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Not Friday Favorites: North Iowa Food Finds

I enjoy everyone’s Friday Favorites posts. It may not be Friday, but here are some of my favorites:

LOCAL FOOD

We’re charmed by LD’s. It’s tucked away in what looks like a warehouse and is motor vehicle-themed. The restaurant’s vibe reminds me of a tiki bar even though it isn’t tiki-themed. I think it’s because the atmosphere is laid back and the servers are so friendly. They may call you “honey” or “sweetie” and this always makes me happy.

We like LD’s shredded hashbrowns. They are so crisp on the outside and non-greasy that I can’t think of any restaurant that’s made them better. LD’s serves them all day and you can order them as your choice of potato. 

LD's Collage.jpg

LD’s is crazy affordable and friends have spoken well of their Saturday breakfast buffet. You will notice their full bar, but don’t go making a fool of yourself (like me) by trying to order a martini. Stick with domestic beer or a gin and tonic if you are feeling especially fancy. 

In Mason City, Happy Hour specials may or may not also be known as Early Bird specials. Prime and Wine offers an early Bird menu every evening between 4:30-6:30pm and a date night menu on Thursday evenings where couples can select an appetizer, two entrees, dessert, plus complimentary salad and texas toast for $32.

These specials are popular, so if you want to go on a Thursday or Saturday evening without a reservation, arrive early in case there’s a wait.

IMG_1592On both visits, Jake ordered steak which arrived cooked as requested (medium-rare) and sat in a pool of flavorful pan juices. The side salads included thoughtful touches like bell pepper rings, hand-cut carrot coins, and hard boiled egg halves. Diners also receive a complimentary basket of garlic Texas Toast that we used to soak up all of the steak juices.

Jake’s kryptonite is saganaki (not on date night menu) that the servers flame tableside.

Prime and Wine’s early bird/date night specials are amiable option if you want to enjoy the full experience of an upscale, sit-down meal at a more affordable price. The kitchen doesn’t seem to cut corners and the staff is polished.

Working part-time in Osage has given me the opportunity to explore Mitchell County. With a population of around 3,300, Osage fosters a vibrant main street with very few vacant store fronts. For lunch, I enjoy ordering the daily lunch specials from Kountry Kupboard and Teluwat.

The Mennonite-owned and operated Kountry Kupboard is divided between a small grocery store and cafe. One day, I’ll try their peanut and almond butters they grind on location. Daily lunch specials feature comfort food like pot roast and mashed potatoes or this meatloaf meal that came with glazed carrot coins, “sweet salad,” and pillowy-soft butterhorn rolls.

IMG_1578

I am very proud of my homemade meatloaf but admit theirs might be better than mine. A full lunch costs around $8, but is enough to last me for two meals and sustains me through a long work day.

Teluwat’s Osage location is faithful about posting their daily lunch specials on Facebook. I typically choose from their chalkboard lunch combination specials. The best deal is probably their 1/2 club + choice of soup or salad for $4.99. I received a huge half sandwich filled with thick slices of ham and turkey, cheese (not American), lettuce, tomato and mayo on hearty wheat bread and a generous cup of wild rice and chicken soup. It’s not the most exciting sandwich you’ll ever eat, but it’s much better than it has to be and the price is unbeatable for the quality of food.

Last week, my fish sandwich came with these waffle fries.

Teluwat Fries

They look like boring, old waffle fries, but their delightfully crisp bite and addicting seasoning salt made them stand out from any other. I’d love to bring Jake here to eat dinner here sometime and branch out from the lunch menu.

One of our favorite date night spots is Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant. We feel like we should branch out and try some of the other Mexican restaurants in town, but Las Palmas is comforting to us. I’m not sure it’s possible to find foods like posole or tortas in our community, but we like how Las Palmas offers items that vary more than typical burritos and enchiladas. Sometimes we branch out and sometimes we don’t.

las palmas favorites.jpg

Best of all, the service is friendly. We always sit in the bar area and the bartender always remembers us and never forgets our favorite beverages.

ODDS & ENDS

    • I have a House of Cards problem. I felt bored during the first two episodes and then it was like what the heck happened? It’s 1:30 am and I just watched seven episodes in a row! As I write this post, I have three episodes left in Season Two. It’s bittersweet as I’ll be unwillingly left at a cliffhanger until Season Three is released, but I’m relieved that I can do some other things with my time.

CheeseWhen I was a student in Wartburg College, I occasionally bought this jarred queso produced in Iowa City. For, I’ve tried an embarrassing number of jarred queso dips and this is still the best tasting and spiciest I’ve found.

It’s located in Hyvee’s refrigerated section which implies it’s made out of real cheese, or at least ingredients that will decompose. New Pioneer Co-op sells it and they are very picky about the products they carry. It’s not cheap. A jar will run about $6.39 but it’s as good as I remember it since graduating seven years ago (yikes!). We enjoy it mixed with salsa and heated until warm.

Brenda Langton’s recipe for Baby Lima Beans With Polenta is one of my favorites. I add a hot pepper to make it spicy and serve with organic chicken sausage.

