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Capponi's/Mona's - Toluca, IL.

Capponi's/Mona's - Toluca, IL.
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  • Capponi's/Mona's - Toluca, IL.

    Post #1 - June 20th, 2010, 3:32 pm
    Post #1 - June 20th, 2010, 3:32 pm Post #1 - June 20th, 2010, 3:32 pm
    Inspired by food road warrior da beef and his travels in the quest of food, I decided to take a trip about 50 miles SW of where I live to check out a place I had heard a little about.

    I had heard about Capponi's, and its sister restaurant Monas in Toluca, IL, first brought to my attention by my neighbor Kevin, and then later by a visitior to http://www.grubseeker.blogspot.com where I detail my quest for the best fried chicken, and to a lesser extent the pork tenderloin sandwich out west of Chicago.

    Toluca maybe has 1,500 people, but 2 Italian restaurants owned by the same folks, with very similar menus, and the same pasta they make themselves, about 1.5 blocks apart on the Main street. Both have cool looking neon signs. Both have been around since the 30's.

    Mona's:

    Image


    Capponi's:

    Image

    nighttime view of Capponi's sign on the front of their menu:

    Image

    fried chicken:

    Image



    Capponi's
    302 Main Street
    Toluca, IL.

    http://www.bernardirestaurants.com/file ... 20Menu.pdf
    Last edited by jimswside on July 9th, 2010, 2:41 pm, edited 9 times in total.
  • Post #2 - June 21st, 2010, 1:30 pm
    Post #2 - June 21st, 2010, 1:30 pm Post #2 - June 21st, 2010, 1:30 pm
    Thanks for this, Jim, and as one who drives all over Illinois, I hope you'll keep posting about good places you find down your way.
    "Your swimming suit matches your eyes, you hold your nose before diving, loving you has made me bananas!"
  • Post #3 - June 21st, 2010, 2:03 pm
    Post #3 - June 21st, 2010, 2:03 pm Post #3 - June 21st, 2010, 2:03 pm
    thanks Katie, Im happy to do the legwork.

    I am investigating a farm in the area that sells certified Berkshire pork to the public. I hope to post on that find, and get over there to buy some soon.
  • Post #4 - June 26th, 2010, 11:00 pm
    Post #4 - June 26th, 2010, 11:00 pm Post #4 - June 26th, 2010, 11:00 pm
    Hi,

    My only visit to Toluca was on Halloween evening 20 months ago. Due to the date, the restaurant had an unusually scant crowd. This worked to our advantage because the waitress had time to talk.

    Mona's and Capponi's were once competitors. Mona's was founded by the Bernardi family in 1933. Bernardi's eventually purchased their rival Capponi's in 1965. On weeknights, Mona's and Capponi's are opened on alternate nights. On weekends, both restaurants are open. Their customers come from a 60-mile radius including Peoria and Bloomington-Normal. Both restaurants can open up to serve several hundred people each, which is huge considering Toluca's population in 2000 was 1339. There is more here on Mona's history.

    Mona's is known for their tortellini and raviolli. These pastas were made in Mona's basement by the founder's wife and employees. In 1969, their volume expanded by purchasing two pasta cutting machines. In 1977, Bernardi's opened a 7200 sq foot pasta plant in Toluca to prepare retail frozen pastas. In 1982, they expanded to the food service market. In 1989, Bernardi's sold to Keebler who resold it in 1996 to HM International - Windsor Foods. Bernardi's frozen pastas can be found nationally in Walmart. Today, Bernardi's founded in Toluca is the largest filled pasta manufacturer in the country. There is an interesting presentation of Bernardi's 40th anniversary in the frozen pasta business.

    Toluca is a very small town with a very small business district with these restaurants a huge draw. These restaurants and the pasta factory very likely represent most of the commerce in town.

    I arrived to Mona's expecting a pasta and fried chicken dinner. I came away terribly impressed by the business built at an unexpected locale.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #5 - June 28th, 2010, 10:26 am
    Post #5 - June 28th, 2010, 10:26 am Post #5 - June 28th, 2010, 10:26 am
    nice added info about the history of these places.

