Sunday, January 19, 2014

Breakfast in Council Bluffs, plus a bittersweet walk down Memory Lane.

After a long, slightly stressful evening spent in Omaha [see blog post], I was intent on finding a hearty breakfast across the river in Council Bluffs. My first thought was Dixie Quick's but after perusing their website I saw that they preferred reservations; walk-ins would have to wait. Red flag.

In the end I settled for breakfast at a downtown diner I used to frequent in the late 1980's – Duncan's Cafe. Back then I was working for a non-profit advocacy group that had opened up a canvassing office in Council Bluffs. Officially I came over to plug names of contributors into the trusty 30 lb. portable Kaypro II, but more than anything else I came to hang with friends and workmates.

Time away from work would be spent frequenting bars and restaurants on both sides of the Missouri, with breakfasts spent at the 11-Worth Cafe, The Diner, and of course, Duncan's.

The decaf's not much to crow about at Duncan's, and for cream you get packets of dry creamer. A minor disappointment. Things brighten up greatly when my sizable breakfast arrives at the table.

The Kitchen Sink Omelet is a massive inch-and-a-half monolith of umpteen eggs scrambled with bacon, sausage, ham, green pepper, onion, mushroom, and cheese. A casserole would be a more accurate description. Alongside this beast lay a plate-sized plank of golden brown hash browns.

The strongest memory I had from dining at Duncan's a quarter-century ago was the uniquely shaped sausage patties, rather much like Spam from a can sliced lengthwise for pan frying. Despite the passage of time Duncan's still gets their quaint looking sausage from the same local source. A side of English muffins came from Rotella, an Omaha commercial baker whose products are also available in Des Moines except for the muffins, which is sad cos' they're slightly wider and more tender than what's commercially available for restaurants in these parts.

The omelet and hash browns were more than a match for my appetite. Eventually I threw in the towel… er… napkin. Afterward I took a walk around downtown, looking for familiar haunts.

First stop was at the Bennett Building, pictured below left, where the non-profit's satellite office was once located. These were mostly happier times for me, until early 1988 when a friend, John Montgomery, was hospitalized and subsequently diagnosed with HIV. Those were the death sentence days, and his time came three years later.

Across the street was the old downtown mall, pictured below center, now a mish-mash of offices and empty space. There was a little Greek gyro joint inside where I had my first Cheese Frenchee here.

A trio of friends, including John, used to live in this apartment building, pictured above right, in the late 1980s. John used to sunbathe in the corner room on the third floor. Work was only a few blocks away, but more importantly it was fairly close to Brewski's Beverage, a drive-thru liquor store that garnered our business quite frequently.

I took some hastily shot photos of the famous black squirrels: the town mascots of Council Bluffs. And then there's the mutant black squirrels who learned to play football; these are part of a series of six squirrel sculptures placed around the lavish fountain at Bayliss Park.

The day was getting quite warm, as is to be still expected for early September. I took a brief tour of the Union Pacific Railroad Museum nearby, walked to the nearest Hy-Vee to snag some soft beverages, whereupon I caught the city bus back to my hotel room in Omaha, for liberal consumption of WBC/Goose Island root beer in the dark with the AC at full.

Duncan's Cafe on Urbanspoon

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