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Daily Journal
     January 30, 2020      #61-30 KDJ
The lounge area at Beans & Barley Brew in Ashkum has an enclosed porch to the left.

Tinker Parker

Best Bites: New Beans & Barley Brew in Ashkum

By Tinker Parker

In times past driving from Kankakee to Champaign travelers would stop for a bite to eat at one of the local diners along the way. Remember Stuckey’s? The place of the famous pecan log? What a treat.

I remember well a restaurant called The Hen House in Ashkum, later became The Loft and recently, Beans & Barley Brew.

First, get the picture of The Loft out of your head. It’s nothing like it. I couldn’t believe what they have done with the restaurant. It is fabulous inside. The ambiance is between urban-like, little farm to table, a bit of rustic and lots of homey.

One of the owners, Cameron Charles, his son, and daughter-in-law, Abby Charles, has transformed the building into a distinctive environment. On one side of the building, they’ve made room for a small banquet area where wedding receptions, wedding and baby showers or family events can be held; very quaint and spacious.

John Bevis, Kankakee County Health Department administrator. Daily Journal/Tiffany Blanchette

In front of the building, they have been constructing a covered outdoor area that will have picnic tables, a fire pit, a place for bands and soon doors that can be closed in inclement weather.

Immediately inside is a rustic industrial wall constructed with pieces of lumber, beautiful.

The dining area is very spacious and includes a corner seating area for those who would like to have an appetizer and drink before dinner.

The dining tables are made from refurbished wood from an old torn down bowling alley, complete with metal chairs adding to the rustic look.

During our lunch, we spent quality time with Cameron Charles, one of the owners. He said he was there helping to do dishes that afternoon and loving every minute of it. He gave us the background of the restaurant and its transformation. He explained that he wanted to keep the original arches inside the building but expand to make it larger.

Many of the renovations included using repurposed wood — like the tables made from an old bowling alley, the abstract wooden wall, and more wood throughout the building.

The food is terrific and is made with most every item locally grown with the meat from local farms, chicken from Piper City, pork from nearby Fairbury, and their eggs are from Rose Acre Farms down the road. Even the flour is from Janie’s Mill and is organic, all within miles of the restaurant.

Since it was a cold, rainy afternoon, we both opted for a bowl of soup, intending to order takeout for dinner.

The soups were delicious. My husband, Dave, ordered the Italian bowtie pasta soup. He said it reminded him of a restaurant that he worked at in Carbondale — Italian Village. It was pure heaven. The aroma of fresh pizza with meat, tomatoes, pasta, basil, and more spices. It’s pure comfort food

I ordered the garden vegetable chowder, a creamy base with chunks of potatoes, carrots and other vegetables. Both soups came with a homemade yeast roll made with the organic flour from Janie’s Mill.

Some of the popular items on their menu are the sticky chicken sliders with barbeque sauce, fried onions, coleslaw and cheddar cheese; the pork sliders with roasted pork, coleslaw and cheddar cheese; and their Italian beef sliders with sirloin beef, pepperoncini and provolone cheese. Each comes with a choice of chips, an item from the salad bar or a cup of homemade soup.

Several customers had ordered some of their flatbread pizza. There’s a large variety to choose include chicken, meatloaf, rustic Italian, Asian pork and many more. Each is made fresh to order.

A big draw to the menu are the platters including the dry-rubbed chicken from Piper City; the ribs, served with a variety of sauces; Momma D’s meatloaf made with local grass-fed beef from Grazin’ Haven Farms in Danforth; a variety of seafood dishes and pasta. These platters are not served on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

The soup is homemade daily, and there’s a salad bar with a choice of a quick trip or boundless.

Local health officials say flu shots are still available. Photo provided

I cannot wait to go for breakfast. Each order is made from scratch and luckily served all day.

The biscuits and gravy are popular and served with homemade biscuits and potatoes. The breakfast bowl has potatoes, cheddar cheese and sautéed veggies or salsa and topped with an egg. Something that I thought looked interesting was their breakfast flatbread – white pepper gravy, scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, sautéed veggies, and a choice of ham, bacon or sausage. And, all are locally sourced.

We did order the meatloaf which was the best I’ve had, including my mother’s. Dave ordered the ribs that were huge, dry-rubbed, tender and succulent. The sides that came with it were wonderful and lasted us two days.

They also have a large variety of import and craft beers, along with other non-alcoholic drinks.

Mr. Charles did share some future ideas – building an aquaponic greenhouse where he could raise fish and vegetables together. He gave a very detailed explanation of aquaponics, but I might have to save that for another column.

I highly recommend a trip to Ashkum for breakfast or lunch at Beans & Barley Brew. The staff is friendly, the ambiance warm and inviting, and the food is fantastic.

Beans & Barley Brew is at 852 E. Illinois Route 116, Ashkum, right off the Interstate 57 exit and across from the highway department. Hours are 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; and 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, call 815-322-7122.

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They also have a large variety of import and craft beers at the bar, along with other non-alcoholic drinks