Welcome to our little slice of the universe here in North Iowa. We’re slowly making our way around the restaurants and bars around our new hometown and the Iowa-Minnesota border. Here are a few of our favorite tastes from the past couple of months:
House-Infused Vodka Martini & Pork Appetizer at SIPS North Shore Kitchen & Bar, Clear Lake, IA
Seasonal, House-infused Vodka Cocktails
I chose the Harvest martini ($9) made of vodka infused with apple and cinnamon. Even though SIPS served the cocktail in a glass drizzled with caramel sauce, it was refreshing and managed not to taste overly sweet.
The icing on the cake was nibbling on the vodka-soaked apple slice garnish.
It appears SIPS makes their own infused vodka with seasonal fruits. I also noticed a watermelon-infused vodka cocktail.
Pork Knuckles/Wings/Shanks Appetizer
I can’t remember what exactly what these are called but you can find them in the appetizer section. They reminded us of the Ragin’ Ankles pork shanks that Famous Dave’s offered at the MN State Fair in 2012, except that they arrived naked and their exterior was crispier. The meat was tender, but needed to be chewed off the bone, which is what I prefer, anyway. We dipped them in a sweet and sour, Thai-style chili sauce.
Happy Hour at Chop, Mason City, IA
Chop Restaurant is one of three fine dining restaurants in downtown Mason City. A few of our friends spoke favorably about their visits, so we caught them during their weekday happy hour.
Chop’s happy hour is offered Monday-Friday between 4-6 p.m. and includes discounted appetizers, dinner plates, $4 bottles of Bell’s and glasses of house wine, and two types of cocktails. I chose the Cosmo for $4 while Jake stuck with Bell’s. A word of warning to my fellow light-weights: Chop poured a strong cocktail and their martini glass was two to three times bigger than the average.
Avocado feta salsa ($5)
This salsa was like a chunky, not mashed, guacamole made of cubed avocado, diced tomato, red onion and crumbled feta on salad greens. It came with fried pita wedges and the serving size was plenty for two people. Perfectly seasoned and we finished every bite.
Cajun chicken sandwiches ($7.95)
When I imagine the typical chicken sandwich, I think of a thin, dry, previously-frozen chicken breast on a spongy bun. What we received was a chicken sandwich served on fresh, toasted French bread. The chicken breast was plump and juicy and seasoned with a rub spicy enough to carry a kick. Each plates were garnished with a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, lettuce, red onion, and a metal ramekin of ketchup and served with homemade, skin-on french fries.
The bartender gave us a warm welcome to the city, the atmosphere was quiet and relaxing, and the food was better than it had to be.
Burger/Malt/Fries Combo At Trumble’s Restaurant, Albert Lea, MN
If you are traveling up or down I-35 between the Twin Cities and Iowa, Trumble’s Restaurant in Albert Lea is not a bad place to stop. The restaurant’s interior looked like a diner met a retro Perkins. My friend took me here for lunch last weekend and I followed her recommendation:
Cheeseburger/Malt Combination: For about $12, you get a cheeseburger, choice of side and malt. The cheeseburger is rather large (I could only eat half) and came topped with american cheese, tomato, lettuce and red onion. All of the veggies were fresh and my burger was juicy, though cooked all the way through. I’m sure you could request it pinker if you’d like, but I didn’t think to ask.
I chose the battered fries to dip in my chocolate malt, though you can substitute cottage cheese, a side salad, and fruit for no extra charge. I can’t believe it has taken me 29 years to try dipping french fries into a chocolate malt. Now I am hooked and find myself seeking out this combination at an alarming rate. The malt arrived in a tall glass topped with whip cream and a cherry, with the rest filling most of a metal shaker.
$12 might seem high for a burger and malt, but I’m sure the restaurant has to make sure its prices keep up with current times even if the ambiance feels like a flashback.