It’s easy to understand why people, since the beginning of time, have been seduced by the Mississippi river.
The Great River Road got under my skin. I drove it for the first time a week ago and yearned to return. I’m not sure why I feel so drawn to the river. Maybe it’s that I always grew up near it in Minnesota. Or maybe it’s the river’s sparkle or vastness . This weekend I insisted on returning. “You have to see the river,” I insisted to Jake. There’s something magical about how driving on the Great River Road makes you feel like you’re suddenly transported far, far away.
I loved visiting Old Bakery Beer in Alton, Illinois. The brewery recently opened in 2015 with sustainability a priority. I know Jake would love it, from the beer to decor.
The building is grand, the ceilings are tall, and the tasting room features a 50-foot bar. According to the Old Bakery website, the bar is made from “100-year-old floor joists from a one-room schoolhouse in Collinsville, IL.” This Feast article describes how the original building housed three different bakeries in its lifetime. In addition to building the bar with reclaimed wood, the owners brew certified organic beer. All spent grain from the beer-making process is recycled, composted, or given to a local farmer for cow feed.
Regarding beer, Jake’s more of the connoisseur. He’s really excited about anything bitter, hoppy, and unique. I’m more of a “give me the lightest beer you have,” type of gal. Yup. I prefer light beer, but I like whiskey and dry martinis. It might not make sense, but I’ve always followed the Drink What You Like doctrine. The bartenders here are happy to help you find the perfect-for-you beer.
When I first visited Old Bakery for a growler to take home, I asked if the bartender if he could help me choose a beer we’d both like. He drew me several samples, made a couple of recommendations, and it worked like magic. We both liked The Observer.
This weekend, Jake and I chose seats at the bar and enjoyed a meal. Jake sampled some beers while I ordered their version of a Moscow Mule made with bourbon. The cocktail arrived in a cocktail glass instead of copper mug, but it tasted strong and balanced.
Old Bakery’s dinner menu included selection of appetizers, soups, and sandwiches. You won’t find deep-fried doodads here like fries and rings. You will find food that tastes good with cold beer.
A craving for Ceasar salad with anchovies consumed me. Call it serendipity, but somehow Old Bakery just knew. The salad was crisp, well seasoned, and lightly tossed in what tasted like a homemade Caesar dressing. If you’ve never tried anchovy fillets, don’t be scared unless you don’t like eating fish. The first time I tried anchovy fillets on my Caesar salad, I admit I felt a little scared. As a new college grad, I worked at an Italian deli in Minneapolis that offered a generous shift meal. Their salt-packed anchovy fillets had a firmer in texture and whispy, fine bones. I loved them at first bite. The type of anchovies at Old Bakery are silkier and remind me of pickled herring. Even Jake liked them.
We nibbled at veggie nachos loaded with black beans, tomatoes, pickled jalapenos, corn, and a homemade queso sauce. Cups of kale and bean soup tasted comforting.
Jake chose brats as an entrée. Obviously, I had to bite off one of the ends for taste testing purposes. The sausage was cooked so that it had a crisp snap and the grainy mustard and sauerkraut added tang. Jake remarked on the sweet pickle spear garnish. “You have to try this!” he said, adding how it’s the only sweet pickle he’s ever liked. I had to agree. Most sweet pickles strike us as overly sweet, but this one tasted refreshing.
Like I mentioned, you won’t find typical bar food like french fries and onion rings, but you will find good food that tastes good with beer (or any beverage, really). Old Bakery Beer is only about 30 minutes from St. Louis. This is not to say there aren’t great breweries in St. Louis. But, if you are looking for an excuse to explore the towns along the Great River Road in Illinois, let this be one.