Tag: mason city (page 1 of 3)

A Long Minnesotan Goodbye: The Viking, The Landing & The Lady #FarewellTour2015

My farewell tour to North Iowa was like a Minnesota goodbye. It was long and drawn-out in the best possible way.

Beth and I said many of our farewells together. As we unpack in St. Louis, she packs for North Carolina. Here are some highlights from the final leg(s) of our Farewell Tour:

I visited Amy Hild’s gravesite with several North Bloggers. After we paid our respects, we convened at The Viking Drive-Inn where she used to speak fondly about working many summers ago. It’s a tiny restaurant that serves summer treats like soft serve ice cream, corn dogs, and burgers. If you weren’t specifically looking for The Viking, you might not know it’s there, except for the people milling around outside with ice cream cones. There didn’t appear to be a sign. Customers can sit at several outdoor tables a small or find a stool at the small dine-in counter.

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Small ice cream cones really aren’t that small and large cones are behemoth. The Viking’s chocolate ice cream hit the spot, but I did notice many people enjoying their most popular flavor, black raspberry. I can see why Amy enjoyed working at the Viking so much.

  • River City Sculptures On Parade

I’ve had my eye on Humpty Dumpty since the new River City Sculptures came to town in May.

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His real name is Mr. Eggwards and he’s one of 40 sculptures sprinkled throughout downtown Mason City. River City Sculptures on Parade partners with SculptureOne, a nonprofit that also brings a similar public art program to Sioux Falls, SD, Mankato, MN and Eau Claire, WI. Artists allow the cities to borrow the sculptures for one year. In September, residents can vote for the statue they want the city to keep, while they’re all available for purchase. The entire River City Sculpture walk is 1.6 miles long.

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I crashed Beth & Donna’s sculpture walk long enough to meet Mr. Eggwards. It appears that he has his eye on Beth.

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I’m not sure if you are supposed to ride this bird. Beth and Donna made me do it.

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  • Enjoying a meal with house vinaigrette, red sauce & calamari at Pasta Bella.

Pasta Bella opened in Mason City about one year ago and it’s the only Italian restaurant in town. Fortunately, we really enjoy their food. I am especially fond of their intriguing house vinaigrette, which is thicker than most and red-hued, and like their well-balanced red sauce. It’s not too sweet and not too tangy. Pasta Bella serves generous portions of their fried calamari (rings only) with a lot of lemon. On our last visit, the calamari was fried perfectly and tasted fresh. The 1910 Grille at the Frank Lloyd Wright hotel serves delicious fried calamari (both rings and tentacles), albiet the portion is a little smaller. 

Pasta bella farewell Collage

A basket of warm garlic knots come with each meal and staff pack carefully them in to-go orders. In fact, the last to-go meal we ordered here was packed immaculately so that nothing dribbled or tipped. The pizza here is delicious, too.

Strangely enough, there aren’t that many lakeside restaurants located along Clear Lake, Iowa. I’ll always remember The Landing because it’s where I tried my first Moscow Mule. This cocktail is typically made with ginger beer, vodka, and lime juice and served in a copper mug.

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Moscow Mules aren’t Iowa specific, but they seem to be more popular in North Iowa than any other place we’ve lived. The Landing also offers a concise menu and dishes are served in big metal baskets lined with newspaper. The sweet potato fries are especially delicious and worth the swap.

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If it’s sunny, don’t forget to bring a hat or sunglasses. The sun shines bright onto the patio. Live bands often play on the patio in the evenings and it’s really a relaxing location to watch the sun set.

Lady of the Lake
Our final farewell tour event embarked on a cruise on The Lady of the Lake, a paddle wheeler boat that circles Clear Lake. Many of our friends who have lived in the Mason City-Clear Lake area have ridden the Lady of the Lake many times. People often rent the boat for weddings or work functions while public cruises are offered daily.

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You can only pay for admission and snacks/drinks with cash or checks. Don’t forget to bring your own water bottle on board if it’s a warm evening, otherwise water costs $1.

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This evening was perfect for a cruise. We enjoyed the clear skies and slight breeze.

