Shipwrecked at Riley’s

Our last day in Cedar Rapids before we move permanently. It was time to get something besides the hotel breakfast buffet (which was quite good by the way, but the same thing every day). I had scoped out two places nearby. After I failed to find the the first I headed toward Riley’s Cafe. I had passed this place numerous times while driving around the hospital. I thought it was a bar.

Parking was scarce on the street but they did have limited parking in the back. We snagged the last spot and entered through the back door. My kind of place! This is the stereotypical midwestern breakfast place. Reminded me of Dad’s in Three Rivers. Everyone here is local, everyone is a regular. Cheap decor, cheap food, big helpings. Love it. We have one similar place back home that I don’t like but that’s because of the seating.

And seating was almost a problem for us. The center of the restaurant has a near communal seating which I don’t like, not back in Georgia, not here. I guess I’m just not that friendly. But we found a booth in the corner window up front. Ordinarily I never sit at booths because I don’t fit. I hate booths and I hate that I can’t fit in one. I took a gamble on this one. It was tight but I managed.

I don’t know if there was more than one server working the whole front or not. As forgetful as she was, it too several requests for my wife’s coffee, I think she may have been covering alone. But she was friendly and helpful.

The Nine Year Old ordered chicken and waffles, no syrup, no gravy. It came as two chicken tenders on top of a Belgian waffle. Exactly what she had hoped for! She said the waffle was awesome. She didn’t finish the tenders but I thought hey were pretty good as far as chicken tenders go.

The wife got some kind of combo. Came with biscuits and gravy. This was a big test for Riley’s since she is a full blooded Georgia girl. And they failed. Miserably. She said the biscuit was OK, not made from scratch. She ate it with jelly. The gravy she deemed inedible. I have to agree it looked repulsive. Gloppy and glue like.

I ordered the Tex Mex Shipwreck. Shipwrecks seem to be a Cedar Rapids thing. I’ve noticed at least four other restaurants advertise a shipwreck for breakfast. Down south it would be called a skillet, except that it is served in a bowl rather than a cast iron or clay skillet. Mine had slices of rib eye steak, onion slices, sliced jalapeños, black olives, and tomatoes, and then it is topped with cheese sauce, black beans, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, green onions. Can you say awesome!!!! It would have been better with melted cheese rather than the Monterrey Jack cheese sauce that they use. I couldn’t finish it though it was so much food. I’ll be looking forward to more shipwrecks in my life.

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Tex Mex Shipwreck
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Class Act

We had a business dinner to attend to at The Class Act restaurant inside the Kirkwood Hotel. As a former culinary student this is a pretty neat endeavor. The local community college, Kirkwood College, built a fancy schmancy hotel with a haute cuisine restaurant inside for its Hospitality and Tourism Program. Such an amazing opportunity for the students. I went to a similar place in Vermont once. I wish I had had such access and opportunity. Who knows, maybe I will again. Oddly enough not all of the staff were students.

We had a back room that was set up very nicely. Service was not the fastest but that was probably appropriate for this dinner though I would have liked my iced tea refilled sooner than it was. The butter roses were a nice touch.

Overall I wasn’t that impressed with the menu. Strange pairings to my mind but if the menu was created by culinary students, that’s par for the course. I would have liked the Preservation Board starter with duck pâté, pork rillettes, lox, and coffee pickled beets, but our hosts did not order an appetizer so we followed suit.

My wife ordered the venison medallions. They were pan seared served with a  pomme puree, and grilled carrots with bourbon fig glaze. I did not try it but she seemed to enjoy it. No pictures since I felt pulling out my phone for a quick pic would be rude considering the circumstances.

I had the Arctic Char. It was pan seared arctic char served on top of a  legume medley. On the side of that was a small spoon, like a salt spoon or demitasse spoon, that had a blob of herbed white wine jelly in the bowl. I wasn’t sure what to do with the jelly, maybe I was supposed to spread it on my fish, maybe I was supposed to stir it into my legumes. I stuck the spoon in my mouth and ate the jelly. I found it flavorless and the texture kind of gross. I’m not a fan of Jello either. Oh well, it was an experience.

Maybe it was because I’ve lived in the Deep South for a third of my life but I found the legume medley way undercooked. My Lima beans, butter beans, what have you, need to be soft. These were firm. Maybe they call it al dente. For me they were not edible. A shame since I really liked the medley of lentils, peas, and beans.

I really like Arctic Char. To me it’s a wonderful piece of fish, great  texture, wonderful flavor. Not a strong flavor. Really its the same as salmon to my palette, I could not tell the difference in a blind taste test. The piece was good, nothing fancy, nothing special. No complaints but kind of a let down when paired with something as exotic as a legume medley.