On the evening I made this meal, I served the polenta as a creamy porridge and, on the second evening, cut slices of the the leftover polenta and seared them. Definitely add the [optional[ parmesan cheese to the polenta for extra flavor.

Some of my other favorite recipes include the sesame, white balsamic and caesar salad dressings, whole wheat bread and lamb Spoonburger.

Easter Weekend Recap: When Chipotle Became Like A God & Take-Out From Little Szechuan

Jake and I returned home for a long, holiday weekend in the Twin Cities.

We spent time with our families and I visited some good friends.

Even as adults, we enjoyed being spoiled by our families who made Easter ham, roasted turkey, lamb, & cheesy potatoes.

We were somewhat productive in that we ascertained an electric saw and hammer and destroyed the lock on our storage unit at our Bloomington condo.  I had almost forgotten about my grandma’s engagement and wedding rings, packed somewhere in the dusty unit filled with mostly crap.  The rings swam amongst friendship bracelets and 10 for $5 jewelry from Claire’s, in a jewelry box wrapped in old newspapers and packed into a Cub foods box.  My engagement ring is part loaner-band and we are hoping to use my grandma’s.

Most importantly, I grabbed my copy of Hunger Games that was accidentally sent to our Bloomington address.  Everyone and everything have become obstacles between me and my Hunger Games.  I stayed up entirely too late on work nights, reading, and suffered Hunger Games-induced nightmares.

Hunger Games is ruining my life and I’m just beginning Catching Fire.

Announcing our engagement was a lot of fun and less anxiety-inducing than I had anticipated.  The story of our engagement is as unromantic as how we met, which is perfectly fitting and perfectly us.  Only Jake can really tell the engagement story, as it is practically a complicated web of lies.  Except for the part where he asked me to marry him and I said “yes.”

The Food Run-Down
We fit in a few meals out.

Manana
828 7th Street East
St. Paul, MN 55106

I was thrilled when I realized Jake’s family lives fairly close to Manana.  The pupusas filled with pork, cheese, and beans were as memorable as my first visit, pre-Jake.  Jake commented the pupusas were one of the best things he’d tasted for a while, the sentiment I remember feeling the first time I tasted one.

Unfortunately, my take-out order did not come with thecortido cabbage salad and hot sauce.  I wonder if my questions were misunderstood and I was supposed to serve myself.

On trips home, we always enjoy stopping at The Wine Thief & Ale Jail where Jake selects craft beers and I treat myself to sake.  The sake selection in Fargo is less than ethereal (not that I even know that much about sake, but still).  Afterwards, Jake wanted to stop at Chipotle for lunch.

I’ve practically grew-up on Chipotle.  Ever since Chipotle made its debut in Apple Valley, my mom became hooked on their barbecoa burritos.  Sometimes she bought them by the trio, slicing the foil-wrapped logs by the chunk for lunches.  I had already eaten my fill of Chipotle when I left for college in another Chipotle-less land.  When I returned to the Twin Cities, I found myself, again, at countless Chipotles until it no longer resembled food.

Now, I find myself in the land that Chipotle forgot.  Or blatentely ignores.  Around here, Chipotle is like a god.  Legendary and spoken of reverently, in hushed voices.  I still don’t crave Chipotle, but was somewhat happy to be reunited with my old friend and managed to choke down half a burrito.

On our last evening in the Twin Cities, Jake and I planned a date night.  We were disappointed when we found that Meritage and Broders Cucina Italiana were closed so we scrambled for a convenient back-up plan.  Which is how we found ourselves ordering take-out from Little Szechuan.

Little Szechuan
422 University Avenue West
St. Paul, MN 55103
651-222-1333

When I lived near Tea House in Plymouth, MN, I always enjoyed their fish fillets in a spicy broth filled with cabbage and tofu.  I ordered Litte Szechuan’s Fish Fillet in Spicy Tofu Broth and cream cheese wontons.  Jake ordered Kung Pao Beef, extra spicy, and sesame chicken.

Our order cost $46 plus tip and was packed into this sturdy box.

I enjoyed the Fish Fillet in Spicy Tofu Broth, although I still think the Plymouth Tea House’s version is better.  The broth was more viscous than Tea House’s, though it was plentiful with chili.

It’s fish fillets had a silky mouth-feel and tasted fresh.  This portion was huge and could easily feed a family.

Little Szechuan’s Kung Pao Beef was one of the best versions of Kung Pao we’ve ever eaten, in addition to Tea House.

The sauce was flavorful and struck all of the spicy, sweet, and savory notes.  Lots of tender beef, and pleasantly spicy.

My least favorite dish was the sesame chicken.  It wasn’t inedible, but the batter was soggy, the chicken pieces tasted dense and dry, and the sauce was a little bland.  But it fulfilled my craving for Americanized Chinese take-out.

Lastly, I enjoyed the cream cheese puffs, per usual.

I’ve dawdled in a life-long love affair with cream cheese puffs.

All in all, a wonderful and eventful trip back home.  It looks like we’ll be home a couple times in the near future for celebrations involving family and friends.

A thank you to our families for taking care of us this weekend and to the friends who were able to spend time with us.

Meritage and Broders Cucina. . . we will be back for mussels, absinthe, and Eggplant Special pizza.

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