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  • Ritz Onion Rings at the Clear Lake Farmers Market. 

The Farewell stop I made before driving to St. Louis was at the Clear Lake Farmers Market on Saturday morning. I heard about the famous Ritz Onion ring food truck and craved a taste. The Ritz was a famous Clear Lake supper club that opened in the 20’s and operated until a fire destroyed it in 1999. Their onion rings were beloved and I’ve heard the version from this food truck taste the same.

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So hot coffee and onion rings might not be the best combination at 9 a.m., but it was totally worth it for a taste of Clear Lake history. One portion of onion rings ($7) is huge. The batter is shiny like lacquer and very crisp and the onion is tender instead of sliding out of the shell. If onion rings is not your thing first thing in the morning, you can also order donuts and breakfast sandwiches from the food truck.

Now that our farewell is over, it’s time to get acquainted with my new home of St. Louis, MO. Thanks you for joining me on this crazy Midwestern journey! More to come after I unpack a few more boxes. 

North Iowa: Notes Upon Leaving

Two years in North Iowa and I only have a few regrets. I never did catch a concert at the Surf Ballroom or complete my Every Bar in Mason City Quest. I didn’t make it to Bill’s BBQ or Band Fest or tour the Stockman House. But, I made lifelong friends and I embarked on many marvelous adventures within two short years. North Iowa and I won’t be strangers.

In between cleaning, sorting & house showings, I’m scrambling to cram in as many North Iowa #FarewellTour2015 activities as possible. My friend Beth (It’s Just Life) is also moving next month and we’re determined to make the most of our week. We’re anticipating to walk around downtown Mason City to see the newest River City Sculptures on Parade, attend June’s North Iowa Social Media Breakfast, dine at Pasta Bella, and enjoy a ride on Clear Lake’s boat Lady of the Lake. I’ll post snapshots of our adventures on my Instagram & Twitter accounts with the hashtag #FarewellTour2015. 

Like the other cities we’ve lived, I’ve found many favorite places and spaces. Here are some of my notes upon leaving about the businesses that have made us feel especially welcome.

CoffeeCat serves the best chai and plays Alabama Shakes, so it’s my happy place. For a community of 27,000 people, we have a handful of great coffee shops. CoffeeCat’s my favorite.

Coffee Cat Two

I’ll never forget how sincerely the owner welcomed me to town when we first moved. I love their real (not made from liquid or sugary powder) chai tea, and the fact that they offer to sweeten it with honey or vanilla. The baked-from-scratch sweets here are also my favorite and taste like real butter. Catherine usually offers fluffy slices of cinnamon struesel coffee cake and, if you find seasonal rhubarb-lemon bars, buy one! At Coffee Cat, I met friends for dirty chai teas (chai + espresso) and waited for my car repairs. The Alabama Shakes and Bon Iver always played at some point during my visits and I felt like I was home.

I found an honest car mechanic at DeWildeIt’s hard to figure out where to take your car in a new community. Asking for referrals is always best. DeWilde isn’t glamorous like the brand name dealerships, but you won’t have to pay for everyone’s fancy snacks and deal with all of that upselling. If you really want to piss me off, storm into the lobby waving my dirty air filter for all to see. I bumbled around until I found DeWilde. I saw this business recommended in a local Facebook business review group and from a friend who grew up in the area. The owner has always given me honest assessments, even telling me when I didn’t need maintenance yet! Who does that?

All About EyesThis optical shop is relatively new. The staff is professional, has quickly accommodated me, and didn’t pressure me to buy things I didn’t want. They even squeezed me in for an emergency appointment this spring. I’ve visited optometrists since I was in elementary school. This place stands out.

I don’t trust most people with my hair, but I do trust Summer at Color Couture

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My latest do from Summer, taken in the car before I could mess it up:)

The staff at Brookview Animal Health Center walked us through our first two years of dog ownership. Our realtor recommended Brookview and I’ve been happy with this veterinarian clinic since our first visit. As first time pet owners, we took Trayse to the vet a lot! The staff at Brookview always treated us kindly and helped educate us about what was normal and what needed treatment. They got us in quickly for appointments and were willing to talk to us over the phone about minor concerns when we weren’t sure if they needed attention.

