My brother-in-law called this week. That was a first. After he reassured me that my sister was in good health, he explained. “I’m in Dubuque, Iowa for a conference, and I want to go somewhere local for dinner. Any recommendations?”

It was a logical question. Since my in-laws live on a farm in Dubuque County, I’ve spent a lot of time in the old meat packing town. But we seldom go out for dinner when we visit. My mother-in-law is an excellent cook. We crave her food too much to substitute restaurant fare.

“I can tell you where to find a great Christmas light display,” I offered.

“Uh, it’s September.” He sounded confused.

“Well, I think there’s a supper club on the other side of the river.” I was floundering. “We had brunch there one Sunday when the girls were babies.”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “How’s high school going for them?”

Point taken.

Inspiration struck. “Look, Pete,” I told him, “if you want a quintessentially Dubuque experience, go to Breitbach’s Tavern in Balltown. It’ll take twenty or thirty minutes to get there, but it’s the real deal.”

He thanked me and promised to follow up.

Today I received this Facebook message: “Thanks for the recommendation, Jane. Unfortunately, when I went to the hotel desk, only one of the four employees had ever heard of Breitbach’s. The fourth person said it was too far away and they didn’t have any maps.

“I took their recommendation to eat at a little Italian sidewalk café called Crust. I ate outside. It was very good.

“You should really take the tour of Dubuque next time you’re there. It’s changed a lot.”

It’s good to hear that the beautiful old city on the Mississippi has reinvented itself. We all need to do that from time to time. And maybe I will suggest a tour of downtown next time we visit.

But will I give up Jon’s mom’s fried chicken for a meal on a sidewalk?

Not a chance.

(If you’re curious, you can visit Breitbach’s web site at  It may not serve pasta, but it’s steeped in history.)

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