For more than 20 years, this destination restaurant has attracted all variety of visitors. Its secret? Classic dishes with a Midwestern flair, cleverly crafted for all tastes.
Toni’s of Winnebago, 508 N. Elida St., in Winnebago, Ill., is a full-service restaurant and bar that caters to just about every need.
That’s a long way from its humble beginnings in 1998.
“When I started out, I thought I’d have a dariette with a $2 spaghetti plate and soft-serve ice cream,” says Michelle Princer, Toni’s owner and chef. “It has turned into a destination restaurant.”
Of course, that was the plan all along.
“I’m a classically trained chef, so it was never going to stay a dariette,” she says.
Princer’s description of Toni’s menu is “Italian with a Midwestern influence.”
One of the more popular dishes is the Winter Pasta, which features sauteed shrimp, fresh garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, prosciutto ham and artichokes tossed with penne pasta.
“It’s been on the menu for 25 years,” Princer says, adding her slogan: “We’ve been making pasta great since 1998.”
“We also have a beautiful 16-ounce pork chop that is served over spaetzle, with whole grain mustard sauce, bacon and asparagus,” she adds.
Those are just two highlights of a dinner menu that also features steaks, ribs, chicken and seafood, including tilapia, cod and salmon.
Toni’s also offers daily specials, including the “famously delicious” Toni burgers on Thursdays, fried cod on Fridays and pizza buffets on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Speaking of pizza, Princer has her own creations, like the East Coast Pie, with olive oil, fresh garlic, mozzarella cheese, spinach, artichoke hearts, prosciutto, tomatoes and herb dust.
For the person who wants it all, there’s Toni’s Everything (cheese, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, black olives, bacon shrimp, smoked ham, sausage, pepperoni and green olives).
Of course, you can also build your own pizza.
“We do a lot of different things with our pizza,” Princer says.
Toni’s full-service bar is billed as Winnebago’s first bar in 100 years. In 1879, several villagers who were against drinking establishments set fire to the town’s lone bar. For the next 111 years, the town was dry.
That’s when a referendum came up to allow alcohol to be served in the city limits, and Princer turned her ice cream counter into a bar.
“We have all different beers on tap, and we do a great Old Fashioned,” Princer says.
Guests can order off the menu at the bar, as well as watch their favorite teams on big-screen TVs.
And beyond being a restaurant and bar, Toni’s also caters and can host large gatherings in its 1,400-square-foot event center. The room is big enough for weddings, rehearsal dinners, baby showers, funeral luncheons and office functions. As an added touch, Toni’s also has an expanded outdoor patio.
For a dining experience, Toni’s of Winnebago has pretty much everything covered. It’s a destination for all.
“We have farmers coming in who just got out of the field.” Princer says. “People can come here all dressed up or dressed down.”
Toni’s of Winnebago is open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m.- 10 p.m., Fridays to 11 p.m., Saturday to 10 p.m. and Sunday 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.