Tag: Bar Food (page 2 of 3)

Birthday Crawls & Pizza Fries

Everything else tasted fine, but the pizza fries were really good. They’re “I still think about them today” good.

The pizza fries adventure all started with my mother-in-law. Every time it’s one of her family member’s birthdays, she’s bound and determined to arrange a celebratory dinner at a restaurant. But, not just at any restaurant, or even one our favorite restaurants.

The birthday restaurant must include the name of the birthday person in it.

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Walking Around & Eating Stuff In Clayton, Missouri

We are fortunate to have very nice neighbors. One of them is named George. He’s also a St. Louis transplant.

This weekend, we had initially made plans to walk to Bar Les Freres to enjoy drinks and a meal. George had bigger ideas: “Let’s go on a food crawl!” We shrugged. OK! I had to work early the next morning and volunteered to be the designated driver.

Jake and I really haven’t explored many restaurants in downtown Clayton. The parking can be tricky and many of the restaurants seemed fancier than what I’m typically in the mood for. George has further explored Clayton and offered to show us a few of his favorite dishes.
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Webster City, Iowa: Grid Iron Grill & La Perla Jarocha

Disclaimer: On 12.13.14 Deb Brown, Executive Director of the Webster City Area Chamber of Commerce invited me to spend the day in Webster City as part of the “Seven Bloggers on a Saturday” tour. Grid Iron Grill provided lunch. All opinions are my 100% my own

It’s bittersweet to write about Webster City again.

Last December, I spent the day touring the city with seven North Iowa bloggers. One of them was Amy Hild who recently died in a car crash late February. Thinking about the Webster City tour makes me feel sad because we miss our friend, but it also makes me happy because the day holds more warm memories than any other day I’ve lived in Iowa.

Beth and I actually returned to Webster City in January to explore at a more leisurely pace. Our bloggers tour had moved at a rapid pace in order to fit in as many businesses and attractions as possible. Between both of our visits, we enjoyed meals at a few restaurants. Here are highlights from our meals at Grid Iron Grill and La Perla Jarocha.

Grid Iron Grill & Sports Lounge
This sports bar served as our big lunch stop on our original Webster City tour. Owner Burk Risetter greeted our table and surprised us by treating us to our meals. Before he opened his own restaurant, Risetter worked in the food service industry. He spoke of taking pride in the fact that his kitchen hand breads most of their appetizers such as their onion rings and fried pickles and cuts their own steaks and salmon fillets.

appetizer Collage

We split several appetizers and most everyone ordered a different entrée. My favorite appetizer was the fried pickle chips.

Fried Pickles WM

I didn’t mind that the chips were softer because I liked their light coating. Of course, they were served with ranch in true Iowan fried appetizer style. I found these pickle chips addicting and kept returning for more during the entire meal. Grid Iron’s ranch passed my ranch test, meaning it did not taste like a pre-made product.

For my entrée, I ordered six wings with bourbon sauce and a side salad.

Wings wm

Chicken wings are one of my top three favorite foods. My parents rarely served meat on the bone and so wings were a treat I’d order wings at restaurants every chance I got. Grid Iron’s wings were larger and plumper than what you’ll find at chains like Buffalo Wild Wings. The cook fried them so that the skin was crispy and the meat was tender. Typically I prefer spicy wing sauce, but chose something milder since I was on a bloggers tour. I’m not sure if the world is ready to see me devour hot wings yet.

This sauce was a little sweet for me, but ideal for those who like honey BBQ. Donna ordered a burger glazed with this same bourbon sauce and raved about it. Her meal also came with crispy sweet potato fries served with an unusual marshmallow sauce. I would certainly order Grid Iron’s wings again with a spicy sauce. In terms of size and cooking technique, these are the best wings I can remember eating for a long time.

