Saucy Focaccia

Many times I’ve been tempted to try Saucy Focaccia at NewBo City Market. But every time the pull of a gyro from Zaytoon’s has been stronger. Recently I learned that there was a second Saucy Focaccia restaurant on the Northeast side in a retail development called The Fountains. Taking the family there I didn’t have the distraction of Lebanese food to pull me away.

The restaurant is bright and airy. Not being a regular at NewBo we had to study the menu a little bit. You can build your own burger or order one of their gourmet combinations. They also have a variety of sandwiches. Saucy is a perennial winner of Best Burger in Cedar Rapids and Best Sandwich. So you can’t go wrong either way. The wife chose to build a burger, with house cut fries. The kiddo of course went with chicken tenders with a side of tater tots. And a chocolate shake. I was really tempted to order the Chicken Cordon Blue sandwich but decided I should have a burger for my first time. I went with the Baby Bella special. I got jalapeno poppers instead of fries because I’m just not a fan of fresh cut fries.

Saucy has the fast-casual model meaning you order at the register, take a seat at a table and they bring the food out to you. So no servers to wait on you. They do bus the tables though. I don’t think we spent any more on dinner than if we had gone to Hardees or Culvers. We didn’t partake but Saucy Focaccia also sells beer by the bottle. Our food came out astonishingly fast. Almost too fast for the mood I was in. It would definitely have been great for lunch but I was in the mood for a leisurely dinner.

As one might infer from the name, Saucy Focaccia’s shtick is burgers served with a cheese sauce on buns made of focaccia bread. The wife’s had a cheddar sauce. She claimed her sandwich to be good. My burger had a slice of Swiss cheese and a jalapeno garlic aioli. I love a mushroom Swiss burger and this one was fantastic. I craved a second one as soon as I was finished. My poppers were the standard green ones with cream cheese. However the raspberry jelly was a nice accompaniment, far better than ranch dressing.

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Chicken Tenders and Tots
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Cheddar Cheese Burger and House Cut Fries
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Baby Bella Burger and Jalapeno Poppers

I may not be able to resist the pull of Lebanese food at NewBo but would not hesitate to return to The Fountains location and try one of Saucy Focaccia’s many other burger combinations or even a try one of their highly rated sandwiches.

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Broken Spoke – A Different Kind of Biker Bar

Today we were headed to a painting project at a paint your own pottery place and needed to eat lunch first. Rather than try all the places on Collins Rd and hope for the best on Labor Day, I decided to just go across the street. My goal was The Broken Spoke but Riley’s was there next door as a back up just in case no one was interested in Spoke. Incidentally, Broken Spoke is opened by the same people that own Riley’s.

There is no doubt that Broken Spoke is a bar. A bicycle themed bar. Biking is popular on this side of town. There were a couple tables occupied by groups of riders. The left side of the restaurant is almost exclusively high tops. We found a lone low top on the right side of the restaurant, next to the pool table.

I was happy to see that the menu is not remotely like Riley’s. There were lots of intriguing items. We went with an order of pretzel sticks for an appetizer. I also wanted to order the jalapeno poppers. I love poppers. My all time favorite ones are red jalapenos with cream cheese served with pepper jelly. An ultra rare find. The menu described these poppers as being filled with red chili cream cheese. Oooooh! Something different!

The pretzel sticks were exactly the same as the ones served at Max & Erma’s in Ohio but served with a really good Monterrey Jack cheese sauce. The poppers were indeed different. Red peppers. Yay! There were pepper flakes in the crust. I found the chili cream cheese to be slightly sweet. The poppers had a good after heat but were not super hot like one might have expected. The side of ranch dressing added nothing.

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Lots of interesting things on the menu. My heart was drawn to the Chicago hot dog. God I love Chicago hot dogs. I miss my Gold Coast Dogs. And Broken Spoke’s was a foot long! Instead I went with the Speedway, a burger topped with a hot dog, sauerkraut, brown beer mustard and a cheese plank. I had them hold the sauerkraut. And of course my side was crinkle cut fries.

The basket looked really good. The fries were the less common skinny crinkle cuts. The burger was a good burger. It wasn’t great burger, it wasn’t memorable, I won’t be craving one, but it was good. Unfortunately the hot dog and cheese plank get lost. I couldn’t taste individual flavors. All together just made for a big bite. I’m glad I tried it but I will get something else next time. And there will be a next time. I really liked this place.

