Junction 21, located along Old Highway 20 just west of Dubuque, has quite a few pleasant surprises in store for visitors. For instance, they don’t have to fight heavy traffic or long stoplights to get there, they don’t have to worry about where to park, or scrounge for quarters to appease a cold-hearted parking meter. We recently visited on a Friday night and were immediately consumed with the feeling of visiting a friend’s countryside home. Once inside, our sense of home was only enhanced by the rustic interior of wooden floors, bow trusses, and television screens. Though it was too cold to dine outdoors, we enjoyed the view of the exterior deck and the evening sky.
All of this natural beauty led our thoughts to the past . . .
Anyone driving along the Peosta countryside in 1920s Iowa would have seen plenty of crops, fields, cattle, and silos. One particular clapboard structure, however, built in 1928, would have offered the opportunity to pull off the road, fill up with gasoline, and shop for groceries before continuing on the journey. Years later, this building would serve as the clubhouse for American Veterans Club Post 13 before a dance hall was added in the 1970s. When this hall was converted into a dining room and bar, the rural edifice officially entered service as a restaurant.
“What can I get you to drink?” The question snapped us into present time. Our server had already provided a bowl of fresh popcorn and two glasses of cold ice water. It was time to get down to business.
Junction 21 can serve up assorted canned pop and soft drinks for those who are traveling through (down in the Carolinas we just call it all “Coke,” even the orange ones). For something a little stronger, draft beer is on tap and always cold: Potosi Cave Ale Amber, Galena Ana Belle IPA, Murphy’s Stout, Samuel Adams Hopscape, Blue Moon Belgian White, to name a few, and of course good ole’ Budweiser and Coors. For even a stronger kick, Junction 21 has a full bar of assorted wines, mixers and specialty drinks, rail, as well as upper shelf.
In 2010, brothers Tim and Pat McAndrews purchased this restaurant, which was then called Gunther’s Bar. Given the proximity to the intersection of Old Highway 20 and Y-21, the McAndrews brothers renamed the restaurant Junction 21. Soon the renovation process was underway. Modifications included a raised ceiling, new kitchen equipment, central heating and cooling, paved parking surface, and accessibility upgrades.
Hold that thought… back to business!
With one eye on the tabletop menu, and one eye on the wall mounted menu board, I analyzed appetizer choices: onion rings, French fries, beer batter fries, chicken strips, and Nacho Supreme (with beef or chicken and lettuce, tomatoes, and black olives).
The choices for pizza lovers are pepperoni, Canadian bacon, bacon, sausage, Italian sausage, beef, onions, sauerkraut, mushrooms, black olives, green olives, green peppers, pineapple, and jalapeños. Specialty pizzas include BLT, taco, cheeseburger, buffalo chicken, chicken bacon ranch, all meat, The Works, and ultimately … the “Junction 21 Pizza,” a homemade combo just to your liking!
For you burger-meisters, they serve cheeseburger, Texas, mushroom and Swiss, Jack Daniels, (((Reuben))), Hawaiian, mac and cheese, green olive and Swiss, jalapeño, taco, and, of course… the “Junction 21 Burger” – if you want it on there, you can get it! Burgers come with your choice of sides: French fries, onion rings, or potato chips.
Other sandwiches to choose include the French dip, Philly steak, Philly chicken, fried cod, chicken bacon ranch, (((Reuben))) chicken, Hawaiian chicken, and the Carmichael.
There is also a delectable array of wraps – buffalo chicken, Teriyaki chicken, or chicken bacon ranch – which can be grilled or fried depending upon your preference.
Beef, chicken, or fish tacos with black beans and brown rice are also available.
For the serious dinnertime finale, you can tackle fried cod, which on Friday and Saturday nights is “All You Can Eat,” complete with the salad bar.
Speaking of the salad bar, it also offers “All You Can Eat” status with delicious choices of homemade soup, like ham and bean. Dinner salads are also within arm’s reach, if you so desire. You can choose between beef or chicken taco salad as well as grilled or fried chicken salad.
