I was visiting relatives in Central Illinois, and flew into St Louis Lambert airport on Sunday evening. At my request, we immediately repaired to Hodak's for Sunday night supper. None of us had ever eaten there, but relying on Roadfooders' recommendations, we decided to try it. We got there about 6 p.m. There was a line, and a wait, but I understand from others also waiting that it was not inordinate. I don't think our group of 5 had to wait more than about 30 minutes.
I was the only one who had fried chicken. I ordered the five-wing dinner. The table shared the toasted ravioli, fried mushrooms, and cheese fries as appetizers. They were all good -- not exceptional, but very capable renditions. The others at the table had barbecued ribs, hamburgers, and fish. I thought the chicken was very good -- the chicken itself tasted very fresh. The wings were huge, and I could only eat three of them at the table (we took the rest home). I did not order the hot sauce. The french fries and slaw that accompanied the chicken were OK, but nothing special, in my opinion. The waitress was wonderful -- very attentive and upbeat. It's a fun place, and the food was very good. But it wasn't the best chicken on this trip.
Afterwards, we went to Ted Drewes for frozen custard (the one on Chippewa). It was a mob scene, but we did get served fairly promptly. I had a chocolate malt. Good -- but I was sort of left wondering what all the hype was about. Maybe I should have had plain vanilla custard? My husband enjoyed his concrete with pistachios.
The next day, though, I had some of the best fried chicken I've ever had at, of all places, the Moose Lodge 1377, 411 S. Main, in Hillsboro, Illinois. My uncle had suggested that we have lunch there. It's open to the public. When we walked in around 1:30 p.m., the waitress asked whether we wanted to have the buffet, or order from the menu. I asked what was on the buffet, and she said "fried chicken." I was sold -- but no one else was. They all had hamburgers (or "mooseburgers") or fish sandwiches. The burgers were huge and everyone said they were excellent. You had a choice of sides, but the winner was sweet potato fries. I had the buffet -- it was small, with a salad bar that was pretty picked-over by the time I got to it. But they freshly fried the chicken for me (it took about 20 minutes, and they asked which parts I preferred). The chicken was absolutely fantastic -- very flavorful (though not spicy), with delicious crispy skin. Also on the buffet were real mashed potatoes, cream gravy, and green beans (all very good) and biscuits (a little heavy and tired - but it was late in the lunch cycle).
They apparently have fried chicken on the buffet on Mondays and on Fridays. Again, it is exceptional, and I would make a special trip to have it again in a minute. Their hours are a little erratic -- they close at 3 on some days, and at 8 on others. I'd suggest you call before making a trip. (There's also a bar, and a great hand-painted mural of a moose in the lobby.)
That evening, we went to Bobby's in Maryville, Illinois for frozen custard. It's much newer than Ted Drewes, but it was almost as busy. I had a frozen custard with creme de menthe sauce and it was very refreshing. Others had the usual "custard" things -- concretes, shakes, etc. There's pleasant seating outside around the stand, a clown making balloon animals for the children, and a very nice touch -- a waitress came around to the tables with styrofoam cups of cold water. Maybe not the same cachet as Ted Drewes, but worth a stop, nonetheless. http://www.bobbysfrozencustard.com/
There's definitely something special about the chicken in the St. Louis/Central Illinois area -- at least the places I went! I should confess that my grandparents' farm was in the Hillsboro area, and I remember having wonderful fried chicken there as a child. Again, the preparation at both these places was first-rate, but what I really noticed was that the chicken ITSELF was delicious.
I love Stroud's -- but the Moose Lodge in Hillsboro, IL has it beat -- at least for me.