In an effort to be more mindful about what I ate, I pushed meat off my plate four years ago and decided to become a vegetarian. However, I’ve been known to “go back” on rare occasions for an exceptional chunk of beef.
Such was the case about a week ago when a colleague passed me a press release about a local food establishment having recently been named one of the top 10 burger joints in the state.
This is Iowa. We take our grilled cow seriously around here. Anybody boasting that kind of bragging right demanded a visit from a reporter.
And so in the name of, ahem, good journalism, I wandered up the hill from the Telegraph Herald’s Bluff Street offices to the crest of University Avenue, where I found myself at The Foodie Garage Eatery.
Opened in November 2019 by Chuck and Alysia Bowers, it’s classy meets casual. Home cooked comfort food meets high-end innovation on a plate.
“That’s what we were going for with the name,” Chuck said. “‘Foodie’ because that word has come to represent people who love to eat good food, who love to be around good food and who are passionate about celebrating good food. And ‘Garage’ because we’re not an uptight place.”
Oh yeah. The restaurant bedecked in Harley Davidson memorabilia also boasts 62 burgers (and counting), each of which contributed toward the eatery’s honor.
Between Feb. 15 and March 15, Iowans were invited to send nominations for the best burger in the state to the Iowa Beef Industry Council and the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. The number of votes each nominated restaurant received determined the winners from across the state.
“We knew nothing about it until a few of our customers sent us a copy of the top 10 list, and we were on it,” Chuck said. “Then, we got a call from the (Iowa) Beef (Industry) Council. It was a surprise.”
Not too shabby for a restaurant only a couple of years in the making.
Originally from Wisconsin, Chuck and Alysia came to Dubuque with a 30-year history in the food industry, including operating establishments in the Wisconsin Dells and Madison. It was during a trip to Dubuque that Chuck stumbled upon a vacant storefront at 1091 University Ave.
“In Madison, we have a University Avenue, so while I was out here for a Harley part, I thought I’d drive down Dubuque’s University Avenue, just to see the difference.”
Tucked between other shops and eateries and formerly the location of the Greek-inspired Athenian Grill, as well as Mi Ranchito Mexican restaurant, Chuck’s said he saw the potential for a reimagined culinary space.
Since then, The Foodie Garage Eatery has found a following so devout, Chuck and Alysia relocated to Dubuque to focus on continuing the momentum.
A second larger location on Central Avenue will open in May, offering full-service dine-in options, while its current location will convert to an “express” eatery.
“We originally planned to keep running this restaurant and running our other restaurant in Wisconsin Dells, but this location just got too busy,” Chuck said.
Though the current space is intimate at approximately 65 seats with a 100-square-foot kitchen, Chuck and Alysia estimate the restaurant manages to serve approximately 800 customers per day, accounting for dine-in and carry out orders.
During peak hours on Fridays and Saturdays, hungry patrons often can be found lined up outside.
Did we mention this was during a pandemic?
“Dubuquers sure like their food,” Chuck said, laughing. “We often remind people that during our busy times, there is going to be a wait. It’s not always the kind of place you can expect to get in and out of quickly if it’s really busy. We do the best we can, but we’re preparing everything fresh. To do things right takes time.”
That brings us back to the menu.
While it includes every thing from hearty breakfast options to soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps, tacos, burritos, pizza, steak and seafood, its burger assortment might be its most impressive — if not overwhelming — achievement.
Like blue cheese on your burger? There are a couple of options. (I recommend the Blue Moon Burger.) A spicy kick? Several of those, too. Reuben, Hawaiian, German, Tex Mex, seafood, ‘shrooms? All of the above.
There is even a veggie burger, as well as burgers named after staff (Alysia’s Chipotle Burger, Chuck’s Hangover Burger, Holy Chuck and Donna K’s Burger) and some of the establishment’s regulars (Ginter Burger).
And don’t forget a pair of wall of fame challenges for eating either an impossibly large breakfast or a bulging five-pound burger, accompanied by one pound of fries and three sodas.
Crafting the perfect patty is an art, Chuck explained.
“A lot of it has come from trial and error,” he said. “But all of our meat is fresh and never frozen. We receive new shipments of meat two times a week from Silker’s in Epworth (Iowa). We add special ingredients to the patties that make them tastier, juicier and fluffier. Any topping people want on a burger, I’ll do.”
And if the burgers aren’t enough to write home about, the option to upgrade from chips to French fries might do the trick.
“We make a lot of our own sauces and seasonings,” Alysia said. “We don’t want to give too many of our secrets away, but there are no shortcuts. Everything is made 100% fresh.”
But beyond the food, Chuck and Alysia credit the community — as well as its staff of approximately 15 — for building up The Foodie Garage Eatery’s delicious reputation.
“It’s a passion and a dream to be able to serve this community,” Chuck said. “They say that every restaurant has their honeymoon phase and that it eventually levels out. For us, it hasn’t done that yet. The restaurant business is a hard business, and we’ve seen our fair share of challenges with COVID-19. The pandemic wasn’t nice to any of us. But we made a commitment to this community, and we intend to keep it. We’re very grateful that they have embraced us.”