Tag: Clear Lake (page 2 of 2)

The Every Bar In Mason City Quest Takes A Detour: The Other Place, Clear Lake

Most Iowans probably know what I’m talking about when I say “The O.P.”

We have a popular local pizza chain called The Other Place. Yes, that’s actually the name. There are eight total restaurants, two of which are located in Kansas. The original “Other Place” has been located in Cedar Falls since 1970. When I think of The O.P. I think of happy things: Thick, bubbly layers of chewy melted cheese, pizza, spicy nacho cheese, popcorn and 7 and 7’s.

The second oldest O.P. is located across the street from Wartburg College where I graduated from college. On weekends, we ate cheap $5 pizzas from Dominos, but when mom and dad came to town, we asked them to take us to The Other Place. My family liked the pizza here so much that they usually wanted to dine here anyway. There were a few occasions when especially kind professors treated our whole class to pizza at the O.P at the end of the semester.

College kids partied at Joe’s, so the O.P. was usually a quiet place we spent many weekend evenings playing cards over drinks and eating nachos with spicy cheese sauce. It was here at the Waverly O.P. that a friend first introduced me to 7 and 7’s, explaining they were composed of ” seven hard liquors mixed with 7-Up.” My drink was so strong that I believed her and never drank one again until our recent visit to Willow Run. Jake finally informed me that a 7 and 7 actually contains Seagram’s and 7-Up. I order them now and laugh. We were nerds drinking cocktails before it was possible to access the internet on cell phones.

Last weekend I took Jake to the Clear Lake O.P. The exterior’s nondescript, but the inside opens into a spacious sports bar with plenty of big screen TV’s. You may be wondering what’s so special about the O.P’s pizza. I think the draw’s in their cheese and crust. The thick crust tastes homemade and has a special, almost fermented flavor. It has a crisp bottom crust and, at first glance, appears heavy, but eats lighter than expected.

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And the cheese is glorious. Each pizza is coated in a thick layer of high quality cheese that’s golden brown. It strings when it’s hot and chews nicely when it cools. Most importantly, it’s not that cheap crap you find at other pizza chains. Cheap pizza chain cheese just sits there like a toupee and disintegrates when you bite into it. Boo cheap cheese. My only critique about this pizza is that the mushrooms tasted canned. I’ll eat them, but fresh are my favorite.

As if we didn’t have enough cheese, we ordered a cheese crisp. Jake has fond childhood memories dipping cheese crisps into salsa at Chi-Chi’s he’s been searching for the next closest thing ever since. Chi-Chi’s went out of business in the United States in 2004 after a hepatitis outbreak originated at a location in Pennsylvania that killed four people and infected 660. Oddly enough, there are still operating Chi-Chi’s in Belgium, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait. You can also purchase shelf stable foods by this brand in American grocery stores.

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For all intensive purposes, a cheese crisp is a crispy flour tortilla topped with melted cheese. Jake confirmed the O.P.’s cheese crisp is indeed the closest thing he’s found to Chi-Chi’s (so far). He noted that the O.P’s differs because it has a butter flavor and is topped with more cheese than what he remembers at Chi-Chi’s.

After his first O.P. experience, Jake commented that he could see why I had such warm memories here. Everywhere we looked, we saw people eating cheese! Gooey cheese hung into threads from pieces of pizza and cheese bread. The O.P. is really a wonderland of good melted cheese. And about that cocktail. . . I ordered a 7 and 7 for posterity’s sake. I think I called it a 7 in 7, but they knew what I meant. Also, the side salads here ($4.25) may cost more than the cocktails, but they do serve “good” ranch.

For more frequent updates on our cheesy adventures, connect with me on Instagram and Twitter

I Met Cooper The Chicken & Ate Broasted Chicken At A Drive-In: Let’s Save The Barrel

There’s a giant chicken in Clear Lake, Iowa.

His name is Cooper and if you drive along U.S. 18 from Mason City to Clear Lake, you won’t miss him. He likes it when people take his photo.

Cooper Collage

Cooper stands outside the Barrel Drive-In, a historic restaurant that’s served ice cream and broasted chicken since 1958. The Barrel started as the small shack pictured below on a gravel lot and expanded into a covered drive-in with two dining rooms.

Menu

A 1/2 chicken dinner is no longer $1.25, but it’s still darn affordable. It’ll cost less than $10 and still come with a roll, side salad, choice of crinkle fries, thick slices of broasted potato, or coleslaw and twist of soft serve ice cream.

Barrel food Collage

Back in the day, the Barrel used to be a hot spot. A DJ played music from the booth on the rooftop and people would come out to dance. These days, the Barrel is in need of many updates.

Current owner Seth Thackery shared his story and vision with us at our last North Iowa Social Media Breakfast. He began working at the Barrel at age 14 and bought the restaurant in 2007. He’s already put a lot of his own money into fixing what’s worn. Unfortunately, he’s finding much of the worn can’t be fixed, but must be replaced. He considered selling the drive-in when Casey’s General Store expressed interest in purchasing the property. When he learned that Casey’s wanted to tear the building down, he sought help for his business.

