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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Guest Post: Finding a Little Czech in Cedar Rapids

I have a special treat for you today! Instead of the usual stuff, we have a guest post today from my friend Cindy Ladage from Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl. She wrote a terrific post for me about a city in the US. Since most of my trips are international, I thought this would be a fantastic change of pace. I hope this story makes you want to visit Cedar Rapids as much it does me.
In the heart of downtown Cedar Rapids is a historic neighborhood, Czech Village. The village was settled when Czech immigrants arrived around 1852 to work in local packing plants, and soon a “Little Bohemia” was established in the southwest sector of the city.
Today portions of the area have been restored and there are some eclectic shops and the amazing National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library. Laura Formanek, Director of Marketing & Communications provided my mom and me a guided tour while on a press trip to this wonderful city. 
The Museum: 
  • The first thing we saw when we entered this amazingly beautiful building was the Czech chandelier made of glittering and sparking Czech glass.  
  • The current rotating exhibit was Immortal: Warhol’s Last Works which will be on display until October 2, 2016.  I was amazed to find I really enjoyed this exhibit.  I usually consider myself more of a Van Gogh kind of girl, but Warhol’s work was quite interesting and expressive of the times he lived in.   
  • The timely exhibit Faces of Freedom, the Czech and Slovak Journey hits home because like the brochure points out, “It’s everyone’s story.” 
    • The immigration story of many Czechs and Slovaks coming to America comes to life for youngsters through the eyes of Mana a child who immigrated to the US in the 1920’s.
I loved this museum and really liked the Czech and Slovak costumes and the gift shop which had amazing jewelry.  For more information about the museum, log onto their website.  
While out and about I stopped in a neat spot Forget Me Not Antiques and Gifts where I bought Czech buttons that the owner placed in an earring set, so I now have my very own “Bohemian” jewelry! 
On this press trip where I was learning about art in Cedar Rapids and more, we met up with Go Cedar Rapid’s Jennifer Pickar and enjoyed some amazing grilled cheese on parmesan-herb encrusted sourdough along with a bowl of tomato bisque soup.  This selection was after a good ten minutes of mulling over the menu.   
While it is cool to dine in a fun new place, what is even cooler is to dine in a cool new place in a historic building in a historic neighborhood. That’s just what I did on a recent visit to Cedar Rapids with my mom. The Sauce is located in a revamped building and is located in the historic Czech neighborhood. 
The Food: 
  • Lenny Sims one of the owners of The Sauce Bar & Bistro along with his business partner Chris Robinson was on hand to share a bit of information. Lenny and Chris literally saved this building from demolition after the record breaking flood of 2008 that has transformed this city from the inside out.  
  • The Sauce has been open since 2013 after the owners took the building down to the studs and worked revamping it over an 18 month period.  
  • The Sauce is not Lenny Sims first foray into the food business.  “I started at the ballpark
    at 11 or 12 and I liked the hospitality side,” Lenny said.
  • After a stint at Olive Garden and a few other places he and Chris decided to give this a go.  “I hosted, bussed, bartended, was front of the house and cooked, I did it all,” Lenny said.  
  • These days Lenny is mostly front of the house and he uses his degree in finance.  The name of the restaurant came from a quote Lenny said a food writer wrote.  “They said food was just food before sauces, and then it became cuisine.”  
  • Sauces make everything better. Lenny said his favorite sauce they offer is the Czarina Salad Dressing, “It’s a take on the Caesar dressing,” Lenny added. 
  • His personal favorite menu items include the House burger, a half-pound burger with mushrooms, bacon, and lettuce and tomato confit.  He also favors the Banh MI, a sandwich made from Braised Pork belly with Pickled Vegetables, Cilantro, Cucumber, Lime, on a Baguette.  Customers love like we did, the grilled cheese, pasta which changes daily and is made from scratch.   
  • The beer is local and they have a whiskey club with a devoted following. Besides special events, the diner keeps busy with lunch and dinner options.  Local food, from local producers keeps customers coming back again and again. 
For more information, log onto the Sauce website. 
Many of the places we stopped at were pretty quiet on the weekday afternoon we were there. Same goes for Newbo Market housed in a former industrial space, the area has become a place where local food vendors and artisans sell their wares. It is an incubator for new businesses. Closed on Tuesday afternoon, we missed the activity there, but could see the potential. 
Sykora Bakery where we stopped for a delectable treat after visiting the museum.
With the museum offering a great place to tour, a few cool diners and a great bakery, the area has a bit of special sights like the beautiful mural we spied while out and bout. Of course, the area would not be complete without mentioning the Grant Wood Statues that are part of the Overalls All Over project. Statues from Wood’s American Gothic are all over the city in celebration of Wood’s 125th birthday.
Art, culture and a little Bohemian Love round out the Czech Village and Newbo market area. Head out on a weekend and see what gives!
Once again, if you want to read more from Cindy, please visit her fantastic blog!

Safe Travels,

Photos were provided by Cindy.