Friday, August 15, 2014

Shorts Burgers Eastside in Iowa City, Iowa

The original Shorts burgers and Shine in downtown Iowa City has been massively successful and earned mentions in every local media outlet and the New York Times. They have built up a reputation as the best burger place in Iowa City with a huge selection to choose from.


Location: 521 Westbury Dr on the East side of Iowa city in Eastern Iowa.

Directions: Its near the intersection of Scott Boulevard and Rochester Ave or the Herbert Hoover Highway on the far east portion of Iowa City. There isn't much else out here so you can see the place from the boulevard before navigating the side streets.

Online at: Website is HERE.


The Tenderloin: The problem here is that the cut of pork loin seemed to never have been tenderized. This was one chewy sandwich from start to finish. The batter formed a decent crunch that melted away without any real beer flavor. Served on a durable bun that felt calibrated for heavy juicy burgers. This seemed like an extra item tacked onto the menu. Overall 6.4 out of ten.

Price: $10.00 with a mountain of handcut fries that are the real star of the show.

Fries are good
Also on the menu: I counted 24 specialty burgers, 13 chicken sandwiches, and six black bean burgers. The East location has expanded appetizers and chicken wings.

Service: It seemed like students running the show while I stopped in for lunch.


Ambiance: The interior design is great with nice wood fixtures on the bar and booths, with exposed metal and televisions everywhere.


Final Thoughts: The location in a strip mall between Middlebury, Eastbury, and Westbury Roads feels like the geography of being nowhere. I know this area will fill up someday but right now its just emptiness. The original and East location are still places I would go for a burger. My next stop in Iowa City will probably be at Iron Hawk downtown or Shakespeare's Pub.
Short's Burgers Eastside on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Spot Food Truck in Des Moines, Iowa


There have been taco trucks in Des Moines for a long time, and you can see my progress towards eating them all HERE. But where are the other food trucks? The Spot has stepped into this vacuum in 2013, and this summer they are joined by Magnolia Kitchen. Last year I visited a truck originally from Dewitt in Eastern Iowa, Chuckies Tenderloins, which drives all over the western half of the USA selling tenderloins. Recently The Spot started putting a tenderloin into their rotation of specials and I had to track them down. 

Location: I think they are at a different location for five days out of each week this summer.

Directions: You have to visit their website to see where they are at.

Online at: Website is HERE.

The Tenderloin: The loin meat only felt like six ounces and was in a long triangle shape. The meat retained a huge amount of juiciness. Bits and pieces of seasoning were clearly visible in the breading and strong taste. This was a sandwich that insisted upon itself, it really did not need the final layer of salt on top of the tenderloin. Served on a roll with romaine lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise. Overall 7.9 out of ten.

Price: $6.50

Asparagus side.
Also on the menu: The menu changes but they usually have an Al Pastor burger and sides like pasta salad or macaroni and cheese.

The Completo: This is their Latin American hot dog. The Spot is supposedly the first food truck that isn't serving tacos or pupusas but some of the taco trucks serve hot dogs.

The Completo
Service: You order at a window and they try to get your attention when the food is ready.

Ambiance: Its parked in parking lots in anonymous office blocks or near bars downtown.

Final Thoughts: Des Moines might be a little late to the Food Truck trend. I think the regulations force the food trucks to have an agreement with a business or land owner and access to a restroom. It seems clear that both the trendy food trucks and the taco trucks have to shut down or fly south for the winter. That makes getting out and finding them when the weather is warm so important.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Country House in Colo, Iowa

The stretch of Highway 30 between Colo and Nevada is home to a The Country House Restaurant, which earned a runner up plaque for the IPPA Best Tenderloin contest in 2011. They were also featured on KCCI's Cruising For Comfort Food feature a few years ago.

Location: 68168 US Highway 30 just outside of Colo, Iowa in Story County. Its about a 45 minute drive from Des Moines.

Directions: Turn south off of Highway 30 when you see Twin Anchors Campground, the Country House is next to the out of business service station.

