Find homecooked food, wildlife art and a lifetime of happiness in Appleton City
Take a trip around the lake at Susan Hearting’s farm and you’ll find a lot of things taking wing from the nest. Some are molting downy feathers while their wooden doubles watch from a window-lit shelf. Others aren’t in motion, but grow and thrive anyway, if you count the happiness they bring to visitors. If you’re in the mood for a quiet afternoon by the water, a joyous celebration or a plate of country-style food, the Rustic Duck feels like home whether you’re from Appleton City or American Samoa.
“The weddings bring people in from everywhere,” says Susan, noting her wedding venue barn has hosted newlyweds from Clinton and El Dorado Springs to Australia and Ecuador. “You wouldn’t think so out here in the middle of nowhere, but they do.”
What would become the Rustic Duck hatched when Susan brought her decorating and wedding venue business, Vintage View, out to her farm in the custom, Amish-built barn. Next, the Osage Valley Electric Cooperative member added cabins plus catering and floral services along with a wine shop. In the summer of 2022, a restaurant fledged. The entire complex rings a 60-acre lake, where Susan’s feathered friends can often be found. Through it all her love for art and wildlife is hard to miss.
The walls of the art gallery-restaurant are lined with more than 400 mostly antique, handcarved duck and goose decoys. Some were carved by Susan’s hand and others by famed carvers such as Elmer Kroll. Susan’s works of beavers, raccoons and white-tailed deer painted onto old barn wood and other pieces accent rough-hewn framing timbers, while the gallery hallway features stunning paintings by local artists.
Guests of the cabins can rent paddleboats, kayaks and fishing boats, and weekend visitors can take a horse-drawn carriage ride, weather permitting. A popular option among overnighters is the Date Night Special package, including a cabin rental, carriage ride and a bottle of wine. The experience can be customized to include flowers, chocolates and charcuterie boards.
“It’s entertainment and it brings people in,” Susan says, adding with a laugh, “We have a lot going on.”
The reason everyone from locals celebrating family reunions to bikers from England on a cross-country ride have stopped by is the food. Susan’s daughter and Rustic Duck chef, Jamie Bokern, says the “simple and country-style” menu was built to fit the atmosphere and tailored to what locals wanted to eat.
“There’s nothing complicated about it, but it’s something that you wouldn’t typically have in your cupboard that you can get here and it’s cooked for you,” Jamie says, adding with a laugh, “Home-cooked food is all it is, really, but no duck.”
Despite a familial love of duck hunting, the menu’s inspiration is in name only. You’ll find only your choice of chicken, pulled pork or cheese in the Quackadillas. Drake’s Nachos are loaded with house-smoked pulled pork. Duck Poppers are homemade jalapeno poppers.
Other popular items include Doc’s Burger, named in honor of Jamie’s late father, which is one-third pound, hand-pattied, Appleton City-sourced beef with special seasoning. Diners also can order a Slider Rig comprising four smaller burgers, cheeseburgers or pulled pork sandwiches.
What most diners, local or just passing through, order isn’t even on the menu — yet. Daily and weekend specials range from brisket sandwiches to chicken-fried chicken. There are a few guarantees: fried catfish and two sides on Fridays and prime rib on Saturdays. On summer weekends the grill pit, located behind a hulking thresher that greets visitors at the entrance, is the place to be for fresh-cooked food and views of the lake.
“That’s where we do most of our barbecuing, so we try to do something just a little different,” Jamie says. “Sometimes it’s just whatever comes into my head the night before and I do it to taste. I just wing it.”
Whether you choose fish, fowl, pork or beef, you’ll want to save room for dessert — or you can skip straight to the sweet stuff. Order a Frosty Duck for heaping scoops of custard-based, homemade ice cream in eight flavors. Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, espresso, Butterfinger, peanut butter with Reese’s and cookies and cream are always in the cooler with a seasonal flavor in rotation.
With all of the plates she and Jamie are juggling, Susan finds satisfaction in sharing the experience with guests, whether they’re staying for a weekend, the reception or just a quick bite between combine trips to the field.
“The artist in me keeps painting on stuff, but I’ve really enjoyed being able to help people, too,” Susan says. “The weddings are rewarding because you’re bringing people together and there’s something heartfelt about it all. It feels like you’re doing something good for somebody.”
Specialties: Sandwiches including Doc’s Burger, Pulled Porker, pork tenderloin and slider rigs. Specials including fried catfish and prime rib. Homemade ice cream and other desserts. Full wine and beer menu.
Price: Appetizers from $1.50 to $5.99. Sandwiches from $6.95 to $12.95. Kids menu from $3.50 to $13.95.
Details: Open Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Contact at 660-679-1152 or follow on Facebook. Call ahead for winter hours. Cash, check and credit cards accepted. Free Wi-Fi. Nonsmoking. Located at Southeast County Road 15305 in Appleton City.