Starting off on our journey to Northwest Iowa and Lake Okoboji for our summer vacation this year, we worked our way up the Avenue of the Saints and stopped for lunch at a spot I had once eaten at a few years ago, Mulligan's Brick Oven Grill and Pub in Cedar Falls, IA. Located near the University of Northern Iowa, Mulligan's has become one of the more popular places to grab a casual lunch or dinner in the area. It's also one of the more popular sports bars in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area, as well. We got there just after 2 p.m. after the bulk of the lunch time rush.
Mulligan's is owned and managed by Cindy Bramblett and her partner, Nick Zubak. Zubak also runs a construction company in Cedar Falls, while Bramblett was also the General Manager at My Verona, an upscale restaurant in downtown Cedar Falls. My Verona was forced to close in July when owner Russ Wasendorf, Sr. tried to commit suicide after losing nearly $200 million of investor money from the collapse of his Peregrine Financial Group. Wasendorf had opened My Verona after moving his company's headquarters from Chicago to Cedar Falls about three years ago. It's apparent that there is no tie between Wasendorf and Mulligan's as the place was still open and serving lunch when we were there.
Mulligan's is located just off the 18th St. exit of the Iowa Highways 27/58 expressway (see map). It is also right next to one of the many miles of bike trails that criss-cross the Cedar River Valley in the area, making Mulligan's a popular stop for bikers. A couple bikes were locked up on the bike rack in front of the restaurant when we pulled up.
Since it was well past the lunch time rush, we had our choice of sitting in the bar area to right as you come in, or in the dining room to the left, or outside on the patio. It was a little breezy and very warm, so we decided to sit inside in the dining room. The dining room was double tiered with high-back booths on the upper level, and a lower level with tables and chairs. The room had huge floor to ceiling windows - actually they were more like doors - that looked out onto the bike path. With a lot of sun that day, the room was well lit and we opted to sit in the comfortable high-back booths on the upper level.
Our server for our visit, C.J., was a pleasant girl in her 20's and she dropped off a couple menus for us to take a look at. Mulligan's is famous for their brick oven pizza. They have well over a dozen specialty pizzas to choose from (two sizes only), or you can build your own pizza with the choice of honey wheat or traditional white dough, sauces that include a basil pesto, olive oil or traditional tomato, over 15 different types of herbs, veggies or fruit toppings, 8 different types of meat toppings, and 8 different choices of cheeses including fresh mozzarella. We were seated near the pizza oven and the fragrant smell of a pizza cooking inside the oven almost made me pull the trigger on getting one. But I really just wanted a sandwich more than anything else.
I was looking at a couple sandwiches that they had under their "Brick Oven Subs" header on the menu. The Meatball and Marinara sub featured homemade meatballs topped with smoked provolone and romano cheeses and then finished off with their homemade red sauce. The other one that caught my eye was the Sicilian sandwich that consisted of ground Italian sausage, pepperoni slices, sliced prosciutto, then topped with mozzarella, romano and parmesan cheeses. The toppings are finished off with fresh oregano and basil after it's baked in the brick oven.
Another thing that caught my eye was their roasted garlic and blue cheese Cajun burger - a blackened hamburger patty topped with a melted roasted garlic butter and blue cheese. That made my stomach do jumping jacks, but the wonderful smell of the pizzas and sandwiches from the brick oven was overwhelming.
Cindy was having trouble figuring out what she wanted from the expansive menu at Mulligan's. She wasn't certain she wanted anything heavy, nor did many of the sandwiches sound appealing to her. She began to look over Mulligan's appetizer menu and decided upon getting the Santa Fe spring rolls - crispy, deep fried wraps filled with cilantro-lime chicken along with black beans, shredded lettuce, corn, roasted red peppers and what was described as a "hint" of jalapenos. Pepperjack cheese also were in the Santa Fe spring rolls. She also got a side salad with oil and vinegar dressing with a side of creamy blue cheese dressing.
The Sicilian sandwich was calling my name and I ordered that. I got my choice of sides including fries, cole slaw, potato salad or cottage cheese. I ordered fries. The waitress asked me what kind of bread I wanted on my sandwich and I had my choices between white, multi-grain wheat or ciabatta. I took the white hoagie bun.
Cindy got her salad first and it was a good sized bowl of greens with some veggies mixed in. She said she thought the blue cheese dressing was homemade as it was very good.
The spring rolls and the Sicilian sandwich came to the table not long after Cindy finished her salad. Quite actually, the spring rolls were enough for two people with three spring rolls sliced in half. They were filled with the chunks of grilled chicken and a medley of veggies. Cindy took a bite of one and said they were very good. She said, "I can't tell if these are homemade or if they're from a food distributor. Either way, they're good." She offered me a bite later on and while I thought they were good, it wasn't anything that I'd crave in the future.
My sandwich had an ample amount of ground Italian sausage, pepperoni and cheese on top. I couldn't really see much of the prosciutto on the sandwich, but with all the things on the Sicilian sandwich, it was pretty busy to begin with. The first bite yielded a wonderful taste sensation of spicy sausage and pepperoni with a nice cheesy taste. The bread was crunch on the outside, but chewy under the crown of the outer crust. It was a very good sandwich. The fries, however, were a little pedestrian and very salty. I didn't concentrate as much on those as I did on my sandwich.
Before we left, I needed to use the restroom to wash the excess cheese and sauce off my hands. I walked through the bar area at Mulligan's and it featured a square bar with a number of tables and booths around the room. A large number of flat panel televisions were interspersed throughout the bar area making it look like Mulligan's was THE place to go to in the area to watch a sporting event. A number of articles on UNI athletic teams were hanging on the walls of the bar area, as well.
We were both very happy with our meal at Mulligan's. Our server, C.J., was attentive and friendly. The dining area was bright and inviting. And I was impressed with the bar area with the sports motif and multiple televisions. I would like to get back to Mulligan's to try one of their pizzas. It's not far from my dealer in Cedar Falls so maybe I'll have to go back there at some point.