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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Orchard Green

Gilbert St., just north of Prentiss
Iowa City

The Old Capitol Brew Works used to have a restaurant attached (with the worst service in the world) and the brewery was downstairs. We used to go down there and get yeast from Paul, the brewer. It is interesting now to be in that same space, that was filled with brewing equipment, offices and bathrooms which are now a fancy bar, seating area with a fireplace and (the same) bathrooms. The restaurant part is upstairs, which I have not been to but I have heard it is pretty expensive. I've been to the bar area twice now.

They have a decent selection of beer on tap, and apparently there is a connection to John's Grocery, but it's the same decent beer that other decent bars have in town. We were hoping for something a little more unique, especially with the John's connection.
The beer on tap is also ridiculously expensive. $6 for a pint of Millstream IPA. Come on, you can get Millstream all over town and the brewery is local! John's White is the cheapest thing on tap, at $5. Oh, I'm wrong about that. PBR is the cheapest thing on tap. I did get a really good beer for $6, from an old brewery in Germany. I can't remember what it was called. I think it's pretty funny that they have a neon sign hanging on the wall that says "Budweiser" on top and has their logo underneath it (which happens to look like a majorly wind-blown tree with a pair of balls hanging from the crotch of the tree). If you are going to pride yourself on having great beer, don't hang up a big sign with your logo and a domestic beer. That's my advice.

We went on a Sunday afternoon, and they didn't have any specials on anything. When we went after work awhile back, they had the Millstream IPA on special for $2 a pint. Now that's something worth coming back for!
We had cheeseburgers- mine with swiss, his with cheddar. The waitress brought us a bottle of ketchup with some old ketchup smears all over the lid. The salt shaker she brought to the table had what looked like miniature pubic hairs all over the top. The burgers came with a lot of meat- I remember when a quarter pounder was a big hamburger. Then everyone started offering 1/3 lb. burgers. Now, I have seen 1/2 lb. burgers almost everywhere I go. This gradual change in serving size is starting to get ridiculous- I don't know how much meat was in my burger, but I couldn't eat it all. I don't eat meat often enough to be able to eat that much in one sitting. That being said, the burger came with about 11 french fries. You shouldn't finish eating your french fries before you aren't even half done with your burger! The burger also came with tomato, red onion and sprouts, and instead of a bun there was a sort of focaccia bread with black olives in it. It tasted pretty strange with the other ingredients of the burger and it really soaked up the grease from the meat which was kind of nasty.

After bringing us some fancy glasses of water with lemon wedges with stripes across the rinds, our waitress asked us if we wanted anything else, and we said no. We then waited for about 10 minutes and when she didn't come back, we started counting up the bill- $11 for the 2 beers and $9.50 for each burger=$30+tax+tip. We had enough cash, so we left it on the table and walked out, without ever seeing the waitress again.

Environmentally- reusable plates, cloth napkins. Paper napkins for use as coasters, which always sucks. The bathroom had a paper towel dispenser and an air dryer, but I couldn't get the paper towel dispenser to work so I used the old wipe 'em on the jeans method.

Rye Wheat Stout

On March 28, I changed up an Oatmeal Stout recipe to see how it would taste with flaked rye instead of oatmeal, and using 1/2 wheat DME.
Here is the recipe, for a 5 gallon extract:
3 lb. light DME
3 lb. wheat DME
3/4 lb. roasted barley
1/4 lb. Crystal 60
1/4 lb. Caramunich
1/4 lb. Chocolate Malt
1/2 lb. rye flakes
1 oz. Northern Brewer @ 60
1 oz. Fuggle @ 30
1 oz. Cascade @ 5
Yeast: Piggy-backed Cal 001 from Vernal Black IPA.
Above: making sense of my brewing notes.

Timeline:
10:30ish- attempted to weigh grains and calculate the grams to ounces despite the after-effects of the wine tasting show I went to last night, where I tasted approx. 40 different wines, 5 beers and a little gin and lemon cello. Followed by a couple bottles of wine (shared w/ others).
Not a good time to do math. Made a few mistakes that were fixed. After 3 cups of coffee, functioning much better and ready to brew....
10:55 am- grains & water in kettle on high heat.
11:20 am- temp. at 155, took off heat.
12:20 pm- checked temp, 152. Hooray- perfect! Then calobrated with new scientific thermometer... it was actually about 10 degrees off. Sad.
Turned burner back on, scooped out and strained grains.
Composted grains. This would have been excellent for spent grain bread, but I wasn't in the bread-baking mood.
1:00 added DME to wort, temp around 180.
1:30 boil! Added NB Hops.
2:00- added Fuggle Hops. From 2007. Looking more brown than green.
2:15- added Irish Moss & Yeast Nutrient. Sanitized the wort chiller.
2:25- added Cascade Hops. (All hops are leaf, not pellet. I'm anti-pellet.)
2:30- started wort chillin'.
3:00- wort chill temp. at 98. Poured wort into carboy through a strainer, added filtered water. Shook it. Temp: about 77. Will add yeast when I rack IPA tonight.
3:30- cleaning up. It didn't boil over, but the stove top is still covered in brown sticky stuff.
OG: 1.058

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Fair Grounds

345 S. Dubuque St.
Iowa City

My spouse and I go to this place almost every weekend. It is our favorite place for breakfast, they have the best coffee in town, and they are awesome. They are located in the Court St. Parking Ramp, at the corner of Court & Dubuque, next to the Greyhound Station.