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Trayse’s previous vet was unable to clip his nails without administering sedatives. The Brookview staff provides free nail clipping hours for current clients and had no problems clipping his nails. They make it a simple process and always reward him with a treat.

I love everything Camille of Soyphisticated Candles crafts in her shop in Mason City. Camille makes her candles from renewable soy wax with no pesticide or herbicide residue and pours them into jars made from recycled glass. The scents she creates are unique and subtle. While some candle companies make scents so overpowering they make me nauseous, these don’t.

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I also like her wax warmer melts and soaps. I’ve been cleaning my face each day with the Happy Face bar of soap that incorporates charcoal, tea tree and green clay. My friends swear by her grapefruit exfoliating soap bar.

Everything from Louie’s Custom Meats & More just tastes better. 

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I first learned about Louie’s from Sara Broers. It only took one visit to get hooked. Louie and his crew go out of their way to assist customers and answer questions how to cook each type of meat. They’ll make sure you get the specific cut and amount of meat you want, even if it’s not in the meat case.

Purchase local beef from the awesome women cattle farmers of Sugar Creek Farm & SkyView Farms

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Kelli of Sugar Creek Farm, Osage and Laura of Skyview Farms, Nora Springs are women who raise their cows with love and produce excellent beef. You can find Kelli at the Clear Lake Farmers market and occasional drop-offs in Mason City. This year she’s also raising chickens that customers can reserve. Laura sells her beef directly to consumers.

If Jake had his way, we’d dine at Las Palmas every weekend. 

las palmas shrimp enchiladas

Jake and I take turns choosing date night spots. Our typical rotation went something like this: Jeni picks a new place, Jake chooses Las Palmas, Jeni picks a new place, Jake chooses Las Palmas, etc. On our second visit, the bartender greeted us like old friends and even remembered our last drink order. We’ve been loyal ever since. Warm chips and salsa are complimentary and the kitchen even packs them in our to-go orders. We like that the salsa has a little bit more kick than the other places we’ve tried. Jake’s favorite dish is the giant burrito filled with steak and drizzled with cheese sauce while I go for anything with shrimp.

The closest we’ve found to Mexican-style street tacos are from Mr. Taco. His brick and mortar restaurant is located along Northwood’s main street and his food truck  rotates around Mason City. Las Palma’s Mini Tacos are anything but mini and remind us of a street style taco/fajita hybrid.

The Barrel Drive-In serves my favorite chicken in Mason City-Clear Lake. While I’ve found fried chicken at other places in town to be soggy or cooked to hell and back, The Barrel’s broasted chicken has always been crispy and tender in all of the right places. Plus, it’s affordable and the staff neatly packs to-go orders if you call ahead. Dinners come with a small iceberg lettuce salad with their homemade French dressing and your choice of broasted potato wedges or french fries.

Barrel CHicken

I’m a ranch snob and Papa’s American Cafe makes my favorite version. 

Ranch dressing papa's

The popcorn from the Kum & Go on 4th Street SW & Pierce is my favorite road trip snack. 

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Market 124 is my go-to shop for gifts. They sell a lot of Iowan-made items and have a paint-your-own-pottery studio. 

market 124 pottery Collage

Photo Credit: DonnaHup.com

There’s no shame in the Casey’s Pizza game.

casey's pizza box

We found Cheers at the Willow Run Lounge. Plus, they served us our cheapest, strongest drinks. 

77 Willow Run

The names Mediacom & Beelzebub are interchangeable in our household. This is the only internet provider we used in North Iowa, but I would recommend looking into other options. We have never experienced so many outages with any other internet company in Minneapolis or Fargo. Mediacom does not feel the need to alert customers when there are widespread issues they are trying to repair. You just have to call and ask them why it’s not working or working very slowly and will probably not receive a straight answer. It’s easier to deal with their customer service on Twitter. Our internet connection ran slowly even though we paid for a premium speed. If the internet goes down for a whole day, expect to be reimbursed $5-6 for your troubles.

