Fourth in LDN’s “Let’s Eat” Series

Bienvenidos amigos

El Rey’s Mexican fare spiced with friendly service

[APRIL 26, 2000]  You can pick one of 25 “delicious combos,” or select from the slate of 13 house specialties or try your favorite among 17 dinners.  Add to this menu 10 lunch specials, four great desserts, a batch of vegetarian delights and more than a dozen appetizers and you get the message—El Rey’s offers a huge variety of authentic Mexican cuisine, all prepared on-site and served by friendly and attentive waiters.

El Rey opened last September at 831Woodlawn Road. Manager Carlos Perez, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, worked for El Rey’s owner at a restaurant in Tennessee before moving to Lincoln.  He likes the peace and quiet of Lincoln life, and he has been impressed with the welcoming nature of the locals.  His favorite El Rey meal is the fajita dinner, served with a hot plate of chicken or beef strips smoldered in tomatoes, onions and bell peppers, accompanied by a plate of guacamole salad, sour cream, pico de gallo, beans and rice.  It’s his favorite, but Carlos admits he can’t eat the whole thing.  Portions at El Rey are immense.


[This simple storefront is your entry to 
good, authentic Mexican  food at El Rey's.]


Adrian, one of El Rey’s waiters, greets every table with a smile and a welcome. “Bienvenidos, amigos,” he says, placing a bowl of tortilla chips and a bowl of freshly prepared salsa before his guests.  Soft drinks are refilled so quickly they seem to be perpetually full.


The food certainly seems authentically Mexican, at least to a Midwesterner, and the prices are just what a family would find inviting.  Children’s meals are $2.45, and full, adult dinners range from $4.35 to $9.50.  Lunches are priced at $3.50 to $5.99.  It’s good food, a lot of food and very reasonably priced.


[As luscious as it looks, fried ice cream hides beneath
this pile of whipped cream drizzled with 
chocolate and a cherry on top.]


Latin music, upbeat and at just the right volume to allow for table talk, sets the tone for a pleasant dining experience.  While enjoying your meal you will notice a steady stream of carry-out customers departing with bags full of take-home food. 


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El Rey is a place to relax.  The menu explains, “It is absolutely correct to eat tacos, tostados and tortillas with your fingers.”  Heaps of rice and beans are sides with most entrées.

Mexican food is best when served hot, Perez explains, and plates are steaming when they arrive at the table.  Waiters are quick to take orders, food is prepared in short order and the chips and salsa are irresistible during the brief wait.


[Adrian greets customers with a friendly smile and
an authentic address, "Can I get you 
something to drink, amigo?"]


It’s hard to imagine that most diners have room for dessert, but if they do they are in for a treat.  Fried ice cream, sopapilla with ice cream, and flan (a rich Mexican custard) are worth a trip to El Rey in their own right.

If your idea of a Mexican meal is a taco or cornmeal tamale, you can find that at El Rey.  But why not venture out?  The quezadilla rellena is plump with chicken or beef.  The chimichanga is smothered in cheese.  And the bistec tapatio is a good old Logan County ribeye steak, topped with green salsa.

Logan County is an eater’s paradise, and El Rey adds some ethnic spice to the long list of places to dine . . . or to carry out. 




Blue Dog Inn serves up 
a family-friendly atmosphere 

[APRIL 25, 2000]  Some would say destiny drew Susie Fuhrer to put in her application at the Blue Dog Inn in April 1980.  After all, her grandfather, Grover Field, operated the Illinois Tavern at the same location from the 1930s until 1955, then sold it to Susie’s father, Bob, who operated the Tavern until 1976.  Fuhrer’s parents suggested she apply for the job at the Blue Dog, though her own experiences at the Illinois Tavern were limited.  In her teens, Susie occasionally helped clean, and as a young girl she would stop by to see her dad on the way home from school.  It was a special treat to sit and share a small bottle of Coke and a Hershey bar.

When Susie’s father sold the Illinois Tavern in 1976, it continued to operate under new ownership until 1979.  It was then that Lou Hardacre purchased the business and, after extensive remodeling, opened the Blue Dog Inn on October 23.  Fuhrer’s first day was Maundy Thursday in 1980.  She became a business partner in 1983 and assumed sole proprietorship in 1990.

Why “Blue Dog Inn”?  There are several stories about the origin of the name, but Susie shares the one about the real “Blue Dog.”  Hardacre lived on a farm that had been previously occupied by Rick Garrett, John Verderber and two other friends.  The quartet had a pet, a female German shepherd that they called “Dog.”  When the group moved to town, they brought Dog too, but she was so “blue” they took her back to become a permanent part of the farm.  The Blue Dog Inn is named after the blue “Dog.”  


[From left to right: Susie Fuhrer, 
Kristina Snyder, Susie Taylor.]


When the Blue Dog first opened, lunch was served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., but a majority of the business was still from the bar.  There were regular customers and “everyone knew your name.”  Gradually the business evolved, and snacks were offered in the evening.  The lunch business built when the selection was increased and made available later than 2 p.m. The larger, all-day menu with appetizers, burgers and fries started after a grill and fryers were put in during a kitchen remodeling in late 1985.  



Today, the Blue Dog Inn is known for its food, not as a bar.  Very little alcohol is consumed at lunch, and in the evening the drinks are usually served with dinner.  The counter is used most often for individuals stopping by for a sandwich.  The Blue Dog has adapted to the times, offering salads, soups, desserts, a daily special and fish every Friday.  The number of employees has tripled over the last 10 years and Fuhrer notes that she has “one of the best staffs” she has ever had right now.   Susie says that she and her dozen employees are a close-knit group – more like a family than an owner/employee relationship. 

Fuhrer’s favorite aspects of the business are the customers and employees, and being busy.  When Susie takes a moment to fix something for herself, it’s usually a grilled chicken or spinach salad at lunch; or a dinner salad, blue cheese burger or chicken strips and French fries with cheese sauce for supper.    


Family ties brought Susie to the Blue Dog Inn and still play an important role in the business.  Her father was the chief “fish fryer” when “all you can eat catfish” was featured once a month in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and he continues to work at least one day a week.  When Susie decided the Blue Dog needed an update last fall, her father and her husband, Steve, did the carpentry work while she and her mother papered and painted.  


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The remodeling was brought on by leakage after the building to the north of the Blue Dog was demolished.  A more permanent solution was needed, so Bob and Steve built an air space between the outside and inside wall.  They planned to cover the lower half with tin and paint it brown like the Illinois Tavern had been in the ’30s, but the tin was so attractive they decided to leave it its natural color.  New lights and wiring were installed so all the lights could be turned out with one switch instead of individually.  All the rooms received a fresh coat of paint and were papered, and new vanities were installed in the bathrooms.  This major renovation was accomplished in just six days total, and the Blue Dog Inn was closed only two weekends, opening for business in between.



Future plans include the possibility of opening the space to the south of the Blue Dog (formerly The Other Side of the Fence and Elder’s Custom Cycle) for small groups and meetings.  Susie has had many requests for this type of service.  The menu would be different, pre-planned and the space available by reservation only.  She’s also considering opening the apartment above the restaurant. 

Susie is quick to share credit for the success of the Blue Dog Inn with her family, especially her husband, Steve Fuhrer, whom she married Aug. 2, 1991.  He’s quick to help with maintenance and repairs while working a full-time job and serving as an alderman.  Most importantly to Susie, he serves as a sounding board for her and is understanding about the hours she spends at the Blue Dog Inn.  They’ve recently added a new member to their family, a 9-week-old puppy dumped on their doorstep about a year ago.  “Blue” joined three cats but is the most spoiled member of the brood.  Susie and Steve had not had a dog previously because they didn’t feel they were home enough to take care of one, but she admits that Blue has definitely changed their feelings.  They’re in the process now of taking his picture so he can become the new “poster dog.”


