A common perception of rural life is that the solitude and connection with nature you gain comes with a trade-off, a cost, in terms of access to more the more sophisticated things in life. And, one reasons, isn’t this the point - isn’t part of the reason that one moves to remote areas in fact to simplify?
Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean you don’t periodically want some of that there fancy stuff. And so periodically we like to venture out and see what the region has to offer and, as it turns out, it really does have quite a bit.
Our most recent foray was heading out to the Social Kitchen & Bar in LaSalle, Illinois. This little restaurant is located in downtown LaSalle, just around the corner and down the street from the entryway into the I&M Canal path, making it a nice start or end to an exploration there.
Social Kitchen falls into the gastropub category, with an interesting variety of options on the menu, with twists on old, familiar favorites, and a few things that you don’t generally see out here on the Illinois prairie.
An example of a twist on an old favorite is the Hog Wings. No, hogs don’t have wings, but then neither do buffalo, and yet you see those all over the place. And that’s the general idea here, except that there’s a little more truth to the name of this dish than there is for the one coming out of New York state. What you have here is pork shank with a sauce of your choice - Buffalo (naturally), Thai chili, barbecue, or spicy garlic. MLW and I went with the spicy garlic - the better to fend off close-talking strangers - and found them to be very tasty.
Also falling under this category would be the Portabella Fries, which the menu describes as "battered and deep fried slices of portabella with chipotle ranch". For the mushroom fan this sounds like something to die for - we didn’t sample it this time around, but it’s definitely on the list for our next visit.
Both of these items are on the "shared plates menu" - their term for appetizers. There are several other items there as well, all worth exploring.
New to the Prairie
If you are looking for something you don’t typically see out here in the grasslands you can order up a shrimp ceviche or a tuna poke bowl. These are items that aren’t unheard of - on our trip to San Diego last year we came across both - but they aren’t common out here in the hinterlands.
The menu also features the Social Kitchen’s own twist on Poutine, a dish from the exotic northland of Canadia (from which MLW originates).
If either you or the loved one you have to convince to come along is not among the culinarily adventurous set, fear not! There are burgers, wraps, and even mac & cheese on the menu as well. If you missed your opportunity to pick one up at the Sweet Corn Festival they even have a gyro on the menu (delightfully called "Not All Gyros Wear Capes" - Edna would approve)
And if your group includes herbivores there are salads and a black bean burger on the menu as well, and the Magic Mushroom Panini looks like it would also fill the bill. Sides include grilled asparagus and crispy shaved Brussels sprouts to round out the veggie goodness.
As the last part of the name implies, the Social Kitchen and Bar has a full menu of potent potables, include a nice variety of wines and mixed drinks. There are drink specials, and the night we visited they were offering a five wine flight. This is a nice opportunity to sample brands and varieties without risking the inability to find one’s way home. For myself I tried a flight of reds, and found a couple of delightful options on the menu that I’ll have to pick up in future.
Getting Down To It
For ourselves we got the Hog Wings, as mentioned above, as well as the Spin Dip (we like appetizers). Both were quite tasty.
Entrees were a difficult choice because so many of the items on the menu beg for exploration. MLW ordered up the Mac & Cheese, which featured gruyere and bacon. I ordered the Grilled Brisket Monster (I am not an herbivore). Both were quite tasty - and how often do you see brisket on a menu? The brisket was crispy at the edges while still falling apart when you dig into it - a neat (and delicious) trick that has to be hard to pull off. It was all very good.
The restaurant overall is cozy, and service was excellent. There are seats at the bar and a couple of outdoor tables in addition to the dining room. We were there on a weeknight, and arrived early in the dinner hour. We were alone at first, but things began to fill up as our time rolled on - a good sign for a little, out of the way spot.
And, since it was such an easy option, after dinner my sweetie and I took a walk along the I&M Canal Path, enjoying the summer evening. This one’s worth a look folks - check out the Social Kitchen!