One of the very first posts I wrote about on "Road Tips" when I first started out over four years ago was on the Starlite Room in Cedar Rapids and their 1/2 pound "Super Cheeseburger". As this blog evolved over the years, I decided to add some background on the places I eat at (when I can find the information). And now that I have a camera phone, I can take pictures of the things I'm served. I made a decision a while back that I needed to get back up to Cedar Rapids to visit the Starlite once again and do a more in depth report than the short one I did a few years back.
The Starlite Room - or simply known as "The Starlite" by the locals - has been around since the 50's. In 1959, a young Jim Aossey was working in his father's grocery store in the Kenwood neighborhood of Cedar Rapids when he was approached with an opportunity to run the Starlite. Although Aossey didn't know anything about the restaurant/bar business, he decided to give it a go. Aossey eventually bought the Starlite and brought in his sister, Lucille, to help run the place. Aossey, now nearing 80 years old, is still running the place. In fact, he was in there the day I was there recently.
In the 60's, one of the big things Aossey (pictured at right) decided to do is come up with a half-pound burger. Called "The Superburger" it quickly became a novelty to the patrons who came to give it a try. A lot of skeptics scoffed at the idea of a huge burger, but Aossey quickly converted a number of people who have enjoyed "Superburgers" for years and years.
Over the years, Aossey added onto the Starlite, buying up a couple spaces next to the original bar and eventually demolishing a building to make way for parking out front. A few years back he put a nice little awning in front of the building for outdoor dining. The interior of the place is broken into two areas - the original bar area and the dining room, shown here. There's also a little party room that is used for overflow when the place gets packed.
The Starlite is sort of tucked back in a small strip mall just behind a Dairy Queen on 1st Ave. NE in Cedar Rapids (see map). I had a meeting with a dealer in nearby Marion one recent day and decided to stop in to have a Super Cheeseburger before I made my way home. Looking into the dining room (left), I noticed all the booths were taken. I took a seat in a booth in the bar area. The bar area has a pretty good sized bar, a number of flat panel televisions and a pool table that I've seen used - maybe - once or twice during my visits to The Starlite over the years. The lighting is also subdued in the bar area compared to the brightly lit dining room.
I first found out about The Starlite from a couple guys who I met on a Iowa Hawkeye sports list serve group nearly 15 years ago. These guys, Eric Van Fossen and Kevin Gertsen - who have since become pretty good friends - grew up in Cedar Rapids. They found out that I was a burger fanatic and said that I had to go there to try a burger. When I asked my wife, who is a Cedar Rapids native, about The Starlite, she said, "Oh, God, yeah! The Starlite makes a great burger!" On our next trip to Cedar Rapids, we stopped in and had a Super Cheeseburger. Grilled on a flat grill, the oval-shaped burgers are thick and juicy. It's very good. Kevin told me one time that he ate three Super Cheeseburgers in a sitting. I've had two before and thought I was going to blow up. He immediately became my hero for eating three.
I met Eric there for lunch one time when he was back from Atlanta visiting his mom. That's when I was introduced to the concept of putting mustard on french fries by Eric. He said, "I don't know. There's something about that vinegary taste on The Starlite's french fries that I like." Since then, I've met guys who work for Cambridge Audio in England who put vinegar on their french fries. I'm guessing the mustard thing is similar. I've tried mustard on fries a few times since, but it hasn't quite tripped my trigger like it does for Eric.
Over the years, I've eaten at The Starlite many times. There have been times in the past where we've gotten in the car on a Saturday and driven the nearly 90 miles to Cedar Rapids to have a Super Cheeseburger with any one of Cindy's family members who still live in the area. We haven't done that much lately, but it's still one of our favorite places to stop when we're in Cedar Rapids.
I ordered a Bud Light and though the waitress gave me a menu - which isn't very extensive past the burgers, the Starlite's tenderloins (breaded and unbreaded), fries, onion rings and other deep-fried goodies - she asked me if I knew what I wanted, as they seem to do with everyone that comes in. That's because probably 80 percent of the people will order a Superburger. I ordered a Super Cheeseburger, everything. And everything is ketchup, yellow mustard, onions, pickles, lettuce, tomato and mayo. I told her to hold the mayo.
It wasn't overly busy when I was in there that day. It was past the noon rush and only a few late lunch diners were in the place. It didn't take overly long - about 15 minutes - for my burger to show up. And from my first bite, I knew it was a Super Cheeseburger from their signature taste. Juicy and big, the Superburger has won a number of "Best of Cedar Rapids" awards over the years. The light and fluffy bun is slightly toasted and stays together very well with the juiciness of the burger.
It's easy to see why The Starlite has stayed in business for over 50 years under Jim Aossey's leadership. The burgers are great, it's a wonderful neighborhood bar and it's served generations of Cedar Rapidians. The Starlite doesn't quite crack my new Top Ten list of burgers that I'll be publishing very soon, but they deserve a high honorable mention. It's one of the best burgers in Eastern Iowa and it's always a treat to stop there when I can.