I've been hearing good things about Teluwut (Tell U What) in the far northern Iowa city of Osage. I don't get near Osage all that often, but then I found out that the same people had a restaurant in Lake Mills, Iowa - just south of the Minnesota border and not far off Interstate 35. On a trip home from Fargo earlier this year, I made the stop at Teluwat in Lake Mills to try the place out.
There are actually three Teluwut restaurants - there's also a location in Cresco, Iowa - that are owned by siblings Troy Krahenbuhl and Becky Wagner. The Krahenbuhl family was involved in a restaurant in their hometown of Osage for a number of years before selling the place. Becky stayed in Osage to work for the local school district while Troy took off to Minneapolis to work in restaurants there for about 15 years before moving to Arizona, then on to Florida.
Suddenly, the restaurant that the Krahenbuhl family owned years before became available. Becky was contacted to see if she would be interested in reacquiring the 1872 Pub, so named as the building that housed the restaurant was built in 1872. She contacted Troy who was helping a friend open a restaurant in Orlando to gauge his interest in coming back to Northern Iowa to help her out. It turns out that Krahenbuhl's goal was to get back to the Midwest at some point to open his own concept restaurant, hopefully turning it into a multi-location endeavor. He jumped at the chance to help his sister at the new restaurant.
Coming up with the name was a bit of chore, but the Krahenbuhl family had a running joke due to a quirk in Troy's verbal skills. Before nearly every sentence when he was making a point, he would start by saying, "Tell you what..." They thought a play on Troy's signature saying would be perfect for the restaurant. Teluwut opened in Osage in 2004.
Pictured right - Becky Wagner and Troy Krahenbuhl. Photo courtesy Mason City Globe-Gazette
Krahenbuhl had an aggressive plan to open 10 Teluwut restaurants in the Midwest including getting back into the Minneapolis market. After three years in Osage, Wagner and Krahenbuhl opened a second location in Cresco in what was the former Prime and Dine restaurant. After restoring the building to Teluwut standards, the Osage location opened in October of 2007.
Krahenbuhl's expansion plans didn't quite take off the way he wanted, but the brother and sister looked at Lake Mills, IA as their third location. In 2009, Krahenbuhl and Wagner - working with a local non-profit organization that was trying to develop vacant buildings in downtown Lake Mills - leased what was the old First National Bank building and an adjacent former jewelry store.
With a substantial grant from the city of Lake Mills and the Hanson Foundation (started by John K. Hanson, the original president of nearby Winnebago Industries), Krahenbuhl and Wagner were able to restore the old buildings into a functional restaurant. It took some time to do so - the first year was spent primarily cleaning up the old buildings and shoring up floors and ceilings. By the time everything was ready to go, the Teluwut location in Lake Mills opened in late 2012.
The Lake Mills Teluwut is located at the corner of Main and Mill in downtown Lake Mills. (see map) I was able to find a parking space across the street on N. Mill. It was after 2 p.m. when I walked into Teluwut and I was sort of surprised to see a pretty good sized crowd in the place for that time of the day.
The Lake Mills Teluwut features brick walls covered with antique signage and memorabilia. Exposed duct work hung from tin-covered ceilings. The main dining room featured windows with southern and western exposure allowing for a lot of natural light to stream in.
Past the vault room was the space that was formerly the jewelry store. This was a secondary dining room for Teluwut and the brick walls were also covered with pictures, signage and memorabilia from Lake Mills local schools.
Speaking of the bar, that's where I took a seat to grab some lunch. The bartender/server Keli greeted me with a menu and asked what I wanted to drink. They had a $2.00 special on large draft beers. I couldn't say no to a Goose Island IPA.
The menu at Teluwut is extensive with a number of entrees including steaks, seafood, pork chops, chicken and pasta. They also have a number of sandwiches and burgers on the menu. I feared that the menu was so extensive that they possibly didn't do everything great, but did them all well enough. Teluwut also features a number of salads and a good amount of appetizers including chicken wings with a choice of sauce temperatures, bacon-wrapped shrimp, deep fried pickles, and beer-battered onion rings.
A number of things caught my eye on the menu - the beef brisket with smoked gouda cheese sandwich was one. Another was the Loaded Blackened prime rib sandwich that came with sauteed mushrooms and grilled onions, then topped with cheddar jack cheese and served on a grilled hoagie bun. The Texas pork tenderloin sandwich featured a seasoned pork center cut loin on grilled Texas toast topped with sauteed red onions and Swiss cheese, and served with BBQ sauce on the side. All three of them had me really intrigued.
But I ended up going the burger route - I'd read a couple of places that Teluwut made a pretty good burger. I went with the Cheesy Bacon Burger - a 1/3 pound Black Angus beef patty topped with two slices of cheddar and a couple slices of applewood smoked bacon. A side of seasoned fries came with the burger.
First of all, the burger was woefully overcooked. And that was a sad thing. The burger was tough, lifeless and hard to chew. I was highly disappointed in how overcooked the burger was. Some people may care for the life cooked out of beef, but I'm not one of them. I was even more disappointed with the fact that the bun was actually very good. A great bun makes a great burger and the bun was definitely the star of the burger. Had the burger not been so overcooked and lifeless, this had a chance of being a very good burger.
The overcooked burger was a significant disappointment at Teluwut. I hope that it was an anomaly because I've heard nothing but good things about the food at the Teluwut restaurants. I just don't know if I would take the chance to go back again at some point to see if it truly was a deviation from a normal burger at Teluwut. I enjoyed the atmosphere and the service at the Lake Mills Teluwut and I hope to think they'd probably do a better job on my next visit. But that probably won't be for quite sometime.