Eat a snickerdoodle or sweet & salty chocolate chip cookie from Kara’s Cookies. 

Kara's Cookie

Attend North Iowa’s Social Media Breakfast. Currently, this event meets on the fourth Wednesday of each month from 8:30-10 a.m. at First Citizens Bank in Mason City. I use social media every day and learn a lot from each meeting. It’s a great way to meet friends and connect with other businesses for possible collaborations. Contact the founder Sara for more information.

UPDATE 9/8/15:

  • A huge thanks to Brett Schoneman for helping us navigate and frustrating and complicated corporate relocation house sale.
  • Thank you to John at Manly Services for being one of the only contractors in North Iowa courteous enough to call us back about repairs we had to make on our home before the company would buy it back. If you can’t take more businesses, have the consideration to call people back. I have a huge list of contractors I would never recommend to anyone.
  • Lori Quade helped us clean our home and prepare it for showings. We’d recommend her in a heartbeat. Send me an email if you’d like to connect with her.

10 Things I Learned In Auction College

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I am not an auctioneer, but I went to auction school and auction school is hard.

Living in three different states in three years brings joys and challenges. Moving is emotionally and physically draining, but it’s also introduced me to industries about which I knew very little, such as agriculture and auctioneering.

Mason City is actually the home to one of the top auctioneer training programs in the world and this still comes as a surprise to many North Iowans. I recently started helping out in the office at the World Wide College of Auctioneering. My first weeks corresponded with their winter class session, so I found myself attending class and gaining an intensive crash course into the world of auctioneering.

Before class, I had never attended an auction, so I made sure to find one before my first day. The only auction I could find that week was a hay auction. I stood quietly in the back of the gravel lot with my arms pressed tightly to my sides, being careful not to sneeze, lest I accidentally came home with a truckload of hay. Fortunately, this was not the case and the auction was more relaxed than I expected. I’ve learned a lot since then and continue to be fascinated with this occupation.

Please note that the auction school in no way asked me to write a blog post about auctioneering or suggested the idea. I actually approached them about writing the post because I just find it really interesting! Here are ten of the most memorable things I learned in auction school.

1. Auctioneers are funny.

Almost every auctioneer I spoke with made me laugh. I observed how many of them had the ability to seamlessly weave jokes and stories into the most ordinary conversation.

2. Auctioneers don’t just call out numbers. 

One reason why many auctioneeres are so funny is because they are show people. I had assumed their main role was to call out numbers and learned this is not the case. Auctioneers represent the seller and aim to obtain the highest prices for the items they sell. Although the format of auctioneering is a more public type of selling than we see on a day-to-day basis, they have to be effective salespeople. Charisma, a sense of humor, and ability to read others go a long way.

In addition to encouraging people to buy, auctioneers also have to know a lot about the product they are selling, whether it’s classic cars or farm land. The auctioneer must also understand auction law and those that govern their specific subsection. For example, laws vary by state regarding sales of real estate and fire arms. In Iowa, an auctioneer who sells real state doesn’t need to have a real estate license, while he or she would in Minnesota. In other states, an auctioneer without a real estate license may be allowed to conduct the auction sale, but is not allowed to market the property or facilitate open houses.

3. Bid calling is hard.

The auctioneer’s trademark chant is as hard as it looks. I giggled when I saw this Geico commercial portraying a cashier auctioning a grocery item. His bid call was on point. I had the inkling that this individual wasn’t just a Hollywood actor, but a real auctioneer and I was right. Joseph Mast actually won an International Championship.

The best auctioneers worked hard to sound the way that they do, and they never stop working to improve. To begin developing that bid chant, auctioneers recite tongue twisters, study recordings of championship auctioneers and practice, practice, practice.

4. There are different bid calls for different categories of sales.

Bid calls vary depending on what’s for sale. An auctioneer will use a different style of bid call to raise money for a charity at a fancy benefit than a cattle auction. More attendees who are less experienced auction-goers buy at charities and real estate sale auctions so the auctioneer may speak slower. A cattle or car auctioneer will speak faster and use more filler words. Afterall, auctioneers selling cattle or cars may have to move a massive amount of product in one day, so talking quickly helps them sell more efficiently.

