If you grew up in Peoria in the ‘60’s, ‘70’s or ‘80’s, then your first real barbecue rib experience probably happened at Big John’s. Big John’s was owned and operated by Big John Robinson and his ribs were as legendary as was his famous catch-phrase to customers: “Thanks a lot, y’all have enough to eat?” Big John treated his customers like family and I always loved saying hi and chatting with him when we either picked up ribs or ate them at the downtown restaurant through the years.
Sadly, Big John died in 1995, but his family has kept the memory and the rib recipe alive in a restaurant in Pioneer Park called Grandpa John’s Rib Shack. I’ve been hungry for ribs lately and I think this is just the place to scratch that saucy itch.
It's a rotten, rainy, gray day out here. Kind of depressing, but I bet ribs will brighten everything up.
It's so nasty out, I was tempted to use the drive-though and just get them to go, but we need to go inside and check this place out.
And here we are, let's get inside where it's dry, I'm afraid of wrecking my camera out here in the rain.
Big John's son, Doug Robinson owns the restaurant and runs it along with his son, Derrick. I've never met him, but I saw some photos on the internet and I think that's him up at the counter talking with some customers.
I was right, here's Doug with his lovely wife Rose posing for the MBIP camera. Doug's a friendly and engaging host, just like his dad.
Here Doug points to a framed photo of his dad that hangs over the front counter.
It's a full page article about Big John in the Chicago Tribune, very impressive!
And here's the man himself, Big John Robinson, a legendary Peoria chef and restaurant owner.
It's nice in here and bigger than it looks from the outside. Single tables snake down the middle with booths lining the walls. There's another counter to eat at up by where you order your food.
Some of the specials of the day are featured on this board up at the front of the restaurant.
And there's more specials listed on these hand-drawn signs behind the counter where you order.
Doug told me they still use the same secret recipe for the barbecue sauce in here that Big John developed all those years ago.
And you can buy the sauce to take home. It's available to go in these jugs.
Okay, time to eat, I decided to sit at this booth.
Here's a view of Grandpa John's from back where I'm seated.
And shortly after I sat down, the food arrived. The ribs and sauce taste exactly like they did when I used to dine at Big John's downtown. The taste brought back memories of days gone by.
Here I am diving into rib heaven! And the fries aren't too shabby either!
Doug sat down at my booth and joined me for lunch. He told me how Big John's got started all the way back in 1949 in downtown Peoria. He said that a friend of his dad's brought some ribs over to their house from a local restaurant and Big John told him he could do better and invited the man back for dinner the next day. A pit was dug in the back yard, ribs were slow-cooked and Big John served them up the next day and his friend was amazed at the taste. Shortly after the first incarnation of Big John's was started at the house and it grew from there. Doug started working with his dad at the tender age of 12 and continues the Robinson barbecue tradition to this day. And like his dad, Big John, he makes every customer feel welcome and special. I can attest to that, this was a great lunch and wonderful to talk to Doug and hear the history of Big John's barbecue.
You're quite welcome and I will. See yous all tomorrows!