On the Table: Taking in Iowa City’s best minor indulgences

Prairie Lights

Post-holidays can be a tricky time and it seems like every year I eat a little more, drink a little longer and exercise a little less.

Having noticed my expanding waistline, my health-centric-physically-fit-yogi-fiancé decided to take drastic measures and put us on a three-week health kick called the “Crazy Sexy Diet.”

In case you’re unfamiliar, Kris Carr’s “Crazy Sexy Diet” is based upon the idea that people should avoid the following foods (all of which make life worth living): bread, dairy, alcohol, sugar, meat and coffee. This means that for the last three weeks I’ve subsisted primarily on mulch, tree-bark and about a thousand oranges. (I’ve never been less worried about contracting scurvy.)

Well, my three weeks of hellth have finally come to an end, and although admittedly I have lost weight and felt 10 years younger, I have also been a petulant ass and looked forward to this day like a kid at Christmas. So in this spirit of anticipation, I have decided to create my own personal holiday, which I am calling “Indulgence Day,” which I will celebrate once a month by commemorating a few minor indulgences that I have previously taken for granted.

In case you’re curious, here’s how the first celebration went.

Good Morning

Coffee @ The Prairie Lights Café

Over these last three weeks I’ve come to the uncomfortable realization that I function much better drinking tea than I do coffee. Tea provides a calmer boost, it’s easier on my stomach and I have saved a small fortune skipping my habitual Java House morning joe. I’ve also never slept better in my life.

That being said, I really, really, really love coffee–I would marry it–so this topped the list for my first indulgence.

I decided to break from my standard Java House slow drip and went, instead, to Prairie Lights’ café. If you haven’t been, you should check it out. Located on the top floor of Prairie Lights, the café is the Foxhead of coffee shops–slightly pretentious, with hipster-facial-hair-piercing baristas, but not too crowded and the music is always good. (Plus, thank god, they finally got wifi.)

Not only that, they have the best espresso in town. I talked with the hipster baristas and they bent my ear for close to an hour about their choice in beans and the espresso blend they use, which is called Hairbender and from Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland. They seemed very knowledgeable and I appreciated their dedication to their craft–but not nearly as much as I enjoyed sipping on an Americano and quietly reading a newspaper by myself. There are few moments I have enjoyed, do enjoy and will enjoy more than this.

The Pitt
Photo by Tasha Leigh via

Good Afternoon

Cheese balls @ The Pit

I’ve lost 15 pounds these past three weeks but I’ll likely have gained them back by the time I finish this greasy mess of delicious fried cheese curds before me. There’s likely not a great deal of culinary expertise required for frying up cheeseballs, but for my money, nothing beats The Pit’s: the texture is perfect–firm, crispy crunch–and there is usually a solid consistency in the size (although, occasionally you’ll have three massive curds and a bunch of tic-tac runts.)

There is, I suppose, little rationale for why anyone would eat an order of cheese balls by themselves especially with a side of ranch–so I concede, it’s absolutely disgusting and I’m a troll–but as I sat at the Pit reflecting on this particular indulgence, I realized that every time I come to the Pit it reminds me of being a kid and sitting with my dad at The Charger Inn, a grease spin in my hometown, where we went and had cheese balls and root beer floats. Now I ask you, what can be so wrong about that? Oh yeah, I was 10 and we were splitting the order. Oh well, Happy Indulgence Day!

Good Night (Cap)

Grandpa’s Coffin @ The Clinton Street Social Club

I’ve been a bit of a barfly these past couple years and, as such, abstaining from alcohol has been difficult–but this cleanse has made me realize that it’s not the drink itself but the act of drinking and the camaraderie involved. There’s something so grand about sitting in a booth with a drink and a notebook or friend. While I think this country, town and myself could all benefit from drinking less, there are also some undeniably great aspects to sipping a cocktail at a pub.

See the print version

In breaking this abstinence I opted to go to the Clinton Street Social Club where Brian Lovejoy makes the best cocktails in town. Immediately upon sitting down I was reminded how lucky this town is to have this establishment; how perfect the lighting is, how the interior has the right blend of elegance and grit but mostly how much the people make the place. I felt so charged watching the patrons interact with one another, flirting, fighting, conversing–I love watching how people live in public.

Lovejoy slid me my usual, a Grandfather’s Coffin, and, somewhat surprisingly, I didn’t love it as much as I remembered; it sort of tasted like drinking perfume and eating an apple–but all that was secondary to the act of sitting there sipping, and of course, eating the cherry at the end. Perfection.

Good Enough

So there ends the day and with it my three weeks of crazy sexiness. I certainly did my share of complaining, but as I think about it now, I learned a lot from this experience. I was reminded how important it is to break our habits once in awhile; that suppressing urges is important and that embracing them is important too, but both should be done to deepen appreciation and understanding. I’ve certainly been guilty of not appreciating the finer things in my life, but thanks to these last three weeks I’ve been given a good reminder about how to appreciate everything a little more fully, with a little more attention.

All this talk reminds has reminded Luke Benson that he should probably take his lady out for a nice dinner at Trumpet Blossom. She loves their sweet potato fries with aioli–and besides, he hears they have really good margaritas.

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