1950s Down-home favorites like tuna noodle casserole, as well as macaroni and cheese made with white sauce, were on kitchen tables across America during the 1950s. That might explain why Marilyn Carrigan Armstrong ’54 recalls that dorm food was on the “starchy side.” Before moving in with her sister and brother-in-law, Armstrong lived in Constance Hall. The Mount Prospect resident reports that not all dormitories had a cafeteria, sending many students out to buy meals in nearby restaurants.
One popular “greasy spoon” was Kern’s. Located a block east of University, BU students could have breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the Main Street establishment. For grilled cheese and tomato soup, Gibbie’s was a good choice. Even 50 years later, two nearby drive-in restaurants with excellent sandwiches still stand out in Armstrong’s mind. “Tenderloins were the specialty at Hunt’s. They were huge. Kramer’s had a mushroom burger that
Students continued to flock to the Tepee and Wigwam for snacks and meals, but the brand new Student Center was about to change all that. Students had voted themselves a special assessment in order to build the structure in the heart of campus. Groundbreaking for the new facility occurred during the fall of 1956, the first semester that Ron Stover ’60 was enrolled at Bradley.
Just like today, Main and University was the hub of Bradley-area restaurants. Stover recalls the Velvet Freeze at the corner (Avanti’s location today) for Wonder Dogs with chili. Some of his fraternity brothers frequented Chili Villa across University Street. A few blocks east on Main Street was the ever-popular Steak ‘n Shake. “You could go at 2 a.m. and get a burger (technically a steakburger) and refills on coffee,” the Morton resident recalls.
Agatucci’s was in Stover’s neighborhood just a mile north of campus on University. Known for being one of the first to introduce the new dish to Peoria in 1954, the thin-crust pizza served by generations of Agatucci brothers continues to be savored today. Many loyal patrons still enjoy theirs with a little Tiger Sauce on the side. Stover remembers the pizza prepared with a generous amount of secret-recipe sauce and sausage that was ground especially for the family-run tavern and restaurant. Sausage sandwiches were another specialty.
1960s Two Bradley institutions ended as the new decade began. The University’s horology school closed in 1961, soon after the popular College Inn was destroyed by fire. Known earlier as the Western Tap, the tavern/burger joint was just a stroll from campus, where Main Street curves into Western.
Cheri Raber Patterson ’67 remembers campus and sorority events being held at Kramer’s on Western at Moss Avenue. The popular restaurant started out as a drive-in restaurant (see photo on page 12) and was renamed Jumer’s in 1970. On a recent trip to Florida, Patterson was asked by a pharmacist if Jumer’s still had its famous cinnamon rolls. Although Jumer’s recently became a Radisson hotel, the sweet treats remain.
Beginning in 1965, there was another reason to venture west of campus. Students could visit the golden arches on foot. There was a new McDonald’s on Western at Rohmann. Open until midnight seven days a week, its hours were designed with the college crowd in mind.
That was the same year that the Sit-n-Bull at the Student Center was so popular that management opened the upstairs cafeteria from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. just to accommodate the overflow crowd. Coffee, hamburgers, and chocolate chip cookies were the top sellers. In an era of meat and potatoes, the Student Center cafeteria served 125 pounds of roast beef and 150 pounds of potatoes during a typical day. Six hundred desserts and 800 salads were also sold.
“The prices we charge are much cheaper than downtown,” commented the food service manager. “Most of our entrees are 50 cents, where downtown it cost 75 to 85 cents for the same thing.” He acknowledged that most students had good table manners, but was frustrated by their messiness in the Sit-n-Bull.
A business transaction on Main Street makes 1966 a key year in a culinary timeline for the Hilltop, as well as for all of central Illinois. Swiss emigrant Albert Zeller purchased a little-known Italian restaurant called Lardano’s at 1300 Main. Zeller changed the name to Avanti’s (“forward” in Italian) Restaurant. That sale laid the groundwork for a simple culinary masterpiece that continues to satisfy Bradley students and Peorians even after 40 years. Locals and alumni who were enrolled at Bradley after the mid-sixties know the sandwich well—it’s called the gondola.
Gondolas were 95 cents back in ’66. A full Avanti’s gondola costs $4.95 today, not bad for a sandwich on a loaf of bread that measures almost a foot and a half. Italian beef, ham and cheese, and pizza burgers were a few of the other sandwiches on the first Avanti’s menu. Monday was all-you-can-eat spaghetti night for $1. On Wednesday nights, patrons were treated to free drinks with their pizza. A small cheese pizza cost $1.05, and a family-size Avanti’s special was $3.55. While the spaghetti and pizza were good choices, it was the gondola that hooked the Bradley crowd. They could call for delivery, but dorm residents often stopped by to pick up an order.
As the ‘60s drew to a close, students had a different activity at the Student Center. They enjoyed meeting friends and hanging out at the Coffee House Circuit for scheduled performances by musicians.
There’s no denying that late nights and caffeine are part of the college experience. Current students are likely to jumpstart the day by popping open a cold Dr. Pepper or Mountain Dew from their mini fridge. Later on, some might venture over to a nearby coffee hangout/eatery, such as Jester’s or One World just off campus.
One World Eats & Drinks has been a fixture at Main and University for the past 12 years. Patrons can order tea or the daily flavored coffee. When their budgets allow, students splurge on a hot cappuccino, redeye mocha, or café latte. Iced versions of the same drinks are also big sellers.
The newest coffee hangout, Jester’s Coffee House and Café, opened in 2004 at Duryea and Bradley, diagonally across from University Hall. Fans of Intelligentsia coffee are fans of Jester’s. Like One World, the café is locally owned.
Forty years ago, the favorite meeting place for morning coffee was the Sit-n-Bull at the Student Center. The food service manager reported that 36 gallons of coffee were sold daily, but still students were quick to complain. “It’s hard to brew coffee so that it tastes the way everyone wants it,” James Maxwell said in 1965. “What we do is make it by the standards recommended by the coffee company.”
A decade earlier, the Tepee was the hot spot for coffee. Marilyn Carrigan Armstrong ’54 recalls the perfect accompaniment to a steaming cup of coffee. The cook sliced a cinnamon pecan roll in half, buttered it, and then grilled it. “Very tasty,” says Armstrong.