Monday, September 28, 2015

Eating the Tri-State Region (IL, IA, WI)

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Where the locals eat. 

Hello readers! Are you ready for Fall? I am but not for what comes after that. The reason I love the Fall is it's the perfect time to cruise. The colors, the fests, the weather it's all there making it the prime time for a roadtrip. Last year around this time we took a ride up to the Tri-State region to eat/drink.

♫ On the Road again ♫

I'm sure I've said it in previous posts on this blog but I love exploring the towns up and down the Mighty Mississippi. Each one has its own history and mystique going back to when it was America's main highway. First stop up, Dubuque.

The old Dubuque Star Brewery

I've been thru this area before but it was only for a few hours. Nonetheless at the very least you can always find some interesting stops when riding the river. Some deep digging online led me to a popular bar on the other side of town who's busiest hours were during breakfast time. Interesting.

West Dubuque Tap

Packed house when we arrived around 10a but we were able to squeeze out some seats at the bar. I'd say more than half of the people there to eat were also there to drink. NFL allegiances vary in this area so we saw Bears, Packers, Vikings and even Colts gear worn by regulars. Pretty typical bar when it comes to them in these parts, not too big but still able to ring them in. If anyone has interest in trying a llama tenderloin, they're doing them this month.

Llama Tenderloin Special

When I'd read reviews on West Dubuque tap the "Magic Muffin" kept on getting mentioned thus it caught my eye. This is the signature breakfast item of the house. They take two sausage patties, an egg, cheese and hash browns and put it all between a toasted English muffin. On this day they had a biscuits and gravy special so I got mine with a side of gravy. I saw others eating their magic muffin with a fork but I managed to pick it up with two hands and eat the entire thing intact. I got a cup of the sausage gravy on the side and poured a little over the hash browns and considering we're way North of the Mason Dixon this was a worthy batch. Hangover food, before you start drinking more food, at its finest.

Magic Muffin

Next stop up was an interesting spot we came across. Cremer's Grocery has been serving Dubuque for over 65 years and both the outside and the inside of this place looked the part.

Cremer's Grocery in Dubuque

From their website "We take pride in our old-fashioned quality and service. Our hand-cut choice meats, homemade sausages, and our Famous Turkey ‘N’ Dressing sandwiches are a few of the specialties that has made us a tri-state ”Institution of quality”.

a peek inside, employees making sandwiches behind the counter

I didn't know much about Cremers except the fact that they made a turkey and stuffing sandwich that was popular with the locals. I was surprised the see that all sandwiches were .99 as I was expecting something a little bit different than what they turned out to be.

Sandwich Cooler

Turns out all sandwiches are pre-made, on cheap hamburger buns, and placed in the cooler for customers to pick them out of. Not exactly what I envisioned as I was expecting a sub made fresh and served warm with house turkey and homemade dressing. Either way, we were there so why not as least grab one, certainly wasn't going to hurt the cash flow.

Sandwich Warmers

I watched as a local walked in and went over to the fridge where she grabbed a couple sandwiches and proceeded to walk over to an area with a couple microwaves. Turns out some, or most as Jim asked, prefer their sandwiches heated up. I heated up mine later that night when the munchies came calling. I guess you get what you pay for in this case. Not awful but anything but special. I guess if I lived near I'd take advantage of these for the kids lunches, cant get much cheaper with no work involved in making them.

Turkey Stuffing Sandwich

Next stop up was a longtime favorite near college campus called Jack's Chicken Palace. This local landmark has been serving generations of Dubuqueians(?) with their signature broasted chicken. From an online article "originally opened more than a half century ago as Feeney’s Chicken Palace. After a few years Jack Terry took it over and renamed it Jack’s Chicken Palace. He perfected his frying techniques over the next 18 years and then turned it over to his son-in-law, Nick, who ran it for another 25 years or so."

