Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: Ames

The Grove Cafe – Proprietary Pancakes

I had to have breakfast at least once during my trip to Iowa, and fortunately there is a little downtown café along Main Street in Ames that has been dishing out the classics since 1949. The Grove Café would be the perfect morning fill up prior to my run out to Field Of Dreams, and they were rumored to serve up some rather legendary pancakes.

John and I sauntered in early on Sunday morning to beat the game day after crowds, took an obligatory glance at the menu, and promptly ordered up traditional egg breakfasts. I also tossed in one of their famous pancakes with some peach preserves to see what all the fuss was about.

A few minutes later the food arrived, simply and efficiently, and my picture taking soon drew the attention of the owner Larry. I was curious to hear about the trade secret to these renown pancakes. They are nearly a full inch thick, yet incredibly fluffy, and have a deeper orange hue to them and some spice notes that I couldn’t quite key in on. Certainly distinguishable from your typical Bisquik sawdust pucks at a regular diner, I figured Larry might be willing to impart some of that pancake wisdom to a polite stranger.

I figured wrong.

Although extremely friendly and welcoming to an out of towner, Larry was pretty tight lipped about the secret sauce in his pancakes. Evidently, when he bought the place some years ago, the pancake recipe came with the building, and he’s not about to give it away. To this day, it stands as a closely guarded company secret that only a select handful of people know about.

Perhaps the mysteriously addicting pancakes add to the allure and intrigue of the Grove Café, but the food stands on its own. And breakfast always seems to taste better in a Main Street café…

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Iowa State vs Northern Iowa – Cyclone Sirens Wail

After meeting up with John and consolidating vehicles, we hustled over to the tailgating scene outside Jack Trice Stadium hoping the rain would hold off for a few more hours. With the stadium surrounded by a sea of parking, Iowa State has a robust tailgating atmosphere, punctuated by colorful red and yellow tents, RV’s and converted school busses decked with red striping. Shuffling through the parking lots, the aroma of charcoal smoke wafted through the air, that delightful harbinger of fall afternoon festivities.

After a quick search, we met up with John’s friend Derick and his family, who may be some of the most die hard Cyclone fans in Ames. The entire family decked head to toe in full red and yellow regalia, they warmly welcomed us to their tent, offering up all manner of tailgate favorites and sharing some of the understated Cyclone passion and tradition. Derick himself has earned quite a reputation in the stadium for routinely smuggling in a vuvuzela, one of those plastic noisemakers that sounds like a pack of angry hornets.

“Doesn’t security confiscate it”? I asked inquisitively.

“Oh yeah. Pretty much every week. But I go pick it up after the game, and bring it right back in next game” Derick responded matter of factly.

I saluted the dedication to their craft, and watched curiously as Derick and a friend went about the elaborate subterfuge of hiding the horns beneath their shorts and track jackets. (Hint: the collapsible versions of vuvuzelas are far easier to camouflage). After watching the Iowa State marching band pass through the parking lot, that was the signal for John and I to make our way over to the entrance gates.

(I would find out later that during this game security tried snatching the vuvuzelas once again from Derick and his cohorts. The security tactics backfired, however, when this caused such an uproar among fans in the section that they started booing security, and actively chanting the horns be returned. This ruckus attracted the attention of police and state troopers who entered the section – taking up Dericks cause, and ordering security personnel to return the vuvuzelas to their rightful owners. The horns happily sounding for the remainder of the game in Jack Trice.

I give credit to those Troopers for doing the right thing and making an exception for the horns – it’s little nuances like this that make up the subtle traditions unique to College Football. Policy need not exist in a vacuum.)

Entering Jack Trice Stadium, we were greeted with the ominous wail of tornado sirens as part of the pre game introduction for the Cyclones. Given the menacing black clouds perched above, John wondered aloud what would happen if there were an actual tornado. Unfazed, we proceed to a couple of spots against the rail in the lawn sections of the stadium corners.