On the breakfast menu, you can get either waffles or french toast. It doesn't sound like much of a choice, but there are several kinds of each. We almost always go for the waffles- and my top 3 favorite choices are the Texas Omelet Waffle with regular (non-vegan) cheese and warmed salsa. You have to ask for it that way, otherwise they'll give you cold salsa and it will make the whole waffle cold, which isn't pleasant. The Cheesy Apple Walnut Waffle is as good as it sounds, a great balance of cheese, chopped apples and chopped walnuts mixed in with the waffle batter and cooked to perfection. And there is the Apple Sage Waffle that is amazing. My sister-in-law called the amount of food "perfect". Just check out their website to view their menu!

The coffee, like I said, is the best in town. It is all the things coffee should be: shade grown, organic, fair trade (hence the name of the place) and TASTY! Coffee snobs will be satisfied.
The atmosphere is also excellent. They not only have plants everywhere, they have signs to tell you that if you have any extra plants, or if you are moving- they will be happy to take them off your hands! There is just something about being surrounded by the smell of coffee, lots of live plants and sunshine, and all the hippest people of Iowa City (except for a few that might be over at Lou Henri's or hiking in Hickory Hills).

The tile work on the floor is interesting, there are two comfy couches to sit on while waiting for your coffee & food, lots of board games and magazines to browse, and artwork on the walls to enjoy. Also, the color of the women's bathroom is a really amazing shade of blue.
The one negative thing is the wait. If you go often enough you know when to avoid the crowd (10-11 on Saturday, for example). But if you don't mind waiting, or expect it- bring a book and enjoy the lovely atmosphere while having patience for the busy workers.

Environmentally- all the plates and cups are reusable. They are an environmentally-friendly place for sure- If they had a compost bin for the disposable napkins and the paper towels in the bathroom, they would get an A+ from me.

 UPDATE:
Fair Grounds used to be owned by a woman named Christine and now it's owned by a man named Steve. The menu has changed a bit, in addition to the amazing waffles and french toast, they have expanded the menu to include tasty breakfast burritos and more, even with meat! They are also featuring more specialty limited types of coffee to keep the local coffee snobs satisfied, and they got their liquor license in 2012 and will be serving Irish coffee in the morning and craft brews in the evening. There still can be a wait, mainly because everything is made after it's ordered, they aren't reheating frozen crap in this place! One time they messed up our order and were very apologetic, and to make up for our wait, they gave us a biscotti and several tiny cupcakes of various flavors:
It's places like Fair Grounds that make Iowa City stand out as one of the awesomest cities in the USA. If you are traveling through, stopping here will leave a tasteful memory of our hip little portion of the midwest. If you live here, and you aren't going to Fair Grounds every weekend, you obviously have issues and should seek help.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mia Za's

122 E. Washington St.
Downtown Iowa City

I really liked the restaurant that used to be in this spot, Java Juice, so it took me awhile to go to the new place. After my co-workers raved, I gave it a try. It's not bad, and pretty cheap, with a decent atmosphere. There is always plenty of comfy seating.
You order your food (pizza, pasta, salad, etc.) on a piece of paper, checking off all the appropriate boxes (kind of like Which Wich). Then you order at the counter and they call your name when it's ready.

You'll want to check the chalkboard when you come in to see what the special of the day is. This week, it was whole wheat pizza for $3.99 (Usually $4.59) I got mine with shrooms, red onions, green peppers and pesto. The veggies were chopped up pretty small, and there weren't many covering the pizza- most pieces didn't have all, or even much of any veggie. There was plenty of pesto, but no tomato sauce. The crust was very thin. Still. It was 4 bucks, and it filled me up.
I have seen their salads and they don't look too good. I've had the pasta before, and it's okay. For the price, again, it's cheap and filling. Unfortunately, they don't have ANY hot sauce, and they give you a crazy look when you ask for some. They offer the red pepper flake container, as if that even compares.

If you have a sweet tooth, check out the desserts when you're in line to pay. Sometimes they have specials like a $2 cheesecake slice with entree. I have also heard the red velvet cake is excellent, though I have not tried any of their desserts.

