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Dining Out: New location, same Johnny\’s

EAST PEORIA – Johnny has jumped the river, a new flash in his step.

After a decade at the Shoppes at Grand Prairie, Johnny\’s Italian Steakhouse now sizzles in East Peoria, adjacent to the new Holiday Inn & Suites. Whereas the former site boasted a sumptuousness and elegance, the new joint bursts with a brighter, modern flair – though retaining a convivial swagger. The Rat Pack would approve.

One caveat: if you make a reservation, make sure you specify your needs. I\’d asked simply for a table for two, which ended up as a booth by the bar, facing the back-bar TV. My wife and I didn\’t mind: an early- fall dinner with college football on the tube. But if you\’re looking for intimacy, request a table away from the bar.

Meanwhile, the chain\’s menu remains dependable. You still can rely on the complimentary starter of chewy bread, olive oil and Parmesan cheese.

The wine and cocktail menu are always fun to peruse. My wife went with a King Estate Acrobat pinot noir ($9), brimming with a black-cherry bouquet and finish. I opted for what might be the best martini available in the Peoria area, the dirty bird ($10): Grey Goose vodka, Bombay Sapphire gin, olive juice and two Gorgonzola cheese-stuffed olives. Sublime.

As appetizers, the bruschetta ($8, a buck more for shrimp) combined a perfect sweet-salty-spicy combination, especially thanks to the goat cheese. The Italian sausage-stuffed mushrooms ($9.50), heftily covered in melted mozzarella cheese, held a nice zip of heat.

The salads excelled. My house brimmed with a perfectly bitter-tart Gorgonzola dressing, while my wife\’s Caesar (an extra $2) burst with a freshly light (but satisfying) taste.

The dinner menu includes various cuts of steak, veal, pork chops and seafood ranging from salmon to lobster. Pasta choices include lasagna, angel hair with scallops and more.

Entrees come with one side. My wife\’s asparagus was superbly flavorful. My pasta marina was decent if flat, a wee disappointing for a place with \”Italian\” amid the name.

The crab-stuffed shrimp ($21) involved a delectable melding of tiger prawns, crab cake stuffing and Bearnaise sauce. Johnny\’s Steak DeBurgo, its \”signature steak,\” features beef tenderloin medallions accentuated with roasted garlic, fresh thyme, basil, oregano and cream sauce. The flavor is mild but distinct.

Dessert choices fill a platter brought tableside. The limoncello cake ($6) exploded with a citrus deliciousness, while the warm chocolate cake was delightful even before finding the pudding-like treasure inside.

Through the meal, our waiter was pleasant and diligent. However, as the dinner crowd grew, the pace of the meal shifted early into acceleration mode, even though the restaurant wasn\’t overrun in the least. We\’re no slow nibblers, yet the salads arrived before we had done much with our appetizers. And with all that on the table – bread, apps, salads – on came the entrees. It was as if we had a tiny buffet on our table.

And we surely hadn\’t gone out on a Saturday night for a buffet; we\’d gone to Johnny\’s. Next time, perhaps the place can calm down a bit and let us enjoy the meal more.

Quick Guide

Johnny\’s Italian Steakhouse 101 Holiday St., East Peoria (309) 692-3887

East Peoria

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Ratings: **** is highest Food *** 1/2 Atmosphere **** Service ** 1/2
Prices: Appetizers, $7 to $17; salads, $10 to $14; entrees, $15 to $30.

Miscellaneous: Credit cards accepted; catering available.

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