Sunday, July 15, 2012

Big Dave & Holly's and Le Claire Iowa

Big Dave & Holly's was once a Dairy Sweet, and its sign has ice cream cones and a burger with facial features greeting the visitor. The building has survived its fair share of great floods at this location with pictures documenting the water levels. Locally known simply as "Big Daves", this is small town style ice cream place right next to the river on the north side of Le Claire.

Location: 1204 N Cody Rd in Le Claire, just outside Bettendorf and the Quad Cities in Eastern Iowa.

Directions: Cody Road is Highway 67, the Great River Road, the main street through Le Claire reached from the last exit on I-80 before the bridge over the river.

Online at: website is HERE.

The Tenderloin: The portion was a great size, filling the entire plate. I could hear the cook battering this thing and dipping it into the hot oil. The breading had a salty batter type of consistency. Interior meat was thoroughly tenderized but had a bit of a mushy texture with a gray-ish color. Served on a large untoasted bun that couldn't handle the weight of the sandwich, with your choice of fixings. Overall 7.0 out of ten.

Price: $6.00

Also on the menu: The sign reads Tenderloins, Ice Cream & More, and the "more" seems to be burgers and daily specials like tacos or jambalaya.
Service: There was a school aged kid taking orders and another person cooking when I stopped in.

Ambiance: The interior is small and cramped with a couple counters and tables for seating. There are picnic tables outside and views of the train tracks and the river.

Some notes about visiting Le Claire:

Big Dave & Holly's was visited on the American Pickers episode White Castle on the Farm. Its the location of a dramatic scene involving intense phone conversations and paper shuffling. After eating at Big Dave's on the north side of Le Claire, I figured it was worth walking in the footsteps of The History Channel and checking out the town.
Taking the road from I-80, there are several new strip malls on the way to the historic shopping district. For a person from Des Moines, the immediate comparison is to say its like Valley Junction upon the Mississippi. According to the NY Times article, the guy from the show bought a downtown building after negotiating the asking price down by $150,000. It appears the town of Le Claire was developing into a boutique shopping destination before the show started pulling in over 5 million viewers in weekly installments. The local media shares credit for the turnaround to the opening of an Iowa Welcome Center, a couple of new restaurants, and some active local residents.

I've been to some other towns in Iowa that promote themselves as antique "destinations" that just aren't interesting to visit. Le Claire's Main St. area was near fully occupied and busy with visitors while I was there. The growth of the tourists, small businesses, shops, and the rest of the town mark a sharp contrast to other river towns in Iowa.
The Antique Archaeology garage/storefront building is just off of Cody Rd south of the main shopping area. Visitors can walk inside and look around at some of the odd finds and antiques. A bunch of young women were running the shop, and most people here seemed to be just looking around and taking pictures before buying a t-shirt. They have other branded items at low price points. There were some motorcycles wheeled out in front of the garage with Not For Sale stickers and short description, but I honestly can't tell them apart from any other motorcycle.
Big Dave and Hollys on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Little Chicago Pizza & Gyros in Mason City

After repeated trips to Mason City, I felt the need to update my post about the Suzie-Q Cafe. Then a recent Urbanspoon comment left by user reviewer named Jim made me consider trying another Spic-N-Span tenderloin just a block down the street in Mason City. Little Chicago Pizza and Gyros gives little indication that there is any tenderloin inside. The menu board doesn't even list the tenderloin, its only on the folding takeout menu. I think I read in the newspaper website that Little Chicago took its Spic-N-Span batter recipe from the owners of Sluggo's, which occupied the same space, but now I can't seem to find the article.

Location: 11 2nd St NE in Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, in Northern Iowa.

Directions: Its right in the middle of downtown Mason City, about 8 miles from I-35, Highway 65 is the north-south street on either side.

The Tenderloin: This is described on the menu as "Spic-N-Span style", dipped into their special batter. I have to make it clear that I didn't do any side-by-side comparison with the Suzie-Q, but this tenderloin was in batter without any kind of spicy note. It felt more like classic seasoning salt mix. What stood out was the softness and juiciness of the loin inside. The steam in the pork meat and the tenderizing made the whole sandwich soft. Served on a kaiser bun with your choice of fixins, Overall 8.0 out of ten.

Price: $4.29 also available "Gangster Style" with fries in a combo for a little extra.

Also on the menu: Burgers, pizza, they have a spinning cone of Gyro meat, and other Italian sandwiches.

Service: Just basic carry-out service, nothing to write home about.

Ambiance: I walked in the door and saw the counter and just a couple tables and a cash register counter in front of the kitchen and menu board. Their facebook page shows a dining area but I must have missed it.The classic gyro meat supplier poster with the Greek woman looks out the window, and patriotic posters cover the interior walls.

Final Thoughts: I may need some locals from Mason City to help me out here with some questions I have after eating here. Was there once a diner named the Spic-N-Span in downtown Mason City, in the area that is now a downtown mall? What happened to that place, did it close over 30 years ago and people still want Spic-N-Span tenderloins? Are there more Spic-N-Spans out there for me to try?
Little Chicago Pizza & Gyros on Urbanspoon