Mar 28, 2017

A commoner dines at La Casa de Pancho, Grinnell, Iowa

One might ask why a commoner would devote an entire blog post to a downtown Mexican restaurant located in Grinnell, Iowa.  The simple answer:  It was there, it was tempting, and when I have a craving for a certain food style, I have learned it’s best to satisfy it.  

To be fair, for a small Midwestern college town, much of Grinnell’s downtown always seemed to be more bustling than I expected whenever I wandered through on weekday evenings last summer after my work days were done.  As I covered in a previous post, Grinnell’s locals actually still migrate to their downtown, where you’ll seemingly find one shop meeting every basic need -- for instance, the grocery, the cinema, the sporting goods store, the dive bar, the Chinese restaurant, the pizza place, the trendy deli.  

La Casa de Pancho stands as Grinnell’s downtown Mexican restaurant.  It’s also one of the few downtown places to sport neon liquor signs in its windows, so that -- along with a chalkboard sign on the sidewalk highlighting each day’s food and drink special -- helped it stand out to me.  After reading about the cucumber jalapeno margaritas made with locally grown ingredients on special one night, I decided I could wait no longer.

Although it was early in the evening, I felt fortunate to find a seat.  Did I mention it was summer break at the college?  So, I was among the first arrivals for dinner.  I was still optimistic, as the place had received several recommendations from people I worked with.

Not wanting to take up a full table by myself, I found the small back bar and sat at one of the handful of available bar stools.  I figured I’d be closer to the margaritas that way.  As long as I didn’t drink enough of them to entice me to try on the sombrero.  

It was a more difficult that that you’d think, as the cucumber margarita was refreshingly delicious.  Naturally, I had another.  I needed it to wash down the abundant house-made chips and salsa the staff kept putting in front of me.  La Casa de Pancho’s salsa especially stood out … it was much thinner in consistency than most, but it was loaded with chunks of fresh onion and garlic that, when paired with their chips, made it quite irresistible.

Fortunately, I was able to save room for one of the dishes that brought me to the restaurant in the first place -- the enchiladas mole.  Anyone who knows me understands I am a sucker for any mole dish on a Mexican restaurant’s menu.  This mole was smooth, creamy and just chocolaty enough to make every bite of the chicken-stuffed enchiladas equally delightful.  La Casa de Pancho didn’t cut corners on the sides, either.  The refried beans and rice blended beautifully with the main entree.  

As La Casa de Pancho proved, even though your options may be limited by your surroundings, sometimes you can still find a diamond in the rough.  It quickly became one of my regular dining options while I worked in Grinnell.  It’s no wonder the place attracts visitors driving past Grinnell on I-80 to make the five-mile drive downtown.  The detour is worth it.  The food won’t disappoint, but the margaritas will make it memorable.

Mar 8, 2017

Good times flowing at Rocky River Brewing Company, Cleveland, Ohio

As I continue to catch up with posting my blog ideas from past work trips, I figured I might as well continue the brewpub theme with my only visit to Cleveland’s east side -- specifically the Rocky River neighborhood -- where, appropriately, we found the Rocky River Brewing Company.

Founded in 1998 and located just minutes south of I-90, the Rocky River Brewing Company appears to have become somewhat of a fixture in its namesake neighborhood.  Although I found its actual location and the building’s appearance to be somewhat of a letdown (think typical suburbia commercialization), once I got inside I was relieved to see Rocky River had just about everything you’d want and expect in your friendly neighborhood gastropub.

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...