Princeton, Iowa is a small Mississippi River town about 15 miles up stream from the Quad Cities. We used to go out there a number of times years ago to hang with friends on the river and at some bars on either side of the Mississippi. Getting older in life and realizing that it's a long way home after a long day of boating, we haven't been out there all that often. But a place in Princeton has been getting some positive feedback from friends who have traveled out to check it out. On a recent Friday evening, my wife and I made the drive to Princeton to have some drinks and food at Go Fish Marina and Grill.
Marina's up and down the river have been closing up over the years and Bill and Annette Hamilton realized that when they came up with the original plan for Go Fish over 10 years ago. Coupled with the lack of a convenience store that was close to the river for boaters to dock up, go grab some drinks, snacks, bait, whatever, they felt they had a great idea for a marina/convenience store with an upstairs bar/restaurant. Bill built much of Go Fish on his own and in the latter part of 2006, the Hamilton's opened their doors. About three years ago, local Princeton residents John and Krista Kay bought the place from the Hamilton's and they continue to run Go Fish today.
Go Fish is located right on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River across the railroad tracks from U.S. Highway 67 in the heart of Princeton. (see map) Since it was a Friday night, the parking lot was packed but we were able to find one spot open. (Parking is also available for motorcycles by the building and for more cars on the street down from Go Fish.) Now, I had been to Go Fish a couple times previously with friends, but it was during the winter and we were only there grabbing some beers during the day. So, this was the first time for me during the summer and the first visit for my wife - ever.
The convenience store is no longer in business on the ground level of Go Fish - it's now a seasonal bar. They had a band that night - a local Quad Cities group by the name of Remedy who played a mix of contemporary and classic rock. A good crowd had shown up to hear the band play who started at 8 p.m. I grabbed a vodka lemonade and Cindy got a UV Blue and cranberry to start out with from the young lady in charge of the downstairs bar.
After a bit we decided to go up the stairs to the restaurant/main bar area. The inside of the bar/restaurant at Go Fish is open year round and this was the first time that I'd been there when they had the outside overhead door open from the bar to the patio.
The tables were full inside and out when we first arrived and we were met by John Kay, a tall and friendly kind of guy. He said that it would be about a 45 minute wait if we wanted to get a table on the deck and about a 30 minute if we wanted a table inside. Quite honestly, we didn't know if we were going to eat, so I told him that we'd probably wait at the bar to see what we're going to do.
We ended up grabbing a couple seats at the tiki bar on the upper deck. We were greeted by the bartender, a blonde haired lady by the name of Diana, who initially told us - then reminded us on a couple three occasions after that - that she was from Chicago. We were still working on the original drinks when we sat down. The only thing that we didn't like about the tiki bar and the upper deck is that they allowed people to smoke there. I was under the impression that Iowa law said that no smoking could be in an outdoors area where food was being served. But we learned long ago that some small towns along the Mississippi have their own set of rules when it comes to being on the river.
The views from the upper deck up and down the Mississippi were spectacular. I remarked that it wasn't quite the views we saw in Hawaii, but it was still a nice view. It was a nice evening with a light wind at our backs as we looked out at the river finishing our first drinks. One thing that sort of struck us as strange were the lack of boats on the river. We remembered from years ago that large numbers of boats would be going up and down the river on a Friday night. One of the more popular places along this pool in the Mississippi is Princeton Beach which was visible from the upper deck of Go Fish. Years ago on Friday afternoons, a number of boats would already be lined up along the beach getting spots for the weekend. From our vantage point, we could only see - maybe - six boats along the long beach on the island that sits just north of Princeton and across from Cordova, IL. I had read an article a couple months ago that boating registration in the state of Illinois were down 30% from a peak about six years ago. Tough economic times and stricter open container regulations that are being enforced on the waterways - including the Mississippi - could be a big part of the reasons why boating is down along the river.
We were looking over the menu at Go Fish and most of their food was the typical bar food - burgers, appetizers, salads, wraps and sandwiches were the main items on the menu. They had a handful of entree items such as fish and chips, sockeye salmon, and grilled or breaded fish tacos on the menu. And I understand that Go Fish is sort of famous for their huge breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. Go Fish was a 2014 finalist for the Best Pork Tenderloin sandwich in Iowa given out by the Iowa Pork Producers Association.
One thing I saw on the menu were a number of drinks they featured at Go Fish. I was ready for another drink and I asked Diana if they served a good mai tai there. Since our visit to Hawaii, we haven't been able to find any place that served the same quality mai tai's that we experienced during our time on Maui and Kauai. She said that they made their mai tai's with both light and dark rum and a special mix. I told her that I'd sign up for one of those.
She couldn't make it at the tiki bar, but she had one of the bartenders at the main bar inside make it for me and she brought it out when it was ready. This thing was packed with rum and was very tasty. This was the best mai tai I had since we got back from Hawaii and it would have rivaled any of the ones we enjoyed while we were on the island.
