Trigger your taste buds

It takes some effort to get to Pistol City Restaurant. After all, the Randolph County community of Coulterville is not exactly on the beaten path. However, those who enjoy unique restaurants with great food made from scratch and lots of menu options should take aim for Coulterville.

Fried chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans
Fried chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans

“We’re kind of the 800-pound gorilla in town,” restaurant owner Kyle Hinnerichs says with a laugh. “Coulterville is a wonderful little community … Its [population is] less than 1,000 people, but we serve far beyond that,” he says. “We regularly have people coming from Belleville and St. Louis and even Carbondale and Marion. There are always people driving 40 to 50 miles to come here.”

In fact, he says the restaurant has a mailing list of more than 3,500 people, many from miles away. “When we sorted our list by zip code, we discovered a majority of the people on it were from more than 25 or 30 miles away,” he adds.

Many of those people make frequent trips to the restaurant, which Hinnerichs purchased nearly 15 years ago. They come for good food made fresh. “When I arrived, I think probably just 15% of the menu was made from scratch, and it has definitely been our focus to elevate that,” he explains, boasting that it now is nearing 100%. “That’s something we are proud of.”

Just a single item remains on the menu which is not made from scratch. “I think the only thing that isn’t handmade is the Bosco Sticks, which people love,” he explains of the stuffed pizza-like appetizers. Every other listing on the menu (which includes seafood, hand-rolled meatballs, burgers and sandwiches), as well as all of the offerings on the restaurant’s extensive buffet, is made fresh in the 150-seat restaurant.

“I don’t know of any other restaurant that has both a full menu and a whole buffet,” he adds. The buffet, which is available during both lunch and dinner, is popular and known for its fried chicken. “We’re closing in on 2 million pieces of fried chicken served since I’ve owned the restaurant,” Hinnerichs says. “We go through thousands of pieces a week.”

The full buffet and extensive menu results in a sort of “double-barrel”-style kitchen. “It’s a beast,” he explains. “With having a full menu and a full buffet, we basically have to operate as two kitchens.”

He continues with an example of the work required to prepare everything in-house: “You can go anywhere and get a frozen mozzarella stick that someone has taken out of a case and thrown in a fryer. Here, we’re taking whole block mozzarella, cutting it by hand, breading it and frying it. We even fry the tortilla chips for nachos. I believe it’s the little things that make a difference.”

Despite the huge selection, Hinnerichs cautions customers to save room for dessert. “Everything on the dessert menu is also made from scratch, from the crusts to the pie fillings and meringues. We have our own in-house baker who works five days a week, and she’s constantly making cakes and pies, doughnuts and pretty much anything you can think of,” Hinnerichs says.

Pistol City Salad
Pistol City Salad

If you wonder why a restaurant that serves comfort food and decadent desserts has a weapon in its name, Hinnerichs explains that it’s a nod to the community’s past and its lore. “I’ve heard that Coulterville was known as a really rough place 100 to 150 years ago,” he explains. “Supposedly, you didn’t want to get caught in Coulterville without a pistol.”

Previous owners used the legend as the basis for the eatery’s name and motif. Safe to say, the community and restaurant are much more welcoming than they may have been a century ago.

“We want everybody to know that when they are here, they are going to be treated like family,” he says. “We’re a blue-collar area, and we’re all about family. When people come in, they know they can get a downhome, country meal at a fair price,” he adds.

Let’s EAT

IL map, Randolph countyPistol City Restaurant
505 E. Grand St., Coulterville

Daily: 6 a.m.-1 a.m.