Tag: mason city (page 2 of 3)

Jake’s Birthday Tradition & A Visit To Mason City Brewing

Jake and I don’t have many traditions.

Since we got married, we’ve lived two-three hours away from our families who both reside in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan area. Sometimes they visit us, but mostly we visit them. Holidays are weird for us. We spend them all in the Twin Cities and our folks go to great lengths to decorate their homes and treat us to holiday meals. Therefore, I don’t bake many Christmas cookies or put up Christmas lights. It’s kind of OK and it’s kind of bittersweet.

Our one and only Christmas tree adorned our old Bloomington condo. We picked it out ourselves at a tree farm and Jake tried to trim the trunk with a cheap, serrated kitchen knife. I’m sure you can guess what happened next. Injury, blood, and a tree that dried out quickly and dropped pine needles everywhere. It sure did smell good, though.

I’m grateful we can still share our parents’ traditions, but have also realized that just because we don’t have kids doesn’t mean we can’t create our own traditions. After Christmas, I’m going to prepare a post-Christmas dinner for two in our Mason City home and am intrigued by a friend’s idea of hosting a Febgiving in February.

Jake’s birthday does involve a tradition. Ever since we started dating, my birthday gift to him is a home-cooked meal of his choice. He requested Pad Thai, lasagna, and chicken enchiladas for his last three birthdays. This year he went easy on me and chose gyros. For birthday dessert, Jake always chooses the Fruit Crisp from the Cafe Brenda Cookbook. This crisp is different from any other. The crumble is prepared from roasted and ground oats which makes it taste more like the most delicious oatmeal cookie in the world and it’s minimally sweetened with thickened apple juice. You’ll have to check out the book find the full recipe.

Apple Crisp 2014 wm

The gyro meat was not as au natural.  I was surprised to find it at Fareway for about $6.99 per pound.

I like Fareway’s meat counter. The majority of their meat is not prepackaged and its quality and price is better than the typical grocery store’s. You place your order the old-fashioned way; from men in paper hats and white jackets who take your order and wrap everything in butcher paper.

When I visit Fareway’s meat counter, I can’t help but to gaze at the dizzying array of retro meat products, many of which I recognize from my school cafeterias. If you are seeking a taste of nostalgia sold by the pound, you’ll find chicken crispitos, pizza burger patties, and what my grade school referred to as “Mr. Ribs.” The butchers treat all of their meat with the same dignity. They carefully measure and wrap everything from Mr. Ribs to bone-in ribeyes in tidy little packages.

Once home, I was faced with this quandary: “What is the best way to cook thawed gyro loaf slices that have the texture of paste?” I’m not sure if there’s a great answer to this question. When I delicately placed the gyro slices in my Foreman grill, they sizzled and shrank at an alarming pace. I had to empty the drip tray twice and feared the worst. Fortunately, the gyro meat tasted like typical gyro meat. With homemade pita, fresh vegetables, and Wanderlust Kitchen’s Authentic Greek Tzatziki sauce, Jake’s birthday gyros were a success.

Gyro Collage

I may return to Fareway for a retro meat product tasting extravaganza.

The Every Bar In Mason City Crawl: Mason City Brewing
Our birthday weekend in Mason City wouldn’t have been complete without an Every Bar In Mason City Quest stop. We’re embarrassed to admit that this was our first visit to Mason City Brewing. We kept asking ourselves why we hadn’t visited earlier, as I’m sure many of you are.

The brewery’s space downtown is beautiful. Staff were hospitable and happy to answer questions. Thoughtful touches like live music, board games, decks of cards, a big bowl of pretzels, and a nifty hot/cold water dispenser with cups encourage customers to linger for a while.

We shared this beer sampler of the brewery’s current offerings.

Mason City Brewing wm

The sampler tray numbered each sample which corresponded to a handwritten list a bartender kindly provided. Jake gravitates towards bitter beers while I prefer lighter ones. Both of our beer tastes intersected at the sweeter Barleywine and Brown Porter which had a coffee note. We look forward to returning to the brewery soon.

