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Free-For-All Friday: Iowa City Eat-A-Palooza Breakfast and Lunch Restaurant Reviews

The match ups are in, but what does our eccentric staff have to say about the restaurants within them?

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Hello Jerry: Welcome to ICEAP Reviews Week, JP.

I’m not going to lie to you, this might be the best work I’ve ever done. I’m being serious. My life’s work MIGHT JUST BE harshly reviewing restaurants and experiences. Skip this whole sales manager/writer/podcaster thing. I just want to eat food and make sarcastic comments about it to anyone that is willing to listen/read it.

I mean people are going to FREAK out after reading my take on donuts and I can’t wait. How did we manage to pull this whole thing off again?

JPinIC: I, for one, can’t wait to see you get ripped to shreds for being so utterly wrong in your fire take on donuts. I mean, sure, they aren’t a full breakfast and they won’t totally fill you up, but eating sugary goodness for breakfast is the American dream.

But I digress (if I ever write a memoir or autobiography, that’ll be the title). As much as I’d like to ridicule you for your food opinions, I have to admit they are far superior to those of the voting public. I mean, I was concerned when it was pointed out from some of our fellow Pants-ers that we, the people managed to include Pita Pit in our fine listing, but not The Pit. I mean, of all the pit-related restaurants in Iowa City, I feel like THEE Pit was the best. Sure, it’s gone, but not because it was bad, because the landlords didn’t exactly get along with the joint. Maybe they were just tired of people passing out in the parking lot after devouring The Coronary?

And how did Micky’s end up ahead of Donnelly’s as far as Irish bars that serve food? But despite those easy to spot errors, I still had some hope the people would get things right. I mean, we saw Hamburg come in at the 1 seed in the Breakfast region and I felt pretty good. But now I see who won the play-in game in the Other region and I’m quickly losing faith again. This thing is either going to be a glorious success or a total train wreck. I just don’t know man.

Hello Jerry: You had to throw in the Hamburg thing didn’t you?

I’ve said it before, but while we’re here, I’m saying it again: I’m still shocked that neither Saloon or Graze are on this list anywhere. Can someone please explain this to me? Maybe throw a review of those two restaurants in the comments section to knock me down a peg or two?


Now, where were we? Ah, the reviews and my fire takes. So, here’s the deal. From here forward, you will see the Breakfast and Lunch region, their reviews from our staff (but mostly me because I’m a lunatic that cares way too much about this) and the next set of polls that will allow you all to vote for your favorite establishments. We decided we’d break down the voting per region so that we can manage it better.

Also, I’m not sure if you all remember or not, but there were two play-in games that took place this past week and you all came out to play. In the Breakfast region, Iowa River and Power dominated Java House, totaling 64.6% of the 144 total votes (I’m an English major that voted for Java House, so you all can do the math for me). And in the Lunch region, The Mill got a hold of a crossbow and put a dart right into the brain of Zombie Burger, finishing with 68.8% of the 144 total votes.

Thank you to all of you who voted.

One final note: This is a TWO PARTER Free-For-All Friday! So check back this afternoon for the Dinner and Other regions.

Anything I’m missing JP?

JPinIC: I think you nailed it, buddy. Just a quick reminder for everyone of the entire bracket, which you can see here:

Following each region’s matchup previews/reviews, we have a poll for said region. Please take a few minutes to vote for you choices. Be sure to follow along on social media as we update the voting results. You can keep up with us on Facebook and Twitter (@BHGP, @JPinIC_BHGP and @JerryScherwin) and don’t forget to use the hashtag of your choosing to voice your allegiance: #ThatsFood for all ICEAP stuff, #BirdIsTheWord for Team Bluebird and #Number2InNameOnly or #BurgIsTheWord for Team Hamburg.

Let’s get to it!

Breakfast Region

1 Hamburg Inn vs. 8 Iowa River Power

JPinIC: This one is pretty cut and dry. No 1 seed has ever lost in the first round and it isn’t happening here. Hamburg is poised to make a deep, deep run in this one and as fantastic as Iowa River Power’s brunch is, it might as well stay in its bottomless mimosa-induced coma for this entire matchup. Sure you get yourself some prime rib shortly after you take down as many Belgian waffles as your plate will hold, but you’re going to pay up for it and you sure as hell aren’t sitting in the Presidential Booth occupied by no fewer than 3 former presidents.

