Dining options for the hungry individual in today’s day and age are literally limitless in many respects ranging from types of food to the price as well as environment it’s served.
However, things were not always this way.
At the turn of the 1900’s and through the first and second World Wars, unless you were of the top echelon of the social ladder, your options were limited to the city’s central diner. And while the diner has deep roots in our nation’s food history, many of those who were not fortunate to have money for a high class meal wanted more options. And with that came the pop-up restaurants, speakeasies, and supper clubs. But what of the food options themselves? Well, those options ranged from chicken dinners, turkey dinners, pot roast, and every rib sticking American meal you could think of.
These diners flourished all over the country, namely the Midwest and large metropolitan areas like New York and the then growing Los Angeles. For smaller cities there was no competition. It was either eat there or go to the grocer and prepare dinner yourself at home.
In the heart of the Midwest, a couple by the name of Vito and Rose Saputo took the diner model to feed their fellow citizens in Abraham Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Il, just two hundred miles southwest of Chicago.
To do this, they opened Rose’s Eat Shop in 1938 making it one of the oldest businesses outside of the Chicagoland area. In its heyday, Rose’s served a varied menu of chili, tamales and their famous fried chicken dinner which at the time cost 25¢ (a very good deal at the time and even more so now accounting inflation making that meal cost only $4.34 in 2017). The business was a tremendous success and even was passed on to keep the family spirit alive!
But the magic truly began ten short years after Rose’s open.
The second generation of Saputos decided to open another restaurant at the end of East Monroe at an intersection known at the time called the Twin’s Corner. This restaurant was the family’s namesake, Saputo’s, specializing in Italian food with recipes greatly influenced by the cuisine of southern Italy.
Saputo’s was a marvel of restaurant genius at its time.
Opened in 1948, they were fully air conditioned (a selling point at the time on their neon sign just under the original Twins Corner monicker), they were the oldest restaurant serving Italian food in the city of Springfield and they also offered food delivery!
To say Saputo’s wanted to push the bar of innovation is no understatement! In its earliest beginnings, Saputo’s was clearly a supper club looking to attract the prolific and well to do clientele, but it’s popularity could not be contained.
Now, in 2017, nearly seventy years since the restaurant opened, how does it hold up? Is the food that phenomenal? Is the service that great? Or are people just holding on to it to preserve a time long lost? The short: yes, yes, and yes because the previous two answers were yes.
So of course I had to check it out! It’s one of the oldest restaurants in the Midwest so my expectations were very high.
Although the restaurant is centrally located and squeezed between some tall buildings, my walk down the street to the end of East Monroe could not have been any more true. On that crisp evening, my guiding light was the brightly lit sign proclaiming the restaurant and its fine Italian foods.
Upon walking in, I was awestruck of the interior. It felt like I had walked into a post-World War II supper club. Outside of chairs being reupholstered and a close attention to cleanliness, the interior of Saputo’s had not changed since they opened. Before I became lost in the wonder of eating at a seventy year old establishment, I was greeted by the host and immediately asked if I had a reservation.
I was a little concerned that either this was going to be a high end dining experience or they were simply that popular.
“No” I said and asked if there were accommodations for one for dinner. She said yes and was immediately able to seat me. Crisis averted.
It was only later that I learned eating at Saputo’s is rarely a single’s affair. During the course of dinner there were dozens of couples that came in and even a group of six, all of which made reservations so they could eat at their desired time.
I didn’t let that deter me from having the greatest dinner a single man could eat.
A glance of the menu saw a plethora of choices: pizza, pasta, lasagna and seafood. But I wanted something truly unique.
Near the bottom of the menu were specialities that Saputo’s prepares for those wanting a true to life Italian-American dinner, and one option rang true to that: sausage with peppers.
Living in Tennessee the local Italian restaurants play the safe card and serve primarily pasta dishes. I had not had sausage with peppers since I had lived in Chicago so of course my excitement had me eager to partake.
The entree itself was served with bread, salad and a choice of a side of either pasta or French fries. Before I could decide the gentleman eating dinner with his wife the next table over overheard my order and told me I had to try the Italian fries.
Italian fries? Huh?
Living feverishly on the wild side, and with no hesitation, I opted for the Italian fries. These are not fries in the traditional sense. Moreover, they are hand cut potato chips but have a house made Italian vinaigrette drizzled over top. To say it was outstanding is simply an understatement.
I could not wait for my entree but before my eagerness got the best of me, I was presented with the main course. It arrived at the table piping hot and I was immediately swept away with the smell of the spices from the sausage and the aromatics of the marinara that accompanies it.
Not wanting to miss the prime time to eat, I immediately dug in and it became apparent why Saputo’s is still open today.
My entree was clearly a labor of love. EVERYTHING was homemade with no shortcuts in between from the crunch of the sausage casing to the spices used in the sausage, it pummeled my mouth with a burst of flavor bigger chain restaurants could never compete with.
A traditional plate of sausage with peppers is always served with HOT Italian sausage and the sausage at Saputo’s had a prominent kick but not too overbearing to allow one to also taste the meat inside the casing.
While traditional Italian portion sizes aren’t necessarily enormous (unless you are feeding a family), the portion size of my entree was more than filling, so much so I had no room left for dessert, which is a shame since no Italian meal is complete without either a piece of tiramisu or a bowl of gelato.
Saputo’s without a doubt serves some of the best Italian food you can get in the entire Midwest. Bar none.
But how does this meal stack up to being able to cook an Italian dinner yourself?
In terms of cost, Saputo’s is definitely not the cheapest meal you will find by any means. Pricing is on par with what many mid-range chain restaurants charge. However, Saputo’s could easily charge more simply because the quality is so much better. The pricing depending on what catches your eye varies greatly, ranging from $16 for the pasta dinners all the way to $31 for a 14oz New York Strip.
Ultimately, with tip included, my meal evened out to $25.
There is one thing I cannot stress enough. Unless you plan on eating by yourself, reservations are mandatory are Saputo’s, even for couples. Now in its fourth generation of family running the restaurant, it has become so popular that it attracts all sorts including local politicians, dignitaries and even television personalities such as Barry Weiss from the A&E television show Storage Wars so plan accordingly!
I cannot say enough great things about Saputo’s.
It’s an establishment that clearly stands the test of time because so much love and care goes into the quality of the food. If you find yourself in the Springfield area, either visiting friends, family, or on tourism to see Honest Abe’s house and gravestone, you have to clear one evening for a dinner at Saputo’s.
Just remember fine Italian food is one neon sign away at the Twin Corners!
Saputo's is open 1030 a.m. to 1030 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and open for dinner at 530 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. To view their full menu and make reservations check out their website. Reservations are strongly encouraged for dinner.