The Stadium was named in honor of Jack Trice, the first African American athlete in Iowa State history. Trice’s legacy is a rather unfortunate one, as he died from injuries sustained during his first and only college football game against Minnesota in 1923. As a result of various student led campaigns throughout the years, the stadium was finally recognized officially as Jack Trice Stadium in 1997. Today it stands as the only Division 1 stadium named after an African American. (Astute readers of the blog will recall that last year we attended a game at Eddie Robinson Stadium at Grambling State University – technically Grambling is Division 1-AA)

The game itself was a tale of two halves. A complete snooze fest in the first half, both teams struggled to put together any momentum, routinely coughing the ball up and giving the Northern Iowa fans something to cheer for. It wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that a fury of scoring perked fans out of their slumber. Trailing by six, the Cyclones stuffed in a touchdown with 4:30 left to take the lead 14-13. On the first play from scrimmage for Northern Iowa, however, they completed an 80 yard score to regain the lead 19-14, silencing the Iowa State crowd before their prior celebration had even settled down. Showing remarkable resolve, the Cyclones took the ball with 4:17 remaining and engineered a drive the length of the field – capped off with a touchdown score with only 40 ticks left on the clock. Holding on for the victory, the Cyclones snuck away with their first win of the season in an electrifying finish, regaled by the chorus of 54,672 fans and the shrill wail of the tornado siren.


Nothing like a little excitement to kick off the 2011 season…


Thanks to Derick and his family for the hospitality at the tailgate, and the entertainment. Next time I’ll be sure not to eat 6lbs of meat before showing up…

Special thanks to my friend John, it’s always great to catch up and conquer a few epic meals. Appreciate the hospitality for the weekend, and hope to catch you again this year somewhere. Glad I could be on hand with you to witness your first ever Iowa State game, maybe this will get you back to your alma mater for more…

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Hickory Park – Barbecue in Iowa?

Iowa isn’t exactly what you would call a hotbed for barbecue, and when it comes to barbecue joints in Ames, pickings are rather slim. As I have come to expect from recent life in the Midwest, I temper my expectations when it comes to proper cue’ in these parts. Hickory Park, however, was a welcome reprieve from the strip of chain restaurants pervading downtown Ames, so I was eager to sample what the city had to offer.

The recommendation for Hickory Park came courtesy of my friend John, an Iowa State alum whom I spent a summer with in North Carolina. As such, he’d developed some savvy taste buds during our time in Raleigh, as we ate our way through some of the best swine in the BBQ laden Tarheel State. This experience, coupled with his prolific appetite, meant we were in for quite a feast.

Hickory Park as I learned, is an institution in Ames. Cavernous inside, the restaurant has been in operation since 1970 and shuffles hundreds of patrons over at a time. Typically, mass popularity and proper barbecue do not coexist. My skepticism was raised even further when the waitress couldn’t tell me what kind of wood they smoked with – not exactly a stumper when “Hickory” is on the sign out front…

Regardless, John and I rolled the dice and promptly ordered up the sampler platter featuring the full array of their offerings. A tray arrived a few minutes later, weighed down with hefty portions of chicken, ribs, brisket, sausage and pork.

To my surprise, the ribs were actually well prepared. Although a touch on the dry side (excusable given the busy weekend traffic), they were well smoked throughout and pulled easily from the bone. Chicken was equally satisfying, with beautiful color on the lightly seasoned skin. While the brisket showed signs of care, with a nice reddish smoke ring around the edge, it had been trimmed prior to cooking and perhaps spent a bit of time under a heat lamp and left to dry out far to long.


In the end, by Midwest standards, Hickory Park actually dishes out some pretty decent BBQ. It’s a game day institution in Ames, and one of the few non chain options in town, so certainly worthy of a stop next time you are in Ames. Finally, the portion sizes are approved by John himself, a truly rare honor, so rest assured you will not be leaving hungry…

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