Down on the Farm at Hank’s Farm Restaurant in Ottawa
Everything about Hank’s Farm Restaurant honors the farming way of life – from its location in a former dairy barn near Ottawa, to the menagerie of peacocks, chickens, ducks, turkeys and sheep wandering the 20-plus acres, to the generous portions of fried chicken and homemade breads that can satisfy a “worked-in-the-fields-all-day” level of hunger.
Founded by Hank Mucci in 1941, the business originated as a neighborhood tavern in Naplate. Zelda and Ed Allen Sr. purchased Hank’s in 1975, and a decade later moved the restaurant to its current location on Illinois Route 71.
“I think the land itself was the big draw,” says Allen’s daughter, Marie Koepke, a co-owner of Hank’s. “We saw the potential to build and do things on the property that would be a draw.”
Over the years, the Allen family has added a lake and extensively landscaped the grounds. Visitors can wander along several paved paths to enjoy the serene setting. A gift shop, Curious Goods, is just steps from the restaurant. When a costume shop in Ottawa was closing about a decade ago, the Allens bought it and added year-round costume rentals to their offerings. Koepke, who has a degree in clothing design, manages these operations.
The assemblage of animals occurred largely by happenstance. After establishing several flocks of chickens by design, “we became a bit of a ‘halfway house’ for the strange and unusual,” Koepke says. “For example, one of our sheep was born a bit different, and the others in the herd kind of picked on him. His owners called us and asked if we would like him, and he does really well here.” Ducks or turkeys cared for as 4-H projects, whose young owners have since grown up and moved away, have found new homes on the Allen property, too.
“We don’t go out and look for these animals, but it just kind of happens,” Koepke laughs. Hank’s patrons, particularly those from Chicago just 90 miles away, seem to enjoy the animal encounters.
But it’s the food that entices patrons from near and far. In a nod to Mucci’s heritage, Hank’s offers several pastas and other Italian dishes. Koepke says fan favorites include chicken piccata, chicken Oscar and the baked penne with homemade meat sauce layered with three cheeses, along with char-grilled steaks, prime rib offered nightly and the always popular fried chicken.
“Our salad bar is one of our big draws,” Koepke says. “It’s included with our meals, and features fresh baked breads, a 20-pound cheese block and several salads that we make here.”
Allen’s granddaughter, Christina Considine, bakes the breads, including iced raisin bread, and also makes wedding cakes and custom birthday cakes. Popular dessert offerings include carrot cake.
Head Chef Ed Allen Jr. grows some of the spices and herbs he uses in his dishes. The restaurant sources the majority of its vegetables and fruits locally in season.
Like many farming operations, Hank’s is a family affair. And if you have a large family or group, Hank’s offers private dining spaces and can even accommodate small weddings. Not just the Allen family’s livelihood, they consider Hank’s their way of life.
“We all have our homes on the property,” Koepke says. The potential that Ed Allen Sr. saw more than 30 years ago has been realized for the Allen family.
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Hank’s Farm Restaurant
Location: 2973 N. State Route 71, Ottawa
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 4 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 4 to 10 p.m.; Sunday bunch 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner 4 to 9 p.m. Reservations highly recommended.
Phone: (815) 433-2540