Although I don’t usually watch the show, I am fascinated by the down-home eateries celebrity chef Guy Fieri selects for his Food Network show, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. We visited one of his picks, Cecilia’s Cafe, in downtown Albuquerque.
When my friend Laura Levsky told me she had visited Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket on Route 66, it sounded like Guy’s kind of place. Sure enough, I checked it out on the internet and he had been there, too.
Here’s Laura’s first-person story:
Last week I was watching my favorite Tuesday show, 19 Kids and Counting, with my husband Phil, who reluctantly watches with me since he can DVR The Voice. On this particular episode, Anna and Josh Duggar and their kids took an RV trip to Chicago to visit Anna’s sister, who is pregnant, and attend her baby gender reveal party. On the way, one of their many stops was at Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket, a no frills fried chicken joint, located southwest of Chicago in suburban Willowbrook, Illinois.
Dell Rhea’s started as a gas station lunch counter in the late 1930s or early 1940s and grew over the years becoming a wildly popular stop along historic Route 66 (now known as I-55 in the Chicago area) on the trip to or from Chicago. This restaurant is so iconic it’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places by the State of Illinois and the National Park Service, United States Department of Interior.
Since Phil and I were planning a weekend trip to Champaign to attend Dads Weekend at the University of Illinois with our son, we decided we’d make a stop for dinner on the way back and check it out for ourselves.
If you prefer fine dining with white table cloths and sterling silver wine chillers tableside in “fancy restaurants,” this might not be the place for you. If you order a bottle of wine, it will be brought to your table in a plastic pitcher filled with ice. And, the table cloths are oil cloth, like you may have used in art class in grade school. The atmosphere is most definitely down-home, welcoming and friendly. Additionally, if you like country music, a live band performs in the restaurant’s bar, The Blue Rooster Lounge, on Saturday nights.
When we arrived on Saturday night the parking lot was overflowing. Phil dropped me off at the door, so we could get on the seating list before he ventured out to find a parking space. The Blue Rooster Lounge was already packed with patrons waiting for the live show at 8:30, so we stood around with many others patiently waiting for our table. I was impressed with the friendly and welcoming staff, from the servers up to the manager. Customer service is excellent and demonstrated by all levels of staff. As each party was led to their table and seated, they were thanked for waiting.
When we were finally seated, we were greeted by our friendly and upbeat server, Dene. I could tell by her sense of humor and friendly demeanor that she was a pro, unnerved by the throngs awaiting her service. Dene shared that she lives near Chicago and drives in on the weekend to work at Dell Rhea’s.
Although we usually eat grilled chicken, we ordered the Famous Fried Chicken Dinner, including soup and salad bar. Phil ordered this 4-piece half chicken meal standard with mashed potatoes and green beans. I ordered mine with stuffing and fries. After we placed our order, a basket of warm biscuits arrived. Then we headed over to the soup and salad bar. I had the clam chowder and Phil had the chicken dumpling soup. Both were very good! Phil also had a plate of salad. I decided eating salad was pointless as a prelude to what was about to arrive.
The bottom line
If you are a fried chicken lover, you will definitely want to try Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket if you’re in the area. Although I usually pull the skin off fried chicken, I had to try it since viewing the preparation of the secret breading recipe on 19 Kids and Counting, when Anna was invited back to the kitchen to learn how to prepare the chicken. (I did ask if I could go back to the kitchen like Anna but was politely refused by the front desk staff.) The skin on the chicken is the crunchiest I’ve ever tasted and has a unique flavor. I was impressed that Dell Rhea’s only uses cage-free, non GMO and antibiotic, and hormone-free chicken.
After our meal I was able to chat with Dee, the server who served the Duggars on their visit. She reported that they were a very nice family, just as they appear on TV. She had a lot of fun during the taping which took place in the afternoon last summer after the lunch rush.
Dell Rhea’s recommends reservations for parties of 5 or more. I plan to go back and try their grilled chicken next time and save room for one of their homemade desserts!
IF YOU GO
645 Joliet Road (I-55 & Route 83), Willowbrook, Illinois 60527
Laura S. Levsky, MBA lives in suburban Chicago with her husband of 30 years and two college age children. She spends her days working in the education department at an international professional association. Laura has a financial background and, in a past life, managed an accounting department at a large insurance company.
Take a peek inside Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket with Guy Fieri on YouTube: