A thorough makeover is transforming this longtime favorite for fine dining into a modern hub for creative, locally inspired dishes that appeal to many palates.
Rhienna McClain Trevino studied television broadcasting in school and worked as a field producer for 15 years before switching to supporting nonprofit organizations.
She changed careers again in late 2016 when she acquired 1776, a popular restaurant in her hometown of Crystal Lake.
“Buying the restaurant was the right move but the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” says the 36-year-old Trevino. “Andy and Terrie Andresky founded the business in 1990, and people were comfortable with that culture.”
It was one she knew well, as she had often dined there. She found it was also one of the few places that openly accommodated her food allergy after she was diagnosed with Celiac Disease.
But taking over a beloved restaurant is like a “double-edged sword,” she says, because new management has to prove itself while respecting a legacy. Since taking over as “owner, operator and visionary,” Trevino has proven herself in many ways.
Early on in Trevino’s tenure, the restaurant’s customer base increased, bolstered by a diverse menu featuring wild game. Those dishes – bison, boar, elk, quail and other such delicacies – continue to find a place on the menu. But navigating changes in that sector of the market, particularly in the supply chain, has proven increasingly cumbersome, Trevino says.
Meanwhile, she has also freshened up the space to make it more attractive and classy.
The building was constructed in 1976 as a fried chicken outlet, and the venue still resembled the franchise when she took over, Trevino says.
“We like to say we were redesigning what fine dining looks like,” she says. “We didn’t want it to be pretentious or snooty. Instead, it would be a little sassy and provide a high-quality product.”
Extensive renovations were completed about 18 months ago.
“From the roof, gutters and windows to just about every piece of equipment inside, almost everything is new,” Trevino says. The bar was redone and seating was expanded from eight spaces to 22.
“And there’s not much on the walls,” Trevino notes. “Here, the food on the table is the art.”
The Wild Game Trio, which stars wild game medallions, changes selections and sauces daily. A recent version came with elk, boar and quail served with mashed potatoes.
Planked wild-caught salmon with spinach risotto and chimichurri sauce ranks among the most popular dishes. Another option is the 1776 pizza, a 10-inch personal size created with made-in-house dough. Toppings vary.
Because of Trevino’s own food allergies, she empathizes with patrons who have similar dietary restrictions, including vegetarians and vegans. The kitchen stands ready to accommodate with appropriate dishes, including gluten-free, vegetarian and dairy-free variations on the 1776 Pizza.
The menu has received favorable Zagat ratings for more than 25 years, and it has also received commendations from Wine Spectator, which gave it an Award of Excellence for its assortment of wines and their complement to the menu.
Erik Nordstrom, wine and spirits director, works with a wine cellar of about 1,500 bottles on-site, half of which are stored in a temperature-controlled environment. A wide selection of bourbon, scotch and craft beers rounds out the bar’s inventory.
Come spring, patrons will be able to enjoy their first alfresco meal at a new patio on the premises, with additional parking now available across the street. Plans call for building a significantly larger wine cellar, as well.
Given the restaurant’s seating capacity of 100, reservations are recommended, especially on weekends. 1776 Restaurant is open Mon. 4:30 to 10 p.m., Tues. to Thurs. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and Sat. 4:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. It’s closed on Sundays.