I finished my first one later on and I ordered another one from Diana. She brought my second one back to me and she said, "I don't think the same person made this one." Whoever made it forgot to put a shot of dark rum on the top of the drink. I pointed that out to Diana and she grabbed the glass from in front of me and ran it back to the bar. She brought it back and it looked exactly like the first one. "I thought it looked different," she said. And it tasted just as good as the first one.
I would have been happy sucking back mai tai's all night (also reasonably priced at $7 each), but Cindy was getting hungry. She wasn't hungry for a big meal, but she wanted to get something in her stomach. We decided to split a plate of grilled and blackened mahi mahi tacos and an appetizer. We asked Diane if we could get the appetizer and the tacos at the same time. She said that would not be a problem.
Well, it didn't quite work out that way. About 20 minutes after we ordered, someone from the kitchen came out with our appetizer - a basket of deep fried dill pickle chips. We had our choice of a ranch dressing, a garlic-parmesan dressing or a Cajun aioli sauce to go with the pickles and we took the Cajun aioli. There weren't a lot of pickle chips, but they did taste pretty good along with the somewhat spicy Cajun sauce. We figured we paid about 56 cents per pickle chip given the number in the basket versus the $9.00 cost of the appetizer. To us, it didn't seem like it was that good of a value. But it was enough to keep us happy until we got our order of fish tacos.
We had finished our appetizer and we were enjoying our drinks, looking out at the peaceful Mississippi River and listening to the music below us. We weren't in any hurry to get down the road, looking at some of the boats coming and going from the boat ramp down below. One of the boats that was going into the water from the boat ramp was this beautiful vintage Chris Craft boat that was built - we were told by someone standing by us who knew the boat owner - in 1965. We felt sorry for the poor guy trying to guide it into the river as he was having trouble backing up the trailer that had a swing neck. (Unless you grew up on a farm, maneuvering a trailer with a swing neck is tricky.) There were probably two dozen people along the side of the upper deck watching this guy try about a half dozen times before he finally got it lined up and into the river - to the somewhat sarcastic applause of those watching from the deck. But it certainly was a beautiful boat.
It was a good 20 minutes after we finished our appetizer and we still didn't have our tacos. I asked Diana if our tacos were on the way and she was very busy. She didn't look up as she was grabbing cans of beer and sort of tersely said, "I just checked on them and we're backed up 30 minutes in the kitchen." I could tell that she was stressing out a bit and I reassured her that we were not in a hurry in any way, but we were concerned that since the appetizers came out without the tacos - as we had originally asked they come out together - that possibly something may have happened.
About 10 minutes later, a guy from the kitchen came out with a couple plates for the people seated next to us. These people sat down after we did, ordered their food after we did, and they were receiving their food before we got our tacos. On one of the plates was the mahi mahi sandwich and when he asked, "Who had the mahi mahi," I immediately raised my hand.
Then I saw that it was the sandwich and Cindy said, "We had the tacos, not the sandwich." I told the guy that these people ordered after we did and we still hadn't received our mahi mahi tacos. He was incredulous, apologized and ran back to the kitchen. Less than five minutes later our tacos showed up. Diana didn't acknowledge that we finally got our tacos. But she was busy, and that was all right.
The tacos seemed to be hastily put together. The fish didn't have much - if any - blackening seasoning on them and they only provided one lime wedge for the three tacos. Cindy has to have lime or lemon juice with nearly every bite of fish and I just let her have the lime to go with her taco. I was going to ask Diana for a couple more lime wedges from behind the bar, but she was busy and someone must have pissed her off because she was suddenly not the friendly person she seemed to be an hour before. I don't think it was us that upset her, but she seemed somewhat overwhelmed.
The tacos were, well, all right. They had a cole slaw and cilantro mix along with a pineapple pico de gallo on the tacos. The tacos were fine, not great, but not the best. We weren't disappointed with the tacos or the service - we didn't expect much going in regarding the food, and we were not in any hurry to move from our spot.
With that all said, we enjoyed our time at Go Fish. Other than the fish tacos they forgot to serve us and our bartender's slowly growing somewhat surly attitude, it was a large time hanging at the tiki bar. In fact, when we left later that evening, she shook both of our hands, thanked us for coming out and said that we needed to come back at some point. And we will - they have a bloody mary bar on Sunday's starting at 11 a.m. and serve peel-and-eat shrimp and oysters-on-the half shell. And I'll want to try a burger and their pork tenderloin sandwich at some point. Go Fish isn't very fancy, the food is typical bar food, and service can be slow at times mainly due to the crowds that they draw. But the views of the Mississippi River - especially on a nice summer evening - are beautiful and relaxing, and they make a killer mai tai. It's just too bad that it's about a 30 minute drive from our house.