PEKIN — When Dave Sangalli of Pekin decided to open Sangalli’s Italian Steakhouse at 2217 Court St. in Pekin, his choice of a location was not driven by opportunity or even by its situation on one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares. A major factor in his choice of a site to open a new restaurant was a chance to renew a family legacy.

“This location was my mom and dad’s restaurant 22 years ago,” said Sangalli. “It was called Sangalli’s Court Street Steakhouse. They did it for about nine years from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, then decided they were going to travel. They didn’t have anybody to run it for them, so they decided to rent out the building.”

For the next 22 years, a Fiesta Ranchera Mexican restaurant occupied the building where Sangalli’s parents had offered steak dinners and a banquet facility. Last year, he began the process of converting the building back into a steakhouse. 

“It was a lot of work to convert this place from a Mexican restaurant into the steakhouse we have now,” Sangalli said. “I had immense help from family and friends in remodeling and repainting.” 

Despite the restaurant’s name, Sangalli and executive chef Robert Eaton do not want to restrict their culinary offering to Italian cuisine and steaks.

“We want to offer a lot of variety,” said Eaton. “We have Italian food, of course, and we’ve got a lot of steaks. But we don’t want to be limited to those kinds of food. We’re talking about doing an Ethnic Night once a month.”

Sangalli believes in a fresh product.

“We take great pride in making sure our food’s fresh, that it’s not something that comes in on a truck that’s frozen, then we just thaw it and throw it in a deep fryer,” said Sangalli. “It’s a highlight to me that we spend so much time every day preparing fresh ingredients.” 

One of the restaurant’s best-sellers is steak tortellini, a cream-filled tortellini dish with grilled ribeye. Ribeye steaks are also selling well, according to Eaton, and prime rib has been a popular choice. Popular Italian dishes have included spaghetti with meat sauce or meatballs, and baked tortellini. 

“We make our own bread here every day,” Eaton said. “We’re excited about doing some salads in the summer, too. We have salads on the menu, obviously, but in the winter, we don’t expect to sell as many salads as we would in warmer weather, when people are looking for something a little lighter. I would say our best salad is our apple-walnut. It has candied walnuts, mixed greens, bleu cheese, apples and dried cranberries. We offer a choice of grilled chicken with that.”

Sangalli and Eaton encourage local gourmands to try Sangalli’s Italian Steakhouse, because they offer the traditional double attraction of quality food at reasonable prices.

“We want this to be a place people want to come to, not just someplace they come to because it’s convenient,” said Sangalli. “We want people to be able to say ‘I like that place. I want to go there to eat,’ rather than say ‘I’ll eat there because I don’t want to drive to Peoria.’ We have a banquet room facility, and Rob can put anything customers can think of on that banquet menu, whether it’s on our menu or not. You have to book our banquet facility in advance, and we’ve already got reservations booked all the way into August.” 

Sangalli’s banquet facility can comfortably accommodate between 50 and 60 people. Since the restaurant opened in December, Sangalli’s has not only provided Pekinites an attractive alternative to driving to Peoria but have had customers making the trip from Peoria to Pekin. 

“We’ve even had people come all the way from Springfield just to eat lunch here,” said Sangalli “So, we’re already having some out-of-towners come here to enjoy the food.”

One of Sangalli’s goals when he opened his restaurant was to offer customers a relaxed, casual dining experience where patrons can enjoy quality food while wearing comfortable, every day attire.  

“I would like to get a patio alongside the building, where people can dine outside in the summer. I’d like to think we’ll have that ready before June,” said Sangalli. “I’m just now getting with the city to get a permit to put it in, and I’m still looking at how much space I have on the side of the building without using too much of my parking lot.”

Another goal that Sangalli took into consideration when opening his restaurant was to do his part for his community by providing jobs for area residents. Sangalli’s Italian Steakhouse currently employs 40 servers, chefs, sous chefs and dishwashers. 

Sangalli’s Italian Steakhouse’s hours of operation are from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.