A good friend of mine who I grew up with in Newton, IA, Randy Adams, owns Creekside Bar and Grill in Davenport. For the longest time, he's been working on trying to get a great burger to serve at his place. Knowing my penchant for cheeseburgers, he enlisted my help in trying to find the right combination of meat, bun and toppings. And with the help of Stephen, the head cook at Creekside, I think they may have got it close to being an outstanding burger.
Randy moved to Davenport in 1982 for work and we'd stay in touch from time to time. When I moved to Davenport in 1991, we hooked up right away and picked up our friendship like we'd just seen each other for the last time just a couple days prior. Randy ended up getting a job at the Rock Island Arsenal, then later on at John Deere. But he always harbored the idea of owning his own bar at some point.
Randy's second wife, Kristy, was also keen on the idea of opening a bar and the two set out to find a place that would be in near move-in condition for their bar. What they found was an old McDonald's location at the corner of George Washington Blvd. and Brady Street (see map), right next to Duck Creek in Davenport. The place had been closed for over three years and it was pretty dire on the inside. It took about nine months of a lot of hard work and remodeling by Randy, Kristy and a number of friends and contractors before they finally opened the doors in July of 2006.
What is interesting about the building Creekside is housed in, it was the first McDonald's franchise to open west of the Mississippi River. In 1959, McDonald's opened the doors of their first restaurant in Iowa. Of course, like other McDonald's, it was an immediate hit. It was also the place to work if you were in high school. In fact, a former C.E.O. of McDonald's, Jim Skinner, worked there while he was going to high school in 1962.
This McDonald's location was also first in a couple of other things - it was one of the first McDonald's anywhere to have indoor seating. Also, it was one of the first - and it may have been the first - McDonald's to have a drive-thru window. The drive-thru lane was literally made out of the bank of Duck Creek above the bike path. The old drive-thru lane is now Creekside's beer garden.
The Creekside is also a popular place for live blues music and has become well-known in the Quad Cities as a place to have over-21 birthday parties, celebrations and retirement parties. While they do have a large screen projection television, it's not really known as a sports bar. Still, they do pack people in to watch sporting events from time to time. At one point, Creekside was one of the few places where you could watch Iowa sports on the Big Ten Network as they've had DirecTV since they opened up.
From Day 1, Randy wanted to have a great burger at the place. They featured hand-pattied, never frozen burgers, grilled over an open flame. I tried one and it wasn't very good. Kristy experimented with adding Lipton's Onion Soup mix to the meat. That made it even worse. They tried different types of ground beef. It still wasn't very good.
Randy and Kristy eventually split up and divorced. Randy got the bar in the settlement. In the meantime, an old girlfriend of Randy's, Lorrie Brekke Ricketts, came back into his life and she became involved in the bar. As time went on, Lorrie took over most of the day-to-day operations with the bar while Randy continued to work his full-time job at John Deere. Lorrie's sons Ryan and Stephen started to help out as cooks, and her daughter, Morgan, tends bar from time to time. To make things even more interesting, Lorrie's dad, Randy, is one of their best customers and one of Randy Adams' - and mine - good friends here in the Quad's. Here's a picture of Lorrie and Randy.
(Update May 2012 - Lorrie had been battling health issues off and on for the past couple of years. She survived Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma about 8 years ago, but as it happens with many survivors, the cancer finds its way back into your system in some other way. A mass on her heart was discovered and she had been having trouble breathing. When a specialist was called in for surgery on Lorrie, he found a golf ball sized tumor on her heart. Then he wanted to check what appeared to be a clot in her lung and found that her lungs were ravaged with cancer. There wasn't much that could be done for her at that point and Lorrie peacefully passed away on Monday, May 21. Click here to view her obituary.)
It took finding the right type of ground beef and a little ingenuity on Stephen's part to come up with what I finally call a suitable burger to write about on my blog - the Mushroom-Swiss-Bacon cheeseburger. Last fall, Stephen came up to me and said, "Hey, we got a new burger patty. It's pretty good."