Environmentally- if you eat there, the food comes on nice big reusable plates. Yay. They have a pile of styrofoam to-go containers. Boo. Regular old bleached white disposable napkins. Eh.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spent Grain Bread

I made this bread while brewing the Vernal Black IPA on the equinox, 3/20/10. The spent grains consisted of crystal 60, black malt and roasted barley. I have made this bread several times while my partner or I are brewing, and I have tweaked the recipe to get this result. Since almost all of the sugars from the grains have steeped into the beer (wort), the bread isn't very sweet. I have 6 T of sugar going into it, but next time I think I'll try adding honey or maple syrup and see if that makes it better. The rest of the recipe is great, though- and I think the best results involve using spent chocolate malt. (To the non-brewers, it's a grain, not a drink)
Here is the recipe for a 2 lb. loaf using a breadmaker:
2.5 t active dry yeast
5 oz luke warm water (not too warm)
6 T sugar
2 1/2 c white flour
1 1/2 c barley flour
1.5 t poppy seeds
2.5 t sunflower seeds
2.5 t sesame seeds
2 1/2 c spent grains, pushed down into the cup and possibly heaping over the top
2 T gluten
2 t garlic salt
1 1/3 T dry milk
2 T butter

Add the yeast to the water and let it sit while you add all the other ingredients to the bread pan. Then stir up the cup of yeasty water and pour it in. Turn on the bread machine- for a medium crust, white bread setting, and go back to brewing beer.
If you time it right, you will have the smell of baking bread right when you are finishing up the tasks of brewing, and you will start to daydream about kicking back with a homebrew (from the last batch) and a freshly baked slice of bread!

Vernal Black IPA

When we went to Oregon last month, Black IPA was the new hot thing for all the west coast breweries! So I decided to give it a try.
We found a Black IPA in Minneapolis after our Oregon trip, but it was falsely labeled- it was dark and roasty and not hoppy at all. As a knowledgeable traveler, I felt obliged to present my friends and fellow homebrew club members with what I believe is a true west-coast Black IPA.
Northern Brewer has a Black IPA kit for sale, so I looked at their recipe and combined it with one of mine, making a few substitutions to what I had at home.
Here is the recipe (extract, 5 gallons)
6 lbs. light DME
1 lb. crystal 60
2 oz. Roasted Barley
4 oz. Black Malt
1 oz. Zeus @ 60
1 oz. Simcoe @ 30
1 oz. Centennial @ 15
1 oz. Cascade @ 5
1 oz. Simcoe @ 0
1 oz. Simcoe (I'm pretty sure) to dry hop.
Yeast- white labs california 001





The hops were pretty much based on Northern Brewer's hop schedule, with one or two substitutions. The Northern Brewer recipe called for chocolate malt instead of roasted barley and black malt. I wanted to do the black malt for sure, with a hint of roastiness, so I based my grains off my "Hoppin' Sweet Color" ale which calls for roasted barley.
This was brewed on the vernal equinox, hence the name, and the OG was 1.057. The taste seemed right on, so I'm excited for the end result!

Update: This brew was racked to the secondary and dry hopped (I'm pretty sure with Simcoe, although I failed to write it down) on 3/28. We kegged it on 4/29 at a final gravity of 1014. The color was too brown and the flavor was too roasty. It's not bad, it just doesn't taste like a black IPA should. I will definitely be altering the recipe for attempt #2, and I'm open to suggestions!

Coach’s Corner

Mormon Trek, Iowa City
March 2010

This is the place where Monica’s and Bob’s Your Uncle used to be. I never made it to Monica’s but it has more of a sports bar feel/less of a restaurant atmosphere than Bob’s did. Hence the name.
First of all, I sat there for almost 10 minutes by myself, waiting for friends, and no one waited on me. After my friends showed up, a waitress came and asked if we wanted drinks. We ordered beer and I asked for menus. The water came. 5 minutes later, the drinks came, 5 minutes later, silverware came, and finally we got some menus! The service continued on like that for the rest of the meal.
I ordered a veggie wrap that ended up being mostly lettuce with not much else for vegetables. The fries were large and not very seasoned- with not much flavor.
They had an appetizer of French fries coated with melted cheese and bacon that you are supposed to dip in ranch. It’s about as good as it sounds, which resulted in the fact that it didn’t all get eaten. Also, they put large chunks of lettuce and some really red stuff that resembled ground meat on the nachos. Those didn’t even get half- eaten.
I don’t think I’ll go there again.
Environmentally: They use paper napkins and you eat on reusable trays with a disposable paper/wax thing inside.
Cost: About $9/plate. The Guinness is ridiculously expensive.

