The Cheese Bar – Des Moines, IA

Each summer, we head north to Whalan, MN for a family reunion. This little pocket of paradise is something I’ve grown to love since (officially) joining the family in 2013. The lone downside, though, is the due-north drive on i35, so naturally we attempt to populate the commute with a couple stops to break things up.

Up until this year, the only stop beyond refueling was the SPAM museum in Austin, MN. It’s a delightful place, as is the town in which it resides, and I recommend it if you ever find yourself in the area. It’s also worth noting that Cate is the current (unofficial) SPAM-packing champion of the world. If you do check the SPAM Museum out, see if you can beat 1:27.

But now, back to the point of this post. We needed a lunch option beyond typical fast food joints to accompany the journey. Preferably, something cheesy, and, fortunately, we found one.

I hadn’t spent much time in Des Moines since I showed dogs as a youth, but now I’ll be revisiting it on an annual basis, and it’s all thanks to The Cheese Bar.

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The Cheese Bar is as unique as it is cheesy, and pairs perfectly as the lunch spot on a long drive. It shares a building with a few other companies, including a yoga studio, which makes me imagine how perfect some baked feta would taste after an intense yoga sesh.

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A neon sign lures you in from the street, communicating precisely that what your heart desires most is directly inside. Minimal and wood-based decor adorn the small restaurant, and a few long, community style tables occupy the floor. The bar features a long line of unlabeled beer taps against a massive subway-tiled backsplash. I still have no idea how they kept them all straight, but after ordering our drinks the bartender poured my Trellis Buster (Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project) and Cate’s Liliko’i (Avery Brewing Co) with ease.

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There didn’t seem to be a bad option on the menu, but since I had never had the chance to experience raclette, I opted for that. Cate, of course, had to take their classic grilled cheese with bacon for a spin. Both were delicious, and the things the folks around us selected all looked incredible, as well.

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Although our stay was brief, The Cheese Bar left us full but wanting more, and we can’t wait to visit on our way north next year.

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Carr Valley Cheese

A few weeks ago, we road tripped up to Wisconsin for a cousin’s wedding. Good times, food, and drinks naturally followed, but one unexpected thrill greeted us on our way out of town. After we stopped at an incredible, family-owned diner, we continued our journey through southern Wisconsin and its rolling hills. As we passed through a small town, we saw something familiar up ahead. It was none other than a Carr Valley Cheese shop. We were already behind, but surely you can understand why we had to make a stop.

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Wisconsin Cheese Pride

The store was being run by a former teacher who had decided to adjust her path to cheese curation. Her passion for it was palpable, and she guided us through her offerings, made suggestions, and left a lasting impact on us both. Beyond just the cheese, the tiny shop offered shoppers a variety of cheese-related merchandise. We were lucky to leave with cash left in the bank, and were genuinely proud we were able to even leave altogether.

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We needed it all.

Carr Valley Cheese is one of most recognizable cheese brands in America, and arguably in the world. Their offerings are delicious and award-winning, and we always encourage you to snag something unique and funky. We learned an incredible amount during our short stay, and can’t wait to come back on our way to the next family event up north.

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We spent more than a handful of moments here

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Awards? Carr Valley’s got ’em!

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Cheese runs in the family at Carr Valley

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Please kindly take all our money.

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We took home as many as we could.

-D

Taco Bell’s Quesalupa is an edible anticlimax.

One Saturday morning about a month ago, I was enjoying some coffee and suddenly became absolutely overwhelmed with exuberance. This was because a few moments prior, I had been alerted a Honda Element – the perfect Honda Element – was mine for the taking at a dealership in St. Louis. I’d gotten all the info I needed. It was flawless – dent-free, fresh rubbers, highest trim level, EVERYTHING. I’d talked the guy down a few thousand on price, and gotten our trade value increased by a couple grand. Things were great, and when Cate blissfully awoke from her weekend slumber, I informed her we were embarking on a trip to St. Louis to obtain the car of our dreams. The squeal projected from her mouth resembled that of a child who’d just been informed she was inheriting a pony. We packed our shit, made a playlist, and departed.

We sang songs and played games as we cruised – attempting to squeeze as much enjoyment as we could into the final hours of owning our current Element. All was well, friends, as we exchanged smiles, laughs and memories over the course of the trip. All of that ended the moment I laid eyes on the St. Louis Element. Everything the sales guy told me was inaccurate. Paint was missing on the back. The interior was home to a nest of flaws. There was a smell. We had been played by a guy we thought we knew.We felt betrayed. We felt wronged. It hurt, man. It hurt.

Eating Taco Bell’s Quesalupa was roughly the same experience, and nearly too much of a letdown for this gringo to handle.

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Quesalupa review coming soon.

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The hype surrounding the Quesalupa was seemingly unavoidable leading up to its announcement during the SuperBowl, and I’ll admit we both bought in – big time. A delightful mix of fast, Mexican food greatness housed within a cheese-stuffed shell? Seriously, sign me up a thousand times. This blog needed it because of the cheese. I needed it like I need whiskey on Wednesday. So, Cate grabbed us a couple on her way home.

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The Quesalupa was wrapped in foil and hoisted up by a very hype-y paper holder. We bit in, and the texture was not as advertised. No melty cheese strings stretched from your bite to the Quesalupa. Speaking of which, the cheese within the shell was more like a cheese patty. Beyond that, it was really just your basic taco – meat, cheese, lettuce, and sour cream.

Much like the visit to Mungenast Honda in St. Louis, the Quesalupa was an excruciating letdown. That said, I think Taco Bell would have been better off if they had just let the Quesalupa sell itself. Sure, it would have still been a bummer, but with the overbearing levels of #hype they shoved down our throats, Taco Bell essentially mass-distributed sadness to the country’s entirety.

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All this aside, it’s important to remember that none of us are perfect. We all have a reliable set of skills, and you can’t blame TBell for reaching for the stars on this one. Taco Bell is a fantastic establishment, and Cate and I will still buy thousands of Crunchwrap Supremes and Cheesy Gordita Crunches in the years ahead. For now, Taco Bell just needs to go back what they do best – serving America delightfully shitty Mexican food.

-D

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Even the dog wanted no part of it.