Lunch hour on Broadway in historic Alton, Illinois will inevitably find Ann Badasch, owner of My Just Desserts, hustling from her busy kitchen that boasts 150 pie recipes to a front door that sometimes catches, letting in the cool air from outside.
It is here where she greets people she has known for years. These are the folks who saw her restaurant grow from featuring just her famed half-pound chicken salad sandwich (with green olives!), five pie recipes and the still-on-the-menu fan favorite tollhouse brownies. But she is just as welcoming to a newcomer like me, who has the luxury of choosing from a menu that changes every day based on the cravings of the kitchen.
Ann is even patient as I agonize over “Mrs. Ledbetter’s Chocolate Pie” or “Peanut Butter Luster.” In the end, I go with Ann’s favorite Peanut Butter Luster (always trust the owner) on account of its pre-baked crust lined with melted chocolate beneath a towering peanut butter filling and topped with a hard chocolate shell. Excellent choice.
She isn’t sure exactly what percentage of her business is made up of neighbors or tourists, but Ann guesses it’s about half and half with a healthy dose of seasonal visitors who come back year after year to shop the antique shops in Alton, check out the wineries in Grafton or Eagle watch at Pere Marquette State Park.
Attracting both locals and tourists comes easy to this natural host. She puts on Lincoln-themed dinners that point to the historic location of her restaurant, which takes up the first floor of the Ryder Building and sits along the Lincoln & Civil War Legacy Trail. The building once hosted a young attorney named Abraham Lincoln as he delivered a speech for Whig candidate William Henry Harrison, and it is the likely location of the trial for the murderers of the abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy who died in Alton defending his printing press.
Upon request, Ann will also host a dinner with the bare minimum of ingredients as a nod to the Alton area’s Lewis and Clark connections. In this case, she’ll design a dinner like one that the explorers would have enjoyed when they spent five months at Camp River Dubois before launching their journey.
So when you come to the place where the great rivers meet, don’t miss My Just Desserts and its one-of-a-kind hostess Ann Badasch.
Deputy Director, Illinois Office of Tourism