The Tenderloin: This felt like eight ounces of pork loin that had been flattened out during tenderizing. The cracker crunch breading had just a hint of seasoning. The meat underneath was steamy and very warm, for several minutes after it was delivered to my table. The bright white meat was neatly trimmed with no fat. Served on a toasted sesame seed bun with all the fixins overall 8.3 out of ten.

Price: $7.50 with a side. I went with the fries which were thick steak fries lightly salted and served hot.

Also on the menu: The menu is simple, and I mean real simple like less than half a page for lunch. I think they have simplified it since my first visits several years ago. Think burgers and hot beef sandwiches, the daily special was grilled cheese tenderloin. There are also homemade pies on a sheet cooling on the counter:

Pies

Service: Its seat yourself table service, and you can pay at the counter or wait to have your ticket taken for you.
With Fries
Ambiance: The restaurant sign reads "Since 1991" and the building feels like a nineties building. There are tables and booths for seating, and some out of place pictures of European street scenes or vineyards.

Large Size
Final Thoughts: The Country House is a must stop on this stretch of highway in North Central Iowa. With Stones in Marshalltown and the Suburban Restaurant in Gilbert closed, this area doesn't have much to choose from after Flatheads in St Anthony.


Country House Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Steve's Place in Burlington, Iowa

Steve's Place has a sign that claims it is "The place to be!" Although I would not have entered based on the message on the sign, but the print ad reading "our homemade tenderloins are great" made this stop necessary. This bar on the edge of the downtown area of Burlington is a real dive, a dive among dives.

Location: 852 Washington Ave in Burlington, Southeast Iowa.

Directions: You can get here by taking the Main St exit from the state highway and turning on Washington St.


The Tenderloin: I had to grab one to go because there was no light inside the bar. This felt like six ounces of in a shapeless form in a delicious golden brown color. The tenderized meat did was a bit limp and seemed to flop over the toasted bun. The breading had little seasoning and steam from the meat took away any kind of crunch. This was still a decent dive bar tenderloin. Overall 7.5 out of ten.


Price: $4.50 a great value.


Also on the menu:  mostly the usual fried stuff you find at every bar,  along with steak and burgers. I think Thursday is taco night.


Service: I think the grill is only open from five to nine in the evening. You need to sit at the bar to get service.


Ambiance: This is a dive bar decorated with photos of Marilyn Monroe and figurines of knights in suits of armor. The building is old and the bar fixtures are showing their age. There was a crowd of people standing outside the door smoking.


Final Thoughts: I've had tenderloins at several places in Burlington so far and none have stood out or above the Short Stop in New London or the Apron Strings in Mediapolis. My next stop in Burlington will probably be at Jerry's Main Lunch on Main Street.


Steve's Place on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sale Barn Cafe in Lamoni Iowa



There is something about livestock auctions and food that just goes together. These are major get together locations with a specific function in the farm economy of Iowa. There are sale barns all over the place in rural Iowa, and many serve food on sale days. There have to be a few that stay open during the week, and I stumbled across one in the far south of Iowa in Lamoni.

Location: 900 East Main St. in Lamoni, Decatur County, Southern Iowa.


Directions: Take the Highway 65 exit from I-35 and turn West. The road turns into Main St in Lamoni and the Sale Barn Cafe is close to the city center.

The Tenderloin: The pork loin had been cut into a basic triangle shape. Breading felt like a little bit of cracker crunch and just a touch of seasoning. The white pork loin meat was steamy and warm while tenderizing had left the grain of the meat barely disturbed for a nice chewy texture. The edges had a little bit of untrimmed fat that could be chewed apart and did not take away from the enjoyment of the sandwich. Overall 7.8 out of ten.

Price: $7.50 a la carte

Also on the menu: There is a hot beef sandwich and tenderloin served hot beef style, something called a Chuck Wagon, burgers and sides. The daily specials come with a roll and a couple sides. The pies and other desserts are often made with fruits from the local Amish farms. They also sell homemade bread.

Strawberry Pie
Service: Its basic seat yourself table service with a register at the counter in the back.

Ambiance: Its a cafe inside a livestock auction building with wood paneled walls and tables for seating. The outside will smell like cows on a hot day.


