There's a new Restaurant Week in town. Or should I say towns. McHenry County Restaurant Week is launching for the first time in 2019, inviting you to visit sixteen spots from February 22 through March 3.
Restaurant weeks are all the rage, and for good reason. For the restaurants, they entice customers to visit during the slowest months of the year. With the exception of Valentine's Day and Easter, those early months are typically a challenging time for the industry.
For the diner, restaurant week makes it much more affordable to go out to eat. Whether you want to try out a new spot, or revisit an old favorite, your dining will be a little lighter on your wallet during these promotional events.
This comes at the perfect time for me, personally. I've lived in McHenry County for seven months now, but I haven't had a chance to explore. I've now had the opportunity to visit three of the participating restaurants and, if they are any indication, I'm going to be doing a lot more dining out in my new home.
Visit McHenry County provided certificates so we could experience these restaurants. As always, all opinions are my own, and weren't influenced at all by lobster or bourbon or a bloody mary as big as a toddler.
Our tour began with dinner at 1776 Restaurant in Crystal Lake. The building itself has been around for quite some time; owner Rhienna McClain Trevino told us it was originally a KFC. It became 1776 in 2000, and Rhienna took over in 2016.
She's fun and passionate and believes that affordable fine dining is not an oxymoron. Despite featuring local ingredients and a farm-to-table philosophy, this white-tablecloth restaurant offers entrees starting at $19 with many options in the $20's. The most expensive item on the menu is the Wild Game Trio, at $49.
We began our evening in the bar (like we do) and stared, slack-jawed, at the impressive bourbon and whisk(e)y collection. Jim had a neat Auchentoshan 12 year and I ordered the American Eagle (when in 1776...).
This specialty cocktail made of Few American Whiskey, Giffard Ginger of the Indies, Italicus, and orange bitters was incredibly balanced. I learned that Italicus is an aperitivo made with rose petals and Giffard is a ginger, vanilla, coriander, and orange liqueur. One sip and I knew we were in for a special evening.
Dinner was...let's just say this was one of the best meals I've had in a very, very long time.
We began with a cheese and charcuterie board, followed by salad topped with warm goat cheese, apples, walnuts, and a walnut vinaigrette.
Jim ordered the butt steak. As the least expensive cut of beef on the menu, at $23, we didn't expect much.
We were wrong.
It was tender, prepared perfectly, and oh, so flavorful.
My entree, the lobster- and goat cheese-stuffed poblano pepper, was a decadent celebration, a rich dish of culinary hedonism.
And it was $26.
It was hard to choose because everything on the menu looked delicious. We're blessed with a lack of food sensitivities, so we could have ordered anything. However, Rhienna has celiac disease, so there are lots of options for gluten-free dining. She's also happy to accommodate any other dietary restrictions. My mother has several, and I couldn't wait to tell her about her new favorite restaurant.
This would be especially true on Wednesdays, when bottles of wine are half-price. We added a bottle of The Big Smooth, a red zin out of Lodi, California, and after the special was all of $17.
Stuffed like a poblano, we took a slice of raspberry cheesecake home, vowing that we would be, and with those prices could be, frequent diners of 1776 Restaurant.
1776 Restaurant - McHenry Country Restaurant Week Menu:
- Blueberry braised shortribs with microgreens
- 1776 wedge with braised pork belly
- Blackened salmon over poblano risotto
Next, we checked out Richmond Brathaus.
Located about a mile and a half from Wisconsin, this place channels its northern neighbor. Their specialty is brats, beer, and the best cheese curds this side of the border. It's more than an homage to that trio, though. Richmond Brathaus also has a stellar spirits list and a bartender who knows what to do with them.
Our plan was to sit at the bar for a cocktail and then move to a table, but after a Knob Creek Old Fashioned for me and a Highland single malt for Jim, we decided to stay right where we were.
We arrived during Happy Hour, so we dug into an order of those cheese curds. At first, it seemed like a huge order and that it would be too much.
Then we took a bite.
I paired them with their Haus Bier, a collaboration with Scorched Earth Brewing Company that is designed to work with Richmond Brathaus' cuisine.
Once we licked the basket, we dove into an order of onion rings. We ordered these mainly for the cherry chipotle barbecue sauce, and the onion rings were big and crispy and the onions stayed in the batter instead of coming out entirely, if you know what I mean.
But the sauce. Oh. My. That sauce. It's made in-house with fresh cherries and has just the right amount of kick to it and Oh. My.
"Do you sell this?" I asked, hopefully.
No, was the answer.
"You need to. You're missing out on a revenue stream!"
What can I say? I really, really like that sauce. They may end up selling it in the future. In the meantime, visit Richmond Brathaus and ask for the cherry chipotle barbecue sauce.
Trust me on this.
