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By Courtney Westlake | FREELANCER
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Jazzing it up
Robbie’s finds a niche in downtown Springfield
By Courtney Westlake

When Archer Bailey bought Robbie's restaurant 20 years ago, the only dessert on the former owner's menu was plain ol' cheesecake.

Over the years as a chef at several restaurants in Texas, Bailey had picked up quite a few dessert recipes, specifically pies. He decided to toss the cheesecake off the menu and pie took over, much to the delight of the Springfield community.

"The main thing we're known for is our pies," Bailey said. "We feature a different pie each week, so that sets us apart."

Robbie's, located on the Old State Capitol Plaza, now offers slices of pie to customers dining in each day as well as full pies ordered to go. The holidays have been extremely successful for Bailey's pies, with orders topping more than 100 during the week of Thanksgiving.

"Pumpkin and pecan are big at Thanksgiving, and our chocolate cream pie is the most popular year-round," Bailey said.

"And I make a cherry amaretto pie that's just to die for," he added with a big laugh.

Other varieties in Bailey's lineup include banana cream, butterscotch cream, sweet potato and Key lime.

"I try to do whatever's fresh, so I do strawberry pie in the spring, and then when there are peaches at the farmers market, I do peach," he said. "So (what we offer) depends on the time of year and what's available."

Bailey was working at a company in Dallas when he first heard of the opportunity to purchase Robbie's through family friends. The thought had crossed his mind more than once that he'd like to own his own restaurant, and so he took the plunge and moved to Illinois' capital city.

When he first bought the business, Bailey leased the building. But a few years later, he was able to purchase the space that Robbie's occupies, directly in the hub of downtown activity.

To engage the after-work crowd, Robbie's plays host to jazz nights from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. each Friday, in conjunction with the Springfield Arts Council. Patrons can enjoy an early evening cocktail to the tunes of jazz and blues to kick off their weekend.

"Most people come and have something to eat, too; I set out an appetizer menu with things like nachos and chicken wings for them to snack on if they want," Bailey said.

The jazz nights came into existence 14 years ago thanks to musician Virgil Rhodes, who inquired at Robbie's about playing a one-time gig, Bailey said.

"It went over so well, and one thing led to another, and we started those up on Friday nights," he said. "I've always been a lover of jazz."

But Robbie's biggest crowd can be found during the lunch hour, when downtown workers stop in on their breaks to feast on the delicious soups, sandwiches and salads that make up Robbie's menu.

Crowd favorites during lunch are the cranberry roast pork and the beef tips and rice - "like beef stroganoff but over rice instead of noodles," Bailey said. Chili is the most popular soup dish with the Robbie's following. Other offerings include cheese broccoli, beef barley and spicy black-eyed pea soup.

"I rotate the soups, and I try to do one broth soup for those on diets," Bailey said. "The soups change, too, as I find new recipes to try."

As the economy begins to pick back up from its dip in recent years, Bailey said he is hopeful that the downtown business will also pick up. In the meantime, he will continue to serve his loyal crowd and strive to keep things changing for the better.

"I'm always on the lookout for new and different things to change the menu up," he said.

 

Story published Friday, January 7, 2011 ( Volume 5, Number 8 )

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