MAPLE PARK – A new tap house goes back to the roots of Maple Park and to delicious basics when it comes to food. Christened after the town's original name, Lodi celebrated its grand opening in early April.
My dining companion and I decided to take a relaxed drive into the country and wound our way to Lodi Tap House, near the intersection of Pleasant and Main streets, an apt geographic marker for what awaited inside the quaint, rustic building.
With a nod to old-fashioned tin ceilings and a bar set on corrugated metal, the space is lit by pendants made from beer growlers, their bases removed to accommodate long-filament bulbs.
And for its Mug Club, a few hundred numbered mugs in different shapes and hues adorn the walls, hanging on railroad spikes welded to black pipe. The same pipe serves as bases for the dining room tables. Feeding the old-timey atmosphere are vintage looking maps and images of the village.
We were lucky to find a spot on a crowded early Saturday evening. The menu, rather than being overly large, focuses on Lodi's specialties. We shared a cup of excellent French onion soup, brimming with caramelized onions in a beef marrow broth for a rich flavor that avoided the common pitfall of too much salt. A decadent cap of toasted cheese atop bread completed the opener.
My companion was torn between the black Angus burgers, buttermilk-brined chicken sandwich, shrimp 'n' chips and the Cobb salad, but opted for the pulled pork sandwich on a brioche bun, made from pork slow-cooked for 13 hours. He loved the well-executed dish and the generous serving of tender pulled pork with house-made barbecue sauce. It arrived with fries and a tangy, creamy cole slaw.
I couldn't resist what's listed on the menu as the house feature – Franklin's fried chicken. Our server let us know it would take 30 minutes, but that left us time to peruse the thoughtfully curated beverages from the bar. And when the chicken did arrive, it was more than worth the wait. The dark meat I requested was tender and juicy inside a heavenly batter that was a knockout both for texture and delicately seasoned taste.
For a down-home touch, meals are served in deep-dish pie plate tins.
Several televisions dot the room, and the convivial crowd cheered the Preakness winner the evening we dined there. Board games are available to pass the time.
Behind the bar is a large blackboard listing the rotating beers, many on tap. The Lodi twist is that they are all sourced from Illinois breweries, stretching from Lemont to Chicago to Geneva, Crystal Lake and beyond. To let palates be adventurous, there are beer flights offering five samples.
My companion enjoyed a creamy, dark milk stout. Because I'm not often a beer drinker, I asked, with trepidation, if the bar featured any wines, and was delighted to be offered a short, Illinois-centric wine list, with selections from Acquaviva Winery right in Maple Park to the nice dry Ginochhio red I enjoyed from August Hill Winery in Utica.
And when it comes to spirits, they too hail from our own state, whether it's Herrington vodka or gin from Fox River Distilling in Geneva to DeKalb's Whiskey Acres and its very smooth bourbon.
The spirits are showcased in a wide array of mule cocktails, incorporating Windmill Ginger Brew from Geneva. Whimsically named specialty cocktails also are available.
While we savored our leisurely dinner, we noticed carry-outs are popular and learned that breakfast is served Saturdays and Sundays.
The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at the Kane County Chronicle. The diner’s identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a different restaurant and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a review.
Lodi Tap House
WHERE: 309 W. Main St.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
INFO: loditaphouse.com, 815-827-0827