Next, we had to try the sausage sampler. Not only were we in a place called Brathaus, the sampler is what's being offered for restaurant week.
These are everything encased meats should be. Flavorful on the inside, filled with meat instead of filler, and surrounded by a skin that snaps.
The sampler included Smoked Polish Sausage, German Style Bratwurst, Smoked Bacon Jalapeno Cheddar Wurst, and Portabello Swiss Stuffed Wurst. Surprisingly, the portabello was my favorite.
I even liked the sauerkraut, and I do not like sauerkraut.
After this we sat at the bar and talked with bartender Jeff, who's been with them since before they opened, and with Tony and Amanda Garbis. The couple co-owns Richmond Brathaus with Tony's brother Jerry and his wife Gina. It was like sitting and chatting with old friends. From what I could tell, and reviews I've read, the two couples inspire that feeling in anyone who visits and has a chance to talk with them.
I'm sad and glad that Richmond Brathaus is half an hour away from me. Sad, because if I were closer I could go there every week. Glad, because if I were closer I would go there every week.
At least once.
While we chatted I tried a beer flight. Then a Templeton Rye Manhattan. I tried a truffle, which the Garbis' get from their neighbors, renowned chocolatiers Anderson's Candy Shop. Then Jeff made a refreshing cucumber martini for me.
Yes, we were there for hours. And yes, Jim drove.
See why I'm glad we don't live closer?
Richmond Brathaus - McHenry County Restaurant Week Menu
Haus Sampler for Two: $20
Sausage sampler served with sautéed onions, sauerkraut and a variety of mustards (yellow, duesseldorf and horseradish)
Dessert: Cupcake Flight- Three Mini Cupcakes: Yum Yum Rum, Maple Bacon Bourbon, German Chocolate - All baked by McHenry County's own Kiera Confections in McHenry, IL
Haus Sampler for Four: $36
Appetizer: Colossal Bavarian Pretzel fresh baked and served with hausmade bier cheese, hausmade garlic dip and honey mustard for dipping.
Dessert: Four piece exclusive German Chocolate Truffles handmade by McHenry County's own Anderson's Candy Shop in Richmond, IL.
Our third and final restaurant week preview was Crystal Lake Rib House. We went on Sunday, specifically so we could try the Mega Mary.
We'd heard tales of this beast. We tried to bring people with us, but it ended up being just Jim and me. We knew we were in trouble when a table of six, who'd ordered one of these bad boys, left with carry-out boxes.
Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" blasted over the speakers and a trio brought our bloody mary behemoth and set it ever-so-carefully in its custom platform.
Jim and I gaped, jaws open, laughing nervously with a touch of fear in our eyes.
"It's just the two of us!" I cried. "How? How? How are we going to?"
So, what's on the Mega Mary?
It's almost easier to tell you what isn't. Basically, it's Crystal Lake Rib House's menu in tower form. If it fits on a stick, it goes in the mix. Ribs, chicken, pork, cheese sticks, donuts, sausage, wings... I think the only thing that wasn't included was a celery stick.
Underneath all of that extravagance is an actual bloody mary. By the time we got to it, it was slightly watered down, but still tasted good. Of course, when you order a "drink" like that, the beverage is the least important part.
We ended up taking home eight to-go boxes. As soon as we got home I thanked my parents for the food saver they gave us for Christmas.
We needed it.
For $59.95, the Mega Mary is a steal. You can get it on Sundays only until 2pm, and you have to order 24 hours in advance.
Since that was all we were able to try that day, we had to return to see what else Crystal Lake Rib House offers. We tried the brisket sandwich and the rib tips and learned that their reputation for stellar 'que is deserved.
Crystal Lake Rib House - McHenry County Restaurant Week Menu
Buy one full slab dinner, get one full slab dinner free! Dine in only. Mention McHenry County Restaurant Week to redeem this offer!
Visiting these three restaurants, all locally-owned, has only served to whet my appetite, and I'm excited to try even more of McHenry County's dining scene. Fortunately, the following are also participating in restaurant week. Check out their website to see what each place is offering, and then make your plans to explore.
- Breaking Bread Catering & Deli, Cary & Crystal Lake
- Broken Oar Marina & Restaurant, Port Barrington*
- Cafe 31 North, McHenry
- Duke's Alehouse & Kitchen, Crystal Lake
- Flatlander Market, Marengo
- Georgio's Chicago Pizzeria & Pub, Crystal Lake
- Julie Ann's Frozen Custard, Crystal Lake
- Scorched Earth Brewing Co, Algonquin (Beer only, but will have food trucks on-site)
- Shadowview Brewing, Woodstock
- Tartan Bistro, Crystal Lake
- The Double Yolk Cafe, Woodstock
- UpRooted, McHenry*
Check out Miranda Knutson's experiences at Broken Oar and UpRooted