Tuesday, June 21, 2011

As Seen on the Travel Channel – Part One

Subtitled: “I love eggs.”

Our travels were again taking us east on I-80 in the general direction of Davenport, Iowa, and I remembered seeing a billboard for the Machine Shed restaurant on our earlier trip along that route. Since I had just watched the umpteenth rerun of “Breakfast Paradise” on the Travel Channel, which featured the Machine Shed and its giant cinnamon rolls and massive plates of food, what better way to start the day than with a hearty breakfast?

The Machine Shed has been described as “Real Food. Real People. Real Memories…a special place to celebrate the two things you love—food and family. Known for its farm-themed interior, fresh ingredients and made-from-scratch dishes that soothe and please, it's all about traditions. It's a food that fits each season and con-nects us to the Midwest by reminding us of special people and places in our lives” (www.
heartofamericagroup.com).

The first Machine Shed was opened in Davenport in 1978 and has since grown to include “Sheds” in Des Moines, IA, Pewaukee and Appleton, WI, Rockford, IL, and Lake Elmo, MN. As explained by founder Mike Whalen: “We had just 100 seats and we were all pretty young and green, but we started with a powerful commitment. That commit-ment was a simple five-word cons-titution: ‘Dedicated to the American Farmer.’ That dedication meant that we worked hard to have a restaurant that wasn’t just ‘farm-themed,’ but would be something that farmers could be proud of.

“The Machine Shed is decorated with farm tools and implements from the turn of the century. Look around and become aware (or reminisce if you admit to ‘remembering’) of just a part of the rich heritage left for today’s generation by its grand-parents and great grand-parents. While modern machinery has perhaps eased some of the early farmers’ load, the spirit and courage of these men and women lives on” (from the restaurants web site).

Every available space is embellished with artifacts. There are feed sacks, umbrellas made from feed sack fabric, wooden signs, farm implements, kerosene lamps, and coffee pots and next to every booth is a lamp made from a recycled object. [The American Pickers (Frank and Mike from Le Claire, IA) came and “picked” the Shed warehouses in Davenport in June of 2010.] And the servers are appropriately dressed in bib overalls. But somehow, they managed to avoid the kitschy look.

The long breakfast menu is designed for hearty eaters. It was hard deciding between such offerings as: Pecan Pancakes—buttermilk pancakes are topped with a layer of southern pecans and drizzled with a warm sweet glaze; Carrot Cake Pancakes—homemade pancakes with cinnamon, allspice, shredded carrots and pecans and served with either butter cream frosting or whipped cream on the side; Farmer’s Benedict™--a choice of ham or sausage patties on an English muffin with two eggs cooked to your liking and topped with hollandaise sauce; the Country Breakfast—country fried steak or country fried pork chop or chicken fried chicken served with our sausage gravy and two eggs; or the Hungry Man’s Breakfast™--three eggs with American fries, smoked country sausage, thick-cut Applewood smoked bacon, a slice of smoked ham and two large buttermilk pancakes topped with butter and warm syrup.

Many of the breakfasts come with home fries or shredded hash browns and your choice of toast, English muffin, homemade baking powder biscuit and milk sausage gravy, or a fluffy buttermilk pancake. And if that’s not food enough, order a breakfast entrée with eggs and say “I love eggs” and you’ll receive an extra egg at no charge.

While we were mulling our options, we indulged in one of the “Shed’s” giant rolls. As you may have realized by now, I am always suspicious of anything that comes oversized since the execution of such item is often lacking. Not so here. The warmed roll was light with just enough sweet icing and just enough fragrant cinnamon. We could have finished the whole thing but wisdom prevailed and half went home with us for that night’s dessert.

While the Carrot Cake pancakes sounded interesting, I finally chose the Plowman’s Favorite with corned beef hash, two eggs over easy, hash browns, and toast. And, since “I love eggs,” I got the extra egg. The corned beef hash was a little bit salty, but the generous portion was still delicious, especially when combined with the runny egg yolks that formed a golden pool on the plate. I forgot to ask for my hash browns crisp, but that’s the way they came.

Chuck ordered The Pork Producer’s Breakfast—two eggs with a pork lover’s array of thick cut Applewood smoked bacon, smoked ham, and smoked country sausage. And, of course, Chuck also loves eggs! The American home fries with his breakfast were what my mother called “cold fried potatoes.” This means that the slices go raw into the pan or onto the flattop. This results in a slightly different and somewhat firmer potato texture that I especially like. The eggs were good as was the bacon.

The ham and sausage were extraordinary. The ham, which our server told us comes from Webster City, Iowa, was, as described on the company’s web site: “We start with the finest and freshest hams available. We hand-trim the hams and mildly cure with the finest ingredients. We keep the bone in to retain all the natural succulence. No excess water is ever added to artificially moisten our premium hams. They are cooked slowly with natural hickory smoke that results in a very tender, juicy, and delicious ham that is fully cooked and ready to serve. Terrific as a main course, on a buffet, or for sandwiches.”

Well, it’s also terrific if grilled for breakfast. The fine-grind natural casing sausage—Hillshire Farms Black Oak brand—is hardwood smoked and was as delicious as the ham. Unfortunately, it seems to be available only to the restaurant business, so I couldn’t stock my freezer before leaving Iowa.

We ate hearty. We ate well. We didn’t eat again until evening. This was a 5.0 Addie breakfast.