Southern Illinois hangout makes 'big find' list

/ Source: The Associated Press

It looks like a favorite hangout in this southern Illinois town might be getting a bit more crowded.

That's because the Giant City Lodge, known affectionately as "the lodge" by locals, was just named one of 10 places in Illinois as a by the travel search engine Travelocity.

The honor goes to destinations that tourists often overlook but that locals treasure, said Steven Morse, a spokesman for Travelocity.

, located in Giant City State Park about 10 miles south of Carbondale, already draws a sizable crop of visitors from around the state looking to dine at the lodge's restaurant or stay overnight in one of its 34 cabins, said co-owner Mike Kelley.

"We get friends and people we're familiar with, but there are days that there will be people you've never seen in your life," he said. "It's not unusual to have people come from St. Louis, Cape Girardeau (Missouri) or Paducah (Kentucky) just to have dinner here."

Kelley said it's no surprise that Giant City Lodge draws people from all over the region. The restaurant serves healthy portions of Southern-style cooking. Fried chicken, turkey and gravy and bison steak are some specialties.

And the scenic location also makes it a draw, he said.

But Kelley said he was surprised to make the Travelocity list. He didn't even know Giant City Lodge was nominated, he said. He recalled getting a notice in the mail, but didn't think much about it until he started getting calls from the local newspaper.

"I wasn't even aware we were in the running," Kelley said.

Travelocity made the selections based on reviews on its Web page and on travel site , Morse said. Out of more than 10,000 nominations, 295 across the country made the list. Other Illinois picks include the Maid-Rite sandwich shop in Springfield, the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park and the Bongo Room restaurant in Chicago.