“Wow! They have red velvet cupcakes! Look at all the desserts!” My daughter was beyond delighted to discover Starboard Market – a charming little cafe on Main Street in Clear Lake, Iowa – just the type of place for which we had been searching. The front door reads: open between 11 am-ish to 3 pm-ish. At least 15 people stood in line to place their orders at the tiny restaurant when we arrived at 12:30. We knew we were in for a treat even before we entered the front door.
The handwritten menu board was extensive and it was difficult to choose between all the delicacies listed in sprawling cursive. We sampled a variety of sandwiches, soups (my favorite: corn-bread cheddar), salads and desserts. On display where we placed our order were more than 20 types of salads from the more pedestrian egg salad to a hearty bulgur with roasted vegetables and a healthy looking broccoli-raisin-sunflower combination.
As we selected our desserts and paid our bill, I asked Jennifer Coffman (the owner and manager extraordinaire) if the pastries were homemade. “Yes, every day!” she replied. “Can I come early tomorrow to photograph you and talk to you about your food here?” She happily agreed, cautioning, “Please keep in mind that our website isn’t too good because in addition to the baking I am the I.T. director.”
Camera in hand, I knocked on the door the next day at 10:30 am. Four other women were carefully cutting bars, frosting cakes, stirring dressing into salads, and pureeing soups. Like cogs on a wheel, everyone worked together seamlessly. Jennifer told me she is not a “trained chef” but happens to be a good businesswoman who has worked in this industry for 21 years; Starboard has been open for 12 years, and was established in 1999 by Jennifer’s parents. After her mom and dad retired due to health issues, Jennifer and her sister worked alongside each other until a few years ago when her sister gave birth to twins. Jennifer is now alone at the helm, and begins her days at the restaurant at 6 am.
Everything on the menu is made from scratch. You can visit their website to gaze at the countless dishes they serve. Besides running the restaurant she does some catering and has a small takeout counter serving gourmet dishes and treats. Jennifer and I really connected since I co-owned my catering business for 15+ years and know how efficient one has to be to produce good quality, consistent food day after day. On top of everything, during the tourist summer season she hosts seven Thursday night prix fix meals and patrons bring their own wine, beer and stemware (Starboard doesn’t’ have a liquor license). These special themed meals are always sold out.
“Port Out, Starboard Home!” is printed on the front of the menu. I wondered what that meant (I knew starboard refers to the right side of a boat when one is facing forward). Many use the acronym P.O.S.H .and the phrase simply means swanky or elegant. Next time I visit Starboard Market I’ll ask Jennifer, the cooking maven, if that is what she had in mind.
Following our lunch #1, we bought a slice of six layer African Chocolate cake covered with white frosting and heath bar bits. I am going to try my version of this cake for our Thanksgiving Bash this year. Jen also served a chocolaty, sweet bar called “death by Oreo cookie” – an Oreo laced brownie topped with a frosting that resembles Oreo filling then sprinkled with crumbled Oreos and drizzled with chocolate. It took four of us to polish off one bar! We loved Starboard so much that we returned for lunch and stood patiently in line for three consecutive afternoons (Jen called this a “trifecta” – I think it was more of a perfecta).
For our final meal in Clear Lake we ordered our sandwiches and desserts to go, then took everything to the City Park for a picnic. Jennifer included some curried squash soup and pumpkin cake with a rich cream cheese, almond scented icing for me to try, “on the house.” The soup delighted my taste buds, so before climbing into the car for the drive to the Minneapolis airport, I hoofed it back to the store to find out why the soup was so perfect. My new friend Jennifer kindly described it to me, explaining that this soup is created with “simple ingredients but made with love.” It was almost bisque like, with a beautiful color.
I am pleased to report that, upon my return to Seattle, I was able to make my own version that was close to Jennifer’s recipe. One thing I know for sure – I’ll be returning to Clear Lake next summer to try out more of Starboard Market’s delicious creations. Mark my words!
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 1/2 lb large diced (1/2 inch) zucchini squash-I used a combo of 2 yellow and 2 green
- 2 medium sized shallots, diced
- 1 Tbsp curry powder
- 3 cups seasoned chicken stock (canned or homemade)
- Salt and white pepper to taste
- 1/2-3/4 cups heavy cream
Heat butter in a 3 qt soup pot, and sauté squash and shallots until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add curry powder and continue cooking and stirring for 1 more minute. Pour in chicken broth and bring it to a simmer, covering and continuing to cook for 10 minutes. Let soup cool a bit then place in food processor or use immersion blender to puree soup. Place blended soup into the pot and add cream salt and pepper to taste.
This can be frozen if desired before adding the whipping cream. Also, the whipping cream could be replaced with buttermilk for a tangier soup. Next time, I might even try replacing the whipping cream with coconut milk and add a squeeze of fresh lime to give it a Malaysian flare!
I served this with garlic bruschetta topped with fresh garden tomato and basil. The perfect summer dinner!!
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