Shane Ratliff instructed at the last bid calling seminar. 

5. The field of auctioneering continues to diversify.

More and more minorities and women are entering the auctioneering field. The bilingual Spanish-English auctioneering certification is very popular at the school I work for.

6. The fastest growing sectors of auctioneering don’t reflect reality TV.

Despite the reality television show Storage Wars and broadcasting of Barrett-Jackson car auctions on the Discovery Channel, the fastest growing sector of auctioneering is actually benefit auctions. Nonprofits hire professional auctioneers to raise money for their cause. Good benefit auctioneers are strategic and provide pre and post benefit auction planning and analysis. There’s actually a Benefit Auctioneer Specialist accreditation. Other quickly growing sectors include real estate and heavy equipment.

7. If you want to see an auctioneer’s eyes light up, mention Barrett-Jackson.

With fast cars, celebrity buyers, and warm Arizona weather, Barrett-Jackson is like Hollywood. Opportunities to work for Barrett Jackson are considered coveted positions within the industry. This company’s classic car auctions in Scottsdale, Arizona attract celebrities and are broadcast on major television networks. Those who land a job here are often championship auctioneers who are highly regarded within the community. Of course, many auctioneers find equal success through other avenues, but it’s hard to deny the appeal of selling rare cars to celebrities.

 8. Many talented auctioneers come from Amish and Mennonite communities.

I was very surprised to learn so many Amish and Mennonite students attend auction school. The Amish and Mennonite students I’ve observed have bid calls that blow most everyone out of the water. One instructor explained how Amish and Mennonite communities used to hire him to facilitate auctions. Now, they are sending representatives to school to serve as auctioneers in their own communities.

Exact rules governing technology usage depends on the community. Students from Amish communities often travel long distances by taxi to attend class. Some Amish students use email and cell phones to build their auction businesses, but prefer not to have their photo taken. These communities regard Auctioneering as an acceptable career students demonstrate a lot of dedication to the craft of bid calling. Farming and crafts still play a large role in Amish and Mennonite communities, meaning auctioneers are needed to manage livestock and quilt auctions.

9. People of all ages enroll in auction school.

At this particular school, students have enrolled as young as ten and as old as 80+. Some students are multi-generational auctioneers who knew they want to pursue this career at an early age and work in their family business. Others attend so they can start a new career.

10. Auction school is intense.

Auction school may be the most challenging experience I’ve ever had, and I wasn’t even a student. Auction class sessions vary among schools, but many follow a similar format: Class is held at a hotel outfitted with convention space where students attend class for five to eight long days. Students spend a lot of time developing their bid call and also study auction law, benefit auctions, real estate, clerking, vocal care, and marketing. At the end of the long week, students in this particular school sell three items at a public auction open to the community and take written and oral exams.

Thanks for joining me in this brief detour from my typical topic of food. I love sharing the most interesting parts of my life with my readers! What do you know about auctioneering? 

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.

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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)

The Ten Best Things I Ate During 2014 (Plus Some Very Honorable Mentions)

At Jeni Eats, I proceed into 2015 without a list of New Years Resolutions, except for these three goals: To spend 2015 “doing strange things with weird people,” to keep food blogging fun, and remain delightfully imperfect. From our household to yours, we wish you good things in 2015 and thank you for joining us here.

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We tried to take a family photo

I had a difficult time summarizing my eleven favorite recipes from 2014, but found choosing my favorite foods was even more challenging. Here’s my best attempt at selecting just ten, plus a handful of very honorable mentions.

Top 10 Favorite Foods:

Dining at a table set for 2,000 was truly a once in a lifetime experience. Chef James Baker’s menu of honey-ginger-soy chicken, beans and rice, and spicy Ethiopian vegetables was one of the freshest and most flavorful meals I ate all year. You can try recreating the chicken and vegetables yourself with these recipes published in the Star Tribune. I did, but Bakers’ was still better.