Lou Henri

Iowa and Dodge, Iowa City
August 2008

It took me awhile to find this place, because they are on the corner of Iowa and Dodge (a one-way street)- so if you miss your turn, you might have to drive a few blocks to get there.
Their food is fresh, local & organic when possible. The ambiance is lovely with lots of plants and art and a friendly, carefree staff that will notice if you have alcohol on your breath and bring you lots of water (not me, the table next to me).
I have been there a few times for breakfast and lunch, and the food has always been great. The fries are excellent. They have lots of cheese choices and lots of tempeh options, if you are a fan of tempeh like I am, you will appreciate the quality! The coffee is good too, and I’m a coffee snob.
My first visit, I got a “Triple Stacker” with portabella mushrooms on sourdough. It was very good, but it could have used more spinach and been spaced out across the bread more evenly. I have also had their omelets and French toast, all satisfying.
The woman’s bathroom is small but decorated very well, with crushed plates and cups used as tile work.
Environmentally: They use disposable napkins, AND you get a 10% discount if you ride your bike.
Cost: About $7-8 per plate.

Saloon

Downtown IC
August 21, 2008

My partner and I have tried to eat at the Saloon several times, but it gets pretty packed and very loud inside on weekends. We did eat outside once before, which was pleasant. Their outdoor seating is unique because it’s in the ped mall, not right up against the restaurant, but more out in the ped mall so that people walk on both sides of the tables.
This time it was a weekday, shortly after 5 pm, so there weren’t too many other people in there. We ate a poblano stuffed w/ rice and sweet potato ($13) and a chicken, cheese & bean burrito ($11). The zucchini in the poblano was especially good. The food was good, overall, although I did find a chicken bone and there were no leftovers.
I ordered a Saranac IPA, the waitress told me they didn’t have any, I ordered another beer and she brought me the Saranac IPA, saying she found it after all.
There was also a strange smell in the place, not sure what it was or where it was coming from.
The total cost was $42 with the tip.
Environmentally: Cloth napkins, not enough food for leftovers, so I don’t know what they use.

Takanami

Downtown Iowa City
September 2008

I avoided this restaurant for quite awhile because I thought it was going to be pretty expensive. My husband and I went there for our 2nd wedding anniversary and were surprised at the specials! Although it can be expensive, Monday through Thursday they have happy hour specials, so appetizers and sushi, and even some drinks are pretty affordable! Although beware, my husband got the Watermelon Martini that was on special, and the “watermelon” was actually a watermelon flavor. The drink was pretty nasty.
They had the air cranked up to an uncomfortable level, so we chose to eat outside. Although it is pretty nice inside, the endless entertainment on the Iowa Avenue sidewalk is a great plus. Just about every type of person imaginable walked by. And I had a lovely view of the Old Capitol Dome.
They bring out edamame to everyone, which is good thing to snack on while you wait for your food. We tried the crab cakes, which were very good but you get 3 for $9 so I don’t know if each one was worth $3.
We got the “Rising Sun” special sushi roll, which had tuna, mango, cream cheese and a squirt of strawberry sauce on the top. It was a bit sweet for sushi, maybe it would be better for dessert. The “Rainbow Roll” was pink, orange and white. I don’t recall those being the exact colors of the rainbow. I have to say, I’ve had way more colorful and flavorful rainbow rolls in this town. The “Veggie Roll” was good. It had cucumbers, avocado, daikon radish, asparagus and some kind of red sprouts. Hey- it was more colorful than the rainbow roll, and I really liked the asparagus in there. We also had a tasty eel and avocado roll. They have a decent beer selection, but the shittiest chopsticks in town.
Oh, the service was excellent.
Environmentally- Disposable paper napkins, shitty disposable chopsticks.

Okoboji Grill

Sycamore Mall Parking Lot

Iowa City

January 2008

I have been to this restaurant several times- it is in a nice building in the parking lot of Sycamore Mall. The food is pretty good and fairly unique. They have the biggest beer selection possible without having any decent or interesting beers. Even the imports are pretty generic. Newcastle is about as exotic as it gets. Oh, and native Okobojians or even people wearing Okoboji apparel don’t get a discount. Boo!!!

