A short distance off the intersection of Hwy. 57 and Hwy. 70, exit 160, in the small town of Effingham, IL is a place that feels like home. The Firefly Grill is a fusion between a rustic barn with firewood stacked at the ready and an upscale urban rooftop loft. Eclectic bluesy jazz floats over you as you pass the front herb garden and plush lounges at the front door. As amazing as the food is, what is truly unique is the experience you get at the Firefly.
The Firefly Grill Feels like Home…only better
Instantly you feel at home, like your super swanky ultra comfy home. It’d be easy to say the Firefly gets its cozy chic vibe from the giant black and white photos of the owner’s Chef Niall and Kristie’s wedding (check out their amazing love story here) or the sight and sounds of the bustling exhibition kitchen or even the smells of bread baking, steaks grilling, or Bolognese simmering. Yep, I’m not going to lie, any and all of those things will definitely have you saying “Yeah… I’m home.” But it goes deeper than that.
Last week I popped in to chat with Niall and Kristie about doing a post on their restaurant because it seems like since I’ve moved here most of our major events have in some way shape or form been touched by the Firefly. Jerry wined and dined me there while we were dating. We had dinner there the night we were married. A few weeks after our ceremony, we had our wedding reception there.
My surprise 40th birthday party was there, as well as both of our girls’ sweet 16 birthday parties, and we have celebrated all of our kids’ graduations there. Not to mention one of my most favorite annual Effingham events: WitchFest! The Firefly is part of our story and we have weaved it into the fabric of our family.
After our son recently turned 16, he was hired here as a dishwasher. He enjoys it because everyone is working their butt off (his words not mine), there’s a sense of family, and they make him feel appreciated. There was one time in particular, when he first started, dishes were everywhere and he couldn’t keep up. Chef Niall came in, rolled his sleeves up, jumped on the dishes with him, and they knocked it out together. That made a huge impact on our son and it showed him what true leadership really means.
Niall and Kristie’s mission is to help others actualize their own dreams and aspirations. They created the Firefly as a vehicle to manifest that vision. I met the newest member of the Firefly family, Chef Angel David (David), Executive Chef. He comes to Effingham via Chicago’s Next Restaurant, the sister restaurant of the very exclusive Alinea, and brings with him the artistry of molecular gastronomy with the use of techniques such as dehydrated powdered berries and nitro glycerin… cooool. (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist). When I asked him, “Why Firefly? Why Effingham?” His eyes lit up as he told me how excited he was to be apart of a creative team whose core beliefs are centered around constantly and never-endingly improvement. This philosophy encompasses the Firefly from their guests’ experience, to the staff, to the organization of the kitchen, to how they grow their own produce.
Talking with Kristie, Niall, and David last week I got a slight glimpse at some of the up and coming changes for the Firefly. A few of these include new chairs for the main dining room. Think Hemingway meets Steampunk, dark leather with big buckles on the back and most importantly comfortable. A long banquet and new booths are coming too. Already they’ve vamped up the private room with a large flat screen for football or powerpoint presentations.
Niall and David are collaborating on new items for the menu too. Some of which just went live last week. The new Garden Salad is phenomenal. This is David’s creation: a bouquet of freshly picked lettuce from the garden, secured with a ribbon of cucumber, laid gently over pistachio crusted chicken, with a light white vinaigrette, dotted with a carrot puree and … get this… shaved chocolate! Yeah, you read that right. Order it as a starter salad. It’s going to rock your world. Not kidding.
Some time later this year they are looking at implementing a 7 to 11 course prix fixe chef’s tasting menu. Sign me up!
Jerry and I agree, their filet mignon is probably the best steak we’ve ever had. They’ve sourced a nearby organic rancher who is currently supplying them entire Waygu steers. They’ve also help a local farmer realize his dream: to raise non-GMO pigs organically and humanely. His operation is now, one year later, in full swing in part because they committed to buying his livestock.
