Situated on former school baseball diamonds in Hecker, population 500, is Back Street Wine and Dine. Proprietors Kim Koesterer and Robbin Kapp opened the restaurant in 2016, after their sons, best friends since grade school, approached them about an investment property they had purchased. After tossing some ideas around, Koesterer suggested a restaurant.
“I said, ‘Hecker needs a restaurant — a restaurant with a bar, not just a bar that has bar food,’” Koesterer says. “‘People have to go to other towns to eat.’” She believed the location on Illinois Route 159, a thoroughfare between Red Bud and Belleville, would make a great destination place.
The two mothers took on the project together. With Koesterer’s husband Mike serving as project manager, they broke ground in September 2015. After navigating a few hiccups along the way, Back Street Wine and Dine opened the following May. The restaurant has been open since, except during COVID-19 closures.
When the pandemic hit, the restaurant had only been in operation for a few years. Koesterer says good and bad came of the experience. “Our patio is 70 feet long by 20 feet wide with a big awning. So, when the governor said we had to have outside dining, that was pretty much our dining room for a couple of months.
“We set up tents, canopies and picnic tables to accommodate more people, and then we started to have music outside,” Koesterer says. “[When] we were allowed to start having indoor seating [again], we found that people preferred sitting outside. They liked the outdoors, the atmosphere, because we’re at the end of a street with cornfields, wheat fields, whatever is in season. That’s pretty much your view.”
That realization led the owners to expand. They added on to the patio and had two 24-foot-round concrete pads poured, where two large gazebos now stand, and had a permanent outside stage built. “We have music out there every Sunday, May 1 to the last weekend in October,” she adds.
Back Street’s menu has evolved over time. “We’ve probably had four or five kitchen managers over the past 7 1/2 years, and they all came with their ideas,” says Koesterer. “We just let them run with it. We get rid of things people are burned out on, and we add new things.”
That menu features a wealth of options, many homemade. In fact, the restaurant’s hand-breaded onion rings were named best in the area by 106.5 The Arch’s “Food Fight.” Also homecooked are the three cheese tortellini and the Reuben (the roast is baked and the corned beef is sliced in-house).
“We have the best fish,” she adds. “We do cod cut ups, cod fillets and catfish fillets. And we have our own house seasoning that we put on the grill. Everybody likes that.” Koesterer warns patrons will probably have to wait if they order fish on Friday, but it is served daily if visitors want to avoid the delay.
Monroe County Electric Cooperative’s Rachelle Fizer helps there from time to time and is a fan. “My favorites are the chicken strips; they cut and bread them there. The cod cut ups — really, all their fish — is delicious, and their burgers,” says Fizer. “They also have really good sweet potato fries with a praline sauce.”
There are three steak entrees, and Koesterer says their steak butter is a must. She has a script prepared for customers who ask for A.1. Sauce: “I will go get it for you. But if you wouldn’t mind, just try your steak with our seasonings and our butter.” She says people usually stop her en route. “I’ll get halfway, and they put their hand up and say, ‘Stop. Don’t even bring it over here,’ nine out of 10 times.”
Appetizers include deep-fried pickles and green beans and Bavarian pretzels with beer cheese. A favorite among the remaining options is their homemade Feta dip, served warm, with hand-cut, fried tortilla chips. The dip can also be found on the turkey club, served cold.
Koesterer says people often want to purchase their homemade ranch dressing. “We haven’t bottled it yet, but if somebody comes in, we just give them a container of it. … We go through 5 gallons of ranch every two to three days,” she says. The blue cheese and poppyseed dressings, as well as wing sauces, are also their own.
“That’s the way I wanted it — homecooked. I didn’t want it to be bar food, where everything comes out of a box and you throw it in the microwave,” she says, adding that ticket times can go long on busy nights, as everything is made to order.
Back Street’s vibe is casual; many people even bring their dogs. There’s “Snookball,” a version of pool on the ground with miniature soccer balls, popular with kids. Inside is a game room with pool, darts, Topgolf, claw games and gaming. On Tuesdays, they host extreme bar bingo with jackpots and other prizes.
“It’s a busy, busy place,” says Koesterer. “I would have never thought we would be this busy.”