Jack's Chicken Palace in Dubuque

This place seems to be one of the areas top takeout stops as there were people coming in and out for phone orders. Nowhere to sit inside but no worries as eating fried chicken al trunko has become the norm on these excursions. Cool looking machines in place to do the pressure frying, fyi this style of cooking was created by a company in Beloit, Wisconsin and their stretch seems to go up and down the northern part of the Mississippi as seen in previous posts.

Onion Rings and Fried Chicken Box

Pretty damn good, not aggressively seasoned but fried to a crisp outside with some juices remaining inside. Onion rings weren't bad either, a nice place for locals to have as a food option when not feeling like cooking.

Broasted Chicken

Next stop up, East Dubuque. There was a time when this town across the river was the center of the areas vice needs. It's often had a bad reputation and is frequently compared to East St. Louis down the river. Back in it's heyday the towns main strip, Sinsawa street would light up the night with its neon and was a frequent hangout of gamblers, boozers, sex traffickers, and of course Al Capone. Because of this and also the name of the street where it all took place, it was labeled Sin City back when. It's heyday stretched from prohibition all the way to the early 90's when the street boasted a handful of strip clubs and lots of bars open until 5am, thus attracting heavy drinkers from surrounding states who wanted more when their spots closed for the night. Mulgrew's Tavern is just about the only business left from the strips heyday.

Mulgrews Tavern on Sinsawa Street in East Dubuque 

 As You Enter (thru the front)

As you enter (thru the back side)

It's not hard to feel the history when stepping inside one of Illinois' most historic bars. Sitting almost directly underneath the Julien-Dubuque Bridge you know you're somewhere old school upon entering. If you choose to go thru the front door you're almost immediately greeted by the beautiful long bar that must sit at least 50. Come in from the back and you'll say hello to the gaming area upon entering. Aside from cheap drinks available from 8a-5a seven days a week Mulgrew's is also known for their foot long chili dog. $4.75 gets you one made up by the bartender served on some wax paper to help catch the drippings. There was a group next to us who must of been from the area originally as they talked about how many they used to eat at night when drinking there. I'm sure these are better when inebriated because they weren't doing it for the slightly buzzed. Not awful but not something I need again. Still fun to try one.

Famous Foot Long Chili Dog

Next stop up takes back over the river and down into the tiny little town of Saint Donatus Iowa, home of Kalmes General Store and Restaurant. This spot has been a multiple practice business since 1933 with a restaurant for almost 50 years. I read an article on the wall and learned Peter and Anna Kalmes came to America from Nospelt, Luxembourg sometime around 1840.

Kalmes Restaurant in St Donatus, Iowa

"Peter was a skilled sausage maker who found his way to the Luxembourg Village of Saint Donatus. In the early 1850’s he started a bar business in the red pebble stone building across the street from the current Kalmes Restaurant just north of the Gehlen House. In 1933, Theodore and Stella Kalmes purchased the present property and built a small bar and gas station. They added a grocery store and upstairs living quarters in 1942." You can see from my first report that I passed this place on a previous visit and snapped some pics of the exterior but never went inside to try it so I wanted to do so this time around. Awesome exterior and interior as they've kept it old school inside, all the down to the two guys behind the bar who were each older than 60. The General Store is attached to the bar and they sell some hard to find candies, bottled pop and also all of their famous seasonings which they use on the steaks and other menu items. They do a steady business in catering and as you can see in the pic up above they still sell gas.

View of the Bar

Pool Table

View from end of the bar

General Store Checkout

Unfortunately they were just making a new batch of their signature kraut sausage but they did just finish making their house noodles. Those were on my radar too and because we were in Iowa I decided to try their tenderloin too which is made a little bit differently than most. It's lightly fried on a griddle and comes laced with their signature seasoning. I wasn't too fond of this one but the noodles were outstanding. The guy at the bar had mentioned there's a reason he had the gut he was sporting and it wasn't because of beer, he said we'd love their buttered noodles and indeed we did. Some parts were nice and crispy around the edges while the middle had that intact texture you can only achieve with freshly made.