La Perla Jarocha
We noticed two specialty food markets along Webster City’s main street. On our second visit, Beth & I popped into a small Asian market that carried mostly South East Asian pantry items and La Perla Jarocha, one of Webster City’s two Mexican grocery stores. Chamber Director Brown mentioned that Webster City is home to a sizable Laotian community and that a Laotian family is in process of opening a egg roll and bubble tea shop soon.

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It’s hard to believe, but even though Mason City and Clear Lake are the biggest communities in North Iowa, we have no multicultural grocery stores. I’d love for someone to prove me wrong, but the closest Asian grocery store appears to be Yaw Asian Grocery Store located 40-minutes away in Albert Lea, MN.

At La Perla Jarocha’s grocery store, I noticed a hot food warmer on the front counter containing what looked like pork carnitas meat and found foil-wrapped tamales in the cooler. The owner shared that her mother prepares them with freshly made masa dough. She gently reminded me to remove the banana leaf before eating, which made me giggle as I thought of people trying to eat the tough leaves.

I brought two tamales home. The masa dough was light and fluffy and the chicken filling tasted delightfully spicy. I’m always thrilled when food makes me sweat.

Tamale

Spicy chicken tamale from La Perla Jarocha

The tamales from La Perla Jarocha reminded of eating my first banana leaf-wrapped tamale in Cholula, Mexico. Our friend Mario biked to his favorite tamale vendor early one the morning so he could share them with us at breakfast. We unwrapped them on a beautiful sidewalk cafe and enjoyed them with espresso and traditional pastries before climbing Mexican’s largest pyramid, The Great Pyramid of Cholula.

Until this moment, I thought I didn’t like tamales because the only ones I had tried were dry and heavy. Now that I know how delicate and spicy they can taste, I try them every chance I get.

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Mario unwraps a tamale in Cholula, Mexico

I later followed up with the owner of La Perla Jarocha who said they recently opened a restaurant across the street where they serve these tamales and more of their family recipes.

Soon after our last trip to Webster City, a Des Moines Register reporter contacted me (along with two other Iowan food bloggers) for an interview . Understandably, Torpy’s word count was limited and she couldn’t fit all of our replies into her feature, but her final question was my favorite to answer. I wrote my reply as I enjoyed one of these tamales: “What do you hope people will take away after reading your blog?”

I hope my readers will feel inspired to try a new food or wander into a new market. I also hope they’ll feel inspired to explore their own backyard and never stop searching for their new favorite dive bar or small town café. My favorite bloggers make me feel something. They make me laugh and cry, awaken wanderlust, or become curious about something new. I hope I do the same for my readers.

Be curious. Wander into new stores and don’t be afraid to ask the owners questions. Celebrate chicken wings with crispy skin and don’t be the fool that passes on someone else’s mother’s homemade tamales.

Thanks again to Grid Iron Grill for treating us to lunch during the December 2015 Webster City Bloggers Tour.

The Every Bar In Mason City Quest And More: Tailgaters & Pasta Bella

After a holiday hiatus, The Every Bar In Mason City Quest returns.

This time, we visited Tailgaters Sports Bar & Grill, an establishment we’ve heard friends and community members mention. The first thing we noticed was the bar set-up. Jake loved it! Three flat screen televisions sat above the bar and the tables were arranged in such a way that everyone could comfortably watch the game.

Jake chose a high top table while I visited the bar to place an order and inquire about food. I told the bartender I was interested in a cocktail and inquired about popular choices. When she asked if I liked sweet drinks, I said I was game.

Mmmm. . . it tasted like a grapefruit soda. Kinky Liqueur & 7-Up hit the spot.

Tailgators

I tried a Kinky cooler once and liked that it didn’t taste too sweet. Grapefruit’s my favorite fruit and I’m a sucker for anything that tastes or smells like it. If you also like grapefruit, don’t let the bottle scare you away. The name Kinky is horrid, the liqueur is pink, and appears like it would taste very sweet. Now, don’t get me wrong. Drinking a cocktail with Kinky isn’t like sipping a fine glass of scotch, but if you like grapefruit, you might like Kinky.

