The Coon Bowl III, a restaurant and bowling alley in Coon Rapids, took home this year's title of Iowa's Best Burger, awarded by the Iowa Beef Industry Council and Iowa Cattlemen's Association. Winner of the statewide contest was announced May 2.
Three generations of noted cooking skills have influenced the burgers, as has the ground beef that comes from the nearby Arcadia Locker. "One of the judges noted the juiciness of the burgers," says Michelle Baumhover, coordinator of the contest. "She said she was very appreciative of having the napkin holder right in front of her!"
There are two co-managers of the Coon Bowl, Cindy Heydon and Dan George. George handles much of the grilling at the diner. He comes from a line of good family cooks. "My Grandma (Viva Johnston) was known for the 10-course meals she would serve threshing crews on the family farm years ago," he says. Her daughter (and Dan's mother) ran Arlene's, a Coon Rapids' restaurant, for 11 years. When she closed that restaurant, Dan headed to the Coon Bowl, and has been flipping burgers and preparing lots of other diner fare for the past 16 years.
Coon Bowl III serves five different versions of the classic hamburger
Heydon says George also makes a "killer meat loaf" and several other beef items on the menu including five versions of the classic hamburger, hamburger steak and tacos.
The Coon Bowl III uses an 80/20 blend of ground chuck, one of the most popular blends for tasty burgers. George says he doesn't add any seasoning unless the customer requests it, so the beef flavor is predominant in the variations served at the diner. Customers are also in charge of asking for any extras, whether that's "running the burger through a garden" or adding cheese, bacon, or mushrooms as toppings.
Coon Bowl III was selected as a Top Ten entry this year in the contest, based on customer support. "Our customers were involved in submitting nominations," Heydon says. Road work crews, workers from a nearby ethanol plant and farmers who stop in for a meal all filled out forms that were setting on the counter." Also, Heydon's daughter used social media to promote the nomination process through her Facebook page.
Coon Bowl III 'bowls over' judges to win Iowa's Best Burger
The Coon Bowl made the Top Ten list in 2011, too. "Getting into the Top Ten has been great for advertising," Heydon says. The restaurant has made note of that accomplishment on a billboard outside of town, and also sells t-shirts with the designation noted. "The contest has really helped our sales," she adds. Last year, the meat orders for Coon Bowl III increased 30% following the announcement of its inclusion in the Top Ten. That added business came from customers all over Iowa, as well as from more than 30 states and five countries.
Increasing restaurant business is one goal of Iowa's Best Burger contest. "The burger is the all–American classic served in almost every restaurant from the local café to the finest white tablecloth establishment," Baumhover said. "I've talked to all the owners of the other Top Ten restaurants, and they are loving the media buzz," she said.
Other Top Ten finishers this year are: Ankeny Diner, Ankeny; Drake Diner, Des Moines; Farmer's Kitchen, Atlantic; Ferg's Lounge & My Tighe's Restaurant, Grand Junction; PerXactly's Bar and Grill, Maquoketa; Rosco's, Norwalk; Rube's Steakhouse, Montour; Sac City Bowling Center, Sac City; and The Ritz, Arnold's Park.
This is the third year the beef council and cattlemen have held the contest
This is the third year the Iowa Beef Industry Council and Iowa Cattlemen's Association has sponsored the contest. In 2011, the winner was the Rusty Duck in Dexter, while Sac County Cattle Company of Sac City won the inaugural event in 2010. To learn more about the contest visit www.iabeef.org or "friend" the Iowa Beef Council's Facebook page.
The Coon Bowl III is located at 223 South 6th St. in Coon Rapids, Iowa. It is open Monday through Thursday 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. The Coon Bowl III phone number is 712-999-2281, and Cindy Heydon's cell phone number is 712-790-2505.
About the Iowa Cattlemen's Association: The Iowa Cattlemen's Association represents 9,600 beef-producing families and associated companies dedicated to the future of Iowa's beef industry. ICA's mission is "Grow Iowa's beef business through advocacy, leadership and education."
About the Iowa Beef Industry Council: The Iowa Beef Industry Council is funded by the $1-per-head beef checkoff. Checkoff dollars are invested in beef promotion, consumer information, research, industry information and foreign market development, all with the purpose of strengthening beef demand.