After learning about the Barrel’s possible fate, the community has rallied behind Thackery. Julie Wright, owner of Executive Financial Architects and Michael Fiala, owner of Northern Iowa Internet & Creative Services awarded him a $75,000 grant along with business and marketing coaching. Other volunteers are offering assistance with repairs and social media management. Plus, the Barrel recently applied for a Restaurant Impossible make-over.

Thackery especially needs a new kitchen and hopes to add a soda fountain bar.

The Meal
The broasted chicken was as memorable as everyone implied with its crackly-crispy skin and juicy meat. I chose a side of french fries. They were fried well without being greasy and nicely salted, though I envied my companions who nibbled thick, broasted potato wedges. Side salads came with a sweet, homemade French dressing and I think I tasted celery seed.

Chicken Dinner

Sara used the booth’s speaker to call-in our order.

Sara Ordering

Thackery’s passion for his business shone through. After hearing him speak and spending time with him at the Barrel, we all want this hardworking restauranteur to succeed.

Barrel with Seth

Grantor Julie Wright said, “Be appreciative of what seems old-fashioned,” and her words rang through my head all day.

There’s still a place for an old-fashioned drive-in where families order from speakers in their cars or booths and eat broasted chicken with their fingers. Hopefully the Barrel will get the renovation it deserves and you’ll see people dancing by moonlight to music spun by a rooftop DJ next to a spinning barrel and a chicken named Cooper.

Volunteers can offer their time and talents here to save the Barrel.

My Lunch Dates:
Amy, Modern Rural Living
Beth, It’s Just Life: Finding The Extraordinary In The Ordinary
Donna, Donnahup.com
Katy, Learning As I Go: Learning About Being A Wife, Step-mom & An Adult
Sara, All In An Iowan Mom’s Day & Travel With Sara

This Summer’s 1st Tastes: Lakeside Dining At The Landing & Iowa Sweet Corn

It’s already August and we enjoyed our first meal on a patio by the lake this weekend.

I remembered Beth of It’s Just Life mentioning she enjoyed a meal on The Landing’s deck, so Jake and I headed there for our most recent date night. Clear Lake is a popular destination for vacationers and locals. I was surprised to learn The Landing is the only lakeside restaurant in the city of Clear Lake. It’s attached to the South Shore Inn and opened during the summer of 2012, the same year all of the hotel’s 16 rooms were renovated.

On Saturday evening, the patio was bustling. We nabbed the last parking spot in the small lot across the street and the hostess seated us immediately at a table with an umbrella. Those who arrive by boat-in can park at the dock.

Moscow Mules seem to be very popular right now, so Jake ordered one ($9). I chose a glass of house Chardonnay ($4.50).

Landing Cocktails.jpg

We both enjoyed the citrus-ginger flavor of the Moscow Mule so much that we made our own versions at home with ginger simple syrup. For an appetizer, we nibbled on a basket of salt and pepper calamari ($7.95). This was the largest portion of calamari we’ve ever been served anywhere. The basket could have served at least four people ample portions.

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I am not sure if the restaurant batters their own calamari, but the strips were tender and fried so that they were crispy and not greasy (the batters on the thicker side). We really liked the salt and pepper seasoning and dipped them in the sweet chili sauce. It seemed like we hardly made a dent in the basket by the time our entrees arrived.

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I was satisfied with my choice of a steak kabob and side salad. Three pieces of bacon-wrapped steak were rolled around a little herb & garlic Boursin cheese and grilled with mushrooms, bell peppers, and my choice of sauce (I chose teriyaki). Jake also enjoyed his swordfish tacos. The pink sauce had a kick. If you prefer a lighter amount of sauce, you may want to request it on the side. The baskets come with fries or sweet potato fries and you can substitute a side salad for an additional $1.50.

Depending on what you order and whether or not you want to sub a salad, you can expect your entrée to cost between $10-$15. Considering that we had a beautiful view of Clear Lake at sunset and listened to live music, the prices seemed fair enough.

The Landing frequently updates their Facebook page regarding events. I always appreciate when restaurants actively manage their social media.

On a final summer food note, we ate our first taste of Iowan sweet corn this week! Sweet corn stands are all over town, but I grabbed this batch at the Mason City Farmers Market.

Sweet Corn

I work at a nonprofit Osage, IA, so I was happy to buy corn from Steve’s Sweet Corn stand. I cook them the old fashion way by boiling them for about five minutes. Then I brush the corn with butter and sprinkle it with parmesan cheese and my favorite seasoning blends.

What as the last summer-only food experience you last enjoyed?

Things I Like: Springish Edition

It’s spring, sort of.

Thunderstorms have replaced snow storms. I think I’m ok with this, though they bring their own kind of devastation. The warmer weather makes my commute to work through rural North Iowa safer and I can’t get enough of the smell of other people grilling.