Meal Serving Collage

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When I work in Mitchell County, I like to check out the daily hot lunch specials served at the Mennonite-owned and operated Kountry Kupboard. Half of the store sells groceries like baking supplies, homemade nut butters, cheeses and other bulk-food items while the other half functions as a cafe. I was most excited about a Friday fried fish special. The coating was flavorful and super crispy while the fish was moist and flaky. Fried fish is one of my favorite treats and this was the best (or eat least tied with Ward 6).

Each meal comes with the softest and fluffiest butterhorn rolls. The meatloaf is also fantastic. It’s better than my meatloaf and I make really good meatloaf.

Peppermint Ice Cream Bar

Cristen chose the Bauder Pharmacy Peppermint Ice Cream Bar as her favorite Iowan food in Iowa Bloggers Speak: Favorite Hometown Restaurants. We finally got to try the peppermint bar and meet Cristen at our first visit to the Iowa State Fair. The bar is layered with the creamiest ice cream imaginable and somehow, the combination of ice cream, peppermint, and Oreos didn’t strike us as too sweet.

  • Pastry Chef Diane Yang’s Lemon Curd Mousse Dessert at Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Lemon Dessert wm

You may recognize this dessert because I just wrote about visiting Spoon and Stable over Christmas week. We liked the tart lemon flavor and fresh pineapple. Each bite brought a different texture and temperature. Basically, it was like magic.

Shrimp

My cousin Brian and his family live near Calumet Fisheries, a small seafood smokehouse at the edge of the 95th Street Bridge. The bridge was featured in The Blues Brothers movie, while the restaurant was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. We tried two varieties of smoked fish and smoked shrimp, enjoying everything immensely. However, the shrimp stood out. They weren’t overly smoked and had a firm texture like lobster. They tasted especially good dunked in the mild hot sauce.

More Chicago posts: Part I (includes Calumet) and Part II

  • Whole Fried Fish With Three-Flavors Sauce from Bangkok Thai Deli, Saint Paul, Minnesota 

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Thai restaurants have come and gone in the Twin Cities since we moved to Fargo in 2010, but our favorite is still Bangkok Thai Deli. We visited them when they were located in the back of that small grocery store with a shiny, mosaic chimney and we continue to stop by now that they’ve relocated to the old Burger King. On Valentine’s Day, we shared this whole, fried fish served in three-flavor sauce.

The fish skin is crispy and the sauce tastes sweet, sour, savory, and spicy. Bangkok Thai Deli also makes Jake’s favorite version of Pad Thai.

pork signatures supper club

Signatures Supper Club catered a work event where they served grilled butterfly pork chops. They tasted so much more moist and flavorful than this phone picture depicts. Of all of the pork tenderloins I tried during 2014, this was my favorite.

Fried Pickles WM

As part of the Webster City Bloggers Tour, we ate lunch at Grid Iron Grill. Owner Burk Risetter treated us to fried pickle chips with [good] ranch, of course:) I kept going back for more. Risetter takes pride in the care his cooks take in hand-breading most of their appetizers instead of purchasing frozen, pre-made products. We tried a variety of appetizers and dishes and could tell the difference.

More Webster City posts: Part I & Part II. Part III coming soon. 

I stayed at Country Heritage as part of the Franklin County Harvest Bloggers Tour in the fall. Our hosts prepared a lovely soup supper complete with three different choices. Jake and I loved Lacey’s scratch-made beef and vegetable soup with garden green beans and tender beef. We were surprised to learn this was the first time she ever prepared it. We also enjoyed a memorably good beef soup at City Limits Eatery in St. Ansgar. Beef soups often bore me or taste like tinned stock, but City Limit’s one was also scratch-made and perfectly balanced. Their salad bar was also my favorite of the year.

Papa's

This sandwich surprised me by being so compelling. Normally I hate boneless skinless chicken breast, but my friend Amy was right-on with her recommendation. I liked the flavor of the Greek seasoning blend that coating the chicken and the Greek salad topping. The fries are crispy and the ranch is good, too. what can I say? Ranch like North Iowa’s second ketchup.

