Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour...
This year, I went back to the Quad-Cities for Christmas. These holiday visits always involve little self-orchestrated food tours, ending with me full of delicious local fare, at which some of my friends in Connecticut have scoffed - though, to be fair, they've only seen photos.
I now feel like I should eat nothing but lettuce and water for a while. I had far more this year than I expected.
Let's begin with a casual shot taken on the way back from the airport. Hy-Vee, Taco John's, wide concrete (not asphalt) roads... yep, this is Iowa.
My dad wanted to stop at Hy-Vee, so I took the opportunity to load up on some things that I'd been missing lately: Sterzing's chips, cheese curds, and good old Hy-Vee food. Their Chinese has something of a reputation here, but I've always been more partial to their intepretation of Italian.
This is what the inside of a Hy-Vee calzone looks like. Note the sauce inside
, and the cheddar, which is part of an interesting semi-processed blend. Pretty sure I'd never find either of those in Connecticut calzones.
Also noted at Hy-Vee: Chicago-style giardiniera, something I've only found in CT at the Potbelly's in West Hartford...
...and Western dressing, which is unavailable in CT, period.
Oh - and wine right out by the food, which is not just unavailable in CT, but forbidden!
And noted in my parents' fridge: good old Boetje's
, plus a limited-run variant that they produced in partnership with a distillery. I consider that one to be a successful experiment. It was very good with a baked ham that we had for dinner one night.
First on my "official" list was some Quad-Cities-style pizza
. I chose a longstanding place to which I'd never been: Stashu's
, in Moline.
They've been here for decades, served generations of patrons, haven't changed their products... you know the drill.
Taco pizza, sauerkraut as a topping, bratwurst, Italian beef: all things I'd be hard-pressed to find on any CT menu. (I have
seen taco pizza once or twice, but it was a rather different rendition.)
The pizza itself. This was a "personal"-sized pizza - too small to be strip-cut...
...but as you can see, there's still the finely-ground fennel sausage under the cheese.
(For comparison, Fat Boy's and Harris in Davenport.)
To be honest, I didn't find Stashu's sausage to be as tasty as Fat Boy's or Harris. It was simply too mild. I really wanted it to impress me more, given that they're an old local meat shop and all, but the "wow" just wasn't there. All the other elements of a good QC-style pizza were intact.
On the way to Stashu's is the headquarters for Whitey's Ice Cream
. How could I not stop?
They've definitely spruced up their packaging over the years. When I was a kid, the Chipper came in clear plastic wrap with a small grocery store-type label.
I saved that for my parents, and got myself a turtle sundae. Its deliciousness was unchanged. The salted pecans are the key.
Aaaand another stop at Hy-Vee, this time for a quality brew from Bent River
The next morning, I was in the mood for Hy-Vee breakfast pizza, but after striking out at two
Hy-Vees (at 8:30 in the morning, no less!), I finally went to a Casey's General Store
instead. I was glad I did. They're better anyway.
Ahhh. This, to me, is breakfast pizza.
"B" is for breakfast!
I lunched at Hungry Hobo
, a chain of sub shops restricted to the QC only. Good roast beef, but I decided to veer off and try some of their non-sandwich items. I got a "Taco Tato" and some nachos.
The Taco Tato tasted exactly like what you'd expect a baked potato with taco-style toppings made in the Midwest to taste like. Maybe I'd like it more if I'd grown up with it, but as it was, it underwhelmed. Most of the flavor came from the taco sauce packets.
Notably, their nachos used taco-flavored tortilla chips instead of plain ones.
My big destination of this particular trip was to be Rastrelli's
in Clinton. They once had a second location attached to Northpark Mall in Davenport that operated from 1980 to 1989, and it was the first restaurant I could remember eating at as a kid, aside from McDonald's. My folks agreed to drive to Clinton for this.
We then discovered that, while they were
open from 11am to 2pm, they were only selling take-and-bake pizza and loaves of bread. Crushed, I bought a pizza to be cooked for dinner, and then we set off in search of an alternative lunch. A desperate Yelp search led us to Stubby's
, also in Clinton.
What serendipity. They turned out to be the highlight of my trip.
They're a fairly new operation
, billing themselves as KC-style barbecue, and I can truthfully say that the brisket stacked up against anything I had in KC during my eight years there (...and I had a lot
). There is expertise here. The beans were also excellent, enriched with bits of beef as one would expect. They offered two kinds of sauce, mild and hot, and the hot one was good enough to warrant being sold by the bottle.
My dad also had brisket, and my mom had a pulled pork sandwich. The brisket was more impressive, she said.
The banana pudding, however, was to dessert as the brisket was to the main course: phenomenal.
Satisfying as lunch was, I was itching to get to the Rastrelli's pizza and see if I could recapture a bit of my childhood. The prospects for that seemed dim, given the passage of time and the fact that I was eating a take-and-bake product.
Note the sliced cheese. Not something I see very often at all, and I also get the sense that it used to be more common.
It's hard to remember anything super-clearly from when you were nine, let alone what a particular pizza was like. I plumbed the depths of memory.
The meats and cheese were the same, the sauce I couldn't tell you... but the crust had definitely changed. As a kid, I always ordered this pizza by the slice, and the crust was thick and pillowy, almost Sicilian-style (and not made entirely with white flour, from what I recall of the color). Somewhere along the line, they went to a thin crust, at least for their take-and-bake. I'd still be interested to dine in and do a comparison, but I feel like there wouldn't be a radical difference.
Taken on its own, the pizza was
good - the sausage was a standout, as tends to be the case with pizzas from this pork-centric region. Would certainly recommend to anyone that happened to be in Clinton.
I met up with a friend for lunch the next day, at the Dynasty Buffet
in Davenport. This buffet was notable for its sheer size. I counted ten tables. The food itself was of pretty standard quality.
Also, here's what pizza at a Chinese buffet looks like. I didn't partake.
The day after that would be my final full day here, and I had two objectives: meet up with a couple more friends, and get my first Pokey Stix (cheesy breadsticks) from Gumby's
in Iowa City for the first time since my college days, which concluded in 2002. It turned out that Gumby's didn't open until 2pm, however, and my friend and I needed lunch, so I had Chinese (yes, again) from Taste of China
, another Iowa City fixture.
In due course, we acquired our Pokey Stix.
This alone justifies Gumby's existence. Delicious strips of bread, cheese, herbs, and grease, dunked lovingly into ranch or marinara (but mainly ranch). They've been feeding University of Iowa students for years, and will hopefully continue to do so for many years more.
The pizza is fine, but it's honestly just an accompaniment to the Pokey Stix, whose addictive quality I've never seen approached by any other cheesy bread anywhere.
Dinner that night was taken at home, and followed up by drinks with the other friend at the Bent River Brewery
over in Moline. Sadly, they were out of their signature Jingle Java, but there were many other excellent options.
After a fun game of Fisticuffs (a card game from the same people that did Cards Against Humanity), and a decent number of drinks, I was in the mood for a second dinner. My last restaurant would be a Checkers
on the way back to my parents' house. That chain, apparently, once popped up in CT and then promptly vanished.
I was reminded of my trip to Washington state, which ended with an imitation Egg McMuffin from a gas station.
In a few hours, I'll fly to O'Hare, and then from there to Bradley. This has easily been the most food-filled vacation I've ever had. It included a couple of places I didn't expect, one of which I would enthusiastically recommend as a Roadfood stop. Check out Stubby's in Clinton, Iowa!
post edited by Ketteract - 2016/12/28 08:18:24