In just a few weeks, Keepers Quarters will be back open in Carbondale, Illinois – and bigger and better than ever.
The first incarnation of the restaurant opened inside Key West Bar & Grill on the west side of Carbondale in early June, serving elevated pub-style fare. Menu items included burgers like The Bleus, with caramelized onions, blue cheese, smoked garlic aïoli and baby arugula tossed in a light buttermilk-blue cheese dressing, as well as large plates, like slow-roasted pork shoulder with creamy polenta, shaved Brussels sprouts and a pistachio salad. The blend of sandwiches and more refined plated entrées quickly found a hungry audience in Carbondale, but chef-owner Doug Robinson says the kitchen inside Key West was limiting.
"Our doors were open for 21½ days in Key West, and those 21½ days created this monster that is now Keepers Quarters," Robinson says with a laugh. "I stuck more to bar food, but I made it my way. We make our own corned beef, we grind our own meat, we make our own sausage, we did some fancy entrées. I really had no idea that it would take off like it did. We quickly knew we needed to get our own place; we outgrew the kitchen, the dining room and the ability to operate inside of a business as our own business."
Fortunately for Robinson and his brother and business partner, Eric, finding the right location was a breeze. The property owner of the Key West space – not the operators – approached the brothers about leasing the building at 817 S. Illinois Ave., formerly home to House of Kaya and before that, a McDonald's.
"The building was divided in half: They were going to do two different stalls in here, but we took both sides and took down a portion of the dividing wall to make it open," Robinson says. "The south half of the building is the bar room, and the north half is the kitchen room. We'll have a patio, as well."
Renovations to the space have been fairly extensive, including rearranging the layout of the space, ripping up carpeting in the dining room and sanding the floors, updates to the plumbing, painting and more. Robinson says that the space with include some nautical decor as a nod to the restaurant's name; in the days when lighthouses had keepers live on premise, they lived in the keeper's quarters. Although it got its start in Key West and has kept its coastal-inspired name, Robinson is quick to say that Keepers Quarters is not a seafood restaurant. Instead, fans of the former menu can expect the same creative, made-from-scratch fare served at the original, yet with even more plated entrées, appetizers and desserts.
"A few of our signature things that we had at Key West we’re going to keep… A few of the sandwiches, like the Reuben, Cuban and definitely the burgers," Robinson says. "But we’ll be able to do a wider variety of entrées and appetizers, and we’ll be able to do plated desserts; it was really hard to do them at Key West. I think we’ll be able to delve into the seafood world, which I like cooking a lot. You know, it’s really hard to make a rib eye light, but you can make a tuna really hearty or really light. I love what you can do with seafood."
Robinson is also looking forward to being able to have a dedicated bar program at Keepers Quarters; eventually, he hopes to host beer dinners at the restaurant with local favorites such as Scratch Brewing Co. in Ava and Big Muddy Brewing in Murphysboro.
"As exciting as having the kitchen at Key West was and making our name, creating an entire atmosphere is super exciting," Robinson says. "Now, being able to figure out the flow and being able to decorate and control the atmosphere, it’s the whole package."
For the brothers, the partnership is also a return to the family business of sorts. From 1948 to 1993, their paternal grandfather operated Big John's BBQ in Peoria. Robinson says they both have fond memories of growing up around the restaurant industry, and now, he's thrilled to share his own cooking with the community in Carbondale.
"I’m over the moon with this new project; I’ve been waiting for something like this for a very long time," Robinson says. "It’s nice to be able to start another family restaurant, and it’s with my brother, which is great – you’re with family."
Stay tuned for Keepers Quarters to announce its official grand-opening date soon via its Facebook page.
Keepers Quarters, 817 S. Illinois Ave., Carbondale, Illinois, 618. 529.0990, facebook.com/keepers-quarters-198362474323822