    Solid food, solid service at a fair price, cant ask for more.
  • Post #6 - July 5th, 2010, 1:53 pm
    Post #6 - July 5th, 2010, 1:53 pm Post #6 - July 5th, 2010, 1:53 pm
    Cathy2 wrote:Mona's and Capponi's were once competitors. Mona's was founded by the Bernardi family in 1933. Bernardi's eventually purchased their rival Capponi's in 1965. On weeknights, Mona's and Capponi's are opened on alternate nights. On weekends, both restaurants are open. Their customers come from a 60-mile radius including Peoria and Bloomington-Normal. Both restaurants can open up to serve several hundred people each, which is huge considering Toluca's population in 2000 was 1339. There is more here on Mona's history

    I liked almost everything about Mona's—an unlikely location in a tiny town amid the cornfields, its beautiful old neon sign, the spotless dining room, genuinely nice and helpful employees—pretty much everything except the food. Of the fried chicken, Italian sausage, tortellini and spaghetti with meat sauce, only the chicken would I consider ordering again (but there is better fried chicken to be had not far away). In spite of mostly mediocre food, I don't regret visiting Mona's.

    Fans of neon should consider a detour if passing by Toluca (I-39 midway between I-80 and I-55), especially in the evening when both Mona's and Capponi's signs are flashing, clicking and humming. This matched pair, only a couple blocks apart, is truly remarkable. Just have realistic expectations about the food.

    Mona's
    202 N Main St
    Toluca IL
    815-452-2303
  • Post #7 - July 9th, 2010, 10:35 am
    Post #7 - July 9th, 2010, 10:35 am Post #7 - July 9th, 2010, 10:35 am
    My experience with Mona's about 8 years ago (for a family birthday party) was similar to Rene G's; Great building, sign, friendly service, mediocre food. Well worth seeing if you are in the area, but probably not worth a trip for the food. (I actually wasn't surprised about the food though as I was never a fan of their frozen products during my youth in the Illinois Valley.)
  • Post #8 - July 9th, 2010, 10:46 am
    Post #8 - July 9th, 2010, 10:46 am Post #8 - July 9th, 2010, 10:46 am
    I agree(and I dont think anyone has stated the food is mind blowing ), just giving folks options and an interesting stop for when they are out west of Chicagoland & heading down I-39.

    Perhaps I'll stop sharing these places I hear about.
  • Post #9 - July 9th, 2010, 10:52 am
    Post #9 - July 9th, 2010, 10:52 am Post #9 - July 9th, 2010, 10:52 am
    Oh no, you should definitely keep seeking and sharing. We all won't agree but that is true for any place. (So far, i think you are batting well over .500...)
  • Post #10 - July 9th, 2010, 11:04 am
    Post #10 - July 9th, 2010, 11:04 am Post #10 - July 9th, 2010, 11:04 am
    Dabney's wrote:Oh no, you should definitely keep seeking and sharing. We all won't agree but that is true for any place. (So far, i think you are batting well over .500...)


    thanks, I was just being thin skinned, my bad.

    As folks know it takes time, money & effort to search things out, then visit, eat, take pics, and post about a place. I was just sharing and I didnt think I was making the place out to be a dont miss, or Alinea or Cajun Connection. :D But a place with some history, cool signs, and a neat small town feel.
    Last edited by jimswside on July 9th, 2010, 12:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.
  • Post #11 - July 9th, 2010, 11:04 am
    Post #11 - July 9th, 2010, 11:04 am Post #11 - July 9th, 2010, 11:04 am
    Hi,

    People living in the region may consider this a destination restaurant, though it is probably due to the lack of choices we take for granted here.

    I once stayed in a little town in southern Illinois where the main business was a prison. The owner of the bed and breakfast was formerly from Chicago offered some interesting insights on the business climate. He had a hard time retaining employees because the next biggest employer was the state via welfare checks. Stuff he would not tolerate in productivity and behavior here, he had to be more circumspect there. Finding a replacement was not easy.

    His B & B offered lunches and dinners on weekends, which drew people from at least one hundred miles. He said if you offer anything approaching a fine dining experience, you get the doctors, lawyers and other professionals streaming in, because there are so few alternatives without travelling any distance.

    This reminds me when OurPalWill replied to someone seeking good food in rural South Carolina, "Drive four hours to Atlanta."

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #12 - July 9th, 2010, 12:26 pm
    Post #12 - July 9th, 2010, 12:26 pm Post #12 - July 9th, 2010, 12:26 pm
    My evening in Toluca was at a rehearsal dinner for a local wedding. During the wedding rehearsal, we were told wonderful stories about the restaurant. Our friends, all from nearby towns, explained that the restaurant served the finest, most authentic Italian food in Illinois. They said the food was better than any in Chicago and people came every weekend from the Windy City to dine in Toluca. We had recently dined at Cafe Spiaggia and expected to have a wonderful meal.

