Country cooking offered at Zion’s StarLite restaurant
By Tina Johansson Special to The News-Sun January 17, 2013 1:46PM
Zion Thursday Jan 3 2013 George Papas digs in to his country fried steak at StarLite Country Restaurant, one of the most popular items on the restaurant's menu. George's two children, Jim and Felicia, own StarLite. | Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media
2325 Sheridan Road, Zion
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ZION — For some real country cooking and downhome savings, head on over to the StarLite Country Restaurant.
The food industry is nothing new for sister/brother team Felicia and Jim Papas, owners of the Zion eatery. They grew up around restaurants.
“We were taught at a very young age,” said Felicia, 24. “We’ve worked in restaurants since we were kids. I started out buttering toast for the waitresses when I was 9 years old.”
While StarLite has been around a while, several years ago, Felicia and Jim, 23, took over. Their parents, George, an immigrant from Greece, and Bonnie, a native of Kenosha, had been leasing the building to others who ran the restaurant. When the lease expired, the younger generation of Papas stepped in to run the eatery.
Advertising is paying off. Besides print ads, Felicia said a sign outside the place now shows specials of the week. “Everybody that drives by sees it, and it’s helped our business a lot,” she said.
Among items advertised are the lunch specials that generally range from $4.99 to $5.99. They change monthly, but in December the lunch special featured a choice of meats and two sides, or meat and three sides, which included corn bread and a cup of soup.
The Papas family has owned several restaurants in the past where Jim and Felicia worked, and they also earned their culinary chops by working for franchise eateries around the area. The hands-on experience the young restaurateurs earned proved to be the best thing for them.
They changed the name from StarLite to StarLite Country Restaurant, and began serving downhome cooking with a southern flair.
Things like homemade cornbread and grits began popping up on the menu. For breakfast, diners order lots of the biscuits and gravy here. “The biscuits are big, said Felicia. “My brother doesn’t know how to make them small.”
Jim, the head cook, is usually in the kitchen churning out tasty meals, while Felicia handles other operations including serving.
“I like to wait on the customers because I want to get to know all of them and find out what they like,” said Felicia. “We treat everybody like family. Here you are family whether you like it or not.”
The family-feel is apparent as soon as you walk through the door. Regulars know busman/coffee server Ernesto, and Ernesto knows them. In fact, he usually knows what the customer wants to drink before they even sit down.
While locals and businesspeople come in, so do patients from a nearby cancer treatment facility. “The people that come here like to keep things local, and they like to shop and go to local businesses like we do,” said Felicia.
The owners bought a broaster to make broasted chicken, pork chops and potatoes — which people have been buying buckets of to take out, and plates full to eat in. “I love it. It takes a while to cook (broasted items) but it’s definitely worth the wait,” said Felicia.
The country flavor seems to have made it into a number of the made-from-scratch items including mashed potatoes and meatloaf. “It’s one of our top sellers,” said Felicia. “We don’t whip the potatoes, we mash them up like homemade and they even have a few lumps in them.”
Nothing frozen here. For lunch, the fresh burgers are hand-packed and shaped like clovers. “It makes it different. They’re not just round,” said Felicia.
Desserts at the place range from cakes and pies “from the best bakery in Chicago,” to rice pudding and tapioca made fresh in the StarLite kitchen. “We also make banana pudding, and bread pudding with a delicious pecan praline sauce,” said Felicia.