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Dinner on the Dock
Article and photos by Kathleen Walls

Diners enjoy Dinner on the Dock
Dinner on the Dock is a fun affair
What is more fun than au fresco dining overlooking a picturesque river.  Dinner on the Dock, held every Thursday during summer at The Prairie Street Brewhouse in Rockford, Illinois, combines all the right elements. It offers a perfect venue for dining  on the Rock River, great food catered by The Backyard Grill and Bar and music by assorted talents.  The event space which is also available for weddings and other events  abuts a 60-slip marina and offers a excellent view of the river. After dark, the lights of the bridge lend a fairytale atmosphere.  It also allows boaters to dock and dine.

Diners enjoy music at Dinner on the Dock
Enjoying the musie at Dinner on the Dock
The event has been going on for three years and becomes more popular each year. Why not? Where else can you enjoy cool breezes, live entertainment and fun just for the price of your meal?

The night we were there, the music was provided by three different bands; Vince Chirilli, Sensations and Three Good Men. Elizabeth Wood, Marketing Coordinator for the Rockford CVB told me, " Different local bands perform each week and the performers play a wide variety of music. I know the times I attended, I heard country, reggae-inspired music, and dueling pianos (all different weeks)…so they have quite the selection!"

Backyard Grill food truck at Rockford, Illinois Dinner on the Dock
Backyard Grill's food truck

Of course, the main attraction is always food. As the catering restaurant  the Backyard Grill and Bar's name suggest the food is typical of a night gathered around the BBQ pit; a burger, with or without cheese, pulled pork, hot dog or a brat, wrap, a rib eye steak  or grilled chicken sandwich or a salad  with or without chicken. My personal favorite was the pulled pork. It was tender and juicy and the bun was nice and soft. You choose two sides between baked beans, cold slaw, potatoes salad or chips.

The Backyard Grill  is not just a catering company. They are a trio of local restaurants born from a dream. Rich Schmidt  had worked chain restaurants for years. He was not satisfied with the food he was producing. He wanted something fresher like a family barbeque. In 1993, when he was working at Applebee's, he met Martin Elliott. The two men became friends and discovered they had a similar goal. When they learned of a local restaurant that was going out of business in 1996, they took their chance and opened Backyard Grill and Bar in the Loves Park area..

Diners enjoy babquet room at Prairie Street Brewhouse Rockford, Illinois
In the banquet area of the brewery
Almost two decades later, the little "Backyard Barbeque" operation has grown into three restaurants and a sideline business of the sauces and seasonings that have made them such a popular Rockford tradition. Their success has a simple secret; they prepare everything even the French fries from scratch. They hand pat the burgers, The meat is prepared form fresh raw product. No shortcuts here.  "We have these specially made grills that cook over hickory wood. That's where there the name Backyard Grill came from, "according to Rick Schmidt.

What a tradition! And tradition encases the entire operation  including the location of Dinner on the Dock.  The four-story red brick and stone building with its unique architecturally has quite a history. It was originally built by Jonathan Peacock as the Peacock Brewery in the 1850s Peacock's signature beer was Nikolob and it was marketed as "The beer that made Milwaukee jealous." 

View of the Rock River from dock of Prairie Street Brewhause
View from the deck
At one time breweries abounded in Rockford: there were six of them.  Peacock was the most successful and best remembered because it had all the pluses needed for  brewing excellent beer; two artesian wells, a river to provide ice in winter that could be cut and stored to keep the beer cool,  nearby rail access and a multitude of immigrants willing to work for cheap wages.

After the death of Peacock and later his two sons, John V. Petritz, a German immigrant bought the brewery. He was quiet successful for a time but when local prohibition laws drove him afoul of the law, he probably foresaw the national climate and when his brewery license expired in 1918 shortly before national prohibition, he did not renew it. During prohibition, the building served as a warehouse.

He sold the brewery  1937 and once again it made beer under the name Rock River Brewing Co. It's biggest products were Coronet Old Vat and Grand Prize beer.     

Ice Cellar Bar at Prairie Street Brewhouse
The Ice Cellar Bar
Age and competition from the "big boys" put the brewery out of business again in 1945. Today, the building is undergoing a regeneration. When you step inside the Ice Cellar Bar, one of three event rooms available,  from the back patio, the feel of age underlys the modernization. Sure it's all up to date with the 10-line draft system and LED lights that can change color to match any event's decor shining through the base of the copper lined bar.  The lighting overhead is all custom made. Yet the authenticity is still there. The LED lights shine through a surface that resemble the blocks of ice once cut and stored in this very room. The overhead lights are made from ancient beer and liquor bottles, many produced in this very brewery. The bar's copper lining is the same aged color as the copper vats once used in the brewing process. The beams and bar supports are raw steel that was such a part of the industrial age.

You just can't keep a good beer down. (No pun intended) The building is returning full circle to the purpose for which it was created.  In Janurary, 2012, it was placed on the National Registryof Historic Places.  It is destined to once again returnto its roots and will open as  Rockford Brewery in the spring of 2014 . Lofts are being offered for sale January 2014 as part of the grand plan.

Plan a trip to Rockford's  past in your future and experience Dinner on the Dock.

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