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Zaytoon Mediterranean Grill

I’ve eaten at Zaytoon Mediterranean Grill inside NewBo City Market many, many times. I always get a gyro. Always. I did have to ask one day what makes their gyro “Chicago-style?” She said they carve the meat off the spit instead of using the frozen food service strips. I just thought that made it real. Zaytoon’s gyros are excellent, though not as good as Parthenon’s in Madison, my gold standard (which is probably 90% sentimental).

Today I screwed up a lot of courage to try something new. Not out of fear, but because I love gyros so damn much. Lebanese food is my favorite of all foods and Zaytoon’s has quite a few appealing options. Sadly no kibbeh or fattoush. I had two choices for shish tawook, a plate and a wrap. I went with the wrap and a side of fries.

I guessing their chicken is not cooked on a skewer and that’s fine. It’s really the marinade that is most important. I watched her throw the chunks of chicken on to the flat top to reheat, chopping up a few of the larger pieces. Don’t be confused, a shish tawook wrap is not a chicken gyro. For starters it’s rolled in a twelve inch wrap I believe called a durum, not folded in a pita. The toppings are different, example grilled peppers. There is a yogurt sauce but I do not believe it is tzatziki. I think it is garlic based not cucumber. A shish tawook wrap is a lot less messy than a gyro, an important consideration. I made an excellent choice. It was fantastic. One important note, they don’t salt their fries, so I had to ask for some salt packets. It will be tough next time not to order a gyro, but I’m glad I tried the shish wrap and highly recommend.

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Cross Roads Bistro

I was in the mood for something new for breakfast. I remembered there was a small place up on J St. It used to be Willy Woodburn’s Cafe which was a very popular diner/cafe as I understand it. I never made it there before the owners retired and sold the restaurant.

The new name is Cross Roads Bistro. The first thing I noticed when I pulled into the parking lot was a glowing neon beer sign in the window and an unlit neon sushi sign. I immediately had second thoughts. Maybe I was at the wrong place? But it was open. I decided to go for it anyway.

Upon entering the front door there was a placard welcoming me to Cross Roads, serving Chinese, Thai, Sushi, American, and Breakfast food. Well that explained the sushi sign. The decor is worn but classic American diner on the right side, sushi bar on the left. There was only one other customer. Staff was cleaning and suggested I sit on the left side of the restaurant rather than at a table on the right side. I didn’t want to sit at the bar with the manager so that meant wedging myself into a tiny two top booth.

The menu looked good. Nothing jumped out at me for breakfast. They have an interesting take on eggs Benedict serving on biscuit halves instead of English muffins. Sounded very Southern to me. The lunch and dinner portion of the menu really intrigued me especially the Thai sections. Looking at the all female staff I noticed none of them looked remotely Asian so I wonder if the have at least different kitchen staff in the evening.

I opted for the Western Shipwreck. As I think I have explained before, a shipwreck seems to be the Iowa equivalent of the breakfast skillet. This was steak, green peppers, onion, black olives, hash browns, jack cheese, guacamole, salsa, sour cream. I had them hold the green peppers and guacamole. It appeared that they probably fried the steak on the flat top, then added the eggs because the eggs appeared to have been fried in a meat fat. Had that brown coloring to them, Extra flavor but not a pleasing aesthetic. I could hear her working the spatulas in the kitchen like she was making a Philly cheese steak sandwich. I think she was working my shipwreck because the eggs had a minced quality to them. Everything tasted great but not my favorite texture for eggs. I did appreciate the black olives were still cold. The marble rye was good though I wished buttered more. Oh well, I didn’t ask for any extra butter.

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I will definitely return. I want to try more breakfast items, especially an omelet. And I’m very interested in trying some of the Thai offerings.

El Paraiso Bar and Grill

It’s been so long since I’ve posted. Sorry. We’ve been on a severe budget crunch. Greek austerity like. We paid a steep price moving to Cedar Rapids. It’s going to hurt financially for probably five years, but still, totally worth it.

So a rare dinner out while the kiddo is at gymnastics. Took the opportunity to try a new to us Mexican restaurant, El Paraiso Bar and Grill. And it was on our way to Aldi. When we arrived we were a little confused because even though there were quite a few cars in the parking lot, the neon beer lights were all off and the place looked closed. The big doors in front of us that looked like an entrance from the parking had a big sign that said Employee Entrance. We hesitated but then got off our lazy asses and walked to the side of the building. That’s where the front door was and yes they were open.

First impression was the place was HUGE. Most of the seating is in booths which is no bueno for us.When we asked for a table we were seated on the edge of a back section far away from the rest of the customers. This would prove problematic.