Brewery Collage Pretzels mw

The bar quest will take a detour this week. I’ll join the North Iowa Bloggers at Carson Tree Farm in Hampton where we’ll learn how to make holiday wreaths. I’m the least crafty person I know, so I’ll consider the class a success if my wreath doesn’t end up looking like a big, green blob. I don’t often buy things I can’t eat, so I welcome these types of opportunities that challenge me try new experiences. Following the class, we’ll dine at West Fork Wharf in Sheffield, a reader-suggested restaurant. I’m driving so it’s a mocktail for me.

This Saturday, I’ll join six North Iowa Bloggers on a road trip. Deb of the Webster City Chamber of Commerce invited us to spend the day in Webster City where we’ll meet the mayor, visit local shops and restaurants, and tour the historic Jane Young House (among other activities).

As always, I enjoy hearing about your favorite restaurants and bars. What are your favorite holiday traditions? I’m curious; married folks, when did you first start your own holiday traditions? 

The Every Bar In Mason City Quest: Las Palmas & Sidewinder

Our most recent date night brought us queso sauce and a cherry blue cocktail. A taste of something familiar and a taste of something new.

We self-admittedly owe many North Iowa restaurants a visit, but crave Mexican food from Las Palmas on a regular basis. The staff always makes us feel welcome and very much at ease. Even after our first or second visit, the bartender recognized us and remembered what we ordered. How could this type of hospitality not foster loyalty? We felt like we were cheating on Las Palmas when we dined at a different Mexican restaurant in town.

Jake and I like spicy food. While the salsa at Las Palmas isn’t necessarily spicy, it’s got a little kick and a pleasant herbiness from what I’m guessing is Mexican oregano. Sometimes I order a blistered jalapeno on the side for extra heat.

One of my favorite dishes combines an interesting assortment of ingredients: Broccoli and cauliflower florets, shrimp, rice, and queso. This probably shouldn’t work, but somehow it just does. Seafood and cheese often freaks me out, but queso sauce might be an exception.

Shrimp Broccoli Dish WM
Most recently, I tried a quesadilla stuffed with shrimp and refried beans, and drizzled with queso sauce. This might be my new favorite dish. The shrimp had a snappy texture and I’d trade the typical quesadilla for one drizzled with this queso sauce most any day.

*There are plenty of dishes without queso at Las Palmas. We just keep gravitating towards the cheesier ones. 

Quesadilla shrimp wm

Jake rotates between burritos, fajitas, and a fajita-like dish that combines shrimp, beef and chicken. He commented on how he was especially happy with how well-seasoned the beef tasted last weekend.

After dinner, we headed to our fourth stop on our Every Bar in Mason City Quest, Sidewinder (Facebook page may contain NSFW language).

A few of my readers let me know that Sidewinder was closing after the last weekend in November. One individual took the time to email me about his memories of Sidewinder. He mentioned it used to be called Tommy’s and functioned as a popular neighborhood gathering spot where his dad watched sports games with friends.

Last Saturday evening, it was standing room only as many stopped by for their End of the World party. We overheard one woman reminisce about having her first drink at Sidewinder. Others mentioned they were going to stay until closing time on this last evening.

I ordered the bartender’s choice of a Jack & cola and we paused to watch the football game. Later, I noticed a bottle of cherry Mcgillicuddy’s and thought of a friend who had recommended I try it. Since I was in the mood for something sweet and something new (to me, at least), I asked the bartender if he could make a cherry cocktail with the liquor. He steered me towards Three Olives Cherry-flavored vodka and suggested this blue creation.

Sidewinder blue drink wm

When he mentioned it contained energy drink, I almost changed my order. I drink coffee and the very occasional diet Dew, but avoid energy drinks, mostly because I don’t like their liquid SweeTart taste or smell. This was a night to be adventurous and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked the cocktail, energy drink and all. Like Las Palmas’ shrimp, queso, broccoli & cauliflower combination, this cherry liquor and energy drink combo just worked.

In closing, we enjoyed our visit to Sidewinder. Everyone was friendly, from the bartender to the patrons, and we felt very welcome. We are sorry to learn they are closing and wish the owner and staff well. Based upon all of the stories people have shared, it’s evident that Sidewinder holds significant memories for many past and present Mason City residents. Hopefully they will find a great buyer.

