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Still Duke’s – Only Better

Zak Dolezal has created a dining hot spot with Duke’s Alehouse & Kitchen while preserving the nightclub appeal of the original establishment.

Zak Dolezal is well aware of the love affair locals had with Duke O’Briens. So when he renamed the bar and eatery in the center of downtown Crystal Lake to Duke’s Alehouse and Kitchen, he set out to make Duke’s even better than the original.

The result is a refurbished restaurant with meals prepared from local farm-fresh ingredients and a spruced up nightclub with an endless variety of beers, live music and comedy.

“It was a positive change,’’ said Dolezal, sitting at a table in the dining area, with its exposed, original brick walls and refurbished wood floors. “It’s not the dirty old bar it used to be. When I first came here there was a lot of shaping up that needed to happen.’’

‘Bringing the Best’
His parents Mark and Pamela Dolezal bought the restaurant 15 years ago. The couple also owns Durty Nellie’s in Palatine. Dolezal took on the task of revamping his parents’ business after attending Kendall College in Evanston to become a chef, graduating from Purdue University with a degree in restaurant management and working in some Chicago restaurants.

“We’re still Duke’s – we just wanted to add something more to Crystal Lake,’’ he said. “We have to offer an array of things. We can’t just be a restaurant. We can’t just be a nightclub. We definitely focus on bringing the best, most unique things to Crystal Lake.’’

A bar, which serves 21 beers on tap and 65 more varieties in bottles, is part of what the new venue offers. And the menu — each dish hand-selected by Dolezal — features ingredients from several local farms, providing a unique dining experience, he said.

“As far as dining, it didn’t take away from anywhere else in town,’’ Dolezal said.

Farm Fresh
With vegetables ripened in the sun that morning, farm fresh cheese and meat from animals raised locally, the food at his restaurant tastes the way food should, Dolezal said.

“He slaughters on Monday the pork we use on Thursday,’’ Dolezal said of one farmer he does business with. “It reminds you of what something is supposed to taste like.’’

The Natural Farm Stand in Richmond, Nichols Farm & Orchard in Marengo and Salute Farms and W&M Land Corp. Organic Nursery and Market Garden, both in Woodstock, are just some of the farms from which Dolezal buys his beef, chicken, pork, cheese and vegetables.

“The locality of ingredients is what sets the restaurant apart,” he said. “The relationship with the farmer is what sets us apart. I’m always willing to drive out to the farms if I can. It’s the relationship we have with the food. I’ve met some of the animals that have been on our menu.’’

Duke’s Tall Grass Beef Burgers, made from grass-fed cattle, are distinctively different, he said. “The grass adds an herbaceous taste,’’ Dolezal said.

And the Local Farm Stand Beet Salad, made entirely of homegrown ingredients, is a favorite, he said.

“That’s a dish that really sums us up,’’ Dolezal said. “We’re just cooking how you’re supposed to cook. We’re not making an extra effort. We offer these fine dining ingredients, but do it at a comfort food level.’’

The Dolezals will soon farm their own lettuce, green beans and salsa ingredients for the restaurant on a nearby half-acre a customer is lending them.

Serving “normal everyday dishes’’ like Mama Duke’s Meatloaf is popular with customers, he said.

Among his specialty dishes is a selection of flatbread pizzas like The Chicagoan, with roasted potatoes, grilled steak, tomato sauce, Gouda, cheddar, sour cream and chives.

The Main Street Garbage is another favorite pizza, with homemade spicy sausage, mushrooms, tomato sauce, onions and peppers.

Helping Dolezal create and cook the restaurant’s menu are a kitchen manager and two line cooks.

Nightlife and Banquets
The beer and food is not the only thing drawing customers to Duke’s Alehouse. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights mean live music with every Friday night “Sing With the Band’’ karaoke and every Sunday traditional karaoke.

One Saturday night each month The Comedy Club is held upstairs, with stand-up comics performing. Rooms for private parties and banquets is also available.

The restaurant, at 110 N. Main St. across from the Metra station, is open Sunday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. until 1 a.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. until 2 a.m. The kitchen closes at 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
>> For more, visit www.thedukeabides.com.

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