Tag: Fried

A Cathartic Bloody Mary & Cheese Frenchies: My First Wartburg Homecoming

This weekend we heeded the “U-Rah-Rah Rah” cries of Wartburg College’s homecoming.

When Jake and I drove down Bremer Avenue in Waverly, Iowa I percolated with emotion, for this was my first visit back, since graduating in 2007. My stomach felt strange when I thought about how my mom was alive the last time I was on campus, cheering for me as I reached for my diploma.

We met a friend I used to work with at the college’s Writing/Reading/Speaking Lab (WRSL) at Duo’s, a coffee shop built after graduation. Since we were the only two former consultants in attendance, we giggled about how we were the smallest WRSL reunion in history.

I think it’s safe to speak for the other WRSL consultants when I say that we loved our jobs helping students improve their paper and speeches. Many of us became good friends who worked together for years. I don’t believe any one hired as a consultant ever left before graduation. Once a WRSL’er, always a WRSL’er.

Although I majored in Public Relations, we never discussed social media. Wartburg joined the Facebook network in 2005 and no one seemed to foresee the role it would play in business marketing.

Only once it ever occurred to me to take a picture of food. I wrote my friend’s name Leo on a plate with condiments at Perkins. Our early flip phone cameras took horrible photos and most of us lacked the internet plans to share them.

Now, I juggle several social media platforms and find myself saying, “My how times have changed,” more often than I’d like.

I used to think homecoming activities were unbearably cheesy. I enjoyed some of the festivities like the variety show, but would hardly say I “bled orange” (our school color), as they would say. This weekend, seven years later, I experienced the true spirit of homecoming along with alumni of all ages. Signs everywhere said “Welcome back!” and I felt like I had returned home.

Our mission in Waverly was simple. Drink at Joe’s Knight Hawk Lounge and eat at the East Bremer Diner.

Oh Joe’s. We never got too well acquainted, did we? Joe’s Knight Hawk is the bar perched on the edge of campus where the harder-core partiers gravitated. If something crazy happened, it probably went down at Joe’s. Others simply went to Joe’s to eat chicken wings and dance the night away.

I appeared at Joe’s twice. I wasn’t much of a drinker and hardly a dancer, preferring the company of friends watching Scrubs or playing candy poker. Looking back, I do wish I spent more time at Joe’s, but hindsight’s 20/20.

Joe's

The first thing I noticed was that the bar and pole along the dance floor was gone. Considering the state of most of the students who hoisted themselves up to dance around the pole, I wasn’t surprised.

We ordered Bloody Marys which was fitting since I drank my first Bloody Mary here during my senior year. I remember watching the bartender in utter fascination as he added Worcestershire sauce and black pepper to my first, non-fruity cocktail which I liked at first taste.

The beverages were so cheap, we struggled to drink our $10 credit card minimum. So, we walked a mile down Bremer Avenue to the East Bremer Diner. The cold wind whipped across the Cedar River.

River watermarked

Waverly’s main street is vibrant and well-kept. I was happy to find that Dell’s Diner & Asian Garden Restaurant are still open.

main street watermarked

I’ve dreamed of returning to the East Bremer Diner for years. My family and I dined here after our first campus tour.

For lovers of the Diner, this is a beautiful sight.

Salad Dressings watermarked

For those who choose a side salad, the server will bring a big bowl of shredded lettuce and quad of homemade salad dressings in squirt bottles. There’s french, thousand island, ranch and creamy garlic. Use one, or mix and match them all.

My favorite has always been the creamy garlic. Your server will initially identify each dressing, but, in case you forget, the creamy garlic is pinker than the ranch and paler than the thousand island. I used to buy an occasional jar of this dressing for personal home enjoyment. My second favorite is the french, which I normally don’t like. The Diner’s is tangy without being too sweet.

This ritual of starting with a big bowl of shredded iceburg lettuce and squirt bottles of salad dressing an endearing gimmick we always looked forward to. I posted these salad photos on social media and received so much interaction, I’d say it brings back fond memories for many Wartburg students.

Diner Salad Collage

I ordered Cheese Frenchies for lunch. Frenchies are cubes of crispy-coated, fried grilled cheese made with American cheese (and sometimes mayonnaise) and the Diner’s the only place I’ve seen them.

Cheese Frenchies originated at the chain King’s Food Host in Nebraska, Omaha in the early 1960’s. They’ve since fallen out of style, though friends have also spotted them at Don & Millie’s in Omaha & Drake Diner in Des Moines.

Cheese Frenchies watermarked

Jake chose the Beef Submarine with onions and mushrooms. I giggled each time he repeated the entire word “submarine.”  This sandwich was massive and the bread tasted fresh.