What Hamburg lacks in originality on its menu it makes up for in quality, quantity, value and old world charm. The vibe in the Burg, while a bit cramped, is cozy and nostalgic. And they carry that over to the menu. You aren’t getting no stinking cup of fruit with your order of eggs, hashbrowns and sausage. No, what you order is what you get and that’s what you pay for. And it’s glorious. Whether that’s at 11am while you’re in recovery mode, at 7am with up-before-the-crack-of-dawn kids, or filling a craving for some breakfast for dinner, The Hamburg Inn is number 2 in name only. We’ll see you in the finals.

2 Bluebird Diner vs. 7 Hurts Donuts

Hello Jerry: I’m sure Hurts Donuts donuts are very good, you know, to the members of society that enjoy having dessert for breakfast. But we’re talking about a donut shop (and/or shoppe). In the truest form of reality, Hurts Donuts is Dunkin Donuts is Krispy Kreme’s is Jewel Osco’s Bakery. They all offer different qualities and kinds of the same processed sugars on top of some dough to form the drunk uncle of bagels.

There is no debate on this. Hurt’s Donuts is a novelty shop (and/or shoppe).

For those pure blooded American’s that were born, raised, and proud of their existent in those fly over states, novelties such as fried dough with vanilla icing and some sprinkles is not a breakfast you can go “till the land” on. They need actual substance. They need Midwestern Soul Food (trademarked, I think).

If you like starting your day with a well balanced breakfast, then #Birdistheword in this soon to be landslide matchup. Sorry Hurts. Maybe try your hand down by me in Disney Springs. I’m sure you could make a run against the caramel apple store in the “Hype your kid up with sugar before they ultimately melt down and cry uncontrollably in a crowd of people and embarrass you” Region (kisses JPinIC).

3 Brueggers Bagels vs. 6 Village Inn

Hello Jerry: I ride hard for Brueggers Bagels and everything Brueggers Bagels has been through. I was on campus during the 2011 fire that took out the Iowa Ave. location that I frequented often on my way to the EPB (bacon, egg and cheese with a Naked Juice because I care about my body). I can’t tell you how much money I (well, my dad) would spend on bagels from their establishment. I would wake up early on Football Saturdays, steal my now fiance’s moped, and bob and weave through traffic to get there. I will always cherish those moments of sanctity.

Brueggers is absolutely deserving of the 3 seed in this region. The bagel is king.

Village Inn though? I think I went one time while I was in Iowa City and it was, well, not great. But maybe it was just a bad day for my server. After all, you never know what happened to her before she started her shift. Maybe she wasn’t able to stop at Brueggers for an Everything Bagel with cream cheese and a Naked Juice that morning either?

So, in the name of fairness, I went to Yelp and looked for the opinions of totally sane-minded people that go onto a website to either complement or completely rip their frequented establishments. Here’s what I found:

From Rachel G. in Cedar Rapids - 2-Star Rating:

Village Inn, oh Village Inn... I gave this place several chances and I've come to a conclusion: you would be better off eating at a mom and pop place. Just about every time I've had breakfast here, the bacon and toast were too undercooked. Like we're talking floppy and chewy bacon and untoasted bread with butter. The eggs were relatively okay. The service has been decent. If you want a satisfying breakfast steer clear of here. Of course you can always send food back, but who wants to do that, especially when you are on a schedule. You might even be better off making your own breakfast! Not to be a drag.

Oh Village Inn… not the best start… not to be a drag.

Let’s see what Chip R. from Morrisville, NC has to say - 3-Star Rating:

I found Village Inn across from where I was staying for a business trip in Iowa City. After checking in and tired from my trip, I wanted some comfort food. Breakfast is always that for me, so this pancake house was my obvious choice.

It is your general breakfast place, I'd say much in the same vein as an IHOP or dressed up HoJos. Although most of their menu is breakfast oriented, they have some general diner items like burgers and some square meals available also. I chose to have the sirloin and eggs, and they were not bad...not overly outstanding but did the trick. The pancakes that came with the meal were ok as well, but not the best pancakes I have had. All in all, this place hits the mark for an OK breakfast break day or night. I do have to say there were some slow issues here. Slow to get someone to show me to a booth, slow to get my order, and took a while to get the food out to me. My server was very positive, cheerful, and no complaints with his demeanor in getting the job done.