Tailgaters’ menu offers typical bar food like pizza, burgers, and wings. A friendly woman at the bar recommended the pizza and the taco pizza her party shared did look good. We had just eaten pizza for lunch, so we ordered a cheeseburger and wings with mango-habernero sauce. The mango-habanero sauce coating Tailgators’ breaded wings tasted more like a traditional wing sauce than what Buffalo Wild Wings serves and was milder (for us, anyway), but we liked its flavor. The sauce tasted different enough to be interesting and I swiped-up all of the extra sauce from the bottom of the basket.

Jake’s burger experienced a kitchen mishap and the bartender automatically removed the charge from our bill. We were full enough with the wings and fries from the burger basket that we did not want additional food, anyway.

Wings Tailgators

The crinkle fries in the burger basket arrived fresh from the fryer and were seasoned with an addicting seasoning salt. The perfect amount of seasoning salt can really boost a frozen fry.

Overall, we enjoyed our visit. The vibe was really friendly and our bartender provided excellent service. We keep hearing pizza’s the way to go. I noticed at least one person ordering a take-out pizza, so we’ll have to return and try one.

While I’m discussing local restaurants, I’d like to share how much Jake and I enjoyed a take-out meal from the new Italian restaurant Pasta Bella. In fact, it’s our city’s only Italian restaurant. Jake and I enjoyed our meal courtesy of a Christmas gift from two of my Godcats Buddy & Holly. I’m possibly not suitable as a Godmother for real human children, but I rock as a Catgodmom.

Pasta Bella’s parking lot is usually packed in the evenings. My friend Beth noted they do a nifty take-out service, and we found that they do. From phone call to pick-up, our order was ready in about 20-minutes. We were impressed with how carefully the kitchen packed each item. Not a sauce or dressing was missing, and they even included a huge pile of the freshly baked garlic knots they offer to diners free of charge.

Pasta Bella fries their calamari rings in a light coating and we liked the half-lemon garnish.

Calamari Pasta Bella

For entrées, Jake chose chicken parmesan while I ordered eggplant parmesan. Each comes with a green salad or cup of soup and we chose the salad with house dressing. The salad greens were very fresh and the house dressing was unlike any I’ve tried. It was like a thick, red vinaigrette that tasted both sweet and savory.

Pasta Bella Collage
The red sauce tasted nicely balanced and we enjoyed our leftovers with the extra garlic knots. Our whole meal cost about $33 before tax and tip. We have no complaints about our experience and it lined up with the positive reviews that friends have shared with us. We hope this local, family-owned and operated restaurant has a long future in Mason City. You can reach them on their new website or by calling 641-201-1891.

Every Bar in Mason City Graphic

The Every Bar In Mason City Quest
Burke’s Bar & Grill
Candy Bar Nite Club
Homer’s Sports Bar & Grill
Kozy Korner
Mason City Brewing
Mulligan’s Bar & Grill (11/24/2014)
Mystic Lanes Bowling
Patrick’s Bar
Ransom’s
Sidewinder Bar (11/29/14)
Spike’s Tap & Grill
Sportsmans Lounge 
Tailgaters Sports Bar & Grill (01/10/14)
VFW Post 733
Willow Run Lounge (11/01/2014)
Wise Guys Sports Pub (11/08/2014)

Restaurant/Hotel Bars
1910 Lounge
Chop Eleven
LD’s Filling Station
Loredo’s
Papa’s
Pastime Gardens
The Quarry Tapas Bar
Rib Crib
River City Bar & Grille at the Clarion Inn
Whiskey Creek
Wok ‘n Roll

Reader Suggested Bars Throughout North Iowa
Bernie’s Bar, Forest City
Elly’s Lakefront Tap, Clear Lake
Lake Time Brewery, Clear Lake
Signatures Sports Bar & Grill, Northwood
Tanks Bar & Grill, Rudd
West Fork Wharf, Sheffield (12/12/14)

Christmas in the Twin Cities: Five Memorable Tastes

We just returned to North Iowa after spending a frantic holiday week in the Twin Cities.