  • Jake’s Pick: Poc-Chuc Taco from the Taco Joint, Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois

Amazing Taco

When we visited Chicago in April 2014, the Poc-Chuc taco was the Taco Joint’s special Monday taco. The griddled, marinated pork loin, habanero salsa and crunchy radish made for an addicting combination. Jake liked it so much, he returned for more during a business trip. I no longer see the Poc-Chuc tacos listed on the Taco Shop’s current menu, so you’ll have to ask if it’s still available.

Honorable Mentions
Let’s be real. It’s impossible to stick with only ten favorite tastes. Plus, I already cheated by giving Jake a pick. Here are seven more very honorable mentions.

Red Pepper Hummus

The 1910 Grille is a restaurant we visit for special occasions or bring our families. It’s unique to dine in the only operating Frank Lloyd Wright hotel. When Jake’s family spent the day in Mason City, ordered their red pepper hummus as an appetizer. I was expecting it to taste like the typical versions I’ve eaten before, but their hummus was so much better. We liked the fried pita triangles and the dip’s garlicky and slightly spicy punch.

Hashbrowns, LD’s Filling Station, Mason City, Iowa 

LD's Collage.jpg

LD’s is the first Mason City restaurant where I found hashbrowns listed as side potato option. I’ve since found that hashbrowns are a common side in North Iowa. They’re served with any meal of the day and I’ve yet to find ones that aren’t served crispy. LD’s makes my favorite, crispiest version.

More reasons why I like LD’s.

Beth Snack mix

I’m going to make the bold claim that Beth’s snack mix is the best snack mix ever. Travel With Sara and I nibbled on it all the way to Springfield, Illinois, and, when she gave me a tin for Christmas, I squirreled it away so I could enjoy it without Jake’s interference. This occurred during the week he wanted to eliminate gluten from his diet, so I feel less bad about not offering him a taste. This snack mix is so addicting because it’s seasoned with dill and contains a big variety of snacks.

Butchers

Jake and I enjoyed our first pork tenderloin sandwiches at Butcher’s Steakhouse. What I enjoyed the most were their thin, hand-battered onion rings. These types of onion rings are all too rare and so very special. Of course, they were served with ranch.

  • Pasta Salad from Cafe Moxo, Springfield, Illinois

Cafe Moxo

Sara and I enjoyed a lot of memorable food in Springfield, Illinois, but one of our favorites was this pasta salad from Cafe Moxo. I ordered too many fried foods on this road trip, so this vegetarian sandwich tasted especially refreshing. This pasta salad was tossed in a light dressing and contained fresh slivers of cucumber and feta.

More Springfield posts: Springfield Ghost Walk, Road Food, Attractions

bbq

Val of Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids is one of the first Iowa bloggers I met. She’s also a talented cook who introduced me to my first ham ball. Her baked potato dip is silly good and her baked beans are the best I’ve ever tasted. I don’t state this lightly, as they really, truly are. We enjoyed them during the Harvest Bloggers Tour and hear they’re legendary in Franklin County. You can find the recipe on her blog. They contain a secret and surprising ingredient.

IMG_2287

I returned to The Burnsville Center, my childhood mall, for this taste of nostalgia. While I’m unsure if the ownership has changed since our last visit with my mom, the Philly Bomb tasted exactly the same. I had more fun writing this post reminiscing about the 90’s mall experience than any other. Sometimes the most satisfying posts are the ones we write for ourselves.

My Most Read Posts Written During 2014

1. Thoughts On Our First Naturebox Snacks

2. My Knoephla Soup Recipe: A Taste of North Dakota In Iowa

3. Ipsy Glam Bag Review, April 2014 (followed by March, February & January)

4. My First Membox: A Korean Tries Korean Beauty Products

5. Introducing The Every Bar In Mason City Quest

6. How To Make The Perfect Frozen Pizza

7. Iowa Bloggers Speak: Favorite Hometown Restaurants

What was one of the best things you ate during 2014? 

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