Pork Tenderloin with side of Homemade Noodles

I made it back to Breitbach's and this time I remembered the BPT was where it's at. Located about 16 miles up the river from Dubuque they won the Iowa Pork Producers Association 'Best Tenderloin' award at the State Fair in 2012. It also happens to be Iowa's oldest bar/restaurant having been in operation since 1852. Though two fires since 2007 have forced them to rebuild, the country charm remains. Currently running on its fourth generation of family member they put out about 250 BPT's a week.

Breitbach's Tavern in Balltown, Iowa

I didn't snap an outside pic so the one up above was from my last stop in. It was surprisingly quiet on this Sunday around high noon. Pretty damn windy thus not too many bikers out and those of whom were there seemed to be doing family stuff with almost everyone indulging in their famous Sunday buffet. No tenderloins available with that though so we took a seat at the bar. The 'tender might of been a little hungover as he was kind of a jag but I wasn't there to see him. After about a ten minute wait my tenderloin was ready. This one was pretty appealing on the eyes and pretty much as good as it looks. I thought it might of been a tad too greasy but this could be due to the fryers having just been ready. Nonetheless a BPT with some substance as there was some juicy meat inside the extra light but sensationally crunchy batter. One of the better ones I've consumed.

Battered Pork Tenderloin 

Last stop up! Into Wisconsin we go because what would a Saturday night in the Tri-State area be without a trip to a Supper Club? I've had the Village Bar Country Club on my radar for a minute as it's mentioned when best supper club in Wisconsin is discussed. Located in a small town about 10 Minutes from the Dubuque-Wisconsin bridge, folks have commonly come from all three states to get a sip and taste.

Village Bar Supper Club in Kieler, Wisconsin

I knew this place was popular but I had no idea it was so homey. I'd say they can sit about 50-60 people max and because they don't serve at the bar the wait was 2 hours when we went in. I decided to put my name down anyway and we rolled around for a while while deciding what to do. Eventually we went back, had another Spotted Cow, and were seated right around our 8:30p quoted time.

a peek inside at the bar

Aside from the small size there's nothing else too unique about this Wisconsin Supper Club. It's a husband and wife owned stop and on our visit the husband was running the front of the house while one of their daughters took care of the bar, they obviously were used to being full as it was a smooth running ship. Upon being seated we were given a vegetable/relish tray with some really nice cheddar spread that got devoured while waiting for our prime ribs with hash browns on the side.

Relish Tray and a Side of Hash Browns with onions and Cheese

Queen Cut Prime Rib (1.5 lbs)

Because they're so well known for the prime rib they serve it every night they're open but on Saturday's you get $2 off each cut. I decided to go queen and got this beautiful 1.5 pound cut pictured up above. It had been quite a few months since I last had a real deal piece of prime rib so I thoroughly enjoyed this as if I was a caveman eating my last meal. That said I still couldn't finish the entire thing as it ended up being way too much for someone who just ate at a handful of stops beforehand. Cant ask for much better and same goes for the hash browns which were as good as any I can remember. This is one for the book.

See ya next time!

West Dubuque Tap
1701 Asbury Rd
Dubuque, IA 52001
(563) 556-9647

Cremer's Grocery
731 Rhomberg Ave
Dubuque, IA 52001
(563) 583-6589

Jack's Chicken Palace
1107 University Ave
Dubuque, IA 52001
(563) 588-2003

Mulgrew's Tavern
244 Sinsinawa Ave
East Dubuque, IL 61025
(815) 747-3845

Kalmes Restaurant & Catering
100 N Main St
St Donatus, IA 52071
(563) 773-2480

Breitbach's Country Dining
563 Balltown Rd
Sherrill, IA
(563) 552-2220

Village Bar Supper Club
3410 County Road Hhh
Cuba City, WI 53807
(608) 568-3004


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