    I can't remember which restaurant we visited but, as you will see, it really didn't matter.

    While we were being served our iceburg lettuce wedge with bottled Catalina French dressing, I inquired into wine with dinner. They were serving pink zinfandel.... Fortunately, it was easy to slip into the bar room to purchase two glasses of Chianti Classico. They had never heard of that and actually had no red wine for sale.

    The second course was Franco American Spaghetti with heavy doses of that ketchup based "gravy". Fried chicken followed. We ended the authentic meal with spumoni ice cream.

    If your in the neighborhood, drive over to Peoria and go to June!
  • Post #13 - July 9th, 2010, 12:48 pm
    Post #13 - July 9th, 2010, 12:48 pm Post #13 - July 9th, 2010, 12:48 pm
    Hi,

    They can attest some people came from Chicago. And not all people from Chicago go to Spiaggia or even Sabatinos, there is a wide range of Italian offered in Chicago from really bad to really good.

    Personally, I prefer the fried chicken, pork tenderloin sandwiches, biscuits (and gravy), pies and beef or chicken noodles over mashed potatoes when I am beyond Chicago and still in Illinois. I was New York earlier this year when people learned I was from Chicago, "Oh, you're from the Heartland, where traditional values live." Not knocking Chicago or Illinois, I responded, "There is Chicago and then there is the rest of Illinois. It is two different worlds."

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #14 - July 9th, 2010, 2:06 pm
    Post #14 - July 9th, 2010, 2:06 pm Post #14 - July 9th, 2010, 2:06 pm
    Both of these places look amazing...

    I honestly don't care that much if the food is "all that"....what I'm really interested in is......do these places maintain their character INSIDE as out?.....that is, have they been sadly remodelled, or do they retain their historic character?
  • Post #15 - July 9th, 2010, 2:22 pm
    Post #15 - July 9th, 2010, 2:22 pm Post #15 - July 9th, 2010, 2:22 pm
    Hi,

    I can only speak for Mona's interior, which seemed more 1960's with wood paneling, patterned carpet, red naugahyde covered chairs and a rather lengthy bar. There are pictures on the walls of the early founders. Remember I am going by memory on this.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #16 - July 9th, 2010, 2:25 pm
    Post #16 - July 9th, 2010, 2:25 pm Post #16 - July 9th, 2010, 2:25 pm
    Cathy2 wrote:Hi,

    I can only speak for Mona's interior, which seemed more 1960's with wood paneling, patterned carpet, red naugahyde covered chairs and a rather lengthy bar. There are pictures on the walls of the early founders. Remember I am going by memory on this.

    Regards,



    I agree, 60's supper club feel for sure.
  • Post #17 - July 9th, 2010, 2:52 pm
    Post #17 - July 9th, 2010, 2:52 pm Post #17 - July 9th, 2010, 2:52 pm
    Cathy2 wrote:Hi,

    I can only speak for Mona's interior, which seemed more 1960's with wood paneling, patterned carpet, red naugahyde covered chairs and a rather lengthy bar. There are pictures on the walls of the early founders. Remember I am going by memory on this.

    Regards,


    Hi,

    That answers my question. I definitely ate at Mona's.

    On you range of restaurants, the was bad in comparison to mediocre Italian/American restaurants who pay attention to quality standards. No red wine, iceberg lettuce with Catalina and Franco American tasting spaghetti are not even average standards for Italian/American restaurants.

    We were told that it was comparable to the very best fine dining Italian restaurants in Chicago.
  • Post #18 - July 9th, 2010, 3:05 pm
    Post #18 - July 9th, 2010, 3:05 pm Post #18 - July 9th, 2010, 3:05 pm
    Tim wrote:No red wine, iceberg lettuce with Catalina and Franco American tasting spaghetti are not even average standards for Italian/American restaurants.

    A phone call to Mona's indicates that they have lots of red wines on their menu. The specifics of the situation you encountered may have had more to do with the wishes of your hosts than the actual menu of the restaurant.

    =R=
    Gardening is a bloodsport --Meghan Kleeman

    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #19 - July 9th, 2010, 3:17 pm
    Post #19 - July 9th, 2010, 3:17 pm Post #19 - July 9th, 2010, 3:17 pm
    Hi,

    A friend of mine was a travelling salesman in from the 40's to the 80's. He once said the only guarantee for a fresh salad was ordering an iceberg wedge with dressing on it.

