Pigskin Pursuit

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

Tag: Pubs + Burgers + Comfort Food (page 2 of 9)

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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Hot Brown Sandwich – The Louisville Legend

There are a handful of towns across the country known for having a signature sandwich, a dish that likely started as an oddity, and has now become an icon for that particular city. The cheese steak in Philadelphia and Italian Beef in Chicago are a few of the obvious examples that come to mind. In Louisville, that offering is known as the Hot Brown Sandwich. While it may sound like something out of the Urban Dictionary, the Hot Brown is one of those elusive cultural standalones that I seek out during my travels. Epic sandwiches are a challenge I simply can’t resist.

Ground zero for the Hot Brown, as I discovered, is the opulent Brown Hotel located in the heart of downtown Louisville. The hefty offering is served open faced on toast points, consisting of roast turkey slathered in Mornay (cheese) sauce, and topped with a couple slices of crisp bacon. Its origins can be traced back to 1923, when chef Fred Schmidt made the sandwich for late night party goers, looking for an after hours snack. It has since become a staple throughout the city of Louisville, but there is something to be said for the original.


Carving into a few bites of my Hot Brown in the classically appointed Brown Hotel, harkens images of a 1920’s flapper scene. Surrounded by marble and ornate frescoes, it’s like being transported back into an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Gooey, indulgent and greasily satisfying, you might say that the Hot Brown sandwich is the original drunk food. Eating one at the Brown is like connecting with our hard drinking forefathers…

Hot Brown Sandwich History

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Maid Rite – Just about right…

One of the oldest franchises in the U.S., Maid Rite is a quick serve chain unique to the upper Midwest with about 70 locations scattered throughout the area. They have been dishing out their signature “loose meat” sandwiches since 1926, and this particular location in Marshalltown has been in continuous operation since 1928. Little has changed in that time, as the menu has remained blindingly simple throughout the years, consisting of little more than a single beef sandwich option, drinks and shakes.

Stepping into the Marshalltown Maid Rite is a journey to a bygone era. Stools surround a U-Shaped vinyl counter, and the service is quick and efficient. Waiting customers line up against the windows, hovering over diners, poised to pounce on abandoned seats. At least half of the business caters to takeout orders too, I quickly surmise. I witness handfuls of standing patrons yelling out orders, scurrying off moments later with grease stained white paper bags tucked beneath their arms. Wanting the full serve experience, I straddled an open stool and flagged down the counter waitress in the midst of her busy hum.

The sandwiches are simple fare, little more than spiced ground beef scooped out of some kind of giant hot box, and piled onto a soft white bun. I ordered mine with the works, which included cheese, onion, pickles and mustard. After unwrapping the greasy paper and diving in, the taste was remarkably similar to a fast food cheeseburger – which is basically what Maid Rite is. It’s not going to change your life, but it’s a timeless classic in Marshalltown and for $3.75, pretty hard to beat.

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