Pigskin Pursuit

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

Tag: Breakfast (page 2 of 4)

Hamburg Inn #2 – #1 in my breakfast book…


Originally founded in the mid 1930’s, the Hamburg Inn #2 was one of three different burger joints (#1 and #3 have since closed) opened up in Iowa City by the Panther Brothers, and has grown to landmark status since that time. In addition to being an Iowa City icon, Hamburg #2 has garnered national celebrity with their “Coffee Bean Caucus” for presidential election cycles. During the Iowa Caucuses, visitors to the ‘Burg are allotted coffee beans to drop into mason jars with selected candidates names on them. Many presidential nominees have visited the Hamburg Inn to garner Iowan support, claiming such noteworthy visitors as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Despite its namesake, I was told by a handful of reputable sources that breakfast was the real attraction at the Hamburg Inn #2. As such, I lined up an early Sunday morning visit to avoid the church crowds piling in after service. What I discovered may be one of the best breakfast encounters I’ve ever had.

Putting the aforementioned partisan politics aside, I was there to sample their breakfast lineup, but a glance at the menu quickly diverted my attention to a featured menu item called the “Pie Shake”. Deceptively simple, the “pie shake” is simply a standard milkshake made with your choice of a slab of their homemade pie tossed in. Somehow, I had made it 32 years on this planet without so much as hearing of a Pie Shake, never mind trying one, and my sheltered existence was about to be turned on its face.

Despite the tempting array of various fruit pies, I opted for the Red Velvet “Cake” Shake, which, according to the waitress, was one of their best sellers. It arrived a few minutes later, flecked pink in color topped with whipped cream and a cherry, filled into a tall sundae glass, the remaining contents loaded into the accompanying steel mixing cup. And quite simply, it was glorious. As a purveyor of shakes, this was absolute Red Velvety perfection in a glass. Whatever your predispositions about proper breakfast fare may be, anytime of day would be appropriate for one of these, and only a chump would opt for coffee instead.

The breakfast itself was equally indulgent and delicious. Opting for a traditional corned beef hash and eggs, I was awarded an extra chicken fried steak after a mix up by the waitress. Oddly, I didn’t protest. Traditional and simple, there is a subtle art to a basic breakfast. The hash had a crispy crust browned to perfection, while the chicken fried steak had a crunchy battered shell giving way to fork tender pounded steak inside. I alternated savory bites of salty breakfast meats with sips of the creamy sweet red velvet shake. It was everything that you could want from a simple, old school diner breakfast. Nothing more, nothing less.

In the end, the Hamburg Inn #2 is about as close to breakfast perfection as you can get. It’s rich in history and has all the authentic charm of a quintessential main street café’. During that history, they’ve had time to master the basics – the food is unpretentious yet perfectly prepared, free of any superfluous adornment. Finally, the “Pie Shakes” are one of America’s great undiscovered food secrets. If I were running for President, they would be decreed mandatory fare on every diner menu from coast to coast. I’m sure even ole Bubba Clinton and Ronald Reagan could agree on that platform…


Hamburg Inn #2 Website

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Beth’s Cafe – Quantity vs. Quality

“Beth’s Café, happiest place on earth” the waiter snapped into the phone. Tattoos crawled up the sides of his arms and the phone sunk into a haggard beard as he spoke. The short order cook was similarly ink adorned, although clean shaven, sporting a few extra facial piercings as he slapped away on the cook top.

If you’re looking for a hygienic, sterilized breakfast joint with cute accoutrements and a delicate brunch – keep looking. The service here is gruff but efficient, and the walls are plastered with crayon drawings. The portions, however, are epic. In the eternal struggle between quantity versus quality, Beth’s Café has thrust their chips firmly into the quantity ring, which naturally landed them a feature on Man vs. Food. Dishing out breakfast classics to Seattle’s finest 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since 1954, it’s an equally cherished favorite among the late night drunk and early morning work crowds.

I opted for a booth, glanced over the menu and settled on one of their legendary omelettes. A check to the ego, I opted for some corned beef hash and the “small” omelette, prepared with a meager six eggs. The large comes with twelve, and according to the menu, and there is no prize for finishing it.

The food was dropped on the table a few minutes later, a giant pile of quivering eggs atop a layer of hash browns. True to its reputation, the portions are simply massive. The hash browns are even “all you can eat”, but I didn’t have the fortitude to consider more than one round. The food itself is fair at best. While the portions are ample, the hash browns are straight out of the freezer, the hash dropped from a can, and there is a generous dousing with the butter ladle atop all the food that made it excessively greasy. It’s also not that cheap, as my total bill came in over fifteen bucks.

But if you’re a man of large appetite, or coming off an all night bender looking for a greasy mess at 3AM, Beth’s Café would indeed be the “happiest place on Earth” for you…

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Wagners Pharmacy

In the shadow of Churchill Downs racetrack, quite literally across the street from the entrance, sits a little pharmacy that has been in operation since 1922. Wagners Pharmacy is a legend in Louisville, and nary a horse racing fan hasn’t walked through their doors at some time or another. Scenes from the recent movie “Secretariat” were filmed at Wagners, and the walls are adorned with an archive of black and white Kentucky Derby photos.

With the height of racing season over for the year, I eased into Wagners early on a Saturday morning and took a gander over the traditional, unpretentious breakfast menu. A few regulars sipped their coffee a few stools down from me, exchanging stories with the waitresses about the Louisville tailgating scene the night before. I gazed around, curious at all the racing paraphernalia, admiring the history in the walls.

I ordered up a simple breakfast, some eggs over easy with ham, then watched eagerly as the lady at the grill scraped the cook top clean and cracked a few white eggs onto the hot griddle. A few minutes later, she plopped my breakfast onto a paper plate and slid it across the counter in front of me. Paper plates were an odd choice I thought, perhaps they just didn’t feel like doing dishes yet. Paper doesn’t have quite the same satisfying scratch sound when you scrape a fork across it, but with the ample portion of ham on my plate, I had little to complain about.

Settling up, I hopped into the car for the morning ride out to Lexington

Wagners Pharmacy Website

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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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