Iowa Beef crowns Coon Rapids bowling alley as state’s hamburger champ

I’m not sure what this says about my state, but this is so Iowa:

The Coon Bowl III, a diner and bowling alley in Coon Rapids, took home this year’s title of Iowa’s Best Burger, which is awarded by the Iowa Beef Industry Council and Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.

I have no idea where Coon Rapids is.

I still don’t understand New Yorkers

Jason Kottke loves Shake Shack so much he’s willing to wait in 45-minute-long lines (and so are 45-minute-long-lines worth of other New Yorkers). I’m suspicious.

Pete Wells of The New York Times gives the restaurant a single star (which still suggests it’s a pretty badass burger joint). But I love this writing (take note, food writing students):

How the burger could change lives I never divined, but on occasion it was magnificent, as beefy and flavorful as the outer quarter-inch of a Peter Luger porterhouse.

More often, though, the meat was cooked to the color of wet newsprint, inside and out, and salted so meekly that eating it was as satisfying as hearing a friend talk about a burger his cousin ate.

Starbucks really sucks

Since last fall, I’ve been getting our household coffee beans from which says it offers “the best of the crop while helping to fund next year’s harvest and strengthen small-scale family farms.”

We’ve been really happy with the quality.

It’s easy to loose perspective of how good it is since I drink their coffee every day. Yesterday, for the first time in months, I stopped by a Starbucks for a cup of coffee (I had a gift card).

The drip coffee, which I used to drink somewhat regularly, was amazingly bitter and burnt tasting. Barely palatable. It was a good reminder of how bad most mainstream coffee is, and how much better the coffee I’ve been getting lately is.

An interesting way to run a CSA

I like the idea of community-supported-agriculture programs. The idea is that consumers pay farmers up front in exchange for a cut of the farmer’s harvest. It’s supposed to reduce the risk local producers face by spreading it out among customers. Perfect growing weather? Eaters share in the plenty and abundance. Crappy growing season and deer infestation? There’s a lot less to go around.

Part of the fun is that it’s a way to be forced to figure out what to do with food I wouldn’t usually buy. Like two years ago I swear we got nothing but kohlrabi all summer. And that fucking kohlrabi — a vegetable that even the deer didn’t want — was the beginning and ending of my CSA participation.

But I’m going to try it again this year and here’s why:
Salt Fork Farms has set up their CSA program differently. It requires an initial $200 buy-in, but instead of being loaded up with weird vegetables that I have no interest in cooking all summer long (or canning for the winter), I have the privilege of shopping at their farmers’ market stand with my $200-worth of punch cards (with a 10 percent discount). I can get a gazillion eggs and a few chickens. Or only greens in the spring. Or whatever else they’ve got.

I’m just happy that I won’t be forced to deal with kohlrabi again.

Matt Steigerwald goes to Des Moines, wins Cochon 555. Again.

Cochon 555, a US tour that pairs five pigs with five cooks and pits the cooks against each other in a “friendly competition,” was in Des Moines again. Lincoln Cafe’s Matt Steigerwald (with a lot of help from his right-hand man Andy Schumacher) delivered a wonderful assortment of dishes and won again.

The competition, with a pair of chefs up from Kansas City and George Formaro of Django and Centro, was higher this year and, over all, the food was better. Deciding for whom to vote was a real struggle; a point separated my top three.

It’s interesting to see what themes get repeated. Last year, three of the five cooks served pulled pork and cole slaw on a buscuit. None of that this year, but we did get three pozole soups.

Favorites were Hal Jasa of Homage’s fried-pig-ear and quail-egg salad and his corned tongue. Cody Hogan of Lidia’s in Kansas City made my single favorite dish with a lovely pork ravioli. Steigerwald offered a great variety, but tops might have been the head cheese. Formaro went straight Mexican and the chorizo taco was lovely. And Howard Hanna of the River Club in Kansas City offered a passionately produced menu (including the only straight vegetables of the evening), but the best was his “Cuban.” By the time all was said and done, there was no way I could eat a single goddamn pork-based dessert.

Anyway, there was a lot of pork and wine and I had a great time. Seriously, you should make plans to attend next year. But it was also a crazy drive home in the driving rain and now I need sleep.

Come feast on some pork

Last year I had a great time gorging on pork and helping judge Cochon 555 in Des Moines. I’m excited that Brady Lowe asked me to do it again this year. You should come along. From the release:

A group of chefs will each prepare a 140-pound heritage breed hog from head to toe for this friendly competition. Guests and professional judges will determine a winner based on presentation, utilization and overall best flavor. The winner will be crowned the “Prince/Princess of Porc.” In addition, five selected winemakers will showcase their wines. Cochon555 is a tribute to heritage and heirloom breeds, chefs and winemakers.

Some great cooks, including Matt Steigerwald of Lincoln Cafe, George Formaro of Centro and Django, and Hal Jasa of homage, will be preparing pigs.

Anyway, it’s at the Hotel Fort Des Moines on Saturday, April 24, starting at 3:30 p.m if you’re interested in paying for the VIP pre-feast schmooze, the pig gets served up at 5. You can buy tickets online (get in touch if you’re interested in a discount code) or visit for more information.

Taste on Melrose closes

Last night, we ate at Taste on Melrose for the umpteenth time. Tonight it closed for the final time.

I didn’t know Christian, the owner and chef, particularly well, but we were friendly enough to greet each other in public (and I can’t say that about many people). But he clearly wasn’t happy about it closing. When I asked him what he was planning to do next he said, I think only half joking, “rob banks.”

Even if the 90-percent first-year failure rate is a myth, the restaurant industry is brutal. Taste lasted eight years. I don’t know what killed it. But speculation — completely unsubstantiated speculation — was that rules preventing drug company reps from wining and dining doctors from the nearby university hospital made a huge dent in the restaurant’s business. It couldn’t have helped the there were likely fewer recruitment dinners as budgets there were slashed, too.

Taste is where my wife and I ate dinner the day we were married; just the two of us after a simple morning wedding in a magistrate’s office. The magistrate’s office was destroyed in an F5 tornado in 2006. And now with the closing of Taste, we’re left with Village Inn, the family restaurant where one of our witnesses took us to breakfast, as the last physical reminders of our wedding day.

And that makes me as sad as another good restaurant closing.

Photo by Taste on Melrose on Flickr.