Coming Up Next: A date night stop at Mason City Brewing & North Iowa Bloggers dinner at West Fork Wharf in Sheffield, Iowa.

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
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

The Every Bar In Mason City Quest: Mulligan’s

This past weekend, we visited Mulligan’s Bar & Grill on our third stop along our Every Bar In Mason City Quest.

Every Bar in Mason City Graphic

Mulligan’s is a bar & restaurant located on the edge of town near the bowling alley Mystic Lanes. We had spent the day running errands and worked up an appetite by dinner, so we chose a bar we knew offered a full menu. We made ourselves comfortable on stools perched along the shiny wooden bar. Jake ordered his typical tap IPA while I asked the bartender, “What cocktail do you recommend? What’s popular?” At the last bar we visited, I learned that asking a bartender for the establishment’s “quintessential drink” is totally weird, so I hoped this was a better way of phrasing the question.

She described a toasted marshmallow liquor and recommended adding it root beer or ginger ale. I replied that I was game and chose ginger ale.

butterbeer watermarked

This is not a cocktail I’d typically order, but the rule of the quest is bartender’s choice, whether it’s a sweet mashup or bitey shot. Fortunately, I found that the cocktail tasted delightfully like butterscotch. Jake is a man who prefers his bitter IPAs and even he enjoyed this drink.

I awkwardly tried to make conversation by comparing it to Harry Potter Butter Beer and was met with bewilderment. Jake gently reminded me that I am now two for two on initiating awkward conversations with bartenders as we start this quest. He feels more comfortable gracefully blending into his surroundings and I make this impossible by asking for “quintessential drinks” and talking about Butter Beer.

Life lesson: It’s not necessarily normal to weave Harry Potter lore into every day conversation; i.e. I am not normal.

Speaking of normal, ranch dressing is completely normal in North Iowa and you’ll find it served with most fried appetizers. Jake tolerates ranch, but I like it so much, I won’t publicly admit to how many foods I eat it with. “We have the best ranch,” our bartender earnestly stated. Between my salad and our jalapeno poppers appetizer, I had lots of opportunities to try it for myself.

I divide ranch dressing into two categories: Good ranch & bad ranch. Good ranch is homemade, meaning anything ranging from completely homemade to mixed from a Ranch packet, while bad ranch is that sour, pre-bottled, shelf-stable stuff. Mulligans serves good ranch.

Jalapeno wm

Between the two of us, Jake made the best entrée choice. The ground beef in his patty melt was moist and had a freshly pattied texture & our dinner salads were crisp. We have to confess that while we ate our meals, we experienced entrée envy each time a server passed by with someone else’s very delicious looking steak. Our friends later confirmed that Mulligan’s is one of their favorite places to order steak.

The dinner menu is concise and lists specials for each day. On this particular evening, we passed on the Saturday specials of prime rib and crab legs, but would return to try them on another occasion. Other daily specials that caught my eye included broasted chicken and fried fish.

In conclusion, we found a warm atmosphere, friendly bartenders, a new favorite cocktail, and good ranch at Mulligan’s. Plus, lots of TV’s to watch sporting events, which Jake appreciated.

In other exciting news, Webster City heard about how Franklin County hosted the North Iowa Bloggers for a Harvest Blogger Tour weekend this fall and invited us to join them for a day of eating, shopping & touring soon. We’re also visiting West Fork Wharf in Sheffield, another reader suggestion.

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)
Patrick’s Bar
Ransom’s
Sidewinder Bar
Spike’s Tap & Grill
Sportsmans Lounge
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

The Every Bar In Mason City (And Slightly Beyond This Time) Quest: Rookie’s & WiseGuys

Winter is coming. Winter is here.

The first snow fall has hit North Iowa and we’re two bars into our Every Bar In Mason City Quest. That’s right. Every bar in Mason City. We’re new[ish] to the community and thought this quest would be an interesting way to explore our new city of residence.

