Chanticleer Restaurant – Eureka, Illinois

by Bill More

Jeff Stahl – Chef Owner

It was a pleasure to re-connect with Jeff Stahl, age 48, of Chanticleer.

We had met when he was a Manager of the Meat Department at The Fresh Market store in Peoria. Jeff had his own ice sculpture business for about 14 years prior to making the change to The Fresh Market.

He knew as a kid that he wanted to be a chef since he enjoyed cooking and enjoyed being in the kitchen. He completed his culinary degree from Joliet Community College and started his professional career at the Busy Corner and Conklin Dinner Theater, both in Goodfield. Jeff is from the area but had left for nearly 18 years for school and with his ice sculpture business. Now things have come full circle.

Even as manager at The Fresh Market Stahl and his wife were looking for a restaurant in the Tri-County area that they could buy and operate. Through a very fortunate set of circumstances they found that The Chanticleer in Eureka may be available. This place had been an extremely popular bar and bar-food stop for many folks in the Eureka area for decades. Later they became really popular for their fried chicken, steaks, and fried catfish. The Stahls had seen the opportunity and went in full force.

When Jeff started in the food business the hot trend was Nouvelle Cuisine but the foods tended to be over processed, very small portions, and while flavor-full and popular, that trend did not continue. Today he sees lots and lots of fresh food presentations, chefs and restaurants that are passionate about good flavors, not overly processed foods, where the entrée flavors still dominate the plate (and palate) yet are enhanced by sauces, herbs, and seasonings instead of being masked and drowned by them. He has adapted that philosophy at The Chanticleer as well. They now serve some fabulous chef inspired specials that are high on presentation yet with a nod to comfort preparations and familiar flavor profiles. His Braised Pork Cheeks are an example. Ever had that?

They have also kept the dishes that keep the crowds coming in as well.

He sees future trends including Snout to Tail cooking, using the WHOLE animal-- all the parts. With protein costs skyrocketing he envisions more and more restaurants using more unusual animal cuts but with a new presentation --- less handling but wholly satisfying for their customers. They work hard, very hard, on this concept each and every day and try to bring new dishes and new presentations to the Eureka and area crowd. He calls it ‘progressive’ not ‘trendy’ ---- he wants the concept to last.

When asked what has surprised him the most about his business he told me that the price increases he is seeing are shocking. Chicken wings, for example, now cost more than Chicken breasts. That had not happened before. LOTS of places used to take the wings and make broth --- or simply toss the wings away. Not any more. He is very happy to see that customers are willing to pay for really, really good food, and that is their passion.
Many, many restaurant owners say the very same thing ---- PASSION drives them!

It takes a LOT of time and energy to get consistent results and the Stahls are often there from 9 in the morning to 10 or 11 at night. Good thing they live very close by. It is hard work, very hard work, but what they are doing seems to be working. Business is way up since they took the place over and put their thumbprint on the restaurant scene in Eureka.

They love it, but not every day do they like it. They hope for all the independent restaurant owners to survive and thrive. They know what it takes to make it happen.

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