“I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”
Why travel the expressway when you can travel the backroads of our area? My theme for Best Bites this summer is Road Trips. A relaxing and adventurous trip to find great food and see farmlands, cattle, barns and beautiful farmhouses — the way to go.
Our first stop was outside Fairbury to the new Emancipation Brewing Company. You’ll need to use the GPS on your phone to get there. Make sure you keep a sharp eye out for a house and barn; actually, it’s the only one. The barn is the brewery.
Our son, Tim Markland, and his friend, Dave Dickson, of Grant Park, told us about this small but remarkable craft beer business outside of Fairbury, on a farm and off the beaten path.
Emancipation Brewing Company opened Feb. 16 and is becoming a popular venue for locals as well as craft beer hunters from Chicago and beyond.
The barn has been remodeled, giving it a quaint and rustic ambiance. Long tables and four-tops with metal chairs fill the room. There are a few conversational sofas for guests.
A roll of butcher paper featuring the current brews hangs on a wooden door outside the brewing area. The selections range from mild to the stronger stouts.
Both Dave and I ordered a flight of beer; mild for me and stronger for Dave. The brew crop flaked maize ale had a citrus flavor made with sweet rice grain and fruity yeast. Next up, the Plow Sipper, brewed with 100 percent American maize hops. Last was Kim’s Irish Red, excellent and my favorite.
Dave enjoyed the Pacific Market, which was a strong amber. We both agreed the Milkhouse Stout was excellent. Although not made with coffee, it had a nice coffee and chocolate flavor. The beer of choice for us was Kim’s Irish Red.
There are nonalcoholic drinks available — lemon shake-up, The King’s Tea Soda made with tea, fresh lemon juice, cane sugar and a tart cranberry soda.
Although they don’t serve food, food trucks do visit. We were fortunate to have Steidinger Food truck from Fairbury. I ordered the pork burger, which was amazing, and Dave had the huge pork tenderloin and tater tots. The prices were reasonable — $4 for most sandwiches and $5 for the double cheeseburger or pork burger.
The beer was great, but the bartenders serving us made the day. Sam, Allison and Jeff were not only friendly but knowledgeable about the beer and how it’s made.
Sam gave us a brief lecture about the hops, even showing us a sample. Most of them are grown locally.
Dave and Tim were correct; we loved it. Good beer, good folks who work there. I highly recommend a trip to Fairbury. Emancipation Brewing Company at 13113 N. 2500E Road, Fairbury.
The next stop was Crossroads Cantina in Gilman for a little Tex-Mex fare. Crossroads is new to the area. Owners Ted and Natasha Heideman along with Troy Janssen opened earlier this year. They bring a little bit of everything to the table.
A variety of summer beverages are available — cantina summer punch, island breeze, a bloody mary and, of course, a big selection of margaritas.
We started with salsa and warm chips. The salsa was fantastic. Specials for the evening ranged from filet, pasta, pretzel-crusted halibut and chicken. Because it was a cantina, I ordered the burrito, with rice and beans; Dave went for the steak fajitas.
The burrito was very good, but I did try some of Dave’s steak, which was very flavorful and tender. The portions were large, which gave us enough for a leftover dinner.
Crossroads also offers a nice selection of burgers and sandwiches including an open-face ribeye, chipotle shrimp po’boy and their horseshoe made with a half-pound burger and topped with queso on a bed of Texas toast and French fries. ($9).
We will return for dinner — St. Louis style ribs, ribeye, smothered chopped steak, panko-crusted tilapia and one of my favorites, poor man’s lobster, all looked delicious.
Angled pine planks line the walls giving way to a relaxing ambiance; warm and inviting. The prices are very reasonable, the staff is friendly, and the menu offers something for everyone’s taste.
Crossroads Cantina is at 122 N. Central St., Gilman. Call 815-707-5200 for more information.
Next time in Best Bites is our trip to Cullom and back to Gilman to Boondocks.