Every Bar in Mason City Graphic

Now that I’m thirty, I’m too old and grumpy to fight over free seafood on the crowded rooftop at Stella’s or vie for a bartender’s attention at a fancy place where people are dressed to the nine’s. I want the Cheers experience. Not that I want to visit a bar frequently enough for everyone to know my name, but I seek places with less frills and and stronger drinks. Bars where people don’t put on airs and make friendly banter with strangers. I want to figure out what puts the cheer into a Cheers bar and so I’m embarking on this quest.

Last weekend we proceeded by visiting one of our favorite places, Rookie’s, before heading to WiseGuys Sports Pub.

Rookie’s is located in Clear Lake, but it’s a place we keep returning to so I’ll take this moment to tell you why. First, we like how it feels to sit around the long horseshoe bar. I’ve heard Rookie’s can become wilder on weekend evenings since it’s a popular destination for bachelor and bachelorette parties, but when we’ve visited for dinner, we’ve found an easy-going atmosphere and friendly company. Once, a very drunk and very friendly man who looked like Mark Zuckerberg made our date night more interesting when he insisted on buying us fireball shots.

Whether it’s summer or off-season, we always get a neighborhood vibe that fosters regulars and friendly banter with whoever’s sitting closest. The bartenders make sure everyone’s well taken care of and we can bet our drinks will be cheap and poured strong.

IMG_3321Rookie’s is connected to the restaurant Sevens making it possible for customers to order more than the typical bar food. One of my “Do they care?” litmus tests for any restaurant is the quality of their side salad. The first time we visited, we were delighted to find crisp salads and house-made lemon vinaigrette. We order them each visit.

We also order their flat, crinkle-cut sweet potato fries sprinkled with an addicting seasoning salt and served with a creamy dip that tastes of bacon. Are these a frozen product? Are they homemade? All I know is that they arrive hot and crispy from the fryer without dripping with grease. As I’ve stated before, a good fry job covers a multitude of sins.

When we don’t feel like eating burgers or fried food, we order the seared lemon pepper cod. Any food’s bar food if it’s enjoyed at the bar, right?

Plus, there’s a self-serve popcorn machine.

Popcorn Machine Watermarked

After dinner, we headed to WiseGuys Sports Pub to toast happy birthday to a friend. This is where things got interesting. 

WiseGuys is a small bar located next to Pete’s Kitchen. The bar itself only sells bags of salty snacks but customers can order food from next door. From the bartenders to the other patrons, we found the vibe welcoming.

Jake ordered his favorite beer while I asked the bartender if he could recommend the quintessential WiseGuys drink. He looked at me quizzically. I rephrased and asked for their signature cocktail or most frequently ordered beverage. This is what he poured me after checking that I actually wanted a whiskey neat.

Whiskey watermarked

The gentleman next to us overheard our conversation and laughed, mentioning he was afraid I’d end up with a whiskey neat. It only cost $4 and I wasn’t so sure it was a sipping whiskey, but I tried to anyway.

“What if you end up with a lot of whiskey neats?” asked Jake.

I shrugged and replied that I’d have to order them. After all, bartender’s choice is one of the rules of the quest.

We watched people play darts and cheered on my friend as he kicked-off the evening’s karaoke festivities before heading home. We called it an early night since I had to work early the next morning. Our visit to WiseGuys was brief, but I’m sure we’ll be back. It’s probably our closest neighborhood bar and several of our friends recommended Pete’s Kitchen for gyros and submarine sandwiches. God knows, we’re suckers for a good gyro.

The quest will continue at Sidewinder or the Clarion’s River City Bar & Grill because readers informed us they close on December 1st. Am I missing your favorite bar? We always appreciate recommendations for food and libations in Mason City and throughout greater North Iowa. Leave a comment below or send me an email.

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
Patrick’s Bar
Ransom’s
Sidewinder Bar
Spike’s Tap & Grill
Sportsmans Lounge
Willow Run Lounge (11/01/2014)
Wise Guys Sports Pub (11/08/2014)

Restaurant/Hotel Bars
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
Elly’s Lakefront Tap, Clear Lake
Lake Time Brewery, Clear Lake
Signatures Sports Bar & Grill, Northwood
Tanks Bar & Grill, Rudd

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.

Rookie's Collage.jpg

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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