The menu was small but more like what we were used to seeing in Georgia but not like our previous excursions in Cedar Rapids to Los Compadres or Cancun Mexican Grill. There were a few new things to me though.Siete Mares, a seafood soup I have not seen before on a menu. Nor have I seen a ham and cheese quesadilla before, Quesadilla Sincronisadas. And there were no nacho plates listed on the menu which was a bummer for the wife.

The chips and salsa were meh. I would rate the salsa as weak, almost no spice. The wife ordered the Quesadilla El Paraiso which was a large quesadilla filled with chicken and chorizo with a fancy side of sour cream, lettuce and pico de gallo which looked like a mini taco salad. She raved about the quesadilla and was only able to eat half. She was excited about having it for lunch the next day with a side of their refried beans which she said were very good.

I ordered the Burrito Campechano, filled with steak and chorizo, and one beef hard shell taco. I’m still searching for that magical taco like Mi Ranchito had on Westnedge in Kalamazoo. This wasn’t it. The taco also serves as my side since I don’t eat the beans or rice. The burrito was quite salty, not inedible but still heavy. I thought maybe it was the chorizo but the wife didn’t notice it in her quesadilla. Probably just a heavy hand in the kitchen.

Unfortunately service was very inadequate though would not deter me from coming back again. I watched and the main section had at least four servers including ours. I think the problem was a function of being a Sunday, under staffing, and being seated in an out of sight section. It was a shame our server didn’t come to our table more often because I liked her, I mean REALLY liked her.persons-0006

MEAT!!!

I am an unabashed carnivore. I do eat vegetables, well a few.  I eat lots of fruit in season, but otherwise meat meat meat. When we lived in Georgia we used to visit Your Dekalb Farmers Market, aka Heaven On Earth, . This was always wonderful Daddy-Daughter bonding time. Our favorite sections were the fish and the meat departments. We used to load up on meat sticks, sausages from Patak Meats. The Child’s favorites were kabanos and landjaegers. Moving to Iowa, how were we going to replace these???

Perusing online, The Village Meat Market & Cafe looked like it might be the answer. Yesterday we didn’t go for the meat though, we went for dinner. We got there at 5:30pm and almost left because closing time was 6:00pm. I hate walking into a place at closing time. I’ve been on the grill when that party of four comes in at the last minute and wants an hour dinner. I hate it and don’t like doing it to others. But the guy working the kitchen said “No problem!”

There was so much to choose from on the menu. Even breakfast! As one would expect dining in the middle of Czech Village a good bit of the menu was Czech, but not everything. Immediately my eyes fell on the Goulash. I have not had goulash since a business trip to Germany at least ten years ago. I was excited to try a Czechoslovakian version. Plus a side of Cajun baked beans. The Wife went with The Butcher Loaf Sandwich, a Czech recipe meatloaf sandwich, with a side of potato salad.

Our food came out surprisingly quickly. I guess because we were the only ones eating. The meatloaf sandwich looked like a great cheeseburger to me. Humorously, in the description on the menu it stated, Nezapomen’te na kec’up (don’t forget the ketchup).” It came without ketchup! The Wife tends to be picky about potato salad and she said the potato salad was not extraordinary but good. She ate it all.

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This is an excellent example of why I dislike Yelp and Google+ type reviews. The goulash was very good, very well made. But I didn’t care for it. I’m glad I ordered it, but I wouldn’t order it again. The dumplings were good. I think the tomato sauce with wonderful chunks of meat would make a great spaghetti. It just wasn’t my thing. The beans were not good. Baked beans can be too thick and these were. Flavor was good but I couldn’t stand the texture. As my wife said, maybe they were good at lunch but not the end of the day when they’ve been forgotten about and completely cooked down. I will want to try them again. The thick cut piece of pumpernickel was awesome though. I didn’t even need my usual schmear of butter. See, just because I didn’t care for the food one time doesn’t mean a restaurant deserves a scathing review and one star. That has to happen at least three times in a row for me to be that critical. Or major ServSafe violations.

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After we paid we perused the meat counter. So much tasty goodness!!! The Child will definitely need to visit for the Bacon On a Stick. We were excited to see smoked pork chops. We used to eat them on a regular basis when we lived in South Georgia. Jones Country Meats had the best I’ve had. The pork chops at the Village Meat Market were huge! I can’t wait to try them. They had some type of meat stick for a dollar each. I bought five. They weren’t kabanos but I think they are going to be their replacement for us. The Child gave them a thumbs up and then asked for a second one. Win!