    I fully remember when Catalina was one of the few dressings offered, before the world knew of Ranch dressing. I was once a strict Thousand Island girl. Never an Italian, French, Catalina (which seems a modified French) or worse, blue cheese, ever touched my salad. Today, I make vinaigrettes at home, an occasional blue cheese-walnut dressing and almost always blue cheese when I am not at home.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #20 - July 9th, 2010, 10:52 pm
    Post #20 - July 9th, 2010, 10:52 pm Post #20 - July 9th, 2010, 10:52 pm
    Tim wrote:My evening in Toluca was at a rehearsal dinner for a local wedding.
    Apple to donut comparisons of Mona to June or Cafe Spaiggia aside it sounds as if the people hosting the wedding rehearsal were attempting to economise and your experience differed from the standard diner's experience. Its been quite a while since I've been served pink/white zinfandel. :)
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #21 - July 10th, 2010, 6:01 am
    Post #21 - July 10th, 2010, 6:01 am Post #21 - July 10th, 2010, 6:01 am
    I'm very familiar with the Mona's/Caponi's/Bernardi's restaurants. The Italian food is quite inferior, and it wouldn't take much effort to improve it. But I was told by a friend that they've been serving happy customers for over 50 years, and to just get over it. If you've had even mediocre Italian food, I think you'll be disappointed here.

    So don't order the "Italian" food. Order something more in keeping with central Illinois: chicken, steak, whatever. It won't be mind-blowing, but it won't tick you off, either.

    I once was with someone at another central Illinois restaurant. He asked for his pasta to be served "al dente". The server answered that they did not have that kind of wine. Hilarious! The diner had no understanding of the fact that he was in a small Illinois farm town, and the server was totally thrown off by his request.

    And, Jimswide, I love your reviews of Smitty's, Rips, etc. Had a great meal at Smitty's, and plan on having more. Thanks for exploring.
  • Post #22 - July 10th, 2010, 8:31 am
    Post #22 - July 10th, 2010, 8:31 am Post #22 - July 10th, 2010, 8:31 am
    thanks, its fun to explore around the area looking for food, farms, etc. Im glad you liked Smitty's

    Sure alot of these places I visit arn't on the level of what can be found in Chicago(no one ever stated they were), ..... I think its ridiculous/stupid to try to compare them to Chicago places considering Chicago is one of the top dining spots in the U.S., if not the world. With that said, there are some unique or regional items some excel at and have better versions than can be found in the big city(fried gator, gumbo, etouffe, jambalaya, fried chicken, turtle, pork tenderloin).

    What i like about LTH is the wide reach of information available on various regions of the country/world. You want to find a rec. for L.A., New York, Beijing, or Istanbul.. You can probably find it. If you are heading to Iowa or Peoria maybe I can help out with that.
    Last edited by jimswside on July 12th, 2010, 10:32 am, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #23 - July 10th, 2010, 11:24 am
    Post #23 - July 10th, 2010, 11:24 am Post #23 - July 10th, 2010, 11:24 am
    ronnie_suburban wrote:
    Tim wrote:No red wine, iceberg lettuce with Catalina and Franco American tasting spaghetti are not even average standards for Italian/American restaurants.

    A phone call to Mona's indicates that they have lots of red wines on their menu.

    =R=

    Ronnie,

    This was some years ago and the bar had no red wines.

    Tim
  • Post #24 - July 10th, 2010, 1:13 pm
    Post #24 - July 10th, 2010, 1:13 pm Post #24 - July 10th, 2010, 1:13 pm
    Hi,

    Each post on any place is a snapshot. Somedays the experience is stellar. Other occasions and circumstances the same place can drift off course.

    For me, the big story of Mona's and Capponi's is surviving and thriving in what seems like out of nowhere. Whether or not you like their frozen pastas, that such a business grew out there is outstanding. So many people compete to get noticed in a saturated market like Chicago, when there are opportunities in what appears to be the middle of corn country.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #25 - July 12th, 2010, 10:18 am
    Post #25 - July 12th, 2010, 10:18 am Post #25 - July 12th, 2010, 10:18 am
    "6o's Supper Club"; "Red Naugahyde"; "Long Bar"....music to my ears.....

    I will drive down there just to have a couple of beers in each bar....food is secondary...