I’d like to try the menu again some time on my terms. I noticed they also have a fancy cocktail bar. The Kirkwood is in walking distance from our new house. Maybe it will become my neighborhood bar.

Granite City Food & Brewery

The kiddo and I had time to kill while the wife had business to attend to. We explored in the car and when the decision came to eat we pulled into the parking lot of Granite City Food & Brewery. If I didn’t know any better I would have thought I was in BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse in Ohio. The interiors looked identical. The menus did not though.

The hostess who sat us was very friendly. She brought out a bowl of fruit for the kiddo right away which was a very nice touch.

I’m a sucker for fresh baked pretzels, even if they are just a frozen food service item. So I couldn’t help myself ordering the pretzel sticks as an appetizer. Even the kiddo had one. I seem to remember not being too impressed with the Northern Cheese Sauce. Give me a spicy brown mustard or bold nacho cheese with my pretzels. They would have been even better with a beer but I’m very strict about not drinking and driving so I settled for a Diet Pepsi.

The daughter ordered Kraft Mac n’ Cheese. I tried to talk her out of it because the last 10+ times she’s ordered it anywhere she takes two bites and pushes it away saying it isn’t cheesy enough. And she’s right. And I’m tired of wasting food. But she decreed this batch to be good and ate almost the whole thing. She said the difference was the word “creamy” in the menu description. Right.

I ordered the lunch combo of Pepperoni Flatbread and Caesar Salad. I love love anchovies on my Caesar salad, unfortunately they did not have any. The salad was pretty mediocre I think because of poor use of cheese, barely any. The flatbread pizza was good. Cut into four small squares, maybe 3″ by 3″ which made for a lunch on the lighter side. The pepperoni was good as was the cheese. That might be the first flat bread pizza I’ve had

My daughter is a dessert fanatic. She burns thousands of calories per day thanks to gymnastics and soccer so it’s not too bad of a bad habit. Yet. If a restaurant has a brownie sundae, she’s ordering it. And so she did here. I don’t have the sweet tooth and rarely order dessert. She let me have a bite and I found the brownie to be dry and on the cake side. I prefer a moister, fudgier brownie. She finished the whole thing though so it must have been good.

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Brownie Sundae sans whipped cream per request

Bricks Bar & Grill

On the Monday we were in Cedar Rapids we holed up in our hotel. We had signed a lease on Sunday and it was snowing pretty hard. We had no reason to go out and the hotel had an indoor pool. For dinner we wanted to stay in walking distance. I had noticed the first time I visited Cedar Rapids that a restaurant opened up into the back of the parking garage. The parking garage was linked to the hotel by a sky walk so we really wouldn’t even have to go outside to get there. Of course we trudged through the snow instead.

Bricks Bar & Grill. To me this is a real bar. Long and narrow with lots of glass, mirrors, and polished wood and brass. They may have a kitchen, the food may even be good, but it’s primary purpose is to serve alcohol, mainly beer. I think this place might have the most taps in town, over forty if I remember correctly. We sat down in a half booth, half table right behind the bar stools. It was happy hour which meant Two for One beers on tap. Whoo hoo! We didn’t drive. I got two Bell’s Two Hearted Ales. It was a wonderful thing.

Our server wasn’t too friendly at first but after I asked her about her Yankees tattoo she warmed up fast. She said she’d worked there for 11 years I think. It used to be a brick oven pizza place. She left for two years and came back and they had taken out the brick oven and replaced it with a smoker. I guess that explains the name.

I don’t remember what the wife ordered. The daughter ordered plain wings, all drums. They were pretty good, but nothing amazing. I ordered the Burnt Ends as an appetizer. I’m so glad I did. They were fabulous! I don’t know if they were true Kansas City burnt ends, but they were tender juicy morsels of smoked pork covered in a really good barbecue sauce. I’m ordering these every time.

I followed the burnt ends with The Lil Stevey P sandwich with a side of onion rings. I’m am very very picky about onion rings. I don’t like them battered. They must be breaded. My first choice is breaded in crushed seasoned crackers. Most servers don’t know the difference between breading and battering so I usually pass. These were excellent! A wonderful dry breading, fully seasoned. Glad I took the risk.

The Stevey P is smoked sausage sliced lengthwise, grilled and topped with red onions, pepper jack cheese and bacon. Served on grilled Texas toast. This is a great sandwich. The first bite I thought it was missing something, maybe salt. Then the pepper jack cheese kicked in and I forgot what was missing. I’m not a big fan of caramelized red onions, they are too sweet, but here they balanced perfectly with the smoke and heat of the sandwich. The bacon seemed more of a textural player than a flavor contributor. Wonderful sandwich. But be sure to orient it correctly when eating. If you bit into it with the sausage running parallel to your teeth you end up pulling out a whole sausage. Bite crosswise ☺

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Lil Stevey P sandwich with side of breaded onion rings

 

Jerseys Downtown

After a long Sunday driving around the area looking at houses we decided that none of us wanted to get back into the car to go out to dinner. And it was late. Jerseys was a one block walk from out hotel so we set out with that as our destination.

