A Cathartic Bloody Mary & Cheese Frenchies: My First Wartburg Homecoming

This weekend we heeded the “U-Rah-Rah Rah” cries of Wartburg College’s homecoming.

When Jake and I drove down Bremer Avenue in Waverly, Iowa I percolated with emotion, for this was my first visit back, since graduating in 2007. My stomach felt strange when I thought about how my mom was alive the last time I was on campus, cheering for me as I reached for my diploma.

We met a friend I used to work with at the college’s Writing/Reading/Speaking Lab (WRSL) at Duo’s, a coffee shop built after graduation. Since we were the only two former consultants in attendance, we giggled about how we were the smallest WRSL reunion in history.

I think it’s safe to speak for the other WRSL consultants when I say that we loved our jobs helping students improve their paper and speeches. Many of us became good friends who worked together for years. I don’t believe any one hired as a consultant ever left before graduation. Once a WRSL’er, always a WRSL’er.

Although I majored in Public Relations, we never discussed social media. Wartburg joined the Facebook network in 2005 and no one seemed to foresee the role it would play in business marketing.

This commemorates the first time it ever occurred to me to take a picture of food. Our early flip phone cameras took horrible photos and most of us lacked the internet plans to share them.

FOod Art note

Food art at Perkins, Cedar Falls, Iowa, circa 2004

Now, I juggle ten social media platforms and find myself saying, “My how times have changed,” more often than I’d like.

I used to think homecoming activities were unbearably cheesy. I enjoyed some of the festivities like the variety show, but would hardly say I “bled orange” (our school color), as they would say. This weekend, seven years later, I experienced the true spirit of homecoming along with alumni of all ages. Signs everywhere said “Welcome back!” and I felt like I had returned home.

Our mission in Waverly was simple. Drink at Joe’s Knight Hawk Lounge and eat at the East Bremer Diner.

Oh Joe’s. We never got too well acquainted, did we? Joe’s Knight Hawk is the bar perched on the edge of campus where the harder-core partiers gravitated. If something crazy happened, it probably went down at Joe’s. Others simply went to Joe’s to eat chicken wings and dance the night away.

I appeared at Joe’s twice. I wasn’t much of a drinker and hardly a dancer, preferring the company of friends watching Scrubs or playing candy poker. Looking back, I do wish I spent more time at Joe’s, but hindsight’s 20/20.

Joe's

The first thing I noticed was that the bar and pole along the dance floor was gone. Considering the state of most of the students who hoisted themselves up to dance around the pole, I wasn’t surprised.

We ordered Bloody Marys which was fitting since I drank my first Bloody Mary here during my senior year. I remember watching the bartender in utter fascination as he added Worcestershire sauce and black pepper to my first, non-fruity cocktail which I liked at first taste.

The beverages were so cheap, we struggled to drink our $10 credit card minimum. So, we walked a mile down Bremer Avenue to the East Bremer Diner. The cold wind whipped across the Cedar River.

River watermarked

Waverly’s main street is vibrant and well-kept. I was happy to find that Dell’s Diner & Asian Garden Restaurant are still open.

main street watermarked

I’ve dreamed of returning to the East Bremer Diner for years. My family and I dined here after our first campus tour.

For lovers of the Diner, this is a beautiful sight.

Salad Dressings watermarked

For those who choose a side salad, the server will bring a big bowl of shredded lettuce and quad of homemade salad dressings in squirt bottles. There’s french, thousand island, ranch and creamy garlic. Use one, or mix and match them all.

My favorite has always been the creamy garlic. Your server will initially identify each dressing, but, in case you forget, the creamy garlic is pinker than the ranch and paler than the thousand island. I used to buy an occasional jar of this dressing for personal home enjoyment. My second favorite is the french, which I normally don’t like. The Diner’s is tangy without being too sweet.

This ritual of starting with a big bowl of shredded iceburg lettuce and squirt bottles of salad dressing an endearing gimmick we always looked forward to. I posted these salad photos on social media and received so much interaction, I’d say it brings back fond memories for many Wartburg students.

