SOLON– John Ahlf believes Solon is hungry for something different.
And he has prepared to serve it up, with a fresh menu, distinctive service and an updated look in the renamed Dock Fine Dining and Spirits restaurant.
It’s not just the name, the food or the new décor that Ahlf revamped in the hopes of creating a new dining experience in Solon, in the former location of Jo’s Roadhouse at 101 Windflower Ln.
“We tried to bring in a more family-friendly environment,” said Ahlf. He and his co-owner/wife Kristen have six children, so creating a place where adults feel comfortable bringing their children was important to them, as well as keeping prices affordable.
But good pricing doesn’t mean the menu is cut-rate.
“We kept the best of Jo’s– we have a great burger, wraps and ribs– but we also added really good steaks, and Maine lobster flown in directly every week. Maine lobster is the best there is, and you can’t get it anywhere else in the area,” Ahlf said. “If you want top filet, or an Iowa chop that is an inch-and-a-half thick, you can get that here, too. Our food hits all the demographics.” Also on the lunch menu is The Dock’s fresh, hand-pounded tenderloin, which Ahlf said has already earned rave reviews. Also, he said, the classic friend catfish sandwich recipe is amazing.
While the atmosphere is welcoming to all ages, there are special enticements just for the grownup set as well.
“We revolutionized the bar,” said Ahlf. Along with top shelf liquors, The Dock has added an extensive wine list, with many of its selections coming from Swisher’s Cedar Ridge Winery.
Mick Malloy is assistant manager of the restaurant and a mixologist behind the bar. He will be mixing up refreshing summer drinks with a fresh twist daily, as well as a wide selection of martinis and mixed drinks. A portion of the restaurant will be sectioned off to create The Flame, a martini bar, serving drinks and lighter fare like kabobs and sushi.
“The former stage area will have leather seating, with a high-end, retro feel,” said Ahlf.
In addition to 12 varieties of beer on tap, Malloy has stocked The Dock’s beer cooler with many specialty bottles as well. During happy hour from 4 until 6 p.m., enjoy $1 off mixed drinks and $1 draws, in a casual, relaxed setting.
“We are really emphasizing our customer service,” said Malloy. “People just want to get out, enjoy a friendly atmosphere, hang out with friends and have good conversation. They can do that here.” For those looking for something a little different but unsure of where to find it, Malloy makes friendly recommendations based on his experience; Angry Orchard hard cider has become a new favorite, for example.
Malloy is joined by head chef Jacob Rouse. Rouse is a military veteran who went to culinary school after the service.
“If you position yourself to offer a very good food line, it’s important to have someone to back it up,” said Ahlf. “Most of our staff is new (to this restaurant), but they have a lot of experience. We have a dynamite staff. We’ve gotten a lot of compliments already on our service and hospitality.”
The Ahlfs currently live in Muscatine, but John is keen on playing a role in the Solon community. The renewed décor includes Kristen’s photos of local spots like Lake Macbride– the origin of inspiration for the restaurant’s new name– and a Solon Wall of Fame, where a special Star of the Month will appear monthly once school resumes in the fall.
“We hope to work with the schools to recognize kids who deserve special recognition; not just in sports, but in academics, the arts or other activities. That person will eat free all month,” he said. Ahlf said he also plans to donate quarterly to local nonprofit organizations, and wants to work closely with other local eateries to make Solon more than just a pass-through town.
“We want traffic to stop, and take in Solon,” he said. “There are a lot of good, hardworking people here, and it’s also a bedroom community. The schools are top notch, and the crime rate is low. It has good recreational opportunities. Now people don’t have to drive to Iowa City or Cedar Rapids to get fantastic food. I think the community wants something like us.”
For those who in a bit of a hurry, though, The Dock has convenient online ordering, so customers can order a take-out meal or simply order ahead so food is ready and brought to a reserved table when they arrive. A free customer rewards program ensures nice discounts upon return visits.
If The Dock hasn’t been on your manifest, this weekend would be a good time to stop in during the restaurant’s grand opening. Sample free drinks and appetizers, enjoy two-for-one drink purchases, and take a chance on winning 100 two-day Caribbean cruises or a seven-day resort condominium stay, along with a number of other promotions.
“We want people to be as excited as we are,” said Malloy. “This place has been known as a generic restaurant four times over. We don’t want that. We want to be known for our fresh food, our focus on quality and customer service.”
“We’ve had tremendous feedback already. The positive comments are reward enough for me,” he said. “It’s been fun. Stop in.”