Iím baaaaaaack! The Fatboy returns for another round of fun, food and frivolity. Itís been almost five years since I was given space to rant, rave and review my way across Iowa for the readers of the Datebook. So I will take up most of the space allotted to this. my first column back, to reintroduce myself to past readers and to give the new reader an idea of what to expect!
First off let, me tell you a bit about myself and what I do, and why I am think I should be allowed to ramble on about food as I eat my way back and forth across the state.
I grew up in a family that has always enjoyed eating, I mean REALLY enjoyed eating. Especially eating out. I have vivid memories of eating in restaurants way back when I was three years old. The La Pizza House, Aliceís Spaghetti land, along with Georgeís Chili King and the old Johnnie and Kayís on Fluer Drive are a few of the spots our family used to frequent on a regular basis. Three of those restaurants are still in operation today, 43 years later. Long established, history-rich eateries are still my favorite, but new, unique and cutting-edge will be given space as well. I donít discriminate against good food.
When I was seven I moved to a small town in northern Iowa. It was there I learned first hand what great home cooking was all about. Whether it was the monthly 4-H potluck dinners or Eleanor Gerkís one-of-a-kind noon lunches at the cafe in town, or a school hot lunch program that featured lunches that were made from scratch, great food was everywhere. While I donít know for sure, it is my hunch that not many school hot lunch programs could stand up against those at Visitation School in Stacyville where Rose Huemann put out a daily hot dish or meat entree that would have kids going back and getting a second helping). Add to that Gerti Metzís daily vegetable offering that often included real mashed potatoes and then toss Helen Blakeís daily made-from-scratch desserts. and it all adds up to a group of extremely lucky kids.
It was during this time in my life when I was introduced to some of the best aged beef and pork done in a way they donít do much any more. Roy Wageman ran the local grocery store and he wasnít afraid to let a side of beef hang a while. (We had three freezers full of pork and beef on our back porch). And as often as we hit the freezer, we hit the restaurant trail. And it wasn't unusual for us to drive 60 to 70 miles, sometimes a hundred, for supper.
My doctor step-father enjoyed eating out as much as my mom liked not having to cook, so I often found myself perched in a great restaurant in front of a menu with unique entries where nothing was off limits.
My palate was starting to develop a real fondness for good food. Food that was real, food that was flavorful and food that filled you up. Those are qualities in food that I learned at an early age and that I still seek out today, and that I will be bringing to the readerís of this column. As I criss-cross cross the state these days taking photos (almost 40,000 miles a year) I constantly find great spots to eat and great folks to meat, and will be writing about both. Almost every spot has something on the menu that is worth writing about. When I go into a cafe, diner or bar for something to eat, the first thing I ask is what is the signature item on the menu. And whether or not am a fan, I will order what ever that may be. I also will almost always order a cheeseburger and fries. I figure that if they canít cook a descent burger, then they have real problems! Iím in search of the holy grail of burgers and I am always on the hunt for great chocolate stuff and anywhere they serve big olí portions and places where you can get a whole lotta stuff for not a whole lotta money. WhenI find them, youíll be reading about them. And as always, when the words ďAll you can eatĒ are involved I will stop and take a second look, or helping if you will....
It is not my goal to trash anybodyís place. I am a true fan of the mom and pop shops across this great state and will take great pride and go to great lengths to bring those quaint, out of the way, locally-owned spots to the pages of the Datebook each week.
In the near future ,Iíll be introducing you to a neighborhood bar called Mikeís (for years it was Lizís) that serves up one kick-ass sausage sandwich with an order of fries big enough to clog the arteries of an elephant. Another spot will be a fun little mobile taco stand on Des Moinesí east side.