Blackstone

503 Westbury Drive Suite 1 IC
August 2008

Blackstone is pretty obviously a new restaurant in a new building, it just looks very modern. And it has a pretty decent atmosphere. Apparently it has become fairly popular- there aren’t many other restaurants on the Eastside to choose from. My partner and I went on a Thursday night and there was a 15 minute wait for the restaurant side. We chose to eat on the bar side, which was a nice experience. The tables are tall with a view of the long bar and the 5 tv monitors above it. 1 of the monitors had Fox News on, but they quickly changed it which may or may not have had something to do with the look of disgust on my face.
There is a room of red pool tables, darts, and a few games. The room was empty when we were there, but being closer to dinner time and not quite late enough for bar time, that’s understandable.
The menu doesn’t have a lot to offer for those of us who don’t eat meat from the pig. The burgers, sandwiches, even the mac & cheese all came with some form of pig meat. But I did find a few chicken options and at least one vegetarian option. I got a salad that was a mix of greens, tomatoes and deep fried appetizers- chicken strips and onion rings, all with a bleu cheese dressing. It sounds strange, but it wasn’t bad. And it was filling, which it should have been for $10.
My partner got a penne pasta dish with “roasted ratatouille”. It was a vegetarian dish with plenty of cheese on top. For $11, it would have been nice if it came with a salad or something in addition to the garlic bread.
They have a decent selection of beer on tap, and a few more bottled beers. It’s not a great selection, but if Okoboji Grill had Blackstone’s beer selection, I would go there about twice as often. The “good” beer- Goose Island and New Belgium- was $4.75 for 22 oz. We had 3 between the 2 of us, so if you do the math, it was over $40 with the tip.
I wouldn’t be too excited about going back except that they have a selection of flatbreads that sound very interesting and at $10 each, it would have been too much to have with dinner, so we talked about going back for beer, flatbread and pool sometime.
In looking up their address, I noticed their website- it’s a great website, as far as restaurant websites go: www.blackstone-ic.com.
Environmentally: good, reusable, I can’t remember what the napkins were. There wasn’t enough food to have leftovers, so I don’t know what they use. In a nutshell, I really don’t know what to rate them. They do have bike racks out front though.

Atlas

127 Iowa Ave. IC
July 2008

Atlas is a good place for lunch or dinner. I recommend their selection of wraps- they are all satisfying and unique! I had one with croutons in it once, it was good, but one of the croutons was rather large and it didn’t blend well with the other ingredients, other than that, they have all been excellent. The buffalo chicken burrito is large enough to share!
They have a good selection of drinks and outdoor seating with an excellent people-watching viewpoint.
Environmentally: good, linen napkins

Graze

Downtown IC
July 2008

Graze is a great unique dining experience when you have a group of people going out to eat, because you share the food! With their “grazing” menu, you choose any number of different kinds of food- mini-chicken burgers, kabobs, “chicken lips”, pizza, salad, seafood and more. The last time I went, there were 6 of us, so we got 6 burgers, a pizza, 6 kabobs and 6 lips. They brought it out on plates in a holder that had 3 plates, one above the other- the top with the kabobs sticking out of a pineapple. There were a few different dipping sauces with it, and everything tasted great. We also had martinis- at least someone at the table has to get a “bubbling” martini for everyone to enjoy. And if you still have room left, I recommend the Half Ass Ice Cream Pie!
The atmosphere is good when they have artwork or the fish scene on their tvs, not so good when they have sports playing.
Environmentally- no disposables here!

The Wedge

Downtown IC
July 2008

The Wedge opened up it’s second location this year, sharing space with Capana by the public library. They expanded their menu to include breakfast, salad & sandwiches. I heard they are trying to focus more on local ingredients.
They have pizza by the slice, conveniently arranged with one display case of the meat-lovers varieties and one display case of the veggie-lovers pizzas. I haven’t tried all of the specialty pizzas, but so far the Buddha is my favorite. They are wonderfully honest there also, if the pizza is getting old, they have given me 2 slices for the price of 1. The Wedge really does have great pizza, but one thing I’ve noticed is that if you have it delivered to your house, it is usually pretty crappy. There’s something about it that makes it great when fresh, lousy when old.
They have a good selection of drinks, including Blue Sky pops, but no beer. What you can do, though- is order your pizza, go over to Bread Garden to have a beer while you wait, then go back to eat your pizza. It’s not the same as having your beer with your pizza, but it works. If you’re on a date, I recommend getting one of the big bottles of New Belgium beer and splitting it. Wait, I’m supposed to reviewing the Wedge, not the Bread Garden…
They do have red pepper flakes and parmasean cheese, but no hot sauce unfortunately. They should take a tip from Panchero’s and get some Cholula!
Environmentally: disposable napkins, but reusable plates and silverware if you choose to eat there. Otherwise, to-go pizza comes in individual paper boxes and of course whole pizzas come in cardboard boxes.

Motley Cow

160 N. Linn St., IC
July 2008

I had heard that this restaurant is a pretty good choice- using as much local and organic food as they can, but I didn’t see anything inside or on the menu stating that fact. I don’t usually eat pigs, and there was a lot of pig meat on the menu, so my choices were limited. But what I did get was good, a beet salad with different kinds of beet and kale. It was surprisingly filling. The wine seemed a bit overpriced, if I were going to get wine I would get the ½ carafe. Instead, we got drinks. Mine was a dacquari, and for $5.50, I felt I got my money’s worth. The bartender didn’t skimp on the alcohol content. We weren’t in there at a particularly busy time, but we did get a table with the sun hitting us, which was unfortunate.
Overall, this is a good place to take a date, or for a special occasion, but it’s a little expensive for your every-week out to eat experience.
Environmentally: Good, linen napkins and nothing to throw away that I could see.

