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Free-For-All Friday Presents: Iowa City Eat-A-Palooza

We all have our favorite Iowa City eateries, now it’s time we decide which are actually good and crown a champion. There can be only one. Introducing the Iowa City Eat-A-Palooza!


JPinIC: Jerry, I apologize now if this week’s riveting discussion comes a little longer and slower than usual. I’m not in the best shape today. I’m in a cold sweat and can barely fit into my stretchy pants. There’s a chance I may have eaten too much for breakfast this morning. Seriously, Hy-Vee isn’t just for Chinese or dollar slices anymore - their breakfast is legit. Eggs, sausage (links, not patties, come on man) hash browns, pancakes, and syrup. SO. MUCH. SYRUP. Washed it down with coffee and OJ. It was glorious. And now it doesn’t feel so glorious. Ugh.

Hello Jerry: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait…

You go to Hy-Vee… to get your breakfast?

When in the H-E-double hockey sticks did Hy-Vee start serving hot breakfast? Granted, I left Iowa City in 2011, but I’ve been in my fair share of Hy-Vee’s. Nothing against them, but I know they can’t be serving some award winning, 5-star breakfast feast like you’d get at the wildly superior Bluebird Diner. The food almost has to be a level under McDonald’s right? I’m thinking somewhere along the line of that breakfast public schools serve to kids that get dropped off early. You know with their French Toast Sticks and crappy bacon?

Also, JP, you’re a father of two boys. You shouldn’t be eating that kind of food anymore. You’re not that wide-eyed kid with the Elvis Presley sideburns anymore. You’re old dude!

JPinIC: Listen, I have a toddler and a newborn at home so I don’t regularly go anywhere. But yes, Hy-Vee has stepped up its food game since you left God’s country. Most of the stores in IC now have a restaurant within them that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a full-service bar. Like I said, Hy-Vee isn’t just for the best Chinese food in town anymore.

But I have to call you out on a reference here. If you’re going to talk about 5-star breakfasts in Iowa City, you have to be talking about Hamburg. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Bluebird is good and all, but The Hamburg Inn is an Iowa City institution (and soon to be world-wide phenomenon). Not only does it have fantastic breakfast food at incredibly reasonable prices, but Hamburg has that hometown diner feel I want out of my breakfast spot to go with the delicious malts and pie shakes. And, not to get political here, literally every politician of note over the last half century has been through there. I mean seriously, The Hamburg Inn is the gold standard of Iowa City breakfast establishments.

One Year Countdown To Iowa Caucuses Begins
Hamburg is THE breakfast spot in Iowa City. It was for Reagn, Clinton, Obama and anyone else seriously making a push for Iowa in a presidential election since the Burg opened. Table 6 (the Presidential Table) has hosted them all.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Hello Jerry: I’m assuming that when you reference Hamburg Inn as giving you that “hometown diner feel I want out of my breakfast spot” you’ve literally only been to diners that have five booths and take 3 hours to sit a party of four on the two busiest days of the week?

And don’t give me this incredible pricing nonsense. Bluebird Diner not only “committed to cooking, serving, and pouring food and beverage that is delicious, homemade” BUT they are also committed to giving it to you at fair prices.

It’s even in their company’s MANIFESTO:

Look at all of that seating, JP. Look at the space. That’s the type of place you could eat ALL the sausage patties with your elbows out and your pants undone. If you tried pulling that at Hamburg you’d end up assaulting four people that are hovering over you.

That fact in and of itself makes Bluebird better than Hamburg Inn and we’re not even talking about the actual soul food you get at the B-B-D.

I ride with Bluebird. I die with Bluebird.

JPinIC: Well, for starters, I’m now a family man with young kids, so that means the 3 hour wait for food A. will never happen because I will literally kill myself and B. is not an issue because we are up for breakfast well in advance of noon on the weekends. I’ll let the college kids wait around for hours for $5 worth of breakfast food, but we’re getting in and out of there before 8.

But Jerry, I didn’t take you for the kind of guy that liked his eggs and bacon served with a slice of fruit for show. If that’s what you’re into buddy, I think there are probably a TON of Iowa City area eating establishments we disagree on. And it’s really unfortunate because there are so many great places in Iowa City and it sounds like you’re terrible taste in food is making you miss out on most of them.

So here’s what we need to do. We need to get ourselves a nice list of the great eateries in Iowa City (listen, I could come up with the list and it would be perfect, but for the sake of reader engagement we should probably take outside input). And then we need to match these different places up against each other to determine the truly great ones. I’m thinking we need a March Madness type bracket of Iowa City establishments so we can crown ourselves a champion.

We need parameters of course. For the sake of the arguments, I think it makes sense to break our bracket into regions, if you will: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Other/Drunk Food. We can default to the pod system the NCAA uses and put all the sub-categories together and then match them up in successive rounds.

What do you think? How should we decide on the list? How do we determine winners? I’m getting hungry again, Jer. I need answers!

Speaking of drunk food...

Hello Jerry: Not only do I like a side of fruit with my chorizo and eggs (of course with fresh salsa on the side), but I also like to wash it all down with a Mimosa rather than coffee.

Sorry for partying.

We can get into this battle later because I absolutely love where your heads at here. But, we definitely can’t have you curating our end all be all list. As I and the BHGP community have already seen in this conversation, the two restaurants you enjoy frequenting are Hy-Vee and the Overrated Inn. Not the best example of what your list would look like.

The next thing you’re going to tell us all is that you prefer Papa Johns over Falbo’s.

But back to business. To set this up properly I think we provide our award winning readers (thanks for sticking FFF out with us every one) with a giant list of the Iowa City favorites and poll the masses. From there, I think we can get our very knowledgeable and opinionated team of writers at The Pants to vote on their favorites as well. Once all of that happens, I think we tally it all up and try to break each category down to nine total restaurants for a 36-team Iowa City Eat-A-Palooza Summer Madness Tournament.

Anything else we might need?

JPinIC: I think that’s a pretty solid set-up. The 9-team quadrants give us a play-in game in each food category - I vow to not call it the first round. So for now, we need the input of everyone; readers, writers, editors, people on the Twitters, your grandmother, your dog. Everyone. What are your favorite places to eat in Iowa City? From there, we can build our list, categorize each place and place it in a region and a pod/sub-category and start looking at resumes for seeding.

Here’s what it’ll look like at the end of the day:

So with that, I’m going to turn it over to you all. Reply in the comments or catch us on the Twtitters @JPinIC_BHGP, @JerryScherwin, @BHGP and use the hashtag #thatsfood. Give us your top spots in the Iowa City area. We will compile a full list and put together some resumes before we move on to the official selection show and reveal the bracket.

Let’s eat!