I had a buddy who had spent a weekend up in the Dubuque area as part of a getaway with a lady friend of his earlier this summer. He texted me on a Sunday and asked me if I'd ever been to Kalmes Breaktime in Dubuque. He said the burgers were very good and the bloody Mary's were exceptional. On a trip back home from Wisconsin earlier this year, I was going through Dubuque just after the lunch hour and decided to find Kalmes Breaktime to give it a try.
The Kalmes family name is well-known in the Dubuque area. Kalmes Restaurant in nearby St. Donatus has been around since the 1850's when Peter Kalmes, an immigrant from Luxembourg, opened a little roadside bar. Today, the fifth generation of the Kalmes family run the popular restaurant known for prime rib and steaks, burgers and sandwiches, and hearty breakfasts.
In 1996, Mike and Theresa Kalmes bought the Blue Moon Inn located in Dubuque's historic Millwork District. The floor in the over 100-year-old building actually pitched down toward the front of the building so floodwaters from the nearby Mississippi River would drain more easily. The Kalmes redid the interior of the bar and revamped the place making it more modern without losing some of the old time charm.
Mike and Theresa Kalmes eventually sold the business to their two sons, T.J. and Dallas. Their boys were no strangers to the restaurant business having worked at the Kalmes Restaurant as busboys before they were both 10 years old, as well as helping out their parents in the Kalmes Breaktime restaurant. Both T.J. and Dallas continue to run the business today.
It was around 1:30 when I pulled up to Kalmes Breaktime at the corner of E. 11th and Jackson in Dubuque. (see map) The restaurant had a smattering of people after the noon lunch hour and I could sit pretty much about anywhere I liked. There's an upper level dining area in the back of the place that featured tables of various sizes.
I ended up taking a seat at the bar and was greeted by the bartender, Lucas. I saw that they had Good ol' Potosi beer on tap from the Potosi Brewery just up the road in Potosi, WI. I ordered one of those and got a menu from Lucas, a young looking man whose physical features belied his true age. (Others were joking with him about making sure he had his ID with him when he went up to the Potosi Brewery that weekend.) He told me of a couple lunch specials they had that day, but I had my heart set on getting a burger.
Quite actually, Kalmes Breaktime features much more than burgers and sandwiches, especially at night. Their dinner menus consists of steaks, broasted chicken, pork and ham steaks, seafood included battered shrimp and broiled cod, and on Friday and Saturday night they feature prime rib.
The burger menu at Kalmes Breaktime features a dozen different types of burgers, or a customer can build their own. The burgers are 6 to 7 ounces in size and they get their meat from steak trimmings from the Kalmes Restaurant in St. Donatus. The trimmings are ground at St. Donatus and sent up to Dubuque for the Kalmes boys. An extra burger patty adds three bucks to the price of the burger.
I ended up getting my old standby Swiss cheese, mushrooms and bacon. Actually, they had a Swiss and mushroom burger on the menu and I had Lucas put bacon on it as an upcharge. It came with a small tub of cole slaw and some crinkle-cut fries. The Swiss cheese was thick and slathered over the top of the bacon and sliced mushrooms lying on top of the burger patty.
From the first bite, I could tell this was an excellent burger. It was the kind where you'd go "Mmmm...." during the first bite. The burger was definitely juicy - this was a multi-napkin burger. The fresh baked bun held together very well and was a great compliment to the burger. It was sort of like a croissant-style of bun, light, airy and spongy, but it didn't fall apart. This was a great burger.
The fries were crispy on the outside, but moist inside - the perfect French fry. They would have a little snap when I would pull them apart and the flaky potato inside would sort of spill out. Great fries to go with a great burger.
The cole slaw - I'm not certain I cared for it. It sort of had sort of a medicine-vinegar taste, but it wasn't overpowering. It was all right, but it didn't matter all that much. The stars of the meal were the burger and the fries.
It turned out that T.J. Kalmes was seated a couple places away from me at the bar. He asked me how the burger was. "Killer," I replied. "A spot hitter."
He sort of laughed and said, "That's what we like to hear!"
Kalmes Breaktime does serve up a terrific burger. There was absolutely nothing that I could find fault with the burger, from the juicy burger patty made from ground steak trimmings, to the pungent Swiss cheese, with sliced mushrooms and smoked bacon that topped the patty. The fries were very good - the perfect French fry, crispy outside, moist inside. The burger I had at Kalmes Breaktime was simply one of the better burgers I've had. It was worth every penny they ask for it.