While going to school at the University of Iowa in the early 80's (that sounds SO long ago), I had a handful of "haunts" that I'd go to for beers or some food. Places like The Mill, The Airliner, Gabe's and Deadwood were on my list of regular places that I hung out. But one that seemed to be at the top of my "go-to" list was Micky's Irish Pub. And it still is today. About three or four times a year, three or four friends and myself get together at Micky's to discuss sports and catch up with one another's lives over one of Micky's signature sandwiches - the Conglomeration. I thought it was time that I brought Micky's to Road Tips.
Micky's is under the umbrella of Fresh Food Concepts, an Iowa City corporation that oversees the operations of a handful of restaurants that includes Mondo's (click here to see my entry on Mondo's), Joseph's Steakhouse, Bread Garden Market, and Mondo's Saloon. Jim Mondanaro is the head of the company along with his wife, Maureen (Mo). Mondanaro was a native of Ottumwa who spent three years at Iowa State University in the early 70's. Figuring that he'd eventually go to law school, an opportunity to own a restaurant in Ames presented itself. Mondanaro took some of his student loan money and bought a place that he called Mondo's.
Mondanaro then set his sights on Iowa City and he bought the old Copper Dollar on Iowa Ave. He owned it for two years before selling it and returning to Ames. However, in 1980, Mondanaro returned to Iowa City and bought Micky's in late August. Micky's had been open since the 1940's when Mondanaro bought the place. Other restaurants Mondanaro was involved with in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and the Des Moines area came and went, but Micky's remained as a constant in his restaurant life.
While going to school at Iowa, I remember one of the things about Micky's was the long mahagony and oak bar. Years ago, there was a story on the menus at Micky's about how Richard Nixon had drank at the bar. It turns out it may - or may not - be true. Mondanaro bought the bar from a place in Ottumwa that had gone out of business. During World War II, Richard Nixon was stationed at the Naval Reserve Air Station outside of Ottumwa for just over six months. When I asked him about it years ago, Mondanaro surmised that Nixon possibly drank at the bar when he was stationed at Ottumwa. Yeah, it's plausible. We'll go with his story on that.
After running Micky's for 30 years, the Mondanaro's sold the establishment to Micky's chef and manager, Robert "Louis" de Blois. de Blois ran Micky's until May of 2012 when he closed the business and walked away. Mondanaro still owned the building and entertained offers from others to buy the business, but he decided to do a major facelift of the interior of the place including new a new kitchen, upgrading the downstairs bathrooms that needed upgrading badly, and spiffing up the dining area. He reopened Micky's on Aug. 28, 2012, 32 years to the day he originally opened Micky's.
There was also an upgrade to the menu at Micky's, but about the only thing that we all order when we go for our little get-togethers is the Conglomeration. Actually, Micky's Conglomeration is basically a grilled ham, turkey, Swiss and cheddar cheese sandwich served with ranch dressing on the side. They used to have Conglomeration specials on Tuesday nights when I was going to school - a sandwich and fries were $2.95. We ate many a Conglomeration on Tuesday nights in the early 80's. That's exactly what the four of us ordered this particular evening. However, two of my friends got them with fries, my other buddy and I got them with onion rings for a one dollar upcharge..
It doesn't take long for a Conglomeration to get the table. A couple things we noticed right off the bat. Since this was the first time we'd eaten at the "new" Micky's after Jim Mondanaro reopened the place, the onion rings were house-battered and not the frozen onion rings they used to get from a food purveyor. And the second thing was something we all noticed - the Conglomerations were REALLY small. Much smaller than the ones we had gotten for years. One of my friends sort of looked at the sandwich and said, "Really? You've got to be kidding me. These are like finger sandwiches!" But the ham, turkey and cheese were piled high on the sandwich like they've been in the past and the sandwich had the nice grill taste to it that we all remembered.
The onion rings were very good. The crinkle-cut fries at Micky's are rather pedestrian, but they were better than the onion rings at times. About half the time I'd go for fries, the other half the o-rings. I just happened to hit the lottery on my visit this time with the new battered onion rings they now serve at Micky's.
Although we were all somewhat disappointed they made the sandwich smaller, the Conglomeration was still as good in taste as it has been over the past 30 years that I've been coming into Micky's. Most of the other food on the menu at Micky's is your typical Irish pub food with burgers, sandwiches and appetizers, as well as Irish entrees and pasta dishes. Micky's also does breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday morning. We've made a drive a couple three times over the years over to Iowa City to have breakfast at Micky's, but it's been awhile since we've done that. I'm guessing the breakfasts they have today are as good as the ones they had years ago. Micky's is an Iowa City tradition with thousands of people and even though we were disappointed in the size of the "new" Conglomerations, my buddies and I will be back later this year for more.