Bottom line: OK breakfast stop day or night. Nothing outstanding but gets the job done. Some slow issues as noted above.

Soooooo, what I’m gathering here is that if you like “OK”/”Okay” breakfast that you should probably send back but could also ultimately cook and equal if not superior version yourself in the confines of your home, you should go to the VI.

4 Casey’s Pizza vs 5 Hy-Vee Breakfast

BoilerHawk: As the resident non-alum, I am wholly unqualified to have a take on any non-chain matchup of Iowa City eateries. One might argue that I am still not qualified, as someone who doesn’t respect the idiosyncrasies of the above chains specific to Iowa City. But, I have had Casey’s Pizza and I have had Hy-Vee’s Breakfast.

It’s the perfect matchup, really: two spots masquerading as something they really aren’t. I mean, it’s not often the best breakfast pizza is available at a gas station, nor that a quality hot breakfast is available in your favorite grocery store. After all, the yelp reviews barely touch on the actual matchup. Regarding Hy-Vee’s breakfast, Lucy S. had the following 5-star 2010!

It might be the only satisfying and well-priced place to eat breakfast in Iowa City. You can get eggs, toast, bacon, and amazing hashed browns for like $5.50, and it is fast and the servers are nice and efficient. Why would I go to IHOP or ESPECIALLY the Hamburg Inn (note: can we get her input on Eat-a-Palooza?) when I can go to the Hy-Vee cafe for the same food and an all-around less irritating experience??

Casey’s has two reviews which discuss their pizza, out of three total.

So, there really isn’t a whole lot to go on from outside sources. So I ask you, do you prefer the variety, quality, and low cost of the Hy-Vee breakfast? Or the consistency of Iowa City’s, nay, Iowa’s finest breakfast pizza?

An aside: I worked at Hy-Vee, off and on, for 6 years and regularly had to bus tables during my first couple months on the job. It was amongst the worst roles one could have as a Courtesy Clerk because it was insanely busy on the weekends and the other clerk always called in because of course they did.

Shouts to store #1396.

Lunch Region

1 Short’s Burger and Shine vs. 8 The Mill

Ben Ross: I laugh in the face of whichever establishment has to square off against Short’s. I would vote for Short’s in the breakfast category if I could, and if it weren’t for the pancakes at Bluebird, I bet it would win. Short’s is a farm to table (and farm to tap) joint without any of the pretentiousness. The beef comes from 20 miles outside Iowa City, the beer comes from breweries in Iowa, and that’s it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the recipe. And Short’s does it better than anyone else. The beef is cooked to perfection and paired with toppings that can satisfy any craving. The fries? Bliss. And Short’s sauce? Don’t even get me started.

Short’s is also where my affection for craft beer started. A friend of mine was a bartender there. One night he handed me a Pseudo Sue, and that was that. So for that reason alone this place owns the proverbial belt. Pound for pound, Short’s is the best bar to belly up to if you want to eat, drink, catch a game and be merry in Iowa City.

The Mill? Solid for sure, but a pretentious hideaway for hipsters and the writers workshop. Waxed mustaches as far as the eye can see on a crowded night at the Mill. Zombie Burger? Its biggest draw is booze-infused milkshakes, because alcohol and dairy is a great idea, said no one ever. (The Dude notwithstanding). This is Short’s race to lose, ladies and gents.

2 The Vine vs. 7 Micky’s

Ben Ross: What a tough break for Micky’s. A perfectly good Irish pub with perfectly good food and drinks (and free popcorn) gets matched up against an Iowa City institution. Dollar drinks on Wednesdays? Vine Steins? The second-best wings in town (not enough of you idiots voted for Donnelly’s, for some reason. Actually we’re going to talk about Donnelly’s for a second here. I consider myself a wing guy. In fact, I might just be THE wing guy. And of all the chickens I’ve eaten, the ones at Donnelly’s might just be the best I’ve had. AND they’re just 25 cents on Sunday’s. Yet, you neanderthals didn’t feel like voting for Don’s. I ate at Donnelly’s on my campus visit, and it was love at first bite, just like my view of the campus. Donnelly’s is the best-kept food secret of Iowa City, hiding in plain sight.)

