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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Papa Juan Stefano’s

The Child hates Mexican restaurants. I had high hopes this would fix that problem. Papa Juan Stefano’s serves both Mexican AND Italian! And some American food too.

The inside of Papa Juan Stefano’s looks like any other Mexican restaurant. A large bar was off to the right with some dining. The main dining room was to the left where we were seated at a large string of 4 tops pushed together. There were about six other tables occupied all partaking in alcoholic beverages. A manager informed us that the kitchen was behind and the wait on food was 45-50 minutes. Well that explained the long faces and margaritas. Oh well, as long as there was chips and salsa. I can endure a 45 minute wait for food better than I can a 45 minute wait for a table, especially if I am warned in advance.

Chips and salsa arrived without too much delay. The chips were meh, thick yellow corn chips. A quick blast in the oven to serve them warm would have improved them. The salsa was nice and chunky with a lot of flavor. There was something off putting about it though. Too sweet? Almost as if they added sugar. It didn’t stop me from eating a whole basket of chips though. Our drinks took a little bit longer. Well more than a little bit but I was in a patient state of mind.

While we waited we perused the menu. Lots of interesting stuff worth trying. There was an extensive appetizer selection . The Mexican style potato skins and seafood rangoons looked intriguing. But since we knew there was a long wait for food and had chips and salsa we didn’t order an appetizer. We did order a bowl of white queso with chorizo to go with our chips.

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The Mexican side of the menu was pretty standard, a mix of tortilla wrapped entrées like burritos, enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, etc. The Italian side was predictably nearly all pasta dishes. I don’t like pasta. The Chicken Cordon Rouge looked like  an interesting take on the famous Swiss dish. And I was tempted to get the Italian Mac and Cheese with crab and bacon.

The American third of the menu was primarily all sandwiches, though they did have ribs, chicken tenders, broasted chicken and pizza. I was caught completely off guard but the Pablo Escobar burger. I’m not sure if it is ignorance or what but naming a sandwich after a Columbian cartel drug lord is certainly poor taste.

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The Wife ordered chicken fajitas. Of note, all dinners include two sides. She chose the Asada Potatoes and Vermicelli. Her favorite food, beans, is off limits because she is highly allergic to them. Poor thing, she only discovered this allergy shortly after The Child was born. She’s eaten beans her whole life. When her food finally arrived it was no different than any other Mexican restaurant’s chicken fajitas. She said it was really good. The Wife said, “I hate the potatoes. You can have them if you want.” Wow, that’s a strong statement. She had a bite or two of the vermicelli but said she was too full to eat anymore than that. She did say it was good.

The Child ordered the kid’s spaghetti. It comes with a bread stick, no other sides. The portion size was huge for a kid’s meal. Easily an adult portion at any other restaurant. She could only eat half of it. The Child was THRILLED to be able to get spaghetti at a Mexican restaurant so we may have a big hit on our hands here. Hopefully just more timely service next time.

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I ordered the Green Chili Pork Enchilada. I love tomatillo salsa. especially with pork. I do not like enchiladas preferring burritos because I prefer flour tortillas to corn tortillas. But the menu said flour tortillas right in the description! For sides I asked for the Asada Potatoes and the Mixed Vegetables. I did not care for the potatoes either. I ate most of the potatoes and left the cooked pico de gallo behind. The vegetables were smothered in cheese! Flashback to childhood when my parents would serve broccoli and cauliflower covered in cheese, the only way I would eat it. This was broccoli covered in cheese. Well, nacho cheese sauce. It was mostly good though the cheese had a sweetness to it that I didn’t care for. Good ol’ Cheez Wiz would have been better. The enchilada was good but again too sweet, sweeter than any green salsa I’ve ever had. I had a sweetness issue at this restaurant.

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Even though we were there entirely too long I think we will give Juan Stefano’s another try. It may be the perfect place for when The Wife needs a Mexican fix and The Child is resistant.

 

 

Jerseys Pub and Grub

Since we arrived in Cedar Rapids The Child had been bugging me every day to go back to Jerseys. She wants the fried cheese balls. A look at Google Maps surprised me by showing a Jerseys by our house! She had to wait a few days but I finally took her one night.

I really liked this place. Again, classic sports bar with all of the TVs. That seems to be our mainstay for eating out. Perhaps we are still rebelling from moving to a dry county in the Appalachian mountains years ago.

I actually ordered a beer. I rarely do if we are eating out as a family. And just one. It’s too easy for me to get carried away especially since I am a guzzler. If I remember correctly I  ordered a pilsner from Millstream Brewery, a local Iowa brewery. Very easy drinking. I was smart to have ordered the pint and not the 22oz. But Thursdays are 22 ounce $4 craft brews!!! I could have had six more ounces for the same price. Oh well. There will always be a next time now that we moved to Cedar Rapids!

We of course got the cheese balls. See my previous writing on Jerseys Downtown for my discussion of them. This time she ordered the chicken tenders for dinner, of course.

The Wife ordered the Breakfast Burger and homemade chips on the side. A colleague’s husband raved about it so now it was The Wife’s turn to be bold and adventurous. Remember what I said about adding an egg? She got the double which seemed to be the perfect size. She was nervous about the warm maple syrup on the side but became a convert after the first dip. The Wife not only raved about the Breakfast Burger but also the chips. Now I’m not foolish enough to believe that every restaurant serving “home made chips” is mandolining potatoes in the back. I know they are a food service product. But Jersey’s is doing something different with theirs, maybe brining? These chips had the perfect level of saltiness.

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I was tempted to get the Breakfast Burger myself, because? Fried egg! But instead went with the broasted chicken. When we lived in South Georgia we had plenty of choices for fantastic fried chicken. When we moved to North Georgia we had zero places to choose from for fried chicken. Ugh! I haven’t had any good fried chicken in almost 10 years! Iowa is the number one producer of eggs in the US. I suppose with that many chickens laying eggs in Iowa a fair number end up as fryers and that is why I see broasted chicken on so many menus around town.

By the way, broasted isn’t the same as deep frying. Broasting is also known as pressure frying. It’s kind of a combination of pressure cooking and deep frying. You need special equipment to safely cook with because the hot frying oil is under pressure. Broasting claims cooks faster and seals in the juices and flavor of whatever you are cooking.

The broasted chicken was wonderful. Best chicken I’ve had since Bainbridge. I had talked the waitress into getting me two thighs. I only like and only eat thighs. It didn’t have the cayenne kick like down south but the skin was wonderfully seasoned. The meat was juicy and flavorful the way dark meat should be. But the skin is my favorite part. I peel it off right away to let the meat cool down and set the skin to the side. When I’ve finished picking the thigh bones clean I roll the skin up and eat it in one or two bites. Jerseys didn’t disappoint.

The chicken was the highlight but I should discuss my sides. The broasted chicken comes with broasted potato wedges, a roll plus one side. I ordered the mac ‘n cheese. And thanks to the couple next to us I was inspired to add a side of onion rings after seeing their order come out. The onion rings were fantastic. They say beer battered on the menu but these were a dry crunchy coating, just like I like. There were more than The Wife and I could finish.

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I ordered the Mac ‘n Cheese for The Child thinking she would eat it with her chicken tenders. As usual I was wrong to guess what she might eat. I was impressed with the Mac ‘n Cheese. I don’t eat macaroni and cheese. I’m not originally from the South where it is considered a staple and counts as a vegetable. Jerseys macaroni and cheese is baked in individual ramekins. I think The Child was turned off by the bread crumbs on top. I enjoyed it but there may have been some nostalgia at play. Add tuna and peas and it would have been my mother’s tuna casserole we ate weekly growing up.

As for the obligatory sides, the roll was meh. Just your plain old white roll from the grocery. I love broasted potato wedges which are like the potato wedges you get as a side from KFC. Jerseys’ were bigger and better. Four quarter wedges from a baked potato, seasoned and broasted. Be careful, they stay hot for a long time.

Our server Megan was fantastic. She was extremely friendly and talkative with us. We will definitely be back and with the close proximity to our house may even become regulars.

 

Fieldhouse 1st Avenue

We went here because I had business next door at Scottrade. The restaurant was there, I knew it was there because we just had dinner at Osaka. And we needed to eat FAST because The Child was hangry!!!!

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I thought The Fieldhouse was the same as Louie’s Scoreboard. They have very similar menus. But I was wrong. Not the same, might not even be related. The Fieldhouse is a classic local sports themed bar and grill. In this case the theme is Iowa Hawkeyes sports. Plenty of TVs to watch the games on. We were lucky enough to watch a replay of Kentucky vs. Missouri women’s gymnastics.

We started with a round of Cheddar Nuggets, thinking they were the same as the white cheddar curds at Louie’s Scoreboard. They were not but they were good. And added bonus, they came with a side of crinkle cut fries! I love love LOVE crinkle cut fries. I don’t know why I find them better than all other forms of fries. Perhaps it is the increased surface area that holds more salt, seasoning, and/or ketchup. We were tempted to get the Cheesy Bacon Fries because The Child was excited they were made with waffle fries. But alas, all waffle fry servings at The Fieldhouse have been converted to crinkle cut fries. I for one am not complaining,.

My wife got the simple Grilled Cheese. It was the biggest damn grilled cheese I have ever seen!2016-02-16 13.13.36

She said it was fantastic.

I ordered the Breakfast Burger. How do you make a bacon cheeseburger better? Put a fried egg on top!!!! It was divine! The yolk was under cooked but not terribly runny, just enough to blend with the melted cheese and make a near sauce. And it came with crinkle cut fries! Was I in heaven? No, Iowa.

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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.