When the only complaint about the inaugural “Grub Crawl” is people were too stuffed afterwards, organizer Marcia Crawford of the O’Fallon VFW Post 805 sympathizes but considers that a good thing.
“Everyone said they were stuffed because there was so much food. But they all agreed it was a good thing and they had a blast,” she said.
With the success of the event, which had participants sampling appetizers at seven different locations, and the growing visibility of the Downtown District, Crawford said she hopes they can do it again next year.
“The businesses have had a lot of action around Downtown O’Fallon the past few months. We (VFW Post 805) have major events in the spring (0.1K Race) and the fall (BaconFest) and we needed something for summer. What better way than to help the local food establishments that are either veteran-owned/ran or have been sponsors for VFW events in the past?” Crawford said.
The Grub Crawl on Saturday coincided with the Downtown District’s “Christmas in July” promotion and a busy morning at the Vine Street Market.
“The O’Fallon Downtown District has seen so many new faces,” Crawford said. “Some have lived in O’Fallon for years, others visiting from nearby towns. I wanted people to know there are several places to eat within a reasonable distance. All the places have specials on different nights too — so you really could eat dinner out every night of the week,” she said.
The fee was $20 and included a T-shirt. Starting at 11 a.m., those with a “Passport” — a program listing the participating places — went to the seven spots, ate free appetizers, received a sticker, then turned it in by 5 p.m. at the VFW. They were then eligible for prize drawings.
Participants included Bettis Backyard BBQ (inside the O’Fallon VFW Post 805), The Depot Bar and Grill, FlamentCo’s The Place, Gia’s Pizza, Hemingway’s Zen Garden, Peel Wood Fired Pizza and the Moose Lodge.
Mark Bettis of Bettis Backyard BBQ was thrilled at the opportunity to have people discover them as they were new, having just opened April 4. He has been barbecuing for 20 years and dreamed of a place of his own.
“It’s a passion of mine. I can do it all day, all night,” he said.
His rubs and sauces are made from scratch, as are the sides. He doesn’t use gas or electric, it’s slow-smoked and all charcoal-and-wood grilled.
“Sometimes it’s hickory and apple, or apple and cherry. I freestyle it. Whatever comes to mind,” he said.
Crawford said they wanted to let people know the VFW is open to the public. The Post is located at 221 W. First St.
“We wanted to let people know you don’t have to be a VFW member to get drinks, food, karaoke, play pool, darts or rent the hall. Everyone was surprised that Bettis actually gave a small sample of all their meats,” she said.
The Moose Lodge wanted visibility as well. They are at 109 N. Penn St., inside the O’Fallon American Legion Post.
“We’re one of the best kept secrets in O’Fallon,” said Anthony Dodge, a past governor of the Moose and on the House Committee Chair of the American Legion. “We’re a block off State Street.”
He said they support the community in all aspects.
FlamentCo’s The Place, being on U.S. 50, also benefitted from more visibility. They are tucked away in a strip center at 711 W. U.S. 50. Cory Flament offered three options: Toasted ravioli, a slice of pizza, or their cheese fries topped with a house-made sauce featuring six cheeses.
“I had to give directions several times to FlamentCo’s The Place. Many didn’t know he was on Highway 50. People came back loving his cheese fries and the pizza,” she said.
Crawford mentioned some of the comments she heard.
“One of my favorites was: ‘We have lived here for years, and always go to certain places to eat. We had no idea the Moose offered food! And it was really good. We will be back,’” Crawford said.
Another was: “We always go right past Hemingway’s, but never think to go inside for food — we should have a long time ago. Talk about a hidden gem!”
Hemingway’s, located at 123 E. First St., gave out two crispy Buffalo chicken wings and a caprese salad.
The Depot Bar and Grill, at 126 E. State St., offered honey-glazed boneless chicken wings and fried green beans with a chipotle aioli dipping sauce.
Crawford said one comment was “We knew The Depot was there, but really thought it was just another bar. We were confused why they were on the list. We got there and everyone was SO nice! The food was great. So glad we did this, we know we will be going there again!”
Crawford said even though Peel’s popular for pizza, people mentioned their drink special, a Christmas cranberry cocktail. Peel Wood Fired Pizza is at 104 S. Cherry St. and offered a pretzel with dipping sauces.
Crawford said most people love Gia’s chicken wings, and they did not disappoint. Located at 102 W. State St., they also gave away a cheese-filled breadstick with marinara dipping sauce.
Crawford said she met her goal.
“We were able to help show off O’Fallon businesses by doing something new in the area. I was able to introduce new businesses to long-time residents. We were able to raise money for our local veterans at the same time. We had 63 people ‘crawl’ on Saturday, and we raised $837,” she said. “Not too bad for the first year. Since the restaurants donated the food to help us with this, if they are happy — we would love to do this again next year.”