Idiot Out Wandering Around, in case you're wondering. Last weekend it was me and here's my nice long recap; I thought about breaking it up into installments but decided to just sit down and get it over with.
At most universities Homecoming is the big celebration for students and alumni but at Drake
it's the Drake Relays
, and every year I go back to Des Moines to get together with friends and spend a little time watching America's Athletic Classic. 2009 just happens to mark the 100th Relays, making it one of the longest-running meets in the country.
We left home Wednesday night and made it as far as Rock Falls IL, where our hotel was conveniently next door to the Candlelight Inn
At Candlelight the house specialty is "Chicken George", which is basically a plate of fresh chicken tenders dipped in batter, fried, and served with a homemade dipping sauce. They were quite good, very mild and tender, and the sauce is a little on the sweet side. Kathy preferred the house ranch dressing instead; it has a nice oniony flavor and doesn't taste like any other ranch I've tried. The batter was light and crisp.
I had been all set to order the chicken but Kathy beat me to it, so I had to find an alternative. Hey, how about a pork tenderloin sandwich?
It was hot (and stayed hot), juicy, and good, although maybe just a bit on the salty side. The batter appeared to be the same as the Chicken George batter so maybe the meat's prepped differently, as the chicken wasn't nearly as salty. Our bartender/waiter assured us that it was a handmade tenderloin and there was no reason to doubt him.
We got an early start Thursday morning, had a light breakfast at the hotel (surprisingly good sausage gravy) and traveled along US-30 to Clinton IA. We passed through Morrison and saw a sign for a covered bridge outside of town and at 8am it was bathed in bright sunshine. I don't know how old it is or how long it's been there, though, as it looks like it could be new, a replacement, a restoration/restification, etc. EDIT: Apparently it was built in 2001 and spans Rock Creek as part of Crosby Road.
Of course, to get from Illinois to Iowa a small stream must be crossed and we chose to do it at Fulton IL, with Kathy pointing the camera out the window for the obligatory shot of Big Muddy.
Our plans for the day included a few winery visits. We were running ahead of schedule when we reached Maquoketa so we decided to find a place to get a more substantial breakfast, and at the intersection of US-61 and IA-64 we found Flapjacks Family Restaurant
Once again Kathy one-upped me and I settled for biscuits and gravy, which comes with sausage links on the side. The gravy itself was rather smooth and creamy and didn't seem to have a lot of sausage in it, but the links made up for it and it tasted good either way. The hash browns I ordered aren't shown but they sure seemed homemade to me.
Kathy ordered eggs with bacon and the house "flapjack" potatoes (hey, I wanted those!), which are slices pan-fried with sauteed onions and seasonings and are pretty darn good. My hash browns were good but these are the breakfast potatoes to order here.
So after a good breakfast at a reasonable price we headed west on IA-64 to find some grape juice. We picked the Tabor Home Winery north of Baldwin,
the Daly Creek Winery in Anamosa,
and the Fireside Winery near Marengo.
We also had a non-photo stop at the Wallace Winery in West Branch (birthplace of Herbert Hoover). Since I was driving Kathy took care of the tasting chores, and I suspect she just might've gotten the better part of that deal.
Iowa's wine industry has grown quite a bit in the past few years and the last figures I saw place it at 14th in the US for wine production...and you thought it was all just pigs and corn!
Quite a few of them have been started by younger members of farm families and there are several "Wine Trails" throughout the state.
Thursday night is traditionally pizza night with my friend Dave at Felix & Oscar's.
There are 2 locations in the Des Moines area and we met at the Merle Hay Mall restaurant for a deep-dish "cheese topper" pizza with alfredo sauce, sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, and black olives. It's a remarkably dense, heavy pizza that's probably offensive to pizza purists, but I couldn't care less about that because it's good
In years past we could put away most of a medium (feeds 3-4 according to the menu) but we're older now, and after a couple of ordinary appetizers we realized a small (4 pieces) would be fine for the 3 of us. In fact, this was the first time we walked out not stuffed to the gills and that was OK with me.
Friday morning I looked out of the window and saw something that struck me as a symbol of what's happening in many parts of the Midwest. The light standard is in the hotel parking lot, the houses are obvious, the light brown building is a Target Greatland, the other buildings in the background are a business/industrial area, and the traffic's speeding by on I-35/80.
Yet somehow a piece of farmland, wedged between various developments and most likely doomed, has survived for at least one more summer.
Back to the story. Awhile back I'd heard about a little place called Cecil & Rosie's Corner Cafe and that was our choice for breakfast.
Inside it's small and cozy, complete with someone wondering if I should have my camera taken away.
What can you order?
I chose Cecil's B-faster, which is a mix of eggs, cheese, and 2 optional ingredients inside a dough pocket and then baked or fried. I chose ham and mushrooms, and baked.
It's kind of like a homemade version of one of those microwave "pocket" breakfast meals except it's much bigger and much
better, and if I had to choose it was my best breakfast of the trip.
Kathy had scrambled eggs with biscuits and gravy.
We both ordered hash browns, which were very good. The hours on the menu list 7pm as the closing time but it's 2pm on the door sticker and the window, so hopefully that's not a bad omen as this is a neat little place and I'd definitely like to go back again next year. We were the only people in there at 9:30am and it would've been nice to see more. For those of you local to Des Moines Cecil's is on the southwest corner of Urbandale and Merle Hay.
After breakfast it was time to walk around the Drake campus for a little bit. Old Main is the administration building and the centerpiece of the university.
One of the long-standing Relays traditions is the Painted Street. Dorms, fraternities/sororities, and campus organizations sign up for squares where they can paint a mural based on the annual theme, and naturally I can't remember this year's. But I'm pretty sure it's based on the number 100.
Hubbell is the campus dining hall and since I lived on campus for all 4 years I ate many meals there, and this sign sent a chill down my spine.
I thought I'd blocked all those Poppyseed Surprises and Texas Straw Hats from my mind but the memories came flooding back...what a cruel thing to do to the alumni!
On our way there we passed Snookie's, a fixture at Beaver Ave. and 41st St. for many years. Kathy's first shot was early and she captured a lovely image of a nondescript dental office, but this one came out OK.
After touring the campus we decided to get an early dinner prior to the Friday night events. We were staying in Urbandale and there's a place in a nearby strip mall, near the Walgreens where I kept showing up with film.
It's called When Pigs Fly.
We walked in and smelled smoke - good! After checking over the menu we decided on spare ribs, a pork sandwich, a brisket sandwich, and sides of green beans, baked beans, and the house specialty called cornbread casserole. Things were looking good!
But unfortunately that's where the goodness stopped and things got far too ordinary. While the air smelled good it seemed like that's where all the smoke was! Maybe that's what sells in Des Moines, as last year the barbecue I had from Daddy O's was also on the mild side.
The ribs had some smoke but were way too tender and fell off the bone way too easy for my liking. We were there at 3 in the afternoon so maybe they'd been held too long as the bark was pretty soft, but I won't speculate beyond that. I did like the fattiness, though.
Kathy ordered the pork sandwich and like the ribs it had minimal smoke, but was otherwise OK.
She did like the cornbread casserole, though.
I'm not sure what's in it but it was her favorite part of the meal.
If I had to guess I'd say the beans started in a can and were doctored. I have no problem with that but unfortunately the pork once again seemed to lack in smoke, and if there's no smoke in the meat there's none to get into the beans.
The brisket sandwich was great. Beefy, tender, tasty...but I couldn't detect any smoke at all so from a barbecue standpoint it was disappointing.
Since the restaurant's in a strip mall it's likely that the meats are cooked off-site, stored, brought in, and then reheated. In the case of the brisket there's no smoke ring but I've had decent barbecue without it, so I'm not going to raise a red flag over it. Truthfully, it'd be interesting to see what the owner could do in a different location and situation but I suspect those might be hard to find in Urbandale.
The temperature during the day Friday reached into the mid 80s but that night things basically went to hell in a handbasket. A storm blew through while we were in the Stadium, suspended the Relays for the rest of the night, and ushered in lousy weather that stayed with us for the rest of the weekend. Saturday morning dawned cold and rainy when we set out for breakfast and we found ourselves at the Waveland Cafe West in beautiful Booneville. You can't see it in the photos but across the street is the local ag co-op.
The original Waveland is on University Avenue in Des Moines so West is the country mouse cousin. It was doing a good business when we walked in but we were able to find a table to sit at. It's not a big place and there's a 6-stool counter so I imagine it fills up fast on weekends and this day 1 more person on the floor probably would've been a good thing. Breakfast was good (the wheat toast was outstanding) but as it was crowded and there were a couple of fussy toddlers nearby it was suggested that maybe I should put the camera away this time.
After that we went to the Stadium and suffered through a miserable afternoon of light rain and temperatures 35 degrees cooler than the day before. Dinner was the annual Saturday night cookout at the home of friends but we did manage to fit in a late afternoon Maid-Rite snack.
Sunday morning we headed for home under dreary, drizzly skies and ordinarily the story would end here. The return trip is always as nonstop as possible; we're tired, we have to pick up the kids and the dog at my parents' house, there's unpacking and maybe some grocery shopping to do...it's time to get from A to B as fast as possible. But by the time we reached Dixon IL the monotony of I-88 had gotten to me so I decided that we'd take IL-2 along the Rock River up to Rockford. I didn't have anything in mind but I needed some mental stimulation and IL-2 has always been one of my favorite drives so away we went, through Dixon and Oregon and up to Byron where we spotted this (my apologies, but I think my camera has a shutter speed problem).
There's no mistaking that roof and the "ROOT BEER" signs anywhere - Sam's was at one time a Dog 'N' Suds!
Carhop service is still available and the old speakers are still in use, too.
We weren't hungry but decided that we could split a pork tenderloin sandwich and a couple of root beers.
The carhop even gave me some extra punches on my card but only after I promised to come back again this summer.
OK, that's all I got. This post's been 4 hours in the making and I'll probably catch hell for getting into the Iowa wine and not sharing, but it's been fun. Corrections can wait until tomorrow.
<message edited by Brad_Olson on Fri, 05/1/09 8:55 AM>