I’m not sure either the filet mignon or the Korean short ribs can be categorized as mere food. They’re more like a cosmic sensory explosions of gastronomic delight. Ok, that sounded pretty pretentious but… man, that was fun to write! And even more fun to eat! Every bite of the Korean short ribs is pure pleasure. I’m talking, the kind of pleasure you want to make sure you are sitting with your back to the restaurant because sucking the meat as it is falling off the bone is definitely not PG13. And that’s all I have to say about that. Moving on to the filet… See the stock Chef David is skimming?
Secrets to the Sauce Revealed
The Firefly filet is crazy tender with just the right char on the outside, but what steals the show for me is the veal reduction that surrounds it. After Chef David walked me through their step by step process of how they are making their veal broth, I now know why mine has always tasted like crap. Here’s the deal. Submerse just the bones in cold water, bring it to a boil, then toss that water out. By doing this, you’ve cleaned the bones. (That was the step I always skipped and always ended up with… yuck.) Next, cover the bones with cold water again, bring to a simmer for 12 hours. Drain and reserve that liquid. Then cover the bones again with cold water and add chopped onions, carrots, and celery. Simmer for 8 more hours. Combine both liquids and store in the refrigerator or freezer. To make the reduction, heat this broth to a simmer until reduced. And that, my friends, is why the veal reduction under your whipped potatoes and filet mignon at the Firefly is liquid gold.
Our other favorites
Jerry’s other favorite is the seasonal Bolognese. Niall’s Bolognese is a thick meaty sauce with the tiniest bits of onion and carrots over wide pappardelle noodles that makes you think of Tuscan sunsets. OK, Jerry doesn’t think of Tuscan sunset, but I do. Watching Niall make the sauce is really interesting too. He uses this ginormous colossal pot, stirs it all day, and lets it slowly come together. There might even be a bottle or two of a nice red wine in there. My favorite lunchtime go to (after the Korean short ribs) is the Firefly burger. The signature Firefly burger is topped with bacon, caramelized onions, mornay cheese, and a sunny side up egg. I keep it keto (low carb) by putting it on a small salad (forgoing the bun) with a side of green beans and dipping each bite in the Firefly ranch dressing. Oh my goodness! I am seriously salivating right now.
Let’s just pause for one moment to pay homage to the Firefly ranch dressing. Forget ketchup and mustard on your burger and reach for their ranch dressing. It’s the perfect pairing for French fries. Need a quick dip for your potato chips or want to jazz up your baked potato? Break out the Firefly ranch dressing! Steamed veggies can be so boring, but not with this ranch dressing drizzled over them. Cleopatra was said to have bathed in cream and rose petals. Well, that’s only because she didn’t have the Firefly’s ranch dressing!
If I’m going to indulge in a little carb action for lunch, I can’t resist the fish tacos. They’re light and golden with perfect crunch. The fish is hot hot hot and the pineapple salsa slaw is nice and cool. I love that combo! You have 3 dips to play with: sweet & spicy, salsa verde, and a chipotle red pepper sauce. Oh yum!
While the chefs were knocking around new ideas for the dessert menu, David suggested a doughnut duo. “What kind of doughnut are you thinking?” Niall asked him. “The Best Damn Doughnuts you ever had!” David laughed. And that’s how The Best Damn Doughnuts found their way on to the dessert page of the menu. They are dusted with dehydrated powdered berries & confection sugar, filled with cream, and a side of peach white chocolate dip. Save room for these!
I love the Firefly garden and watching it come to life after one of our long hard winters. When they first opened in 2006, they planted 4 rows of vegetables to use in their menu. Now they have over 12,000 square feet of organic produce. They are continually expanding the garden and there are plans for a year round greenhouse. I can’t wait!
The Firefly Grill has evolved organically over the last 10 years. It grew out of a love story and into a culinary oasis. Each plate is beautifully crafted to indulge both the eyes and the palate. So, am I biased? You bet I am and once you’ve been here, you will be too.
See you on the porch!