If someone was going to reopen the old Stefanich’s Restaurant, it’s only fitting that the head waitress remembers the chicken that made the place a Joliet favorite for most of the 20th century.
“Their chicken was awesome,” said Kathy Martinez, looking back to yesteryear but acknowledging that you can’t resurrect the past.
Mama’s Restaurant won’t try to revive the Stefanich chicken dish. But it is one of several restaurants that are reviving corners of the downtown dining experience with touches of something old and something new.
Mama’s opened in February in the Stefanich’s building at 457 N. Scott St.
Meanwhile, another restaurateur is working to open the space The Keg once operated. It was another downtown favorite that has been closed for many years. The restaurant will reopen as Catrina’s Mex.
Korean barbecue will be on the menu at the former Chicago Style Ribs on Chicago Street when it reopens as K BBQ & Ribs.
Downtown Joliet lost its one chain restaurant when Subway closed over the winter. It was replaced by Panino Fresco, another sandwich shop but one that offers meat imported from Italy.
Mama’s is a family restaurant that moved from a location on Ruby Street near Six Corners. Its menu is expansive with American, Greek, Italian and Mexican dinners and sandwiches.
One thing not on the menu is the Stefanich’s chicken.
“You can’t imitate it,” Martinez said. “It’s just like my grandma’s potica. She put down the recipe and other people can make it, but it’s just not the same.”
The Stefanich’s building still bears the large, vertical Stefanich’s Restaurant and Lounge sign out front. The new owners will keep the sign.
“We have to. It’s a historical landmark,” Martinez said. “Even though we’re Mama’s Restaurant, it’s actually Mama’s Restaurant at Stefanich’s.”
Another new restaurant that should appeal to Joliet nostalgia is Catrina’s Mex at 20 W. Jackson St.
Amy Montiel and her sister, Laura, hope to open by later this month as they renovate the interior of the building.
The restaurant closed several years ago under the name The Olde Keg. It was named simply The Keg through most of its life after opening in 1964. Before that, it was Jerman’s Tavern.
Lots of people still have good memories of the place, Amy Montiel said.
“When people find out we’re going to open a restaurant there, they say, ‘Oh my God, I used to go there with my parents,’ ” Amy Montiel said.
Dillon Kim and his family plan to bring something completely different with K BBQ & Ribs at 221 N. Chicago St., hopefully by the end of May.
Kim and his wife, Jessica, recently toured 12 countries primarily to explore foreign cuisines.
“Korean-style barbecue is very popular all over the world,” Kim said. “When we traveled in Europe, and especially South America, it’s a favorite.”
There is a market for specialty dishes in downtown Joliet, said Tim Bucci, who oversees Joliet Junior College’s Thrive restaurant at its downtown campus.
“We try to serve mid- to upscale food like you’d find in downtown Chicago, and it’s been very well-received,” Bucci said.