Christmas means cycling between our two families’ homes and visiting old friends. By the end of the week, we’re tired and cranky as hell, having raced around the metropolitan area every single day. But we have few regrets because we remember that once we get home, we’ll miss everyone all over again.

My best advice to those who visit the Twin Cities and seek restaurant suggestions is to simply ask a local! Just like any other city, the flashiest or most prominent restaurant don’t necessarily serve the best food or most ideal bang for your buck. Ask your friends for ideas or jump online and ask a stranger via Twitter. Despite rumors of “Minnesota Nice” equating passive aggression, Minnesotans really are nice. I can guarantee that any food-loving local would be willing to share his or her favorite places with you.

Two of our goals were to sneak away on a date night to try a new restaurant and revisit an old favorite. We accomplished all of this and more. Here are five of our favorite tastes from the week:

Taqueria Los Ocampo: Carnitas Tacos & Green Sauce
We crave Mexican-style street tacos fiercely, with the passion of a thousand burning suns. When I lived in Minneapolis, I visited Los Ocampo in Midtown Global Market. Now we often stay with Jake’s parents, we visit Taqueria Los Ocampo on Arcade St. in East St. Paul. This particular location is open until 2 a.m. which makes it perfect for late night taco runs.

First timers might be surprised to find Los Ocampo cooks masa dough to order for dishes like quesadillas and huaraches (flat, oval-shaped masa topped with re-fried beans, meat, etc). There are so many meat and vegetarian toppings, it’s difficult to choose. Our go-to order is tacos. Fortunately, customers can order multiples of the same tacos or one of each filling. So far my favorites include pork carnitas and beef cecina, a salted & partially dried beef.

Los Ocampos

If you order everything on the tacos, they’ll include onion, cilantro, radish slices and lime wedges. Meal combos come with the creamiest refried beans, fluffy rice, and choice of beverage. I always choose horchata, a sweet rice water. If I’m extra hungry, I might add an elote (a corn cob on a stick coated in mayo and covered in chili powder and cheese) and churro to nibble on later. Don’t forget to choose from their little cups of spicy salsas. Jake prefers the smokey red sauce while I prefer the creamy green. We’ve truly never ordered anything we didn’t like.

Birchwood Cafe: Savory Waffle
Breakfast with my old housemates typically occurs at Common Roots or Birchwood Cafe and I never complain. I hadn’t visited Birchwood since its recent remodel. The space is open and inviting. The cafe cultivates community from the way management treats its employees to how it sources foods from local producers. Plus, it’s fun to sit at their big community tables.

The first thing I seek in the morning is coffee. As a slightly lactose-intolerant individual, I jump for joy when cafes like Birchwood automatically offer soy milk at their beverage station. I ordered the Veggie Scramble dotted with roasted root vegetables and served with thick Birdseed toast and celery root puree.

Birchwood Collage

I was stunned by the beautiful presentation of my friend’s Savory Waffle.

Waffle Birthwood wm

This waffle differed from a traditional sweet waffle because it tasted of fresh herbs and Gruyère cheese. Birchwood tops it with fruit chutney, bacon, a sunny-side up egg, spiced pumpkin seeds, and maple syrup. My friend shared a bite which tasted as good as it looked.

1029 Bar: Wings & Fries
We accidentally found ourselves at karaoke night at the 1029.

A friend asked us to meet him at Grumpy’s. Having lived away from the Twin Cities for too long, we forget to ask which one! We showed up to two different Grumpy’s located at opposite ends of town, so we scrapped our original plan and met at the 1029 Bar in NE Minneapolis. We arrived as the hostess kicked-off karaoke, an event that appears to have a loyal following. Jake tested out his car singing skills and sang the worst rendition of Sam Smith’s “Not the Only One” heard by human ears. I silently laughed until I cried into my french fries.