Jimmy John’s

Downtown IC
March 2008

One thing you can’t deny is that they’re quick! Sometimes you even get your food before you’ve finished paying! I usually get the vegetarian (#6) or the tuna (#3). They are good, cheap, and fast- but not great. All of the sub bread is white, I would prefer wheat. They do have wheat bread, but you have to order a larger sandwich and it costs more. Their lettuce is shredded iceberg; a dark green lettuce or spinach would be better, especially for the veggie sandwich. Their ingredients are simple and on display so you know exactly what brand you are getting, which is a nice touch. Also, there are witty sayings all over the walls.
Overall, a good place to go when you’re in a hurry.

Mondos

January 2008

Meals are about $10-18 each. There is a limited beer selection which is overpriced at $4.50- $5.50 for dark beers. They have a good atmosphere and lighting except for large tvs with sports on. It was strange to be in a pseudo-fancy pseudo-sports bar restaurant. It seemed like an expensive place for having sports everywhere you look. The sign on the bathroom said “Employees must wash hands with hot soap and water”. I couldn’t find any hot soap, but I’m not an employee, so maybe they know something that I don’t.
You get bread with oil for free. But it’s just oil, no vinegar. Kind of bland.
They have really thick napkins. Thick like cloth napkins, but without the re-useabliity feature. They also don’t offer mints.
The pasta was good, very aldente. For the price, I would have expected to take home leftovers, but it was just enough food to fill me up, and that includes the bread.
I don’t think we’ll go back.

Old Chicago

Coralville Strip
December 2007
This is a good place to go if you know what to order. They have a good selection of beer, a little on the spendy side. If you enjoy beer, sign up for the World Beer Club. It’s worth signing up for the rewards- you get a coupon for a free pizza on your birthday, and after you drink so many different kinds of beer, you get a deck of cards. You get more the more beer you drink, but I’ve only gotten the cards so far. The beer club is great for people who like crappy beer but want to try other beers and be rewarded for it. The happy hour specials are on the crappy beer only, unfortunately, otherwise I might go more often for happy hour.
I like good beer and already know what the crap tastes like, so I have to bring my dad and have him order a yellow beer and put it on my card so that I can get the credit for it. I digress.
The food is pretty good- the Cheese Bread is a really good deal for $5. Most of the food is decent, with a good amount for the money. The service has always been good.
Environmentally: Styrofoam to-go containers.

Sushi Kicchin

Old Capitol Mall
Downtown Iowa City
December 2007
A cheap place to get sushi to go.
Located in the Old Capitol Mall’s food area, this place is small, with a few stools to sit at, facing the sushi chefs. I got an unagi roll (freshwater eel). It came in 6 normal size pieces + 2 ends for $4.77, including tax. Whether you eat there or not, it comes in a stryofoam container with soy sauce in a plastic container. They also put wasabi and pickled ginger in it. You can get ice water in a Styrofoam cup. I have eaten a lot of quality sushi, so I might be pickier than most, but I thought the rice wasn’t as sticky as it should be, but the wasabi was good.
Environmentally: Not good. Everything is disposable, not even recyclable.

Baldy’s

Downtown Iowa City
December 2007
Great atmosphere.
I like going to Baldy’s when I have a whole hour for lunch. This place has a great atmosphere- old desks and lamps, decorated with mirrors and windows on the brick walls. It is in an old downtown building, very narrow and long. It’s amazing that someone had the vision to turn such a place into a restaurant! Eating here is like eating at the library, and I like to find a cozy table and read my book while I eat, I even get annoyed when other people come in and talk louder than “library” voice. Then I remind myself that I’m not actually in the library.
You go up to the counter to order your wrap. I recommend any of the veggie wraps, they seem to be more filling. I got the one of the chicken wraps one time and it didn’t seem like it had as much stuff in it. I especially like the garden burger wrap. They come warm with chips and a cookie for about $7. They also have some beer on tap there.
To “wrap” it up, the food is decent, the atmosphere is excellent.
Environmentally: The wraps are in tinfoil on wax paper in a re-usable basket.

Mama’s Kitchen

Downtown Iowa City
December 2007
This new restaurant took over the Record Collector’s location near the ped mall. They have a convenience store style going in the main section, with the kitchen in the back. You can get a salad, choosing 1 of 4 types of lettuce (or a mixture) and 5 ingredients out of a large list. The salad costs $6.50, and if you choose any protein items, they cost extra. They also have small containers of soup for $3, and they usually have a pretty good selection of soup. Everything comes with a side of bread. The food is good and the people there are very friendly. Unfortantely, my two experiences haven’t been so good. When I got a salad, they left out 1 ingredient, the most important in my opinion: the avocados. And when I got soup, it was barely luke warm and it had turned cold by the time I finished it.
Environmetally, they aren’t so good. There is no room to eat there, so all food is in to go containers. The salads come in large clam shell containers, made of paper, and not Styrofoam, which is good, as long as people are recycling them when they are done. The soup also comes in paper containers.

