ONE TRIP, TWO RESTAURANTS:
FIRST RESTAURANT INTRODUCTION:
The Omaha Food Review group took a road trip to southwest Iowa to explore two of the locally famous dining establishments. Our first outing was to J. Bruner’s in Clarinda, Iowa. J Bruner’s is an iconic restaurant which is famous for their onion rings. They are located on the town square in Clarinda.
The building has been recently remodeled. As you walk in and go to the right, there is a full service bar as well as a ‘patio bar’ which in the summer months they will open the glass garage doors to allow you to enjoy the fresh Iowa sunshine and air. Very fun setting for a pre-dinner drink or an after work gathering.
To the left, there are two large dining rooms with high tin ceilings and an open lay-out. We were promptly seated and greeted by our waitress for the evening. We gave drink orders of a Blue Moon draw and a bottle of Pinot Noir. We ordered the onion rings and portabella mushroom fingers while we looked through the menu to decide on our entrée. The options range from several cuts of beef (Prime Rib is excellent), to Iowa Pork Loin chops, chicken, fish, risotto. There are no bad options. Our group ordered the salmon, ribeye steak, Iowa Pork loin chop and the Mahi Mahi.
The appetizers arrive and Jim is not disappointed. These are the onion rings he has been searching for- reminiscent of the hand-cut, hand battered and fried to a golden brown of this teen-age years working at a THE HI POINT HACIENDA WHICH WAS LOCATED ON WEST OKOBOJI. They are really, really good. Delicious. Oh, and stacked into a perfect pyramid. The portabella mushrooms are also delicious; thick sliced and battered the also fried to a golden brown. They are served with a variety of dipping sauces.
The salad arrives next; a generous bowl of mixed greens topped with cucumber slices, slivered purple onions, tomato wedges and slices of green pepper. Everything is very fresh and plenty to share. Salad dressings (raspberry vinaigrette, Bleu Cheese, house made Thousand Island and vinegar and oil) arrive in small bowls to share at the table. Small bowls of fresh croutons and real bacon for toppings arrive. Typically, there are freshly baked rolls and we believe we have a new waitress who missed our rolls.
The entrees arrive. We all chose baked potatoes instead of the side vegetable of steamed carrot. They usually offer freshly cooked green beans which are a good option also. The baked potatoes are baked, not steamed inside of foil, served with pats of butter and sour cream. The salmon was a large portion which was well prepared. The Mahi Mahi was probably not worth another order, but it was recommended so maybe I just got a cook that didn’t prepare it well. It had a slightly ‘fishy’ tasting with a very spicy rub on it, overly cooked to the point of dry. The salmon is reliably good. The Iowa pork loin chop is tender, moist, well-seasoned and definitely an excellent choice. The Ribeye steak was ordered medium and cooked to perfection. The ten ounce steak was tender, tasty and able to be cut with a fork.
The waitress did fine as a new employee, she offered refills on beverages and the busser kept our waters refilled.
Prices are reasonable for the quantity and quality of food that we received. Entrees are in the $16 to $30 range with the salad and side included.
THE NEXT DAY:
SECOND RESTAURANT INTRODUCTION:
The next day we drove to Corning Iowa, birth place of Johnny Carson. Chef JOEL MAHR and his wife have opened THE Primrose, It really is “City dining in a small town”. The moved to Corning because it was her home town. Her parents raise vegetables for local farmer’s markets and they are now supplying fresh produce for the restaurant. They purchased an old building on the main street of Corning and run a lovely experience for southwest Iowans. As the word gets out people drive many miles to experience the great food. The décor is warm, open, with tin ceilings and a long wooden bar. They offer craft cocktails and with it being St. Patrick’s Day weekend, we tried the Fuzzy Shamrock and the Emerald Isle. Both were delicious! They have a large selection of Iowa craft beers, a decent variety of wine and any mixed drink you could want. They have a limited number of sandwiches and salads; but more than enough from which to choose.
The cod sandwich was served on a Hoagie bun. The cod is two large pieces hand cut and breaded, served with homemade Tartar sauce made with homemade pickled relish from the garden. The pork tenderloin is a generous slice of pork, pounded thin, hand-breaded and fried to a golden perfection. Very good. The Spicy sauce chicken breast sandwich was also hand-breaded, fried to a delicious golden. Thankfully, I asked for the spicy sauce on the side as it was spicier than my taste buds prefer and was delicious in its own right. The Reuben burger in honor of St. Patrick’s Day was a great quarter pound burger served with homemade 1000 Island dressing, a slab of corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. Other than being too messy to pick up and eat and having to attack it with a knife and fork, it was delicious. Except for the cod sandwich, the rest were served on potato buns.
We all raved about the house-cut, home-made fries. They are definitely better than any commercially available French fry. Excellent side dish for all. We also could have chosen a small side salad or a cup of the soup of the day. They do not offer desserts at lunch. Sandwiches and sides were in the $9 to $12 range.
The service was quick and thoughtful.
The dinner menu has a large variety of locally sources meats and produce and all agreed we need to return to experience their dinner menu together. Chef Mahr has a bright future in Corning. Sometimes it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond then a small fish in a big pond. He is a fantastic chef, in a small town, and that was proven true, as the place was packed and his food is fully appreciated by everyone.