Another sports bar. I can’t say the place was warm and inviting. It felt like a dive without looking like a dive. It may have just been an aura from being mostly empty late on a Sunday night. It may have been family members with a negative attitude. I don’t know.

The menu was much more appealing than what I had been eating for the past eight years but at the same time nothing quite moved me. Again, probably just a vibe in the air.

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House made Mozzarella Sticks and Cheddar Balls

Being starved we ordered two appetizers, Cheddar Balls and Mozzarella Sticks. I guess we were feeling cheese deficient. The cheddar balls were fantastic. They tasted just like deep fried cheese curds and for all I know that’s exactly what Sysco sells them as. I think part of what made them so good yet different than a cheese curd was their generous size. Back home, we have one mediocre restaurant that sells the absolute best cheese sticks. They are tempura battered in-house and dusted with Parmesan cheese. The homemade cheese sticks at Jerseys were equally as good, breaded instead of battered. Nice big planks, soft stretchy cheese. I’d order them every time I eat here in the future.

I don’t remember what the rest of my family ordered. I ordered the pork tenderloin sandwich, AKA IBT. Being of strong Hoosier stock, I know the IBT as Indiana Breaded Tenderloin. Of course in Cedar Rapids, the “I” is for Iowa not Indiana. Same sandwich, I don’t know who has more authentic claim. My sandwich was a little thicker than I was used to, but the menu description said it would be so it didn’t come as a surprise. It was fried to a rich chestnut brown. I found it to be a little dry. I don’t know if I committed blasphemy or not, but I asked for some mayo and that made the sandwich go down much easier. It was served with a side of fresh cut fries. Ordinarily I don’t like fresh cut fries. I find then usually too bland, too floppy, too greasy, too undercooked. These were amazingly good. I hope they are just as good next time.

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Indiana Iowa Breaded Tenderloin sandwich with fresh cut fries

First Dinner in Cedar Rapids*

*OK, really it was Marion.

 

We came up to Cedar Rapids in December looking for a place to live. February was fast approaching and we still didn’t have a rental property secured. Getting into the Linn-Mar school district was my first choice so we ended our day in Marion after looking at a few neighborhoods.

The downtown area is very nice. Our first choice for dinner had an hour long wait.  So we walked over a block and ended up at Louie’s Scoreboard Sports Bar and Grill. From the outside it looked rather sketchy, dark windows and an unmarked windowless door. However, once inside it proved to be quite nice. A nice bar large bar in the center with seating in open rooms on each side. Plenty of requisite TVs for sports viewing. I think it was seat yourself and we chose a round high top by the front window.

Service was a little slow at first. I fault the “seat yourself” model for this. It always seems like it takes a while for the servers to even notice you’ve sat at a table. Our waitress didn’t have the warmest personality but she wasn’t rude or indifferent either. Most importantly, she was attentive.

For me, the menu looked amazing. I need to buffer that statement by reminding you that I’ve been living in a town of 850 people for eight years and the nearest city to my house was 1600 people. Most of the restaurants between those two places had more or less the same menu choices. Not a lot of variety to say the least.

For an appetizer we went with the White Cheddar Curds. While cheese can be found in Appalachia, cheese curds are unheard of. Not to me though, I used to live in Wisconsin. I’m sure these were some food service frozen prepackaged appetizer and not freshly breaded back in the kitchen, but they were amazing. Lightly breaded, soft and melty, and they even squeaked! The side of ranch for dipping was superfluous, but none of us like ranch dressing anyway. The three of us could have eaten a second batch.

My wife ordered the Combo Pizza, my daughter ordered a Cheese Pizza. I ordered The Mayor stuffed burger. I didn’t try the combo pizza, zero interest and it had green peppers, blech. The cheese pizza was fabulous. Heavy on the cheese, all the way to the edge of the crust, which was not too thin, not too thick. A nice blend of cheese too.

The fries were meh. I ate maybe five. I loved the burger. It’s a unique,to me, approach to making a burger by putting ingredients inside. I’m guessing they use some type of press that makes a hollow that can be filled. For The Mayor, the burger is filled with pulled pork, Gouda cheese and caramelized onions. It works.

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The Mayor stuffed with pulled pork, Gouda cheese and caramelized onions
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Not the prettiest picture, but the caramelized onions are clearly seen in the middle of the burger.