Call me Hungry! Whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul, or May, or Tuesday after a particularly dull Monday, I turn my thoughts to L'Erable, Illinois; unless I get distracted by something else.
I spent some of happiest times of my ordinary life in French Illinois: Kankakee and its border counties. This is a beautiful land inhabited by beautiful people - many of whom are of French Ancestry.
The French discovered ( with apologies to indigenous Injuns who hunted and fished and yanked wild onions hereabouts for centuries) the soil we offend with our smelly feet and Kankakee County doubled down on its Gallic demographics in the 1840's because of the labors of French Canadian priest, who shortly upon his arrival in Illinois become the only American Catholic Apostate - Charles Chiniquy.
Chiniquy was the Michael Pfleger of the 19th Century, who never met a bishop, or Superior he did not loathe. Chiniquy tangled with every Ordinary of Chicago, until he quit the Catholic Church altogether and became a darling of the Know-Nothing crowd and lectured world wide on the dangers of the Church of Rome. Chiniquy, from my reading of his works and primary documents of the day, was a pathological liar, bully, land swindler, name-dropping fraud, roue and megalomaniac; but, some would argue that 'he did a lot of good,'
That he did. Chinquy brought great, hard-working, devout and industrious French people down from Canada and established Catholic parishes and townships south to Illinois. When Chinquy broked from the Church, most of his people said goodbye to the American Luther; thus, we have St. Anne, Martinon, St. George, Boubonnais, Papinaeu, Beaverville and just south of the Kankakee County line -L'Erable, Illinois.
L'Erable is notable for two magnificent buildings: one is the Church of St. John the Baptist and the other is Longbranch Saloon and Restaurant.
St. John The Baptist Catholic Church was built in 1856. The Longbranch Saloon a bit later.
The Longbranch has a storied history:
The Longbranch has been in my family for the last 40 years. I am the third generation in my family to own and operate it. My grandparents owned it before selling to my parents who ran it for 21 years and my wife and I took over at the beginning of 2013. We are located in a tiny unincorporated village an hour and a half straight south of Chicago in the middle of corn and soybean fields. My wife Lindsay and I are both culinary school graduates having attended the Cooking and Hospitality Institute, myself in Chicago, and her in Las Vegas. I started working at the Longbranch when I was twelve years old, starting out as a busboy, moving up to dishwasher and cooking by the time I was 14. I didn't go to culinary school right out of high school because I didn't think this is what I wanted to do for a career. But I couldn't find any other career path that interested me so decided to go to Chicago to culinary school and graduated in 2005 and found myself back at the Longbranch in June of 2005 and have been here ever since. I met my wife a few years ago and brought her in as a chef to work alongside me and business has been awesome ever since. We work great as a team and have been putting out some great food that people drive from all over to come and eat.The Longbrach has a storied menu of great eats -seafood include Froglegs, naturalment!
At the beginning of the year she moved out to the front of the house but still has her hand in a lot of the cooking. We run a few different specials every weekend. It keeps people wondering what we'll be cooking each and every weekend and keeps them coming back for more. What sets us apart from other restaurants around is that we always look to buy the best quality product and strive to give our customers the very best that their money deserves. We're known for our great prime rib and steaks and have even been known to serve up some killer sushi. But like I said we're doing something off the menu and different every single weekend so I think that makes us very unique for the area that we are in.
-Nick Bohn, owner
Get to L'Erable! Eat the Longbranch! Celebrate the people who put the frog in the froglegs!
As the dirty old ditty goes, Les Français , les Français de la sale race ; ils se battent avec leurs pieds et . . . avec leur visage!