Peoria Landmark #408
Update: Whitey’s it is!
Peoria Journal Star, Mar 11, 2010. Dining Out: Whitey’s Tip Top Inn still in tiptop shape.
Whitey’s Tip Top Inn on Sheridan Road has been a neighborhood pub since the repeal of Prohibition and, according to Peoria City Councilwoman Barbara Van Auken, the place serves “to-die-for cheeseburgers.”
Owner Mark White took over the place – long called the Tip Top because of its location at the top of the center bluff – in 1992. He has a picture of it from the ’40s and says it’s amazing how little has changed – inside and out.
One big difference, though, is that Whitey serves food. It’s the kind of food you expect at a bar – greasy, gut-filling grub like pizza and hot wings. Better yet, he serves it whenever. If he’s open, so is the kitchen. So, if it’s 1 a.m. and you’re craving an Italian sausage and onion rings, Whitey will fix you up.
I didn’t go that route, instead choosing to pop in for a workday lunch with my husband. The place was quiet, just a couple guys at the bar, so the service was super quick. Whitey does it all: pours the beer, makes the food, serves it up.
I’d been meaning to visit Whitey’s for ages based on Van Auken’s recommendation. Still, I expected just a few options considering he doesn’t have any kitchen help. The menu impressed us – hamburgers, tenderloins, Philly cheese steaks, butterfly pork chops, Italian sausage, chicken sandwiches, pizza and a bunch of goodies like onion rings and fried green beans.
Inside, the place is not trying to be anything fancy. Everything is a little worn and mismatched, kind of like the bar your grandfather probably frequented. It’s a little old school.
You can eat at the bar or there are high bar tables, all offer a good view of the eight TVs in the small place. A sign hangs over the bar: “Maximum capacity: 24 Fiddes, 15 Gilfillans, 3 Mottelers or 1 Monkton.” Neighborhood support is still strong here. Whitey’s, until not too long ago, was also a hangout for certain council members after their marathon meetings. Not so much anymore, Whitey says, although “the mayor pops in every once in a while. When he ran the Lucky Lady, I was his Budweiser salesman.”
For lunch, we started with the cheddar cheese crisps ($5) because they sounded interesting. They are actually what most of us know as cheese balls, but Whitey said he didn’t like that name. My husband was thrilled because they are exactly like the ones from his favorite Illinois State University hangout – if only they came with a side of marinara instead of ranch dressing. The cheddar nuggets are breaded and deep fried, not healthy but definitely addictive.
My husband ordered Whitey’s wings ($6.50) and onion rings ($5) and I chose the Philly cheese steak ($6), which came with chips.
Whitey admits that most of his fare is from Gordon Food Service, but he’s chosen some really good items. Two things he does himself: Whitey’s wings and the pizza. While the crust is premade, he adds fresh toppings.
For the wings, Whitey marinates and seasons them himself with his own blend of spices before frying them and adding hot sauce. He doesn’t skimp, either. My husband had at least a dozen in his overflowing basket.
The onion rings may have been poured from a bag, but at least Whitey knows to fry them in really hot oil so they weren’t at all greasy. Also, they are the battered kind – my favorite.
As for my sandwich, the Philly cheese steak is thin slices of steak topped with grilled onions and melted cheese and served on a hot, soft hoagie roll. After gorging on the cheese balls and onion rings, I could only finish about half.
The chips were Kitchen Cooked, a favorite of many.
Is it hard to rave about bar food? Not when Whitey serves it piping hot with a big smile and anytime you want it.