ANYWAY, the Vine has the second-best wings in town, and it just might be the best place to watch a basketball game on a Tuesday night in January. Micky’s is perfectly unremarkable in just about every way, while the Vine does some things above and beyond. Game, Vine.

3 Wig and Pen vs. 6 Quinton’s

Mattcabel: While craving pizza, the first place that comes to mind for me is and probably will always be (as long as I continue living in Iowa City) Wig and Pen. I’m a big Pizza Guy and there’s no bad pizza choice at Wig and Pen, between the Chicago-style deep dish, the Flying Tomato (my personal favorite) and the thin crust (criminally underrated).

I’m also a big fan of Quintons. Their sandwiches are delicious, and as a self-proclaimed beer snob, they have one of the best beer selections in town, both tap and in bottles. The fact that you can get anything on the menu to-go is clutch, too. The Buffalo Chicken dip with chips (and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese) is one of my favorite appetizers around. The Coralville Quintons is also constantly forgotten by others, which cracks me up when I park and see people waiting to sit down at Buffalo Wild Wings while I immediately get a table and a craft beer for the same price as a Bud Light would be at B-Dubs.

But when competing against Wig and Pen, there’s no choice. Wig and Pen just has offerings that aren’t as easily accessible (or done as well) around town: deep dish pizza I’m talking about you. If Quintons were to close up shop tomorrow, I would be extremely sad, but the Iowa City food scene would survive -- there are plenty of other places in town that make good burgers and sandwiches. If the same happened to Wig and Pen, the Iowa City food scene would lose an entire pizza style.

What more do you need to know?

4 Jimmy Jack’s vs. 5 Pagliai’s

JPinIC: This is another example of how close these 4-5 matchups are. Pagliai’s is an Iowa City institution. They’ve been serving delicious, thin-crust pizza to college kids and families alike since, I assume, pre-WWII days. And their workers still dress the same. Their pies will cost you a bit more than the pizza options you’ll find in the Other Region but the quality is certainly worth the difference.

And it’s a kind of a shame they’ll face off against the only BBQ option to make it into the bracket. Like Pagliai’s Jimmy Jacks has been a staple in Iowa City for some time. While they’ve historically been in their barn-inspired east side location, they now occupy some prime real estate in the Old Capitol mall downtown and are no doubt a favorite spot for nearly every Iowa City resident.

Jimmy Jacks, the 4 seed, boasts a 4.5 star rating on Yelp on 179 reviews. “The place where family and friends gather for remarkable barbecue” didn’t get there without some fantastic food.

Peter O. from Maryland apparently traveled all the way to Iowa City for some ribs and came away impressed:

“Oh my ribs!!! Yes, if you believe in ribs, this is place to try! I enjoyed every bite at this lovely shack in Iowa city! By god, their recipe deserves all the praise and its own Wikipedia page!

Will I be back?! Yes!”

Officially A & A Pagliai’s, Pagliai’s will try to match that with a 4-star rating of their own on 124 Yelp review. Frankly, that seems a little low. I get it, some people aren’t into thin crust and in a college town where basically everyone is from the Chicago burbs, I suppose a deep dish place is bound to get more fanfare, but Pagliai’s is a damn good spot

Most of the reviews were short novels with all the adoration, but here’s a condensed version from Allie P:

“My family and I have visited Pagliai's for years and have never been disappointed. Good service, good prices, and great, classic pizza. The only downside is that other pizza can never stand up to this for me, so I now only like to eat at Pagliai's. A really great, classic Iowa City eatery. Could not recommend enough if you haven't been here or are in town. Definitely get the sausage - it is fresh and high quality, nothing like crappy processed sausage at other places.”

It would be a crying shame if we didn’t see a showdown with Wig and Pen in either the Lunch or Dinner region.

If I’m betting on this one, gimme the pizza over BBQ in a nail-biter. What say you?

Those are the matchups, now it's time to make your voice heard! Vote on each matchup in the polls above. And one last shameless plug to be sure and follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@BHGP, @JPinIC_BHGP and @JerryScherwin) for updates on the voting, and check back in next Friday to see who’s advancing to the next round!