Which Wich?

Downtown Iowa City
December 2007
This is a unique chain restaurant that’s new to the Iowa City area. I had heard people raving about it before I decided to check it out myself. You walk in and look at a wall giving you many options. Then you grab a bag and a sharpie and check off the circles for which ingredients you want on your sandwich. For example, On the vegetarian bag, you choose the main ingredient: Hummus & Bell Peppers, Tomato & Avocado, Triple Cheese Melt, Black Bean Patty, Elvis Wich (Peanut Butter, Honey & Banana). Then you choose white or wheat bread, five different cheeses, four mustards, 4 mayos, 8 spreads/sauces, 3 onions, 13 veggies, 7 oils & spices, and for 75 cents extra, you can get bacon, avocado, pickle spears, more meat or more cheese. Write your name on the bag, walk around the wall, pay for it, and then your sandwich comes in the bag you filled out!
The sandwich I had was pretty good, and I would bring others to this place who haven’t been there before so that they could experience the different style of ordering the food. I also recommend the house chips, like Pancheros- they put chips in their own bag.
Environmentally: not so good. The sandwich comes in the paper bag you filled out, but it also comes wrapped in paper, then in tin foil in that bag, and it doesn’t matter whether you are eating in or taking it to go, it still creates a lot of waste.

Pancheros

Downtown Iowa City location
December 2007
Most Panchero’s locations I’ve been in are very colorful places, with attractive floor tiles and colorful artwork of abstract peppers and things on the walls. While the downtown location has the artwork, the floor is a drab off-white tile. But the uniqueness of this small restaurant makes up for the uninteresting floor. There aren’t as many places to sit, and sometimes you are pretty close to your fellow eaters, but there is an upstairs area that is unique, and almost exciting to eat at! After accending up the stairs, there are a couple of tables with 3 chairs at them, up against the wall. If you turn and continue going up, there are 2 booths to sit at. From these, you can look down into the downstairs eating area, or enjoy the color of the pipes against the color of the walls.
Unfortuantly, even with the special ambiance of the upstairs of downtown’s Panchero’s, you’ll find less Cholula bottles. My guess is that it has something to do with being near campus, some students are testing the 5 finger discount. To those students: the rest of us really appreciate restaurants like Panchero’s serving quality hot sauce like Cholula, and we would like there to be plenty for us when we go there. If you need to steal something, try jelly packets at the diner.
I usually get the burrito with ½ chicken and ½ veggie for about $6. If you say chicken and veggie, they’ll give you twice as much and charge you extra. But if you say half & half, that’s what you get for the same price. However, this doesn’t work on quesadillas. I tried, and it was explained to me that they put 1 scoop of each on these and can’t do half.
The tortillas are pressed fresh on their “Dough Pro” and they taste great.
Their chips come in their own bags and are a pretty good deal for 50 cents.
Environmentally: They use recycled napkins. If you get the food to stay, they put it on reusable plates. The only throw away items are the plastic forks and salsa containers.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cinnamon Apple Pancakes



This is a recipe I made up on my own, heavily relying on the pancake recipe from The Joy of Cooking.
Ingredients:
¾ c unbleached white flour
¾ c whole wheat flour
3 T raw sugar
1 ¾ t baking powder
1 t salt
half or more of an apple, diced
A couple shakes of cinnamon, ground
2 eggs, cage free
1 1/8 c milk, hormone free
1 T butter, unsalted

Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl.
Melt butter in your cast iron butter dish over a burner on the stove. If you don’t own a microwave and your toaster oven is broken, that’s how I roll…..

Beat eggs and scrape out the shell pieces. Add milk. Add butter and stir as you add it.
Add the liquids all at once to the dry ingredients. Add the diced apples. (I don’t peel my apple, but I do like to remove the core). Stir just enough so that you don’t have clumps of flour.
Let the mixture sit for awhile. It’s got baking powder in it so it needs to do its thing.
Heat up your griddle. I have a non-stick one that doesn’t require any oil or butter. It’s amazing. It’s not Teflon, but you still have to be careful not to scratch it.
I’ve been cooking pancakes for years almost every weekend. Therefore, I’m pretty awesome at knowing exactly when to flip the pancake. Look for bubbles to begin forming. If you aren’t sure, test a corner and see if it is going to stay together. Practice makes perfect. That’s why I’m perfect.
I like to make several individual batches of the dry ingredients so that it’s quick and easy at 11:30 am. Sometimes, on weekend mornings when I finally roll out of bed and think about food, I’m more motivated to make something if it’s quick and easy and there isn’t much measuring involved. I also always have gifts to give friends & family when I visit! Homemade pancake mix!

