Category Archives: Iowa city

NYC Ballet at Iowa City’s new Hancher

What a treat to see the NYC Ballet for the first time in ages – and the first time in Iowa. Apparently, this was the company’s first visit to Iowa City, so I’m guessing it’s the first visit to Iowa since Iowa City hosts the state’s best dance performances (although Des Moines is improving!). The company was superb, as always, and it was a particular treat to see Iowa City native Miriam Miller dance – including in a sensational, sensual duet choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon (who choreographed The Joffrey’s new nutcracker, which we saw last year during our first visit to the new Hancher.) Speaking of which, the new Hancher is stunning —  I like it better than the old one. It feels smaller, more intimate, more vertical than horizontal, more peaceful with calming colors (seafoam green, grey, tan wood) and plush upholstered seats. Having sat in the balcony and on the floor, close to the stage, I’m not sure there is a seat with a bad view. (Our floor seats were way off to the side but we saw the vast majority of the stage.).
Dinner was a Takanami– for sushi and tempura, which was a nice change from all the heavy food we ate in the Deep South. We couldn’t deal with more burgers, ribs or fried chicken. We were tempted to try the new (or new to us) Szechuan Chinese restaurant, Bashu, that opened where the Linn Street Cafe used to be but it looked a little too authentic for a before-theater/meal. Didn’t want to get an upset stomach.  Locals seem to be loyal to Szechuan House.

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Wilson’s Orchard/Iowa Grown Market/Yotopia in Iowa City; bike trail and Heyn Ice Cream in North Liberty

Iowa Grown Market

Iowa Grown Market

I would not advise doing what we just did – riding the strenuous bike trail in North Liberty, near Iowa City – in 94 degree heat. But it was Sept. 23 and we were thinking “crisp fall day,” even after  weather reports forecasting near-record heat.

The roadside trail had its pretty moments as we cycled  south from Penn Meadows Park on Dubuque Street, past high dry corn and rolling, wooded properties near Coralville Lake. There wasn’t too much road traffic but when we turned right onto  Oakdale Avenue, we were deep in new subdivision land – not my favorite scenery. We found much the same heading north on 12th Street back toward town. There were also some killer little roller coaster bits, all the more killer in the heat. So not sure we’ll be doing this trail again. My quest to find a great trail in the rural countryside near Iowa City continues….

Wilson’s Orchard

We did appreciate the cold AC and sorbet inside Heyn’s Ice Cream, locally-owned and made,  inside a charming corner store  with an old-fashioned counter, in North Liberty.

We also took a very pretty drive to get to North Liberty from Wilson’s Orchard (a pretty place just north of Iowa City off Highway One that was packed with sweaty families with sweaty kids trying to pick apples on a ridiculously hot fall day. Good cider, donuts and, of course, apples. on trees in orchards lining a deep valley with weeping willows). The drive included a section of  RAGBRAI we rode a few years ago (very scenic but rolling, with lots of gentleman farms with white picket fences, perfect barns and big new houses that reminded me a bit of horse country outside Nashville).

Turning west off Highway One past a party barn, onto country road F8W/Newport Road, we stumbled upon a picture postcard perfect farm stand, Iowa Grown Market, (open June – October) where we could not resist buying some carrots, cherry tomatoes, a mottled pumpkin and a few other things we thought would survive sitting for hours in the heat in our car. (They did survive.)

Wilson’s Orchard (and sadly, the kids are looking at cellphones, not the view…)

In Iowa City, we had another very good lunch at the Bluebird Cafe (splitting the pulled pork sandwich, our favorite from last visit, and a good Greek salad) and stopped for frozen yogurt with “popping juice pearls” (kiwi/green; strawberry/red, passion fruit/yellow) at Yotopia (also locally-owned and made) before braving Kinnick Stadium to sit with thousands of other hot football fans (quite a few inebriated – this was a 6:30 p.m. game) watching the University of Iowa Hawkeyes lose (narrowly) to Penn State.

 

 

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Hancher reborn, Nutcracker reborn (by the Joffrey Ballet), best burger — Iowa City

Outside the new Hancher Auditorium

Outside the new Hancher Auditorium

What a treat to visit the new Hancher Auditorium on the University of Iowa campus, not far from where the first was very destroyed but a flood 8 years ago. It is had not to compare the two buildings. Hancher One had a more open feel with a long wide front lobby, seating area and stage. Hancher Two feels a bit cramped by comparison but I really like its three floors and floor to ceiling glass with great views looking out across the campus. The auditorium is more of a horseshoe shape, with many balconies, which I think means lots of seats with a good view. Our seats were way on the side but we could see the full stage. I also liked the colors, sort of a light river green paint on the walls, wavey motifs here and there (mighty generous given that the river destroyed the previous building. The seats were also new and well upholstered so very comfortable.

img_0335AS for the ballet, I loved it, which was a bit of a surprise because I have seen the nutcracker many times so feared I might be bored. But this new version, by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is very fresh. THe staging is so dramatic that it also overpowered the dancing but I lived the sets, which appeared to be done by some sort of fantastical computer generated animation. IT was hard to tell what was actually physical vs. graphic at times. And the setting, the humble home of a working class polish family living in Chicago at the time of the worlds fair was refreshingly different than the posh aristocratic setting of nutcrackers pastttle. The choreography was fun and more contemporary than I’ve seen in nutcrackers past. I particularly loved the reimagined battle between the toy soldiers and mice. This time it was vs. nuts (little kids dressed in hilarious costumes, each a bulbous  nut that cracked open occasionally to reveal their little faces) atop spindly little legs in brown tights. My only criticism is that during the full ensemble dancing, the action became a bit of a blur, with the stage seeming too crowded at times.