Back to the restaurant upgrades of 2010. With modifications to the property in full swing, Tim and Pat had more than dipped their toes into uncharted waters with this diamond in the rough (field), but the restaurant business wasn’t a new gig for these two entrepreneurs. Their family lineage includes a grandmother who was a Kalmes, the family who founded Kalmes Restaurant, the local home of Luxembourg style dining in Saint Donatus, IA. Pat did a bit of cooking at the Elk’s Lodge in Dubuque and Tim managed a couple of Pizza Hut restaurants, one in Dubuque and another in Manchester. The family tradition rolled on as Tim’s wife, Cindy, their sons, daughter, and even nieces worked within the walls at Junction 21. With a new name, a new look, and a traditional American menu, a prosperous future seemed as sure as westbound Old Highway 20 pierces the setting sun.
2017, however, brought new challenges. Tim and Pat’s mother passed away on January 1. February found Tim and Cindy battling rumors regarding the “inevitable” closing and the pending sale of the property. Despite declining numbers, they had one sole intention: to stay open. As part of that strategy, the restaurant began serving daily healthy homemade Vegan options, such as jalapeño poppers, tacos with black beans and brown rice, nacho supreme pizza, BBQ pizza topped with onion rings, bacon pizza with ranch dressing, cod, and tuna and noodle casserole.
Tim is more than happy to discuss his vegan dish recipes with anyone who inquires, that is if he can remember them all. “I really should write these down,” Tim says. He experiments with different combinations of fresh herbs and spices to get just the right flavor. However, he does not stand alone in judgment. He allows the verdict to come from the customers themselves. If they do not love it, he goes back to the drawing board, or the cutting board.
When our server returned, the moment of truth had arrived… time to order. For the appetizer, it was going to be the homemade beer-battered onion rings. Melanie ordered the butternut squash lasagna with kale, spinach, garlic bread, and a salad with fresh greens, black olives, tomatoes, and strawberries. Despite my burning desire for a cheeseburger, I cast my vote for the Vegan Barbecue Wrap with coleslaw inside. Had I not known I was eating a vegan meal, I would have never detected an absence of meat. My BBQ wrap was delicious and fulfilling. And how can you go wrong with beer-battered onion rings?
Melanie offered a bite of her lasagna to me, as well. Again, the flavor was rich and I could have eaten the entire dish and never known it was meatless lasagna. Oh, and of course, our beverage glasses remained filled, which is always a wonderful situation.
I actually returned to Junction 21 soon thereafter on Sunday, March 5 to attend a very special event: The Plant-based Eating Experience, sponsored by Field of Greens, Whole Living Nutrition, and PlantPure Nation. (Be sure to check out the upcoming May issue of Julien’s Journal for more exciting information on this special event and The Field of Greens Plant-based Eating Experience.)
Tim and Cindy, and their family’s commitment to staying open proves the depth of their spirit. The trials and tribulations of 2010–2017 were not the result of a broken mirror with seven years of tough luck, but rather looking deep into the mirror and making the decision to change for the greater good. When the ox is in the ditch, it’s natural to reach for anything to get back up to level ground, but not Tim and Cindy. They knew that behind the cloak of difficulty, an opportunity and need existed. They rolled the dice and took their shot. They have the ongoing support of a health-conscious family, as well as a community with rapidly expanding awareness. I believe this is the beginning of something good, and not just good tasting, but in the whole sense of the word. I tip my hat to them!
Junction 21 Restaurant & Bar also offers several additional services, including special event planning and coordination for birthdays, graduations, family gatherings, anniversaries, private parties, and more.
Tim frequently states, “If you don’t like to cook, I do. So, come on out!”
Hours of Operation: Tuesday-Saturday 11:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m.
Payment options: cash, Visa, MasterCard, and Discover credit and debit cards are accepted
Take-out ordering and catering available