Pigskin Pursuit

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

Tag: Iowa 2011

Iowa vs Northwestern – Striped Out…

Originally scheduled for a Penn State trip this weekend, some last minute cancellations sent me rifling through the schedule for a last second substitute. Fortunately, the Hawkeyes were in town, and another premier Big 10 school would be a more than suitable alternative. The magnetic allure of Iowa came calling once again.

Highway 61 beckoned, the same route north I had taken earlier this year to Iowa State. In a month, the rolling hills of southern Iowa had turned from green to gold, the corn frayed and exhausted, pleading for the mercy of the scythe. It was harvest season now, stout combines carving great swaths into the landscape, billowing clouds of chaff behind like a yellow mist. Eighteen wheelers awaited on the edges of the fields, the bounty hauled off and deposited into countless steel corn bins gleaming across the Iowa landscape.

Rolling into Iowa City, I park a half mile or so east of town, beyond the metered parking and expensive garages, squeezing into a free street space across from College Green Park. Curiously, a couple dozen tents are pitched in the small grassy patch, the gazebo cocooned in plastic, and boxes of food stacked neatly nearby. Evidently the “Occupy” movement has gained a foothold in Iowa City. The 99% are everywhere it seems…

I meet up with an old friend, Holly, and we shuffle down the crowded sidewalk towards Kinnick Stadium. Behind the field, we roam up and down Melrose Street, the bustling heart of the Hawkeye tailgating scene. Food vendors line the sidewalks with trails of blue charcoal smoke spiraling into the sky. Tacos, burgers, and brats are some of the typical fare offered, but “big ass Turkey legs” are the signature item Iowa is known for. After two lunches, I regretfully have to decline. Up and down Melrose both sides of the street are swarmed with yellow and black fans spilling out of party houses. Cars, trucks, busses and tents are crammed onto the tiny lawns for a pre game block party, the atmosphere festive and robust.

Eventually, I snatch up a quick ticket outside the stadium on the 30 yard line. Despite a lackluster matchup with Northwestern, tickets are in surprisingly short supply and the security guards annoyingly overzealous. They hassle me about my small string backpack, the same one I have carried unobstructed into well over 40 stadiums, by citing some nonsensical “rule” that seems to pervade a lot of stadium security these days. I disappear behind a bus, put on the few extra layers and whistle past security, promptly returning the contents to my bag moments later as I head towards my seat.

Emerging from the portal, I had unknowingly fallen into a “stripe out” game at Kinnick Stadium. In a unique show of Hawkeye solidarity, 70,000 fans color coordinate their outfits dependent upon the section. Alternating entire sections of yellow and black, the crowd forms “stripe” patterns in the stands, an effect few other fan bases would be able to pull of with such dazzling precision. I’m one of the few who didn’t get the memo, my black fleece a shameful eyesore among the ocean of yellow around me.

Additionally, for this particular contest, each seat was issued a paper placard, held aloft during a pregame ceremony that decked the stadium in two unique patterns.

Unfortunately, tonight there was no flyover to accompany that patriotic pattern or Star Spangled banner after the Iowa 25th Flying Training Squadron had been reprimanded for their stunt last year. During the 2010 Ohio State game, the group channeled their inner “Top Gun” and quite literally buzzed a mere 16 feet over the press box, a maneuver which cost the lead pilot his military career. If you ask me, he should have been promoted. The closer the better in my opinion…

I spent the entire game seated next to a friendly guy named Eric and a few of his buddies cramped alongside into the tight rows of Kinnick Stadium. A lifelong Hawkeye fan and alum, Eric schooled me in the finer points of Iowa football, noting some of the players to watch and exchanging a few road trip stories during the breaks. A dedicated follower, he flies in from Atlanta for every home game, and catches a few select road games whenever possible. I can only imagine the toil of being an ardent Big 10 nut living in the heart of SEC country. It’s always pleasant to have knowledgeable seat mates, and Eric’s hospitality made the night that much more enjoyable.

