Wednesday, September 1, 2010

More of Our Midwest Tour ...

After leaving Johnstown, PA at 6 a.m., we made it to the Iowa border in about 13 hours. We checked into the Days Inn for the night and then trucked across the street to the Thunder Bay Grille, one of our favorite places to eat in Davenport, Iowa. (There are two other locations, too. One in Pewaukee and another in Rockford, Illinois.)I am partial to anything with antlers, so I can't resist a place that has a welcoming moose in the front yard!!

They have an upscale hunting lodge decor and fantastic food. We both always get the same thing here but decided to try different things this time. While we liked our food, we missed the old standby dishes which we both highly recommend. I usually get the "Signature Chicken Tchoupitoulas" - chicken breast served over Cajun potatoes with a creamy Cajun sauce with chopped ham and green onions. The Big Guy is partial to the "Killer Bouillabaisse" - a fisherman's stew that contains shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels and fish in a New Orleans style sauce. It IS spicy and brings tears to your eyes but it is also FANTASTIC!!

With our bellies full, we wandered on down to the Isle of Capri's Rythym City Casino right on the Mississippi in downtown Davenport where we relaxed for an hour or so before hitting the sack for the night. I highly suggest one use the valet parking at the casino if you visit at night. It's in the downtown business district with plenty of free parking directly across the street from the casino but, at night, it is rather deserted and there is a small park area you must walk through that seems to be a popular hangout for some homeless types. We've been there before but this is the first time The Big Guy suggested I wait for him by the door and gave me his wallet to hold while he went to get the car. (Not feeling real secure out there in the dark and we both grew up in a big crime-ridden city!)

We only have about a 5 or 6 hour drive on our final driving day so we usually take a little time to sight see or do something fun on our way into Omaha. It was a bit drizzly when we got up so we decided to take our time getting going and went to breakfast at the famous Iowa Machine Shed - "As Seen On TV" !!

One of our nephews has urged us to stop there for years but it's received a lot of TV coverage on The Food Network, The Travel Channel and even the History Channel's food series this past year. It was at the next I-80 exit just past our hotel so it was very convenient. Known for their down-home farm style meals, it seemed a cozy choice on a rainy day.

The place is decorated, inside and out, with old farm equipment and other farm house and country items. There is plenty to look at while you wait for your meals which come out very quickly. There's also a sizable gift shop with some great kitchen accessories, colorful and fun dishes, jellies, jams, candy and such and they carry quite a nice gift line, too. All of the employees were super friendly.

The signature item on the menu is the giant cinnamon and sticky buns. They are HUGE !!!! Shown on every TV feature, I was prepared for their size but I expected them to be quite pricey. I was surprised to find they are only $3.49. This picture shows a little less than half of our single bun that we shared!!! We took the leftovers with us and the family finished it off when we got there.

We arrived at my in-laws' home on Monday afternoon but pretty much spent the next few days simply hanging out at the house with the family. We were there to care for my mother-in-law who lives with The Big Guy's sister and brother-in-law. She needs 24/7 care and supervision and our b-i-l was having major surgery that week. The Big Guy would need to get his mom to and from her doctor's appointments (most weeks have several such appointments) and we'd generally be there to get her meals and assist her with her various needs. We generally do this 2 or 3 times a year but usually to give my s-i-l and hubby a chance to get away for a mini-vacation.

By Thursday, we ventured out. Mom loves the buffet at the nearest casino and wanted to go there for dinner. We took her over and let her feed a slot machine for a little bit and then went to dinner. She had us on a roll, and we took her to dinner again on Friday at a microbrew that we've been to before. It's located in a shopping center that hosts a large concert every Friday so we loaded her into the wheelchair and enjoyed some good music for a few hours, topping the evening off with an ice cream! On Saturday, we loaded up her chair and headed for a blues festival along the waterfront in downtown Omaha. We all had a good time but she tired fairly quickly and we ended up leaving before the last band took the stage. All in all, it was a good event and she thoroughly enjoyed herself.

On Sunday, with my b-i-l home from the hospital but housebound, my s-i-l suggested The Big Guy and I go do something on our own. After all, she said, this was our vacation time. (Besides, I think we'd worn Mama out and she wanted to stay home and rest.) They both suggested an afternoon at a nearby winery that features acoustic music in a peaceful setting with some excellent wine available. So off we went.

They didn't steer us wrong. The music was relaxing and the scenery was absolutely beautiful. The day was a super bright and clear day and it seemed you could see forever. (We're not used to such a flat expanse here in the East.)

There was a fairly small covered porch with tables and chairs that overlooked the bandstand. Since the porch can only accomodate about 50 people we were glad to get there in time to get a spot. Latecomers ended up using their own chairs out on the lawn in the hot sun. There was absolutely NO shade out there! We always travel with chairs but I'm not sure how much of that sun we could have handled. We were still dealing with temps approaching triple digits even 1200 miles from home!

The winery features about a dozen different wines and sells cheeses, breads and crackers. We purchased a block of cheese and a loaf of bread which they placed in a cute little basket with a cutting board and knife. Two wine glasses were provided with our bottle of wine. They simply ask that you return the cutting board, knife and glasses at the end of the day.

Admission was free here. At our local wineries here in the East, they charge exhorbitant fees just to walk through the gate and while they may sell bread or cheese, you're lucky to get a plastic knife if available at all. You are expected to bring your own glasses or you can get small plastic sampler cups from them that hold only and ounce or two. (We do go to these places regularly anyway!) We were impressed.

I also really loved the beautiful blue and green bottles that contained the white wines! What a lovely appearance they made in the sun. There were also some gorgeous ruby colored bottles for some of the red wines. We did enjoy getting away to have some private time for just the two of us. We're not used to such a full and busy household.

We spent a few more days holed up at home with the family other than a few dr. appointments and a run to the store here and there and then we had another "date". This time they suggested a club that featured a live band playing classic rock and oldies on Wednesday evenings. We made a full evening of it by visiting the casino for an hour or so and then going out to dinner at a very nice restaurant next to the club, finishing dinner just as the band began playing. We were surprised at the large crowd it drew early on a weeknight. The dance floor was full for hours! There's another area on the opposite end of the restaurant that featured another club with an outdoor deck. There was a band playing out there, too, and seemed to draw yet another large crowd.

On Saturday, we spent the day with our 16-year-old great-nephew. He and his grandfather (our b-i-l) usually go to a large sports bar to watch the games when the Baltimore teams play. If it's televised anywhere in the country, this place can usually get it up one of their many, many TVs! That day was the first of the Baltimore Ravens pre-season games and they were playing the Washington Redskins. We all wanted to see this one! Since the b-i-l was still housebound, we filled in for him. We enjoyed our one-on-one time with our nephew AND the Ravens even WON!!! Yea!!!!

We spent the rest of our visit at home with the family. We even spent a nice afternoon playing with Play Doh!!!
We've been home a week and I already miss this gang!!!

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