Randy told me, "Yeah, it's pretty good. Except we've got to get rid of the burgers we have before we can start selling 'em."
I asked Randy if I could try one now and he said, "Well, yeah, sure." So, Stephen made a cheeseburger up for Randy Adams, Randy Brekke and myself. And it was pretty good. Much better than any burger I'd had up to that point. But there was still some work to do.
Actually, I hadn't been eating the burgers when I'd go in. They had a pretty good grilled pork tenderloin that they'd top with cheese, onions, pickles and jalapeno peppers. And they also featured a 12 oz, 10-inch-long chargrilled hot dog they called "The Homewrecker". And they'd top it with Creekside's homemade chili along with chopped onions, cheddar cheese and jalapenos. It was a gut bomb from the word go, but it tastes pretty damn good.
Randy, Lorrie and Stephen were still working on finding a good bun for their burgers, as well. Stephen finally found one that he liked and he butters them up and toasts them on a grill for a minute or so to give them a little crunchiness. And the bun doesn't fall apart.
I've been somewhat hesitant to make blog entries on friend's restaurants. Up to this point, I'm not certain Randy would have liked what I would have written about his burgers. But they finally found the right kind of combination of meat, bun and toppings to make a very good burger.
Last winter, I was in one day and I asked Stephen if they were into the new meat yet. He said, "Oh, yeah. We're going strong with it, too." So I ordered up a cheeseburger. He said, "I made up a Mushroom-Swiss-Bacon cheeseburger the other day. It was pretty damn good. You want me to make you one of those?"
Man, that did sound good. And it was. Stephen would saute the mushrooms and cook Applewood smoked bacon on the flat grill. The burger was big and juicy and it was very, very good.
However, the next couple times I came in to get a burger, well, it was overcooked and not as good as the one Stephen made for me. That was the one thing that Randy was trying to get through the head of his employees - consistency. He said, "That's sort of why we have the chili made the same way, why we have our Bloody Mary's made the same way. We need to have our burgers consistent, too. We can't have 'em be great one day and so-so the next."
One day not long ago, I was in Creekside with our next door neighbors, George and Hanna. I asked Stephen if he could make one of his Swiss-Mushroom-Bacon cheeseburgers. He went back to the grill area to make it. When it came out it was so thick and juicy that it actually looked like a double cheeseburger. George thought the same thing and I had to show him that it was the large chunks of bacon and generous sauteed mushrooms on the burger. And it was outstanding. It was juicy and succulent with each bite. The new toasted bun that Creekside has had a nice little crunch to it, but helped soak up the juices that didn't drip on to the plate. Stephen had cooked up a winner.
Stephen (shown at the right cooking at the grill) is pretty consistent with his burgers now. In fact, I told him that I needed to have two good burgers in a row to be able to be confident to write about the burgers at Creekside. When that happened, I wrote this entry.
In addition to writing about the Creekside Mushroom-Swiss-Bacon cheeseburger on this blog, I also nominated the burger for the Iowa Beef Council's new "Best Burger in Iowa" contest. I figured that Stephen's Mushroom-Swiss-Bacon cheeseburger was worth a shot. I took some pictures of the burgers (some of the same that you're seeing here in this entry), and sent the entry form into the Iowa Beef Council. As I write this entry, we're still waiting to see if representatives from the organization show up for a burger. It was dependent upon the number of nominations Creekside would get on the burger. Only the top five nominations in numbers would get visits to try the burger. And I'm sure there's going to be some ballot box stuffing from a lot bigger restaurants.
Since then, I had Stephen made a cheddar cheese burger and top it with ham and a fried egg - medium. He's even tried it with the Applewood smoked bacon instead of the Canadian bacon. Now that Creekside has been getting their act together on the burgers, it's suddenly become on of the better places in the Quad Cities to get a burger. Consistency is the key and Stephen has been doing a good job of showing his brother, Ryan, and the other part-time cooks his way of doing burgers. While Creekside may not win the title of "Best Burger in Iowa" in the near future, they have an even better shot of winning the title of "Best Burger in the Quad Cities" even sooner.