On the field, the Hawkeyes prevailed, but struggled to put the plucky Wildcats away. Iowa never delivered a knockout blow to put the contest out of reach, allowing Northwestern to remain close the entire contest, finishing with a tenuous 41-31 victory. With the brisk Iowa night settling in after the final whistle, I left impressed by the Iowa experience. It’s a quintessential Big 10 atmosphere; a festive and robust college town, hard hitting fundamental football and ardent, knowledgeable fan base. All the right ingredients for a great experience, and next time I’ll be sure to pack a yellow shirt too…


Thanks to my friend Holly for meeting up and saying hello on such short notice in Iowa City, maybe next time I’ll give you more than 12 hours notice and we can make an entire day of it.

Special thanks to my friend Allison for her thorough list of all the hot spots in Iowa City, and a run down of the gameday attractions around Kinnick. You made my first visit to Hawkeye nation a great one, and certainly left me ready to head back for more!

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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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The Airliner – Touching down in Iowa City…

Most great college towns have one. An institutional bar that has been around for eons and serves as a beacon for all returning students and alumni to congregate, reliving the glory of their undergraduate revelry. At Iowa, that bar is the Airliner. A 67 year old relic that has marked the passage of time for generations of Hawkeyes. Since 1944 they have been slinging beers and dishing out their renowned pizza, and I wandered my way through the Pedestrian Mall to give it a try.

In a nod to history, the Airliner is located directly across the street from the Pentacrest, a historic collection of five neo classical buildings found on the National Register of Historic places. The centerpiece building being the gold topped dome of the old Iowa State Capitol, rising out of the pristinely manicured lawns. While waiting for my table, I watched a girl getting her wedding pictures taken among the classical stone columns, dress draped across the granite steps.

Given the wait for a table, an expectation you should be prepared for on a game day, I killed a few minutes at the bar with a couple pints of Leinenkugels. While I may draw the ire of my Midwest friends for this, Leinenkugels may be one of the most overrated beers around. They tend to be weakly flavored, and overly dependent on superfluous fruit additives. Contrasted to the craft Blackhawk Stout from Court Avenue Brewing that I had next door at Shorts Burger, the Leinenkugels was meek and watery. Hardly discernible from Miller Lite.

After settling into a table, my buffalo chicken pizza arrived in short order, the handmade “Airliner” crust piled with cheese and chicken. With the exception of the crust, perfectly crisped but still buttery and pliable, the pizza was pretty straightforward – as one would expect.

While the Airliner is an Iowa City landmark rich in tradition, to a newcomer you would never know it. Extensive renovations have been made to the interior, varnish and fresh paint abound, erasing some of the worn charm that comes from decades of use. From what I could tell, the only original piece remaining is the iconic stained glass mural of a biplane. Regardless, yellow and black sweatshirts were piled into every corner, patrons of all ages enjoying some pre-game festivities, connected in the spirit of Hawkeye Football. It’s just one of those places you have to go.

Airliner Website

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Shorts Burger & Shine – Going Local in Iowa…

Although not as heralded as Iowa City landmarks like the Airliner and Hamburg Inn #2, Shorts Burger and Shine turned up as a place of interest during my research. Located a few steps north on Clinton Street in the shadow of the Airliner, it has quickly become one of the more reputable burger joints amidst the mass of pubs nested into the Pedestrian Mall area.

With a dedication to local foods and beers, Shorts features an impressive array of taps lining the dark bar inside. All the draughts are exclusively Iowa breweries; Millstream, Mad House and Old Man River to name a few – none of which I had heard of either. With a burger on the way, I opted for the darkest beer in the house – a Blackhawk Stout from the Court Avenue Brewing Company located a stones throw down the road in Des Moines. Pouring like motor oil out of the tap, the robust Oatmeal Stout was laden with roasted chocolate notes, and paired nicely with a spicy burger.

Appropriately, those burgers are sourced locally as well. 26.5 miles to be exact, they are shipped in from Ed Smith Farms in Columbus Junction, as Shorts proudly displays on their menu. The patties are never frozen, the buns baked locally, and the fries hand cut. Although slightly overcooked, the burger was well formed and heavy handed with the bacon (always a good thing). The fries were crispy golden brown, and expertly cooked. I salute any dedication to local foods and craft beers, and Shorts Burger and Shine is no exception. The burgers are solid, and the beers are far better than their watered down mass produced brethren you’ll find at most of the other taps in town.

Shorts Website

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