Traveling along the Mother Road, soaking in all manner of historic sights, boutique shops and scenic nature areas, can leave one looking for a unique dining experience that doesn’t divert your daytrip. Tangled Roots Brewing Company, the organization behind Ottawa’s immaculate Lone Buffalo Restaurant and craft beer taproom, welcomes you to a brand new restaurant and on-site micro-brewery in Lockport, located about a mile away from the historic Route 66.
Deriving its name from the city’s famed “Lock One”, the official start of the I&M, as well as the mighty creatures that once pulled longboats along the narrow waterway, Lock & Mule by Tangled Roots Brewing Co. is dedicated to preserving the history of this storied canal town while offering a bold new take on wood fired dining.
“People are looking for ways to connect with their past, and dining is a great way to do that,” said Scott Struchen, Founder and Chief Commercial Officer at Tangled Roots. “You’re sitting down, unplugging and really taking in your environment. We’re presenting something new to the community, and canal travelers, that still serves as a monument to its history.”
This commitment to honoring the past extends to the historic building that houses the new restaurant and brewery. Lock and Mule is located inside the former Mackin Motor Co. Ford dealership, a wide brick structure that dates all the way back to 1922. You’ll spot hints at this automotive past scattered throughout the building, like a pair of large retractable picture windows where the dealership’s garage doors once were, and a beautiful open concept dining area that originally served as the Mackin auto showroom.
“Early on, we made the connection that the restaurant was not only going to be located inside the old Mackin dealership, but also just a few dozen feet away from the I&M Canal and about a mile from Route 66,” said Struchen. “Lockport is really the heart of all this historic transportation, so we knew the name and atmosphere had to be a nod to that legacy.”
Aesthetically, the restaurant is a wonderful fusion of past and present, crafting a cozy and inviting atmosphere that still feels modern and open-concept. Near the entryway, you’ll spy a large floor tile mosaic of a hop that harkens back to the opulent department stores that once lined Lockport’s State Street, while a glass encased brewing area on the other side of the restaurant gives you a spectator sport-like view of modern brewing practices.
A beautifully minimalist 37-foot copper bar runs the length of the main dining area, sitting underneath a curved wood ceiling and exposed trusses that date back to the early 20′s, in addition to a newly added skylight that bathes the entire restaurant in warm natural light. Towards the back of the main dining area you’ll find an amply sized private room that’s ideal for hosting corporate events, wedding showers or birthday celebrations, as well as one of the other showpieces of Lock & Mule: a second bartop that parallels an enormous wood fire grill.
The core of Lock & Mule’s menu is centered around this impressive hickory burning grill, behind which a team of talented chefs release all the succulent flavors of locally sourced meats and vegetables. Lock & Mule will be employing fresh produce from establishments like Second City Greens, a container farm start-up based out of nearby Hinsdale, ensuring all the menu’s staples will be featuring fresh micro-local greens, herbs and more.
“The wood fire grill, that’s on full display for our guests, adds this really primal quality to Lock & Mule. We wanted that authenticity and respect for the past to extend to the menu, and wood fire was the perfect way to accomplish that,” said Struchen. “It’s something new for the area, it’s visceral to watch, and the dishes have that unmistakable charred flavor.”
On the Lock & Mule menu you’ll find staples like steaks and chops, sourced from local farms, as well as more casual pub fare like burgers (including a delectable falafel burger that’s sure to become a favorite among returning guests). Tangled Root’s R&D Chef Carson Barger was experimenting with a slew of new dishes for this bold concept menu on the day we visited the kitchen, including a bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapeno elote and a thai-inspired sweet chili calamari.
Tangled Roots pride themselves on crafting a portfolio of beers to suit any palette – from light sessionable lagers to dark and complex experimental brews. You’ll find up to 15 beers on tap at Lock & Mule any given time, including seasonal and limited edition beers. Exciting new beer developments are in the works as well, Tangled Roots brewers are working with artisans in Lockport’s sister-city, Asiago, Italy, to develop an intercontinental inspired craft brew, implementing ingredients grown in the Vicenza province.
Looking to take some of your favorite Tangled Roots brews home with you? A retail area towards the front of the restaurant will allow you to browse a selection of cold canned favorites like The Devil’s Paintbox IPA and Fourty1-Eight8, a ‘farm-to-foam’ beer made with hops and barley grown right down the road from their flagship Ottawa, IL brewery.
Much like the The First Hundred Miles itself, Lock & Mule feels and tastes like a harmonic fusion of Illinois’ past and present. Sitting down for a wood fired burger and cold craft beer, implementing ingredients grown in this very region, makes for a contemplative and memorable experience that will leave you wanting to enjoy many more meals along the banks of the historic I&M Canal.
Lock & Mule by Tangled Roots Brewing Co.
1025 S State Street
Lockport, IL 60441