Best Restaurants: P.L. Johnson’s is a landmark lunch stop in Bishop Hill

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It's a hidden gem in Henry County, Illinois.

"I've always wanted to run a little restaurant," said owner Ann Stodgel.

P.L. Johnson's Dining Room in Bishop Hill is for history buffs and the hungry.

"It is kind of like a step back in time," said customer Jan Strickland.

It's a landmark lunch stop in this former utopian colony for Swedish immigrants.

"I just love it here," said Ann.  "I like to cook.  I like to talk to my customers."

She cooks daily favorites inside the cozy kitchen.  The aroma alone could sell meals.

There's daily-baked casseroles to enjoy.

"I always go back to the Swedish meatballs," said customer Nancy Fuller.  "It's the best."

"I would come back every day for the meatballs if my stomach would allow for that," added customer Lisa Nordstrom.

Those legendary Swedish meatballs sell by the hundreds each week.

"We put a lot of effort into it and a lot of love into it," Ann said.

They've been cooking up crowd-pleasing favorites like bread pudding since 1987.

"We've been coming here for more than 20 years," said customer Jim Strickland.

Visitors come from far and wide to sample the cuisine and culture.

"I like the old ambiance here," Jim added.  "There's no doubt about that."

The original P. L. Johnson started a hardware store in this 1896 building.

"He wanted it to be the largest hardware store in Henry County," Stodgel said.

"We found boxes of nails," said Marty Stodgel, Ann's husband.

They display relics from that bygone era to decorate the dining room and adjacent antiques store.

"The first TV in Bishop Hill was here," he said.  "They used to sit in the back and watch it."

That curious blend of history and home cooking makes this a special stop for lunch.  It keeps visitors to Bishop Hill well-fed, seven days a week.

"It is very comfortable, relaxed, and the food is delicious," Jan said.  "You put these combined together, and I want to be here."

It's really a welcoming family business.  Marty and their son, Martin, also pitch in during the daily rush.

"For them to all work together,  it's good," Nancy said.  "It's a very good thing."

That friendly atmosphere makes it a perfect place to relax during a day trip.  Bishop Hill is about a 45-minute drive from the Quad Cities.

"It's nice to have some place for folks to come and eat," Lisa said.  "Some place just to spend the day."

After 27 years of success, the Stodgels are going strong.  It looks like they're ready for more.

"We make the food the best we can," Ann concluded.  "That makes people want to come back."

They're hungry for history and good food at P. L. Johnson's in Bishop Hill.

The restaurant will close on December 21 for its annual break,  but it will reopen in February.

During their open months, P.L. Johnson's, located at 110 W. Bjorkland Street in Bishop Hill,  is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., seven days a week.  To go orders are available at (309) 927-3885

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