I like stumbling across (still) prosperous small towns. 30 miles east of Rockford, IL, and 40 miles west of Chicago’s O’Hare airport, you’ll find the burg of Marengo, established in the mid 1800s as a regional commerce center for the surrounding farmers.
Original industries included a flour mill, carriage factory, and a quarry. A lot of the original buildings, built with stones from the quarry, are still standing and have been restored, lining both sides of a short main street “strip.”
Today, the town of 7500 stands out among its peers, with a commerce area still full of stores, including locally owned drug stores and banks, as well as (I was surprised) 7 eateries in a two block stretch. Median house value is $169,000, and you can spend as little as $40,000 on a house, or a cool million for an equestrian estate.
Per SF prices is a very economical $87.
Marengo is about 5 miles north of Interstate 90, perched on US 20, which runs from Boston to the Pacific Ocean. It’s one of the few US highways I haven’t traversed, I’ll have to put it on my “to do” list. (Location map below).
One of the main street eateries is “The Spot,” (Facebook page) a bar (we sometimes refer to them as “taverns” in the Upper Midwest), with a very short menu that’s long on burgers.
I had been by a couple times over the past few years and not found it open, but scored today. Burgers are hand-formed, three quarter pound (!!!!) patties, mildly seasoned, on substantial buns, and come with chips. There’s a wide choice of add-on sides, including hand cut fries, beer battered rings, and tots.
I opted for the “regular” burger, which comes dressed with mustard, ketchup, onion, pickle, lettuce and tomato. The amiable staff can be quite accommodating about one’s desires to customize the sandwich, judging from the requests I overheard.
Of course, food is cooked to order, and it’s a smaller kitchen, so it can take a little bit of time, but I imagine most folks in Marengo aren’t in too much of a hurry.
It’s a great burger, cooked to your specifications. The hand breaded rings, with a hint of beer taste, were huge, crisp, and excellent. Worth the drive, worth the wait, and with low prices you won’t believe. I actually asked the waitress if she undercharged me (it’s been known to happen, I’m so fuckin’ charming).
On a previous run through town, I tried a joint down the street, the Marengo Cafe. While they have a much wider choice of menu selections, if it’s a burger you’re after, “The Spot” will hit the spot. (You knew that was coming)!
I’ve also had a mighty fine breakfast a bit further west on US 20 at “Uncle John’s” in Belvidere, IL, home of a giant Chrysler plant, currently churning out Jeeps and the Dodge Dart.