    I live in LA 9 months out of the year, and lots of these type of places (contrary to what I'll bet many believe) have been preserved here (i.e, Buggy Whip, Taylors, Dear John's, Golden Bull, Billingsley's, El Coyote, etc., etc.)....great history, mediocre food (except Taylor's...mmmmm).....but who cares...just love just being around these classics..
  • Post #26 - July 12th, 2010, 10:27 am
    Post #26 - July 12th, 2010, 10:27 am Post #26 - July 12th, 2010, 10:27 am
    ParkLaBrea wrote:"6o's Supper Club"; "Red Naugahyde"; "Long Bar"....music to my ears.....

    I will drive down there just to have a couple of beers in each bar....food is secondary...

    I live in LA 9 months out of the year, and lots of these type of places (contrary to what I'll bet many believe) have been preserved here (i.e, Buggy Whip, Taylors, Dear John's, Golden Bull, Billingsley's, El Coyote, etc., etc.)....great history, mediocre food (except Taylor's...mmmmm).....but who cares...just love just being around these classics..



    now thats the spirit that reflects why I posted about Capponi's in the first place. :)
  • Post #27 - July 12th, 2010, 12:00 pm
    Post #27 - July 12th, 2010, 12:00 pm Post #27 - July 12th, 2010, 12:00 pm
    jimswside wrote:
    ParkLaBrea wrote:"6o's Supper Club"; "Red Naugahyde"; "Long Bar"....music to my ears.....

    I will drive down there just to have a couple of beers in each bar....food is secondary...

    I live in LA 9 months out of the year, and lots of these type of places (contrary to what I'll bet many believe) have been preserved here (i.e, Buggy Whip, Taylors, Dear John's, Golden Bull, Billingsley's, El Coyote, etc., etc.)....great history, mediocre food (except Taylor's...mmmmm).....but who cares...just love just being around these classics..



    now thats the spirit that reflects why I posted about Capponi's in the first place. :)


    I like your reviews about the area as I am familiar with it and do get out there once in a while.
    I'm sure that many of them wouldn't satisfy the more discerning palates yet they offer a lot of old fashioned road/diner food that should still be discussed. I would never consider going to Alinea or places of that ilk, I still enjoy reading about them.

    Keep posting.
  • Post #28 - July 12th, 2010, 12:27 pm
    Post #28 - July 12th, 2010, 12:27 pm Post #28 - July 12th, 2010, 12:27 pm
    G Wiv wrote:
    Tim wrote:My evening in Toluca was at a rehearsal dinner for a local wedding.
    Apple to donut comparisons of Mona to June or Cafe Spaiggia aside it sounds as if the people hosting the wedding rehearsal were attempting to economise and your experience differed from the standard diner's experience. Its been quite a while since I've been served pink/white zinfandel. :)


    No one trying to economize, this is pretty standard Central Illinois fare and just the way they do things. I've been to plenty of occasions in nice restaurants and banquet halls where this is the wine of choice or it's a German wine. Beer is more the drink of choice, wine for the ladies.
  • Post #29 - July 12th, 2010, 3:18 pm
    Post #29 - July 12th, 2010, 3:18 pm Post #29 - July 12th, 2010, 3:18 pm
    LikestoEatout wrote:
    G Wiv wrote:
    Tim wrote:My evening in Toluca was at a rehearsal dinner for a local wedding.
    Apple to donut comparisons of Mona to June or Cafe Spaiggia aside it sounds as if the people hosting the wedding rehearsal were attempting to economise and your experience differed from the standard diner's experience. Its been quite a while since I've been served pink/white zinfandel. :)


    No one trying to economize, this is pretty standard Central Illinois fare and just the way they do things. I've been to plenty of occasions in nice restaurants and banquet halls where this is the wine of choice or it's a German wine. Beer is more the drink of choice, wine for the ladies.



    Seeing as it's a supposed Italian place, Chianti might be more appropriate than some German sweet wine, but as you said this is central Illinois.
  • Post #30 - July 13th, 2010, 6:14 am
    Post #30 - July 13th, 2010, 6:14 am Post #30 - July 13th, 2010, 6:14 am
    PJ Murphy wrote:Seeing as it's a supposed Italian place, Chianti might be more appropriate than some German sweet wine, but as you said this is central Illinois.


    Seeing how all my downstate in law relations are of German descent or married to a German descendant, there will be no chianti! :D

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