A shout out to my friend, Dirk Keller, who is an avid reader of "Road Tips", and who I ran into one day as I was taking one of my dealers to lunch at Mondo's in Coralville, IA. Dirk was also taking a business client out to lunch there one day earlier this year just before my hip replacement surgery. He asked me in the parking lot after we walked out if I was going to write about Mondo's on Road Tips. I said, "Stay tuned, buddy!" So here you go, Dirk!
Mondo's is owned by Jim Mondanaro (right) who runs a number of restaurants around the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids area. Mondanaro also had restaurants in the Des Moines, Dallas and Phoenix areas at one time. One of his restaurants, Micky's in downtown Iowa City (see map) was and still is one of my all-time favorite Iowa City haunts. I think it has become too high priced for what they serve at Micky's, but the food is still good and the beer is very cold.
The restaurant, located on "the Strip" in Coralville (see map), sustained heavy damage during the Great Iowa Flood of 2008 and it wasn't certain that Mondanaro would reopen the location. The restaurant sustained over $1 million dollars in damage to the building and its contents. Mondanaro didn't have flood insurance for the restaurant. The last I'd heard on the matter was that it was still up in the air as to whether or not he'd reopen. But that was last fall.
Here's a picture of the flooding that occurred in Coralville along the strip during the summer of 2008. Mondo's is toward the upper center of the picture. This picture was taken not long after the Iowa River levee was breached sending tons of flood water throughout the Strip area. Even today, almost a year after the flood occurred, there are still businesses that sit closed and will probably never reopen.
Officially, the former restaurant was known as Mondo's Tomato Pie. When Mondanaro made the decision to reopen the restaurant, he wanted a fresh start. He changed the decor to a more contemporary art deco look, put in a bunch of television sets, and called the place Mondo's Sports Cafe. He more than doubled the original number of items he had on the Sports Cafe menu to include more of a Mediterranean flair.
Still, the locals refer to the restaurant as "Mondo's". In fact, Jim Mondanaro said that he didn't want to call his place a "sports cafe", but it doesn't look anything but a sports bar when you walk into the place. There are televisions turned to some sporting event throughout the restaurant. Mondanaro kept some of the same touches that defined the old Mondo's, but with all the sports memorabilia dotting the walls - over 1,000 pieces, to be exact - it's definitely not the old Mondo's.
The new Mondo's opened toward the end of January and I happened to be over in Coralville meeting with Scott Cray from Hawkeye Audio toward the end of February. I offered to take him out to lunch and he suggested to go down the street to the "new" Mondo's. I said, "I didn't think Jim was going to reopen."
Scott said, "Well, he made up his mind last fall. In fact, I put a bid in on his sound system and televisions. I didn't get it. I sort of want to go in there and see who did his work."
It turned out that a small custom installer must have done the work. Scott said, "Oh, these are LG televisions and cheap in-ceiling speakers. Any one of a number of guys who work out of their trunk could get this stuff from any number of distributors." Scott said that Jim probably tried to stay on the cheap since all of the remodeling and rebuilding costs were coming out of his pocket.
The lunch time crowd was in full swing at Mondo's as we had about a five minute wait before we were seated. We were led to a table in a separate dining area on the west side of the restaurant. We got a menu and I took a look at what the new Mondo's had to offer.
Actually, they had a little bit of everything. The new Mondo's had gourmet pizza, pasta, seafood, steaks and chicken. They also had burgers, sandwiches and large salads with various toppings. I remarked that if Mondanaro was trying to make his new restaurant different than the old Mondo's Tomato Pie, I didn't see many differences - only a number of new items added to the old menu.
One of the items on the menu was a Flank Steak salad - a large salad topped with flank steak. Being on a diet, I went with that. Scott ended up getting a salad, too - the Rotisserie Chicken salad. That's a large salad topped with chunks of rotisserie chicken. And I offered to bring burgers to the guys at the store, so we ordered a couple of the bacon cheeseburgers to go when we were ready to leave.
It wasn't much more than about 15 minutes before our food came to the table. I have to say that while I've been on my diet, there hasn't been many exciting things to eat in regard to salads and what not. But I have to give kudos to Mondo's for their Flank Steak salad. The flank steak was grilled perfectly and wasn't over-cooked like you find some restaurants do with the thin flank steak. The lettuce was fresh, as were the tomatoes and mushrooms. And the parmesan peppercorn vinaigrette was just outstanding. I didn't think something so healthy could taste so good.
Scott declared his Rotisserie Chicken salad to be equally as splendid. The chicken was mixed in with organic greens, rice and vegetables and topped with a pesto vinaigrette. Both of us were able to eat a good portion of our salads before the burgers "to-go" showed up at the table. With that, we both declared we had enough and I got the check. With the burgers, salads, an ice tea for Scott and a tip, the bill came to just under $50 bucks. Sort of high-priced, but I've come to expect that with Jim Mondanaro's restaurants.
Still, the food at the new Mondo's is varied and what I had was pretty good. I'm sure the main entrees, sandwiches and other items are just as good. Jim's had both a solid and shaky reputation around Iowa City over the years. I have to say that the new Mondo's helps solidify Jim's reputation. It's good to see people come back from somewhat insurmountable odds.