Diner Salad Collage

I ordered Cheese Frenchies for lunch. Frenchies are cubes of crispy-coated, fried grilled cheese made with American cheese (and sometimes mayonnaise) and the Diner’s the only place I’ve seen them.

Cheese Frenchies originated at the chain King’s Food Host in Nebraska, Omaha in the early 1960’s. They’ve since fallen out of style, though friends have also spotted them at Don & Millie’s in Omaha & Drake Diner in Des Moines.

Cheese Frenchies watermarked

Jake chose the Beef Submarine with onions and mushrooms. I giggled each time he repeated the entire word “submarine.”  This sandwich was massive and the bread tasted fresh.

Beef Sandwich watermarked

The Diner’s manager, also a Wartburg graduate, saw my tweet about the Diner and visited our table to personally greet us. He said that the menu is practically the same as it was seven years ago, minus a few of the less popular items. We gave him kudos for being so on top of the Diner’s social media while actively managing the restaurant during lunch rush.

Before we drove back to Mason City, I asked Jake to take a photo of me and the Wartburg sign. Funny how I was too nerdy to go to Joe’s Knight Hawk in college, yet too cool to pose by the sign.

Wartburg Sign watermarked

Former President Jack Ohle’s catchphrase referred to Wartburg College as a “tapestry” of which all of us students were the threads.

I’ll spare you the Wartburg song and peppy motto “Be Orange!”, but I will leave you with one final “U-Rah-Rah-Rah. Catharsis is best experienced with Bloody Mary’s and Cheese Frenchies.

What was your school’s catchphrase? And did you have a favorite college town restaurant?

10 Comments

  1. You can find a Cheese Frenchie at the Woodhouse in Bismarck. It was originally a King’s Food Host – Fargo had one too – and the Frenchie was there when I first visited in the mid-1960’s. The menu also offered ham/cheese or tuna/cheese options. Today they only offer the cheese version.
    Great post about returning to your college campus and community. Mine is NDSU/Fargo where I have shown up for Bison football every fall for more than 25 years. Memories of all kinds!

  2. U rah rah back at you. I haven’t been back for a few years but loved my time at the Burg. I went to Joe’s a few more times than you. Dancin? You bet! Glad you had a good time.

    Wartburg College Hail to Thee

    • Best song ever:) I love meeting other Wartburgers. Our band director made us sing that song in harmony over and over again at the fall band retreat.

  3. What a great post!!! I felt like I was back in college. 🙂 Our alma mater’s colors are orange and black so I can identify with the orange part of it all. The cheese frenchies look amazing. Seriously amazing. Chris and I went back to our Homecoming 4 years ago ( I think) and it was a really fun time—we actually saw a lot of people that we knew and even though the campus has changed dramatically it still held a feeling of “home” to us. Since we got married at the chapel there it is always going to be a very special place for us. Looks like you and Jake had a great time—-thanks for sharing with us!

  4. So many thoughts! Is the ledge gone too? I loved the cheese fries!! Yum!! Love the diner, love Wartburg and love this post. You made my heart ache briefly for my years there!

  5. L-U-L-U-L-U-T-H-T-H-T-H-T-H-E-R, L-U-T-H-E-R, LUTHER, LUTHER, LUTHER! 😉 Although my heart and alliance are with Luther College, what a great recap of your homecoming visit to Wartburg! Waverly is a great town (lived there 2 summers when I was in college), and its fun you felt welcomed back as alumni…You’ve inspired me to possibly return to Luther next fall for my 10 year reunion!

  6. My college had proximity to Jimmy’s Grotto, which featured ponza – basically a fried calzone. Heaven. Especially heaven late at night, after a few cocktails. These were not your everyday indulgence, as they were heavy, huge, and dripping – literally – with grease.

    Most of us would cut them open, or cut a corner off, then turn it upside down so some of the grease would escape, but I had a friend (a guy, obvs) who would purposely soak up every bit of grease available.

    I saw them frozen in the grocery store once when I was in the area but haven’t had one since homecoming, probably 10 years ago. My heart thanks me.

  7. This post made me smile. There’s something special about returning to a place you spent so much time after you’ve been gone awhile. Sometimes it’s nice to visit old memories.

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