Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour...

Author
Ketteract
Double Cheeseburger
  • Total Posts : 981
  • Joined: 2011/10/09 23:10:00
  • Location: Hartford, CT
  • Status: offline
2016/12/27 12:45:21 (permalink)

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
#1

23 Replies Related Threads

    leethebard
    Sirloin
    • Total Posts : 8755
    • Joined: 2007/08/16 17:35:00
    • Location: brick, NJ
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2016/12/27 12:56:30 (permalink)
    Nice report. Thanks. Some interesting pizza.
    #2
    lleechef
    Porterhouse
    • Total Posts : 11387
    • Joined: 2003/03/22 23:42:00
    • Location: Gahanna, OH
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2016/12/27 13:09:25 (permalink)
    Thanks for the report!!  Nice looking food!
    #3
    ScreamingChicken
    Sirloin
    • Total Posts : 7926
    • Joined: 2004/11/05 14:36:00
    • Location: Stoughton, WI
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2016/12/27 13:31:55 (permalink)
    Ketteract
    Check out Stubby's in Clinton, Iowa!

    A road trip for barbecue, you say?  Probably not something I'd do at this time of year but it might be an option for some Saturday when the warm weather returns.
     
    Hungry Hobo had at least one Des Moines location back in the mid '90s/early '00s but it looks like their territory has retracted a bit.
    #4
    ChiTownDiner
    Filet Mignon
    • Total Posts : 4653
    • Joined: 2006/07/09 10:58:00
    • Location: Westmont, IL
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2016/12/27 14:02:16 (permalink)
    Great report!  Love the BBQ photos and the banana pudding looked like a winner.  Hoping you might join us in KC in the Spring. 
    #5
    Davidsanders
    Double Cheeseburger
    • Total Posts : 628
    • Joined: 2008/01/20 21:21:00
    • Location: Evanston, IL
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2016/12/27 20:13:59 (permalink)
    Does anyone know if Stubbys in Clinton is related to Stubbys in Hot Springs? It doesn't seem to be. Just a coincidence.
    #6
    Ketteract
    Double Cheeseburger
    • Total Posts : 981
    • Joined: 2011/10/09 23:10:00
    • Location: Hartford, CT
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2016/12/28 08:20:09 (permalink)
    ScreamingChicken
    Ketteract
    Check out Stubby's in Clinton, Iowa!

    A road trip for barbecue, you say?  Probably not something I'd do at this time of year but it might be an option for some Saturday when the warm weather returns.
     
    Hungry Hobo had at least one Des Moines location back in the mid '90s/early '00s but it looks like their territory has retracted a bit.




    Happy Joe's departed the Des Moines area too, didn't they?
     
    My folks were impressed enough by Stubby's that they were talking about making that BBQ a Christmas pseudo-tradition.  As we chatted with the staff, we saw people enter and leave with their carryout orders, which included prime rib and an enormous smoked ham.  I dearly wanted to ask the customer for permission to take a picture, but wasn't quite brave enough.
    #7
    ScreamingChicken
    Sirloin
    • Total Posts : 7926
    • Joined: 2004/11/05 14:36:00
    • Location: Stoughton, WI
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2016/12/28 09:10:12 (permalink)
    Davidsanders
    Does anyone know if Stubbys in Clinton is related to Stubbys in Hot Springs? It doesn't seem to be. Just a coincidence.

    The one thing that jumped out at me is that the Clinton Stubby's is run by a man named Stubblefield and he mentions an uncle in Texas, so I'm wondering if he has any connection to Stubb's BBQ.  Although it would seem that if he does it would be in the article.
     
    Ketteract, I can't remember if there was a Happy Joe's or not when I was in Des Moines, but that was over 30 years ago so it's possible they opened and eventually closed sometime since then.
    #8
    Ketteract
    Double Cheeseburger
    • Total Posts : 981
    • Joined: 2011/10/09 23:10:00
    • Location: Hartford, CT
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2016/12/28 10:22:53 (permalink)
    I showed a friend this thread, and they claimed that most pizzerias (at least around here in CT) use sliced cheese instead of shredded.  Interesting.  I guess I'd just assumed shredded.
    #9
    JRPfeff
    Filet Mignon
    • Total Posts : 4917
    • Joined: 2006/12/01 10:05:00
    • Location: Pewaukee, WI & Fuquay-Varina, NC
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2016/12/28 10:27:57 (permalink)
    Ketteract,
     
    I don't think I could have passed that Taco John's without stopping. I ate there every Taco Tuesday growing up; originally 4 for $1, later 3 for $1.
     
    Excellent report. I really like your reports. I'm looking forward to your 2017 epic trip report from Madison. Thanks for posting.
     
    Jim
    post edited by JRPfeff - 2016/12/28 11:03:21
    #10
    mar52
    Porterhouse
    • Total Posts : 11451
    • Joined: 2005/04/17 18:50:00
    • Location: Marina del Rey, CA
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2016/12/28 14:06:47 (permalink)
    Ketteract, thank you so much for your trip report.  You gave me some great insight to foods I've not had.
     
    Good job!
     
     
    #11
    hatteras04
    Double Chili Cheeseburger
    • Total Posts : 1286
    • Joined: 2003/05/14 13:35:00
    • Location: Columbus, OH
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2016/12/28 15:19:17 (permalink)
    JRPfeff
    Ketteract,
     
    I don't think I could have passed that Taco John's without stopping. I ate there every Taco Tuesday growing up; originally 4 for $1, later 3 for $1.
     
    Excellent report. I really like your reports. I'm looking forward to your 2017 epic trip report from Madison. Thanks for posting.
     
    Jim




    I thought the same thing!  I still get a little sad when i drive by the location where the Taco John's was in Bloomington.  I didn't go every Tuesday but went there a lot.  The potato oles were the best.
     
