrea. Each enjoyed an interesting career in the food industry before opening Cronies Grill in the summer of 2007, at 9032 N. Second St., Machesney Park. The Bents bring secret family recipes to the kitchen and supervise all cooking.
“Everything that can be homemade, is homemade,” says Anne. “Appetizers range from nachos and garlic poppers to fried kosher pickles and Saganaki. Our Crony Treat is a sampling of 10 different appetizers.”
Chicken legs and wings are the most popular items at the restaurant. “They’re huge, all-you-can-eat, and fresh, not frozen,” says Tim. They can be ordered grilled or breaded and deep-fried. Customers have a choice of more than 20 sauces, including orange sesame, lemon pepper, Jamaican jerk and maple glaze.
Along with homemade burgers, favorite dishes range from breaded pork tenderloin, French dips and Philly steak sandwiches, to New York strip or porterhouse steaks and baby back ribs.
The gondola sandwiches are generously stacked on homemade sweet egg bread and served with either fresh-cut French fries or onion strings.
Ethnic favorites include fresh-baked Stromboli, “wet” burritos, calzones and homemade pizza. For dessert, choose from carrot cake, fudge brownie sundaes or ice cream topped with fudge sauce – all homemade.
Tim has worked at several kinds of restaurants, including the Butterfly Club, Don Pablo’s and Sbarro, and wanted a menu that encompasses everybody’s favorites.
Along with good food, the Bents provide a comfortable, fun atmosphere. Cronies is spacious, with 11 big-screen TVs, perfect for watching the game. The square bar seats people on three sides and several huge tables accommodate large groups. There’s room to dance or play beanbag toss, a DJ sound system and a karaoke machine. “We’ve been known to belt out a tune or two, ourselves,” says Anne. Occasionally, live bands perform.
Cronies also hosts parties, business meetings and other group gatherings. It gives back to the community by sponsoring softball, bowling and racing events and by participating in civic events.
“We love what we have here at Cronies Grill – a fun-loving staff, great customers and a lot of good times,” says Anne.
Soon after opening, the Bents remodeled the building, knocking down walls, moving booths, relocating the pool table and dart games, building, renovating, repainting. Booths flank the length of the front window, for guests who desire dinner with a view.
Tim jokes that he was re-arranging the floor plan “on a weekly basis, at first. These booths have been in every possible place. We’re constantly working to make sure everything is just right, and until you try something, you can’t be sure.”
The restaurant offers daily drink and food specials and holds weekly dance karaoke nights, including Friday night family karaoke. It also hosts open parties for events like the Super Bowl and New Year’s Eve.
Cronies is a family business, right down to the staff members, who are like family. Brittany Smith, who provides leadership for the front of the house, has been there for nearly two years. “It’s easy to work for Tim,” she says. “It’s hard to find an employer who can also be your friend, but that’s the way it is here.”
“I want Cronies to inspire confidence in the community that a mom-and-pop place can be consistent and serve good food,” says Tim. “We have a great staff, and we think of them as family. They care as much as we do about making sure the customers have a great experience.” ❚