Beef Sandwich watermarked

The Diner’s manager, also a Wartburg graduate, saw my tweet about the Diner and visited our table to personally greet us. He said that the menu is practically the same as it was seven years ago, minus a few of the less popular items. We gave him kudos for being so on top of the Diner’s social media while actively managing the restaurant during lunch rush.

Before we drove back to Mason City, I asked Jake to take a photo of me and the Wartburg sign. Funny how I was too nerdy to go to Joe’s Knight Hawk in college, yet too cool to pose by the sign.

Wartburg Sign watermarked

Former President Jack Ohle’s catchphrase referred to Wartburg College as a “tapestry” of which all of us students were the threads.

I’ll spare you the Wartburg song and peppy motto “Be Orange!”, but I will leave you with one final “U-Rah-Rah-Rah. Catharsis is best experienced with Bloody Mary’s and Cheese Frenchies.

What was your school’s catchphrase? And did you have a favorite college town restaurant?

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

Whirlwind Visit To The Iowa State Fair

Jake and I live for the Minnesota State Fair. It’s basically a holiday in my book.

I remember how my mom loved going to the fair. While she was in hospice, we’d take her to the fair for quick food trips. As tired as she was, she lit up at the taste of Mouth Trap Cheese Curds and cream puffs. We all did.

State fairs bring to mind family and community, innovation and classics. They really are like big state reunions.

As new Iowans, we had to check out the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, a short (less than) two-hour drive down I-35. We had to cut our visit short so we could return home and tend to Trayse the dog who we left at home.

The Saturday of closing weekend was busy as expected, and, like the Minnesota Fair, many of the surrounding neighbors rented out their yards for parking. We found a friendly family who let us park in their yard for only $5 and provided us with a slip of paper with their address written on it.

IMG_2240

It had just rained and the cool weather felt refreshing.

Jake arrived hungry and ordered a gyro from the generically named “Gyros” stand near the entrance. We’ve eaten countless gyros and this was possibly one of the best gyros we’ve tried. We used to make routine trips to Gyropolis in Bloomington, MN and their spicy gyro became our gold standard. This held its own.

Gyros Collage

The bread was thinner than normal pita and pleasantly toasty. It contained the ideal amount of creamy cucumber sauce and a nice balance of sliced tomatoes and onions. The gyro meat was also shaved instead of hacked into large chunks. I don’t subscribe to the “bigger is better,” philosophy especially when it comes to gyros. I’d rather eat a well-constructed gyro like this one than a huge, sloppy one disintegrating in its own gyro sauce.

This larger size cost a whopping $10, but it was darned good. I said I just wanted to try a couple bites and ate half.

Next, we ran into Brad & Harry’s cheese curd stand while we were looking for the craft beer tent. We’ve only visited the MN State Fair and it didn’t occur to us that we really didn’t know our way around any other state fair. We bumbled around, but that was part of the adventure. Sometimes it’s nice to not have a plan.

Cheese Curds Collage

We chose the plain over the Cajun-flavored. Inside the stand, we saw the employees dropping the curds into batter and freshly frying them. These curds were tasty and superior to breaded ones, but I think our gold standard is still the Mouth Trap.

I never leave a fair without grabbing a corn dog and Campbell’s did the trick. I was surprised to find bottles of maple syrup in the condiment station along with ketchup and mustard. Is this an Iowa tradition? I stuck with my typical toppings, but can see how the sweet syrup and salty dog would work well together.

Corn Dog Collage

In addition to eating our favorite fair foods, we had the pleasure of meeting Cristen of Food & Swine.

Ice Cream Collage

She’s had a busy fair week showing pigs with her family and entering baking contests. We talked about blogging, corn on the cob and what it’s like to raise hogs. She generously treated us to one of her favorite Iowa State Fair Foods, the Bauder’s Pharmacy Peppermint Bar. You might remember she mentioned this treat in Iowa Bloggers Speak: Favorite Town Restaurants.

Bauder’s ice cream bar truly is like none other. It’s made with the creamiest ice cream ever that’s dotted with peppermint candy and sandwiched between layers of fudge sauce and roughly crushed Oreos. “Did I just bite into a peppermint candy?” “Did you taste hot fudge sauce?” we asked each other. Each bite was filled with a delightful surprise.

We initially laughed when we saw the bar was the size of a brick, yet it didn’t take too long for us to finish ours.

You can visit Bauder’s soda fountain for ice cream treats and lunch, but this peppermint bar is only available at the fair. This Iowa-only gem was the perfect bite to end our first visit.

Next up: The Minnesota State Fair & World Food & Music Fest in Des Moines. Will I see any of you there?  

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