We had an early dinner at Short’s, which serves the most amazing burgers. The meat comes from a local farm and tastes accordingly. The burgers ar huge and mine was actually prepared exactly as ordered — medium  rare– which is in of itself, rare.img_0333

 

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Warren Dunes State Park, Infusco coffee, Sawyer produce — southwest Michigan

Nothing like a walk along the sandy shores of Lake Michigan to loosen up my aching back after a night on a img_0313too hard mattress at an Airbnb in Sawyer. And at the end of our walk on the near deserted shore, on a gorgeous unexpectedly warm fall morning, it was easy to feel optimistic about life.

Later, we had my dream picnic (smoked whitefish, raspberries and russet apples, all fresh fromMichigan) at a not quite perfect picnic spot– aa concrete picnic table at a rest stop along I-80, just over the border in Illinois.

We explored some more of the area around Sawyer, getting coffee at Infusco and produce at the local greenhouse including more raspberries and heirloom tomatoes. WE drove on a beautiful morning around Lakeside, spotting some fancy vacation homes off narrow dirt roads cut into the woods. new Buffalo didn’t make much of an impression but we liked the area around it and can see why it draws big city folk from Chicago (only an hour away).img_0144

Dinner was in Iowa City at Pullman, a newcomer that has been on our list for awhile for good reason, as it turned out. Delicious fried chicken and over-the-top “kitchen fries” with crispy fries, melts cheese, a mustard sauce and bits of what tasted like burnt ends from the best Kansas City rib joints. BAck to cottage cheese and carrots today in Des Moines.

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Filed under Dining, Iowa, Iowa city, michigan

U of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium…it’s baaaccck! and with the Joffrey Ballet no less

161770095.qoviR34c.hancher1It’s been 8 long years since a flood destroyed University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium, which brought – among other things – topnotch ballet companies to Iowa. The new Hancher – built near the site of the old one but on higher ground, we’re promised – will be back in business next fall and dance fans, in particular, should be thrilled.

First up: The world premiere of a new   “Nutcracker” on Dec. 1-4 danced by Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet. I don’t usually get psyched about ballet chestnuts but this is a new version that promises to be interesting, with choreography by of-the-moment Christopher Wheeldon (former New York City Ballet principal/choreographer) and sets by children’s author/illustrator Brian Selznick (“The Invention of Hugo Cabret” which was made in to the Oscar-winning movie “Hugo.”) Tickets go on sale for Hancher donors (I think I’m one of them….) on April 25 and everyone else on June 10. I’m eager to see what else Hancher has on tap!

Since 2008, Hancher has still operated with music and theater performances at alternative sites around Iowa City but dance performances, I gather, were harder to relocate – the original Hancher had a state-of-the-art dance floor that I’m assuming the new one will have as well.

 

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Filed under Iowa, Iowa city, theater

New restaurants to try in Iowa City…

We are kind of stuck in our ways when it comes to dining in Iowa City but here are some places that may be worth trying accouting to “Bread & Butter: 2015 Dining Guide”:

  • Leaf Kitchen (locally sourced food and freesh squeezed juice
  • Nodo (fresh baskery items and Brew City fries, sandwich board
  • Sushi Kitcchin
  • Oyama – Japanese, chirashi suschi
  • Clinton Street Social Club – pork belly
  • Donnelly’s
  • El Banditos – beef barbacoa taco, brunch

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Ragbrai 2015 – greatest hits….

Coralville Dam

Coralville Dam

I rode the last three days (210 miles plus) this year – but my husband and son rode the whole week (500 miles plus)  from Sioux City to Davenport (actually Moline, Illinois, where the Team Skunk bus was parked). Here’s the stuff I (and they) liked the best.

Most charming little overnight town: Eldora – beautiful courthouse and square; Storm Lake close runner up.

Best meal: pulled pork sandwiches at the Masonic Lodge in Wilton, Iowa (Day 7); runner up – Mexican restaurant in Storm Lake (Day 1) and Monica’s for pasta Bolognase in Coralville (Day 6); homemade glazed donuts from Bread Garden in Iowa City; the Skillet where we hunkered down during a rain storm in Mount Vernon (although still miss the Lincoln Cafe there).

Best homemade lemonade: Not the chemical stuff – lemons, sugar, water. outside Moscow, Iowa

Parkersburg

Parkersburg

Best ice cream: the The Outside Scoop (food truck from Indianola and visits Des Moines weekly!) Best flavor: lemonhead custard.

Best overheard comments:

“I’m kind of leaning towards Walker – he’s the governor of Wisconsin”

“Great shirt – I’m tired of looking at all these bike jerseys” (someone praising my son’s Kafka shirt)

“I used to think this guy I work with from Iowa was such a nice guy. Now I realize after being here he’s not that exceptional.”

Lisbon

Lisbon

Toughest ride/but most gorgeous scenery: Day 5 from Cedar Rapids to Coralville (via Mount Vernon, Lisbon, Coralville Dam.)

Most memorable shower: Cattle wash at the Hardin County Fairgrounds in Eldora.

Awesomely generous overnight hosts: Jim and Myrna in Cedar Rapids (great company, conversation, shower, dinner, bed, tour of revitalized NewBo area and beyond downtown)

Best beer garden: Back Pocket Brewery; runner up: Jackson Street Brewery in Sioux City

Eldora Iowa courthouse

Eldora Iowa courthouse

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Filed under bike trails, biking, Iowa, Iowa city