By Jada Fisher
Lemon Merengue, coconut crème, apple and cherry are popular pies baked fresh daily at Blue’s Café in Kankakee. University President John Bowling is beyond familiar with this local ’mom & pop‘ diner, as he is a weekly guest.
Blue’s opened in 1954, and has since been family-owned and operated. The red and off-white 1950’s styled booths, tables and bar counter, reflect a portion of Blue’s background. This year marks their 60th anniversary, said manager Julie Surprenant. “We take pride in making a homemade meal for a good price,” she said. Popular fixings like biscuits and gravy, pies and burgers are prepared by scratch every day. Biscuits are handmade, the gravy is made from their homemade sausage grease and burgers are never frozen.
“He likes to eat an omelet sometimes in the mornings,” said Surprenant of Dr. Bowling. On his plate for lunch is usually a cheeseburger and French fries. On Saturday mornings, Dr. Bowling brings Mrs. Bowling and some Olivet friends. “Olivet is one of our biggest supporters; a lot of students and faculty comes here,” she added.
Blue’s serves up daily specials similar to a meal you might have at home. The Monday special is pork chops, meat loaf on Tuesdays, spaghetti is served on Wednesdays, fish is fried on Thursdays, and more fish and pot roast on Fridays. Another homemade special on the menu is noodles, which are hand rolled out and dried on Saturday nights. Between 15 and 17 flavors of the highly favored pies are baked fresh every day with a lard crust.
Dr. Bowling is one of many regular diners of Blue’s. Some even have three meals there in a single day, said Surprenant. Bears owner Virginia Halas McCaskey has visited Blue’s, as well as many fans during Bears training camp and the pre-season.
The name “Blue’s” points back to the childhood nickname of the founder and Surprenant’s late-father, Raymond. “His nickname came from when he was a little boy because he used to wear blue pants all the time,” Surprenant said. Before 1954, the café was previously down the street from the current location, near the now Shell gas station. That location was much smaller and only had four tables.
Surprenant and two of her three siblings took on the diner after their parents’ death. Though, Surprenant and her sister are the only present family members working at Blue’s, other employees have been around for the last 20 to 35 years. Surprenant grew up around the family diner and started working there at 15 years old. She watched and learned from her mother, who once made all the soups. Surprenant worked her way up from washing dishes, to the cooking line, to waitressing and now managing it all.
Guests of Blue’s have spotted other restaurants of the same name overseas in places like Paris and Italy. Pictures can be found near the right corner hanging on the wall.
Blue’s hours are Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., closed on Sundays.