So for my 28th birthday this last month, I gave myself a trip … to Iowa & Nebraska. It’s probably at this point you are scratching your head wondering why I’d choose these two places of all the places I could go. Let me just say it was a great decision and it was an amazing weekend. I’ve never been to Iowa or Nebraska before – I have a few friends in Iowa (and now Nebraska) and I had always joked with them about it being flyover country. But this weekend gave me the opportunity to see it for myself! Our country is a beautiful place and I am so thankful I was able to visit these two states.
I left work early on Friday to make the direct flight from Atlanta to Omaha. On the descent into the airport, I was reminded of my frequent landings in South Bend, Indiana during my college years with the flat farm fields as far as the eye could see. The only difference here was that there was a lot of flooding leftover from the snowmelt from the winter … and there was a tractor on the runway. Not kidding. It made me laugh. My friend Sarah picked me up at the airport and we set out on the two hour drive to Des Moines to meet up with her friends for a fun night out.
Sarah asked me where I wanted to go for dinner. As a fan of food, I had heard about this place on the Man vs. Food on The Food Network where they had great BBQ called Jethro’s. I love good BBQ so couldn’t pass this up. We started with some summery drinks since we were sitting on the patio and enjoying the AMAZING fall weather! (Don’t worry, after the girlie drink – mine is a watermelon deal in the middle – I moved to beer for the rest of the night)
We had a great dinner: some of the best wings I’ve ever had and a delicious hamburger called the Bulldog: *Our fresh Angus steak burger topped with Texas brisket, caramelized onion, roasted peppers and aged cheddar cheese.* This was served with a side of sweet potato fries. Talk about fat kid snack time! I wish I had taken a photo, but I was so ready to dig in, that I didn’t. The manager of the restaurant walked by and told me he thought I wouldn’t be able to eat the whole sandwich … well, for anyone who knows me at all, I do not like to fail at a challenge so of course, I ate the whole thing. 🙂 We had a hilarious dinner with the waitstaff and managers who thought the three of us were entertaining (they weren’t wrong). This resulted in free shots for the 3 of us. Happy Birthday to me!
After we left Jethro’s, we went to one of the best bars I’ve ever been to in my entire life. It was Heaven and I didn’t want to leave. Downtown Des Moines is a really neat place and one of the popular hot spots is a place called El Bait Shop. They have lots of beers on draft and many available in bottle as well. It reminded me of my hometown watering hole, but because it’s in a different state and in a different part of the country, they have access to breweries who do not distribute in Georgia. The bartenders were really awesome. I told them I was a beer fanatic and was from out of town. Within a minute, I had 10-12 samples of beers I’ve never had (or never heard of) lined up in front of me to taste. I selected one before the bartender told me about one more … one of my top 5 I want to try this beers. He poured me a sample and I quickly neglected the newly poured beer he handed me. I held the cup up to my nose, inhaled and prepared for a sip. It was as delicious as I dreamt. Not only was I finally enjoying this long-sought-after beer … but I was enjoying it from a draft wall. The beer is called Goose Island Bourbon County Stout and comes from a brewery in Chicago. I enjoyed ever sip of this beer. I swapped beer stories with the bartenders and my friends told them I was from out of town and it was my birthday … this led to two more free shots (people in Des Moines are nice!). After a slightly-intoxicated bachelor told me “I wish you were a guy,” my friends and I decided to leave El Bait and move over to the sister bar next door.
Next door to El Bait is a time traveling experience. We stepped through a doorway and instantly arrived to the 1960s. The High Life Lounge features shag carpet, Formica bar top, vintage wallpaper and wood paneling complete with retro light fixtures. Vintage Miller beer promotional lights and signs hang everywhere. The most popular beer at High Life is its namesake, Miller High Life or the “Champagne of Beers.” Other popular beers include Hamm’s, Pabst Blue Ribbon, or original recipe Schlitz. We sat in High Life for a while, soaking up the culture, watching the black & white tvs and enjoying many laughs. One of the bartenders offered us some tasty cupcakes – I told you people in Des Moines were nice! It was about this time we decided to head back to our friends’ place so we could crash … sorta.
We arrive back to the house and my friends tell me I need to try an Iowa specialty: Templeton Rye. It’s a Prohibition-style Whiskey which is still made from the original Prohibition era recipe and aged in charred new oak barrels. This is small batch liquor and is very sought after. If you can find a bottle, get it. It was delicious and I was very happy my friends shared it with me!
The next morning came too soon as we woke up at 6am to head to tailgate at the Iowa vs. Iowa State game. We had a great time and I met a lot of great folks – they sure know how to tailgate in Ames! My friend Sarah was invited to a tailgate in Lincoln, Nebraska that afternoon and she asked me what I wanted to do: try to get tickets to the Iowa game or hop in the car and drive 3.5-4 hours to Lincoln to experience another college football game. Seeing as I’ve never been to either state before, I said yes and we left Ames at about 11am to drive to Lincoln. It was awesome! We listened to the Iowa game in the car and just chatted about life. Most of the drive consisted of corn fields (pictured left) and lots of wind turbines. The weather was perfect. Upon arrival in Lincoln, we headed to the tailgate and enjoyed a margarita and some great food. Lincoln was wild with red and Husker fans. After a few hours of hanging out, we hopped back in the car and trekked back to Omaha for a quiet night in, watching football. We spent the entire day doing football-related things, but it wasn’t until 8pm that night when we finally watched the first football of the day. Crazy!
Sunday morning we slept in and went to Mass at a cute parish in Omaha before having brunch at a brewery – no beer for me that day, but enjoyed great company and great food. I hadn’t seen downtown Omaha yet so we headed into the city for a quick trip before finally getting to the airport. Omaha has a great section of town called the Old Market. We walked around and peeked in art galleries and bakeries (what? I love food!). Sarah then pointed out a cute little ice cream shop around the corner. Other than a good beer, I find ice cream to be the best treat in the world. Ted & Wally’s serves homemade, old-fashioned ice cream that they make daily from a converted gas station. The place had a ton of character and the ice cream was delicious! I ordered a Sam Adam’s Octoberfest cone (Beer-flavored ice cream? Yes, please!) and enjoyed every bite. Next time you’re in Omaha, go there and enjoy the delicious ice cream!
It was sad to have this nice weekend come to a close. It was so nice to spend some quality time with a friend and experience new places and things. Thanks to my buddy Sarah for hosting me for the weekend – and to her friends in Des Moines for putting us up on Friday night. Your generosity was appreciated – come to Atlanta and I will reciprocate! I can’t wait to go back (as long as it’s not during the winter!). Cheers to Iowa and Nebraska for new experiences and really great beer!