You are probably going to make several pancakes, especially if you’re one of those crazies who likes little tiny pancakes stacked on the plate. I like plate-sized pancakes, and I find them easier to make, but that’s me. So you should go buy a pancake/tortilla warmer.
This is one of those kitchen items I bought and immediately I didn’t know how I had survived so long without owning such an amazing piece of equipment. You know what I’m talking about- when you go to a Mexican restaurant and get fajitas and they bring the tortillas in a little version of this thing to keep them all warm. It really works great- once all the pancakes are made, you bring the warmer to the table and they are all equally hot! (Don’t leave them in there too long, though- the condensation will make them soggy!) Serve them with really expensive real maple syrup and butter. Refrigerate the leftover pancakes and eat them cold with no toppings. I’m not kidding- they are awesome that way too, especially with coffee or black tea.

Cake #6: The Barefoot Contessa’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake


On February 28, I made my first coffee cake. It was a disaster. But not entirely. Here’s the story.

I decided to make 2 cakes, one with butter, the other with applesauce. Because I found that subbing applesauce for butter doesn’t work too well in pound cakes, I thought I would attempt that experiment again on coffee cakes. And I had a pot luck to go to, so I didn’t cut any cake recipes in half, Hence, the disaster. I did learn a valuable lesson though. Are you intrigued to read on?

The butter version was first. I creamed the butter and sugar a lot. Then I added eggs and a mixture of the dry ingredients. Meanwhile, I made the “streusel” and learned that “streusel” is a German word that refers to a crumb topping made of butter, flour and sugar, sometimes combined with spices and chopped nuts. It made me think of those frozen toaster streudels I ate when I was a kid, but this is totally different. No frosting out of a plastic bag to squeeze onto the toasted pop tart.

The streusel called for flour, cinnamon, salt, butter, chopped walnuts and light brown sugar. I just happened to go to the little Amish town of Kalona the day before and having scratched my head over the difference between light brown sugar and dark brown sugar that this book calls for, I found both in bulk at the amazing Stringtown Grocery! Now I have 2 kinds of brown sugar, 3 kinds of white sugar, and so many kinds of flour I can’t count them anymore. Including cake flour! Which I bought just for this recipe! Also I have 3 different types of table salt. I’m becoming a kitchen snob. Or maybe an expert. I’m not sure which.

I mixed up the streusel (which, I’ve just learned, is a difficult word to type. Streusel. Try it.) by hand, squeezing all the little chunks of cold butter and mushing it up until it looked satisfyingly like a crumb texture. I made a double batch and just split it between the two cakes. Then I poured the thick batter into the bundt pan (half of it), added ¾ cup of the streusel, added the rest of the batter, and topped it with the streusel.

I then made the applesauce version and did the same, only using the (much smaller) tube pan. I discovered that I had more batter than the pan would hold, so I filled it up and then put the remaining batter with a little streusel in a small ceramic bowl.

This is where the disaster comes in. Apparently you can’t fill the tube pan to the brim with some cakes (Melissa does mention this in her book, I just didn’t listen). This is the type of cake that rises a little, even though it’s a coffee cake and you wouldn’t expect it to. So- the cake pretty much spent an hour oozing over the sides of the pan and onto the bottom of the oven, until the entire house was filled with smoke and we had the doors open and the fan going. In February. In Iowa.

But both cakes turned out to be edible- I just had to let the applesauce cake’s pan soak in hot soapy water for 2 days. I took the butter version to a potluck in which half of the food was dessert. I learned two things.

  1. Don’t take a coffee cake to a pot luck where there are lots of other desserts containing lots of attractive looking chocolate.
  2. If you do take a coffee cake to a pot luck, do not give it a title with “sour cream”. Even though you know it’s a key ingredient, to those who don’t make a lot of cake, the words “sour cream” and “coffee cake” do not sound appetizing together.

If you want to show up at a potluck with a dish and take most of it home with you, so that you can take it to work the next day and be a hero among your co-workers, then ignore those 2 rules and go for it!

You can also substitute yogurt, or flavored yogurt for the sour cream, but I still wouldn’t include it in the title. I would just call this a Walnut Coffee Cake and tell people about the sour cream only if they ask.

The result of my experiment: I really liked the applesauce version! It has a much different texture than the butter version, and it seems to have more flavor. I think coffee cakes are definitely going to be made with applesauce in my house, especially if I am planning on making them to eat at breakfast (with my coffee). If I ever get crazy enough to do that sort of thing. This particular cake, even if I had made just one, took for freakin’ ever!

Oh, it also called for a glaze of confectioners’ sugar and real maple syrup. I have both of those ingredients, and I’m curious how it would taste, but I never did get around to making it. The cake was good without it and you really can only spend so much time in a smoky kitchen.