    Also agree this is an excellent report and it ties in nicely with the at home food you showed in the What's for Dinner thread.  You ate well all around.
    #12
    Greymo
    Filet Mignon
    • Total Posts : 4106
    • Joined: 2005/11/30 08:54:00
    • Location: Marriottsville, MD
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2016/12/28 16:21:55 (permalink)
    Sounds like a fun food holiday.....................I loved your report.  Thank you!
    #13
    KenK
    Cheeseburger
    • Total Posts : 173
    • Joined: 2007/03/22 23:02:00
    • Location: englewood, CO
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2016/12/28 17:49:19 (permalink)
    I am with Greymo.  I loved your report.   Very well done !
    #14
    Ketteract
    Double Cheeseburger
    • Total Posts : 981
    • Joined: 2011/10/09 23:10:00
    • Location: Hartford, CT
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2016/12/29 10:55:55 (permalink)
    I did stop by the Taco John's in Northpark Mall last Thanksgiving! 
     

     
    Gotta love those Potato Oles.  
     
    Glad you've enjoyed my report!  I thoroughly enjoy sharing all this quirky QC/Midwest food.  I only wish I could go back in time and revisit some of the long-gone greats, such as Dean's or BG's.  The loss of the latter is something that still hits me hard, because burgers just don't have a strong QC presence.  Red Robin was one of my first search results, for Pete's sake.
    #15
    ScreamingChicken
    Sirloin
    • Total Posts : 7926
    • Joined: 2004/11/05 14:36:00
    • Location: Stoughton, WI
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2016/12/29 11:50:45 (permalink)
    You need 2 hardshell tacos to make that a balanced meal.
    #16
    1bbqboy
    Sirloin
    • Total Posts : 5351
    • Joined: 2000/11/20 16:52:00
    • Location: Rogue Valley
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2017/01/02 11:35:44 (permalink)
    I miss Taco John's a lot. Curious why you list Mezetta's as Chicago style when it originates in NorCal? I always assumed they had nationwide distribution.
    #17
    Ketteract
    Double Cheeseburger
    • Total Posts : 981
    • Joined: 2011/10/09 23:10:00
    • Location: Hartford, CT
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2017/01/02 12:35:27 (permalink)
    1bbqboy
    Curious why you list Mezetta's as Chicago style when it originates in NorCal? I always assumed they had nationwide distribution.


    They are indeed nationwide - but not all of their products are evenly distributed. In CT, I've only ever found the giardiniera on the right. Their Chicago-style variant appears to be totally unavailable here.
    #18
    1bbqboy
    Sirloin
    • Total Posts : 5351
    • Joined: 2000/11/20 16:52:00
    • Location: Rogue Valley
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2017/01/02 13:15:27 (permalink)
    Interesting. I wonder what's added or subtracted from the original?
    #19
    lleechef
    Porterhouse
    • Total Posts : 11387
    • Joined: 2003/03/22 23:42:00
    • Location: Gahanna, OH
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2017/01/02 13:18:12 (permalink)
    I know we have the Mezzetta Giardiniera here in our stores because I buy it and eat the whole jar........not all at once!  I don't pay attention to the rest of their products.  I doubt we have the Chicago style here, but I am going to look next time I go food shopping. 
    #20
    Wintahaba
    Double Cheeseburger
    • Total Posts : 686
    • Joined: 2011/07/12 17:19:00
    • Location: Fox Valley, WI
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2017/01/02 14:20:27 (permalink)
    Yet another great trip report Neil! Takes me back to my early 90's stomping grounds....West Des Moines. Thanks!
    BTW , Funny everybody mentions Taco John's...we have a few here in Appleton and I have never been, but I have only visited Taco Bell's once. Is it worth a try?
    #21
    ScreamingChicken
    Sirloin
    • Total Posts : 7926
    • Joined: 2004/11/05 14:36:00
    • Location: Stoughton, WI
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2017/01/02 14:44:07 (permalink)
    As long as you don't go in with unreasonably high expectations, sure.  I stop at Taco John's a couple of times a year and it hits the spot (2 hardshell and 2 softshell tacos, all with just meat, cheese, and hot sauce).
     
    Over the weekend I've been working on the itinerary for my Iowa trip at the end of April, and if I adjust my route a little bit I can grab some QC-style pizza at Happy Joe's in Lancaster, WI or possibly Red Faber's home town of Cascade, IA.  Or maybe I'll just set out some Saturday morning and go get some.
    #22
    Ketteract
    Double Cheeseburger
    • Total Posts : 981
    • Joined: 2011/10/09 23:10:00
    • Location: Hartford, CT
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2017/01/02 14:58:07 (permalink)
    ScreamingChicken
    QC-style pizza at Happy Joe's in Lancaster, WI 




    Happy Joe's is a paradox. It's a QC/Midwestern institution, but at the same time, it's not at all the QC-style that's represented by places like Harris, Frank's, Fat Boy's, or Stashu's.  It does have what I think many would consider to be the definitive example of taco pizza (and not complete without the Spicy Joe taco sauce, of course!).
     
    ... which reminds me, I need to attend to the Wikipedia article.  There have been some ill-advised updates ...
    #23
    Wintahaba
    Double Cheeseburger
    • Total Posts : 686
    • Joined: 2011/07/12 17:19:00
    • Location: Fox Valley, WI
    • Status: offline
    Re: Another holiday, another Iowa/Illinois food tour... 2017/01/02 15:02:48 (permalink)
     "...unreasonably high expectations, sure." Love it, SC. Ironically, we had a HJ's in Appleton and there is still one in Green Bay...never really a fan.
    #24
    Jump to:
    © 2017 APG vNext Commercial Version 5.5