Those expecting typical bar food will be surprised to find the Smack Shack menu. Sure, you can order a lobster roll at the new Smack Shack restaurant, but it’ll cost more and you won’t get to enjoy it under the glow of Christmas lights as Jake sings karaoke. We tried a couple of dishes and I liked the Smack Wings the best.

1029 wings wm

The wings were nicely sized and coated in an addicting sauce that tasted slightly spicy and sweet. It’s unlike any other hot wing sauce I’ve tried. I dipped all of the french fries from my shrimp basket into it the excess sauce. The crisp fries arrived in my favorite cut (similar to McDonald’s for lack of a better comparison) and tasted like what I’m guessing is Old Bay seasoning.

Many of the karaoke participants were very talented, but made everyone feel welcome to participate. Plus, the service was warm and just plain fun.

Spoon and Stable: Dessert
Spoon and Stable is Chef Gavin Kaysen’s month-old restaurant located in the North Loop of downtown Minneapolis. Dinner reservations might be difficult to come by at the moment, but the bar and small lounge accommodate walk-in seating. We arrived at prime dinner time and the wait for lounge seating was an hour and a half. Bar seats are always available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Jake noticed a couple leave the bar. He looked around, did not see anyone moving to claim them, and sat down. A trio of ladies standing around a table threw their arms up in exasperation, so I asked them if they had been waiting for the bar seats. They replied they had and rolled their eyes. I explained that the man who sat down was my husband and assured them that I’d grab him. They remained in a huff despite Jake’s apology. We watched in amusement as they asked half of the bar to move down one seat so their group of three could fit. The word, “Thunderdome” entered my mind and I giggled

Another group of women invited us to join them at a standing table and even offered to share their bar snacks. We were surprised to find we shared some Iowa connections, and, when a server informed them that their lounge table was ready, we couldn’t help but rejoice with them. Like I said, Minnesota nice does actually exist. We encounter it time and time again.

I sipped a minty green cocktail with an egg shaken in it and we nibbled the juicy duck sliders Dara Grumdahl suggested. Soon after, two seats the bar opened and we carefully claimed them without any difficulties.

We were surprised to make it to the bar, so we tried several dishes. This was our Merry Christmas present to each other. I especially enjoyed the bison tartare while Jake gravitated towards the bucatini with clams, bottarga, tarragon & uni cream. My favorite taste was actually Executive Pastry Chef Diane Yang’s  Lemon Curd Mousse with charred pineapple, thyme pound cake, and crunchy vanilla meringue. We found it delightfully tangy, sweet without being too sweet, and refreshing. Basically, it was like magic.

Lemon Dessert wm

The tiny tin of tiny cookies served with our bill was another magical touch. It contained shortbread, a macaron, and tangy fruit confection which I’m guessing are also Yang’s handiwork.

Cookies Spoon and Stable wm

We had hoped to feel like big city kids again, just for an evening, and Spoon and Stable made this happen. Despite the restaurant’s poshness, the staff was kind and not pretentious.

Woody’s Pet Deli (Trayse’s Pick): Raw Lamb Bone
My brother and sister-in-law recently adopted a cat from Woody’s Pet Deli in the Highland Park area of St. Paul and continue to shop there for pet food. Woody’s is unique because it specializes in human-grade pet food free of artificial colors, preservatives, and fillers. I spend a lot of time examining packages at big box pet stores, but felt at ease here knowing that every product was carefully chosen and safe. Mary Anne helped me find the perfect treat for Trayse: A pair of raw lamb bones for $2.

Trayse Bone wm

He floated on cloud nine as he enjoyed his Christmas treat out on the deck. My sister-in-law’s cat also loves his treats from Woody’s.

Pet treat Collage

We savored our week in the Twin Cities, but are also happy to be back in North Iowa. I appreciate all of our parents’ efforts to make Christmas special and treat us to home-cooked meals, but have to admit, it’s fun to be Queen of my own kitchen again:)

What was one of the best things you prepared or ate over the holidays? Do you have any New Years traditions? 

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