For the first time, we find ourselves in a home without a basement with a dog who is terrified of thunder, lightning and wind. We learned reacts to thunderstorms by hiding in the bathroom, shaking, and hiccuping.

We’ve also gotten ourselves on the “every other week” track to and from the Twin Cities this month so we can join our family and old friends for holidays and celebrations.

I’m doing my best to keep up with this blog that I love, but find myself needing to take a few more breathers than normal due to fatigue after our weekend travels and adjusting to a staffing transition at work. I also enjoy ghost writing for companies’ blogs on the side.

Despite the chaos of the past month, I’ve gotten to try some new things. Here are some of my recent favorites, both food and nonfood alike:

Unc'sTaste, Osage, IA
I work across the alley from this bakery and cafe. You can buy Cabin Coffee beverages on one side and freshly baked sweets and meals on the other.

Restaurants in North Iowa are slower to embrace social media so I appreciate how Taste frequently updates their Facebook page highlighting specials. I noticed their efforts to offer a creative lunch menu and stopped by one afternoon to try their shrimp taco special for $6.

I liked the flavorful, garlicky sauce and crunchy, fresh cabbage, bell peppers and greens. The shrimp were plentiful and nicely grilled so that they retained that snappy texture. I look forward to trying more lunch specials and keep eying their giant muffins.

Rookie’s, Clear Lake, IA
We visited Rookie’s (the bar connected to Sevens) located on the main drag just blocks from Clear Lake on our last date night. Rookie’s is also a local establishment that’s really faithful about updating their Facebook page.

The bartenders were friendly, the drinks were surprisingly inexpensive, and the food was better than expected. We sat around the big horseshoe bar and felt comfortable just enjoying our time and lingering.

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The sweet potato fries were crispy and coated in a course black pepper seasoning. The dipping sauce was notably good and I think I tasted mustard.

Jake was satisfied with his Cajun chicken sandwich while I ordered the seared lemon-pepper cod entrée ($15) that came with two big fillets, a side salad, and choice of potato. The cod was nicely seasoned and cooked, the homemade vinaigrette was pleasantly balanced and tasted similarly to what I make at home, and the hashbrowns arrived in a heaping plate with a crispy crust.

God bless North Iowa for offering shredded hash browns as a potato choice and ranch with most everything fried.

I’m glad we could experience the laid-back, locals centric version of Rookie’s before the summer crowds hit but that will be fun, too. We were so preoccupied with moving last summer that we didn’t spend much time in Clear Lake.

DSC_0030Homemade Pork Fried Rice
Pork fried rice is part of our standard Chinese take-out order.

Restaurants usually include one carton of steamed white rice per entrée so I like to transform the leftovers into my own fried rice.

Years ago before the United Noodle deli remodel, I used to visit for lunch. I loved that they made their fried rice taste so light and seasoned it with black pepper. Theirs is what I aim to recreate.

At home, I tip the scale in favor of fresh vegetables, meat and scrambled eggs, and use FAR less oil than a restaurant. My biggest pet peeve about Chinese take-out is when it’s an oil slick. Why is this necessary?

I marinated the pork in soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger, onion, and sesame oil. Once I added the rice to the work with the cooked vegetables, garlic and proteins, I seasoned everything with more of the marinade ingredients and served it with a big, green salad.

Jim Gaffigan, Obsessed
On Sunday evening, I caught Jim Gaffigan’s new comedy special Obsessed after Game of Thrones.

A Song of Fire & Ice written by George R.R. Martin is far from flowers and sunshine, but I swear HBO aims to depict everything as gross and shocking as possible.

I had to practically peel myself off of the floor after last week’s episode. It was a happy accident that I stumbled upon Obsessed which wiped away Game of Throne’s lingering horror, death, and despair. I laughed out loud through the whole special and appreciated how many bits poked fun at food.

In a perfect world, new Jim Gaffigan specials will always follow each episode of Game of Thrones!

Almond Milk
We’ve become fond of almond milk. I think it tastes better than soy and rice milk, and we add it to our coffee and cereal. Plus, I’m lactose intolerant. Coincidently, we first tried it on the same day Beth wrote about including it in her top five fridge essentials. Do you have a favorite milk alternative?

Tropical Rum Beverages
Sipping a homemade cocktail made with pineapple juice and spiced rum doesn’t make me forget about this weather, but it certainly dulls the edge.

Casey’s General Store Pizza By The Slice
I have a fondness for this gas station pizza.

Casey’s General Stores are located all over the Midwest, but I don’t remember seeing one until I went to college in Iowa. Classmates often mentioned how much they liked Casey’s pizza, but I never tried it because I didn’t believe them.

Before you run out to a Casey’s or think I’m nuts, let me clarify what I mean by good. Casey’s pizza is good in the sense that it’s much better than what one would expect from a gas station. I like it better than the skads of frozen pizzas we’re tried (except Heggie’s) and prefer it to most pizza delivery chains. Just check your expectations and don’t go expecting Broders’ or Cossetta’s.

 

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