[Susie Fuhrer chats with (left to right): Evelen Jenkins, Marsha Dallas, and Grethen Plotner.]


In the little free time she has, Susie serves on the Main Street Lincoln Board of Directors and on the Design Committee and Economic Restructuring Committee.  The Blue Dog Inn is a contributing sponsor to the upcoming Historic Preservation Week observance.  


The Blue Dog Inn has its own website,, and Susie can be e-mailed at  Restaurant hours are Mondays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

[Wendy Bell]


Postville Courthouse closed 
for major renovation

[APRIL 24, 2000]  The Postville Courthouse State Historic Site on Fifth Street in Lincoln has been closed for a major project that will rehabilitate all portions of the reconstructed 1840’s building.  “The building is 50 years old.  It needs plumbing, wiring, a new furnace, a new roof and the replacement of some doors and windows,” Richard Schachtsiek, site manager of Postville and the Mount Pulaski Courthouse, told the Lincoln Daily News.  “We are trying to get ahead of the situation before problems arise.”

The project, to cost $248,902, will be performed by RJS Construction of Peoria and should be complete by late fall of this year.  Interior work will include plastering, painting and remodeling of the courthouse’s two fireplaces into historically accurate designs.  A new security system and a new storage shed will also be added.


“We have a commitment to maintain this site for future use,” Schachtsiek said. He believes the Looking for Lincoln project gives the Postville Courthouse “very much potential” as a tourist site, especially because of the research that has been done on the Lincoln legal papers.


    [The original Postville Courthouse]


“Postville could be as important a site as Mount Pulaski on the Looking for Lincoln Trail because it tells what Lincoln did to make a living.  About one-half of his time he spent traveling the Eighth Judicial Circuit.  There are only three places where you can learn about his career traveling the Circuit – Postville, Mount Pulaski and Metamora courthouses,” he said.

“In the past, attention has been focused on Lincoln’s political career, but in recent years, partly because of the Lincoln legal papers, attention has been focusing on his legal career.  We’re fortunate we’ve got two of the four Lincoln legal sites here in Logan County: Postville and Mount Pulaski,” he added.

The other two legal sites are the Metamora Courthouse and the Lincoln-Herndon law office in Springfield.

The research has been completed on the Lincoln legal papers, Schachtsiek said, and they are now available on CD ROM for computers.  Certain select cases will also be published in book form.  “What the Lincoln Legal Paper project did was draw in all the raw data.  Now it is up to other historians and researchers to interpret this data.  What this means is that Lincoln’s legal career is now more visible and the public will, we hope, be more interested and more curious about it, and come to sites related to that legal career.”


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The town of Postville was the county seat of Logan County for eight years, until Mount Pulaski won the honor from Postville in an 1848 referendum.  In 1855 the county seat was moved again, this time to the growing town of Lincoln, and by the time of the Civil War Lincoln had absorbed the old town of Postville into its boundaries.

The courthouse served as a store, a post office, a private home, and was finally purchased by Henry Ford in 1929 for $8,000.  Ford dismantled the building and moved it to his Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich., but donated the block the courthouse had been located on to the Logan County Historical Society.


[The reconstructed Postville Courthouse was built
at the site of the original courthouse in 1953.]


During its centennial in 1953, the city of Lincoln presented the block of land to the state of Illinois, which constructed a replica of the building, based on the original in Greenfield Village.  In 1956 the “new” Postville Courthouse opened.  The first floor contains an interpretive exhibit on the Eighth Judicial Circuit, on which Abraham Lincoln served as a lawyer, and the second floor houses a courtroom and office furnished as they might have been in the1840s when Lincoln was practicing law.  The Mount Pulaski and Metamora courthouses are still the original buildings.


[Joan Crabb]