For those seeking new adventures in food, Encounters in Divernon offers a unique take on an eclectic menu that blends Greek, Mediterranean and Mexican fare, as well as barbecue. Its extraterrestrial décor and Route 66 gifts lend to the restaurant’s quirky atmosphere.
Robert Keel and his family, who live on Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative lines, established Encounters in November 2019, a few months prior to the 2020 pandemic. His wife came up with its name, which invites patrons to experience something new and gently nods to Robert’s childhood love of all things alien. She is the retail manager, while their son manages the kitchen.
The menu is a further reflection of that love, listing items like their popular signature dish, The Encounter, a 6-inch flour tortilla with tzatziki, lettuce, tomatoes and shaved and steam grilled gyro meat topped with shredded cheese. The restaurant’s alien mascot, Ezi Moondo (created by his son, who is also an artist) has his own place on the menu—as a “nacho supreme wrapped up as a burrito to eat on the go.” It’s made with crushed tortilla chips, ground beef, refried beans, shredded cheese, lettuce, tomato, taco sauce, sour cream, black olives, green onion and queso in a 12-inch flour tortilla. It easily serves two.
Other meal options include the similarly themed Quasar (shredded chicken) and The 51 (a BBQ gyro). But it’s the pulled pork that Robert says is most popular—baked, pulled and later steam grilled. The family tempers their barbecue sauce by boiling it on the grill. Also popular is their Greek taco, for which they chop meat as needed.
Perhaps the restaurant’s most important feature, though, is the staff’s driving commitment to serve natural and chemical-free food options. The eatery uses local, organic ingredients whenever possible and routinely researches alternatives for commonly used additives.
Robert says it can be difficult to find these natural ingredients, and they tend to be significantly more expensive, like Brighton cheese, made with the seeds of the achiote plant (used in American cheese as a natural source of orange dye). However, they do their best to keep their myriad of choices affordable.
“You can taste the difference,” he says, adding that chemicals used in food can cause allergies and reactions. Their commitment to healing with food extends to avoiding allergens as well. For instance, if a customer has a gluten allergy, the kitchen staff will finish their current orders and sterilize the kitchen before preparing the gluten-free order.
Robert taste tests everything they serve. He says their mission is to serve people food that is truly healthy—non-GMO, chemical-free and gluten-free. “Our customers’ health and safety are extremely important to us,” he says, adding that last year the establishment received a gold certificate for food safety from the Sangamon County Department of Health. “We want that to get out there to people that there’s
a healthier option.”
Robert’s personal health journey inspired the restaurant’s holistic approach. After a severe injury more than a decade ago, he became dependent on opiates. Ultimately, he made the choice to go holistic, and now relies on organic supplements and CBDs.
“Organic food feeds the body and makes you feel good,” he says. “I’ve got diehard customers that will be here once a day, sometimes twice a day.” One visitor heard about the alien theme and the organic food and drove three and a half hours to check it out.
“What we eat determines who we are and how we are,” Robert says. “I think if aliens were here to help us, they would want us to be healthy. They wouldn’t be serving corn syrup.”
“I just want to be able to stay open and grow and keep feeding healthy food to great people,” he adds. “And if they want to come in and talk about aliens, that’s fine, too.”