2011 Iowa Visit

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2011/05/02 14:43:13 (permalink)

2011 Iowa Visit

Last Thursday I left home for Des Moines, with the return trip planned for Sunday (yesterday).  I had put together a list of places I hoped to visit and didn't hit a single one, but that doesn't mean I didn't eat.
Thursday was a chilly, drizzly day (5-6 hours in a car with no heat, yay!) and I left home early enough to reach Anamosa before needing sustenance, but I also left home too early to eat at Tyler & Downing's and since my travel plans wouldn't allow a stop at the Skillet Cafe in Mt. Vernon I wound up at the Anamosa Family Restaurant, a nondescript building downtown.

The AFR does have a BPT on the menu but it's not an around-the-clock item, and since I would've had to wait 40 minutes I settled instead for 2 eggs over easy, a pork chop, hash browns, and wheat toast.

It was a decent and affordable ($6.99) breakfast, not great but not bad, neither eminently memorable nor forgettable.  The chop was juicy in places but a little dry in others so I suspect it might've been a boneless sirloin chop, the eggs were just right (warm, runny yolk) and the hash browns were a nice mix of crispy and creamy without being greasy.
Unfortunately I was sitting at the counter when the owner/manager felt it necessary to have a discussion (it didn't get heated but they did seem to be at odds with each other) with a waitress about taking a day off, and that conversation should've been relegated to the kitchen, an office, or any other place away from the viewing public.  Other than that the atmosphere was that of a typical small town restaurant that serves standard, uncomplicated Midwestern fare to standard, uncomplicated Midwesterners.
Friday morning dawned sunny and warmer so after running an errand (winery visit) I headed to the north side of Des Moines and Smokey D's BBQ.  I had heard good things about it and wanted to find out for myself.
There are 2 downtown locations (I've never been to either but I suspect they're sale operations only) and this location opened last year.  It has a lot of natural woodwork inside and the lighting is fairly dim, with traditional blues music playing in the background.

You can't just go out and buy these things in the Interior Decorating section of your local restaurant supply house.

The menu's more extensive than a lot of places I've been...

...but I was here for 3 things.  Brisket...


...and pork.

And they all impressed.  The brisket was moist and nicely smoky, the ribs were tender but still had a little chew and peeled rather than slid off the bone, and the roughly chopped pork had a nice mild flavor.  Sauces are available and I tried all 4, but to be perfectly honest I didn't feel that they were necessary.

On Sunday I headed for home with no real plans as any of the places on my list are either closed Sundays or don't open until later, so by the time I reached Shullsburg I was seriously hungry and needed to stop.  I decided to check out the historic downtown area and settled on the Brewster House Restaurant, conveniently attached to the Shullsburg Creamery cheese store.

Fortunately I was seated at a little table in the front window, which allowed me to look back into the dining room.  The waiter with his back to me is Robert, who did a very good job as my server.

What a surprise...there's a cheese soup on the menu!

And a very nice cheese soup it was.  At first the color gave me the uneasy feeling that I'd been given a bowl of nacho sauce like the kind Joerogo gets at the South Side Bowl in Scranton, but one spoonful put that fear to rest.  It was a richy, cheesy soup with small pieces of some vegetable that I couldn't identify (I was thinking broccoli or bell pepper but neither flavor was strongly evident), and very satisfying.
For my entree I decided on an openface hot beef sandwich and was served a healthy portion of real roast beef atop 2 slices of hearty bread (I believe the menu refers to it as "Tuscan"), homemade mashed potatoes on the side, and gravy over all.  Very seldom does restaurant food remind me of the things my mom makes but this sandwich had homemade written all over it, and you could probably even see the writing if the light through the window had been a little stronger.

If I had done this writeup in completely chronological order I would've put Friday night's dinner between Smokey D's and Brewster House, but I decided to save the best for last.  And by "best" I mean "easily one of if not the best meal I've ever eaten in my life", which is a pretty strong statement.
Mojo's on 86th is in Johnston, just north of Des Moines, and on the last weekend of each month offers cold-smoked filet mignon and cold-smoked scallops as special menu items.  Since there were only going to be 6-8 of us our host Jeff had suggested this as a good alternative to what we've done in the past (often Chinese food, with plates being passed back and forth between 15-20 pairs of hands), even though it would be a bit more expensive.
My understanding is that the beef and scallops are cold-smoked ahead of time and then either broiled or grilled as ordered.  I opted for the surf & turf, which came with smashed potatoes, a fresh black bean salsa, a scallop-specific sauce not used for beef-only orders, and a garnish of potato crisps.  For some strange reason my plate reminded me of a rabbit.

Now ordinarily I consider the acronym OMG to be incredibly overused and annoying, but in this case it's hard to think of a better way to describe what I was served.  It really is tough to put into words and while it was all excellent all I really remember are the tender, beefy filet and the firm, sweet, slightly smoky scallops.  My brain just can't get past them...in fact, I think I'm starting to become slightly incoherent just thinking about it.

Ordinarily if I'm paying $32 for a meal it's for at least 2 and possibly more people, but in this case it was money well spent.  Really, really well spent.  And since Mojo's wine and beer lists are equal to the menu I was a little lighter than $32 by the time we finally left, about 2-1/2 hours after we sat down.
Last year's trip was kind of a bust from the RF standpoint but this year more than made up for it.  Hopefully next year will be just as successful.
EDIT:  I forgot to mention the Youngville Cafe on US-30 west of Cedar Rapids.  It doesn't open until tomorrow but since I haven't driven this route in several years (30 now detours around Tama and Toledo) so I don't know if it's a grand opening or just for the season.

post edited by ScreamingChicken - 2011/05/02 15:24:25

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