Good morning, troops. It's Wednesday, June 13.
If you don't like tenderloin sandwiches and the best root beer on Earth, you might not know the venerable Lou's Drive-In has doubled its number of locations.
An upstart Lou's at 245 Farmdale Road in East Peoria has joined the original outlet at 4229 N. Knoxville Ave. in Peoria. The new Lou's opened in late May.
The advantages of the new location, inside an old Sonic Drive-In, appear to be a longer operating season (most of the year instead of spring and summer), more parking and a drive-thru window. Both locations offer curb service in the evenings.
None of that really matters to Nick in the Morning.
What really matters to us is whether the food at the new place is just as good as the food at the old place. Just in case we're in, say, Hopedale and get a hankering, and don't feel like driving across the Illinois River and through the construction maze that Knoxville Avenue is these days.
We took a recent lunch hour — more like an hour and a half, by the time we exited that Knoxville-construction jail — and gave both Lou's a test.
Our odyssey began not long after 11 a.m. at the original Lou's, home of the open-air counter and bad access from northbound Knoxville. After an apparently legal U-turn, we arrived to a sparse crowd just before lunch hour kicked into full gear.
We ordered a chili dog with cheese and a small root beer. Total cost: $4.55. About eight minutes later, we received our order.
The hot dog itself is not the greatest we've ever had. But the chili atop it is something else. It doesn't evoke the cinnamon-nutmeg notes of, say, Cincinnati-style chili, but the original-Lou's mixture featured a nice tang at the finish.
As for the root beer, it was its usual solid self. But it could have used a little more chill. As opposed to chili, of course.
We bid farewell to Lou's legendary waitresses, hopped in the Nick in the Morning-mobile and slalomed down Knoxville to the Murray Baker Bridge and over to Lou's II. It's located just off Washington Street at the far east end of East Peoria.
There isn't much that can be done about this, but we'll say the old Lou's has a monopoly on charm. The new Lou's looks very much like the Sonic it once was. Too generic, although a facsimile of the unique Lou's sign is a nice touch.
Instead of the aforementioned open-air counter, the new Lou's features separate windows for pick-up and ordering. Your name is called when your order is ready.
We ordered the exact same thing we did at the original Lou's. In East Peoria, it cost $4.32. We attribute most of that to the waitress not charging us the extra dime for cheese, not an appreciable sales-tax difference.
(As far as we know, Lou's owners didn't ask East Peoria for the right to charge an additional 1 percent sales tax to cover the cost of remodeling. Take note, Portillo's.)
After a longer-than-desired 13-minute wait, we received our order and sat outside to eat it. (In fairness, the drive-thru appeared to be busy.) This Lou's offers six or seven round picnic tables. No counter seating, unlike the Peoria Lou's.
Our assessment of the new-Lou's food is the opposite of what we found in Peoria. The hot dog seemed more well-cooked, but the chili seemed a bit watered down. The finishing bite didn't live up to its bark.
The new-Lou's root beer was identical in flavor to that of the old, but it tasted even better because it was colder. Maybe that decades-old root-beer keg at the old Lou's needs better refrigeration.
Our verdict: If you live in Tazewell or Woodford counties and don't want to drive all the way to Peoria for your Lou's fix, the Farmdale Road location is perfectly fine. But if you want your burgers topped with old-school atmosphere, Knoxville Avenue is where it's at.
Please forgive us for ending a sentence with a preposition, and please listen to the song heard on the way to work.