PEORIA — A fine dining establishment that opened on the heels of the last decade's recession in a location that few thought would succeed has now been awarded a prestigious honor in the restaurant industry.
Troy Ummel's Connected restaurant, situated in the heart of Peoria off University Street, was awarded a Distinguished Restaurant of North America (DiRoNA) honor this month. It is the first such award in the city of Peoria and one of the few in Illinois given to a restaurant outside of the Chicagoland area.
"Are you kidding me?" Ummel said of finding out about the prestigious award. "It's a huge honor. I'm thrilled."
Every year the organization announces a collection of new fine dining restaurants across the continent of North America as its award recipients. The current total includes 587 award-winning restaurants in the United States, 78 in Canada, 24 in Mexico and three in Central America and the Caribbean.
The selection process behind the award is purposefully veiled, but Scott Breard, executive director of the Distinguished Restaurants of North America, explained some of the steps in the methodology.
A restaurant must first be anonymously nominated by a patron. The nomination is then forwarded on to a review board of industry experts. From there, field experts "thoroughly review" the establishment, drawing from criteria in four different topics: the quality of the cuisine, the beverages, the service, and the physical decor and ambiance of the restaurant.
The honor tends to end up at places that are concentrated in bigger markets, but Breard explained that it's not a determining factor at all.
"A restaurant is a restaurant," Breard said. "Connected was graded the same way restaurants would be in New York, Mexico City or Toronto.
"For us, we like finding a place in a city like Peoria because we give it recognition across North America."
Ummel recalled working in Christini's Ristorante Italiano in Orlando many years ago when that restaurant took home the award and how thrilled everyone was to receive it. He was shocked that Connected won when he found out last week, though the surprise was partly due to the anonymous nature of the review process.
The chef, who was a native of Morton before attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., was satisfied with the honor because it not only noted Connected's excellence but also its durability.
Connected opened in September 2009 in the wake of an economic recession. Many people chided Ummel for opening a restaurant then and to do it in that location. He recalled some prognosticating that he wouldn't last six months.
But more than eight years later, Connected's pasta, seafood, veal and other delicacies persevere. Ummel almost seemed more content that Connected is nearing its 10-year anniversary more so than the award.
"All in all, it's great to be approaching 10 years in this market," Ummel said.
Thomas Bruch can be reached at 686-3262 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasBruch.