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Suzie Q Cafe

14 2nd Street NW, Mason City, IA -
Posted By Mike Iacoucci on October 19, 2013 12:19 PM
As an occasional visitor to the Mason City area for business every few years, the Suzie-Q Cafe is always on my "to-do" list during my usually brief stay.

The Suzie-Q is situated in a classic Valentine diner in the middle of the downtown Mason City area. Surrounded by such landmarks as the last remaining Frank Lloyd Wright hotel, this cafe, with its red, black, and white exterior, really stands out among the rest.

Upon entering the diner, you are treated to a 10-seat counter and very little else. A foot from the counter is the menu board and the kitchen. This place would be a claustrophobic's nightmare, but it just adds to the charm, as great food usually comes from small locations.

Upon sitting at the counter, I was greeted by the chef, owner and magician extraordinaire, Troy, who remembered me and welcomed me back. He got me a cup of coffee and provide me with the menu.

I managed to squeeze in my visit at about 8:30am before a meeting, so the focus this trip was on breakfast. However, this location is a landmark for the "Spic-n-Span" pork tenderloin sandwich. Troy wears a shirt stating it was ranked the second best in the country. How could I pass that up?! After serious consideration, and never assuming I will be back in the midwest again, I did what I had to do. I ordered BOTH.

While my meals cooked away in the kitchen, Troy, whose other career is as a magician, passed the time with me by performing a series of card tricks, as well as other "hand is quicker than the eye" illusions. None of the tricks are "mind-blowing" but they are still very fun to watch, and it really makes passing the time quite enjoyable. This is one location where you come as much for the service and atmosphere as you do for the food.

Course 1: Stack of pancakes and bacon: The pancakes arrive with a very generous portion of butter poured across the top cake, with the bacon on a side plate. Both were delicious. The bacon was a thick-cut style and was not cooked to crispy, which is how I enjoy it. But one taste, you can tell this bacon was not wrapped in plastic on a supermarket shelf. The pancakes were light and fluffy; not overly-exciting or flavorful, but sometimes less is more, and that is the case here.

Course 2: The famous Spic-n-Span Tenderloin: This one is a tough call to explain exactly what made it so delicious. Coming from the east coast, it is quickly apparent that the quality and freshness of the meat in Iowa is far superior to that available out east. Add on top of that a delicious batter to soak it in, and deep fry it, and you have a winner! I had the closest stool to the kitchen area, so I watched the tenderloin sizzle away in the fryer the whole time, making me hungrier as it turned a delicious golden brown. The spic-n-span is served on a standard hamburger bun (for some strange reason as it dwarfs the bun, and then some!) with a side of pickle wedges and cheese balls (like mozzarella sticks, but smaller and with cheddar cheese). You are given the option to add mayo, lettuce, tomato, etc., to the top, but I chose to go au natural, as the best way to gauge a food is with as few toppings as possible. It is a perfect balance of a nice dark and crispy/crunchy batter, while inside is a sliver of pork tenderloin that just melts in your mouth.

After paying my bill, I was treated to one last magic trick for the road.

Note from a previous visit in 2012: Again arriving for breakfast, I decided to try the biscuits and gravy, a favorite of mine when I visit the North Carolina area. This meal was a bit "hit and miss." The gravy was delicious, and had a nice dose of pepper. The "biscuits," however, are not your typical southern-style biscuits. They are more spongy and airy, more like a dinner roll, so the dish is not what you would expect, but that being said, it was still delicious.

Overall, this place is definitely a shining light in downtown Mason City. Anyone in this area, who would love a good meal and some entertainment from their chef, this is a must-visit location.

Troy has informed me that he has received a substantial grant for the Valentine diner. With this grant, he will be restoring the diner back to its original glory. I hope to return there one day soon to see what the end result of that restoration will be.
5 star rating
Overall Rating
Spic-N-Span Tenderloin
Pancakes
Biscuits and gravy

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Posted By Tim Mornard on February 10, 2012 11:27 PM
On entering, I thought "what am I doing here" Upon leaving it was how can I get back here soonest..." It is the kind of place where the locals (both of 'em) talked to you and joked. Of course, when you're at a 12 person counter, it's sort of hard to ignore each other, especially when the owner is talking at the top of his lungs and doing magic. I had the grilled tenderloin first and it was fantastic. And then the owner said "well heck, you've got to try the other kind" and cooked me up a small taste. Which was so good I ordered another one, done that way... Definitely a worthwhile stop... My wife had the cyclops, which is the greatest idea for a pancake ever!

And on a different topic, the older buildings in downtown Mason City (circa 1890's???) are works of art.

Suzie Q diner in Mason City, IA is great. Cool owner who is also a magician who does card tricks etc. while cooking. A whole pile of fun and fantastic food. less than $8. Iowa is king of the pork tenderloin sandwiches... and Suzie Q is the queen.
5 star rating
Overall Rating
Spic-N-Span Tenderloin
Cyclops

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Posted By John Clouse on January 14, 2012 1:16 AM
I can attest that the Tenderloin is weird but terrific! It's a bit more crusty than the norm, but tender and juicy on the inside.
The ambiance of the Suzie Q is appealing. It's very small, with only a counter. Behind that counter, the extra-friendly chef-owner not only serves up great Diner food but performs magic tricks that will amaze.
4 star rating
Overall Rating
Spic-N-Span Tenderloin

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Posted By Peter Pazucha on October 20, 2011 8:51 PM
Tiny, but worth the visit. The people here (not many of them due to the small size of the restaurant) are worth the visit even if the food were terrible, which it isn't.
0 star rating
Overall Rating
Cyclops

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Posted By Tristan Frank on December 28, 2010 3:05 PM
From a distance, this place sticks out from the downtown area of Mason City. It's in the corner of a parking lot. The red and black stripes on white are a bright contrast to the half-empty Midwestern city center.

The highlight of the menu is evident from their radio promo, which goes “spic ‘n span tenderloin suzie-q, Spic ‘N Span Tenderloin Suzie-Q, SPIC ‘N SPAN TENDERLOIN SUZIE-Q!”. The Spic-N-Span tenderloin is made from a cut of tenderized pork loin dipped in a seasoned batter and then deep-fried a few feet from where patrons are seated. The toasted bun absorbs tons of flavor on the greasy flat top cooking surface. The Spic-N-Span bursts with flavor and juicy pork. It’s also available as a melt with grilled onions and melted cheese on toasted bread.

It's always great to find places where the owner is proud enough to show up and operate his business and mingle with his customers. But the owner of the Suzie-Q takes it a step further with magic performances as Levi the Great in the diner. His hanging banner claims he also performs as a clown or hypnotist. The performance is for a younger crowd, making an egg disappear from his hand for a small child.

The mix of office and construction workers that have been there during my visits make tons of conversation with whoever is working. Both of the people I have seen working behind the counter take time to interact with the customers and know many on a first-name basis.

A note about the building: the Suzie-Q Café operates from a vintage Valentine diner. It has less than ten seats inside. The Valentine company probably stopped producing accessories and parts a long time ago. Modern regulations on restaurant buildings mean that refurbishments have been necessary. The entryway in front of the door keeps the cold air from blowing in, but the non-original materials make it a sore spot on the exterior. The interior has pictures posted and promotional materials for the owner's magician and entertaining business that break from the red-and-white color scheme. For more information about Valentine pre-fab diners, the Kansas Historical Society has a giant database of all the old Valentine diners on its website.
3 star rating
Overall Rating
Spic-N-Span Tenderloin
Spic-N-Span Melt
Ham & Cheese Omelet

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