Dan and I may have happened upon our new favorite spot to eat along the Mighty Mississippi in the Fish Shack in Guttenberg, IA. It is not a wood-fired pizza joint like our beloved former Bombfire Pizza once operated by the late Tom Holman, but the decor and vibe are similarly based on the owner’s love of the offbeat and the food is likewise tasty and interesting.
If you are moving too fast through the riverfront downtown of Guttenberg, about 45 miles north of Dubuque, you’ll miss the Fish Shack. But look for the old car door sign and the rooftop rim below the park area near the city’s public restrooms and you’ll find it.
A long wooden stair path adorned with festive lights and rimmed with pretty greenery takes you down to the Fish Shack’s front entrance. Once inside, you find a big screened dining room reminding me of boat houses and garages at the lake places my parents rented for our family’s vacations in the 1970s. There’s also a bit of a Florida Keys feel, perhaps from the open air dining and laid back atmosphere. There are long wooden tables that owner Mike built, with things hanging on the walls and in the rafters that he picked (“I was a picker before The Pickers,” he explained.) Boat cushions, old signs, fishing gear, musical instruments, motorcycle saddlebags, plus more decorate the place.
Before sitting down, you order food or drink in the adjoining enclosed part of the shack. Dan and I happened in the night we got to town just to check it out. They serve Dad/Grandpa beers including Hamms, Michelobs, Buds and more from big wooden coolers. When a diner urged us to try the best baked beans she’d ever eaten we couldn’t resist even though we were stuffed from dinner earlier at Breitbach’s in Balltown. Dan especially enjoyed the beans packed with meat, and we sampled the custardy vinegar pie served in individual aluminum foil tins. We saw others eating fried fish and shrimp; Mike’s special Guttenburger loosemeat sandwich with pork sausage and other stuff; and kneophel (sp?) with cheese, dumplings, and potatoes. Non Noom Yum at very reasonable prices.
We returned the next morning for scrambled eggs with asparagus and boiled potatoes, surprisingly good coffee from a 32-cup percolator, and a ringside seat for the giant barges pushing grain down the river. Very relaxing.
Mike likes to swing by after dropping off orders to chat about the place and how it came to be, and some of the pitfalls of being so close to the river. Nearly three foot of water barreled in during this spring’s heavy rains, for example. He is friendly and warm but apparently publicity adverse — he’s turned down offers for big features stories from area newspapers, and he doesn’t advertise. He seemed Ok with my blog post but wouldn’t allow a picture of himself.
It is no wonder there is interest — what he has done at the Fish Shack is remarkable. The Guttenberg native told us he was on the hunt for a unique restaurant site years ago after returning to Iowa after a construction career. He decided on Guttenberg’s badly decayed and abandoned fishing shack and took his time on the restoration, opening in 2017. He serves from May to roughly October.
We love Guttenberg and I know we will go back to the Fish Shack.
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