Final Thoughts: Its no secret that livestock auction houses will have some good food. The hard part is getting into town and knowing the when and where to go. My internet searches have not found any other sale barn cafes with regular weekday hours, and information about any others would be appreciated.

 Sale Barn Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Mr. Filet in Des Moines, Iowa


Mr. Filet is a small cafe for the downtown office lunch crowd that fits into a few niches that are becoming harder to find in each passing year. Its a fast order grill run by Greek-Americans, which is a tradition across the country. Its also a low price steakhouse, something nearly impossible to find in an owner operated cafe these days. Finally, its a place that has survived in one of the worst locations imaginable for any business. There is zero curb appeal, the inside is not nice by any stretch of the imagination, and I can't remember seeing an advertizement for this place in my lifetime. Its even come back from at least one devastating fire. Its really a miracle that Mr Filet has lasted so long.


Location: 510 7th St in Des Moines, Iowa. Its underneath the 7th and Grand Ave. parking ramp scheduled for demolition sometime in 2014.


Directions: There is no direct access from the skywalk but there is a bright neon sign that reads RESTAURANT that can barely be seen from certain angles at street level.

The Tenderloin: This had the classic mitten shape of a pounded out slice of pork loin. Served with your fixings on a buttered and toasted sesame seed bun. The breading had little flavor but formed a very think layer brown on the outside but with a white chalky textured layer beneath. The meat was pounded out into a thin layer squeezed between the breading with no juice and little steam or any moisture. This just was not tasty. Overall 6.0 out of ten.

Price: $6.40 with fries after tax.


Also on the menu: old Greek grill favorites including breakfast omelets in the morning, burgers, gyros and grilled steaks were the specialties in the afternoon. The most expensive steak is $11.25 after tax.


Service: The counter area for ordering is a fixture from decades ago with a lunch trays to slide and a cabinet holding side salads and desserts. The cooked food is taken to your table after a short wait.

Ambiance: There is a door labeled "Carryout Orders: Use Other Door" that has been locked all the time for as long as anyone can remember. Do not look at the floors while eating here, don't look at the walls either.


Final Thoughts: I don't get any enjoyment out of eating mediocre tenderloins or taking the time to get photos and write about them. I have a lot of respect for what Mr Filet has done over the years and the disappearing relics of the great contribution these Greek-American grills have added to American fast service and lunch restaurants. George the Chili King might be the last of the Greek owned fast food grills with an actual old Greek guy inside. Downtown Des Moines has a history of demolishing buildings when it seems like a good idea only to regret it a few years later. With this parking ramp and YMCA scheduled for demolition I wanted to get one more account added to the internet before its too late.


Mr Filet Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Lou's Diner in Woordward, Iowa


Lou's Diner is in a historic building that was once the city hall of Woodward and was home to a pizza restaurant until 2001. Lou's won a plaque as first runner up in the 2005 IPPA Breaded Pork Tenderloin contest, so any trip through Woodward is incomplete without stopping here.

Location: 220 S. Main St in Woodward, Dallas County, Central Iowa.

Directions: This is just down the street from my last stop. Woodward is about twenty minutes north and west from Des Moines.

The Tenderloin: This sandwich completely filled the to-go box each time I have come here. The shape was a classic butterfly cut which had been pounded out to a huge width. I tasted very little seasoning in the crunchy breading. Served on a buttery toasted kaiser bun. Overall 8.1 out of ten.

Price: $6.25 a la carte

Also on the menu: The menu is big with a full breakfast selection and homemade pies and handmade onion rings as the highlights.

Service: There was one old lady waiting tables and another cooking when I stopped in. I think they get busy for breakfast.

Ambiance: This old building has been renovated and reused in many different ways over the years. The kitchen is open, but some supplies are kept in the dining area. There are two dining areas and a bar, and the walls are covered in farm themed decor.

Final Thoughts: I don't think I've heard a single word about Lou's since they won their IPPA plaque eight years ago. They just seem to be going along on local business and doing just fine.


Lou's Diner on Urbanspoon