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Seven for 7

In case you haven’t noticed, summer’s clipping along just a little too quickly. July is here and the heart of summer is upon us. Have you walked barefoot through the grass? Roasted marshmallows for a s’more? Watched for falling stars? Those are suggestions you can do anywhere, but once again we’ve assembled ideas unique to the Iowa Great Lakes. For the 2019 installment of Seven for 7 we introduce you to flavorful appetizers, spa treatments, men’s fashion essentials, places to hike, things to ride, fishing guides and rainy day activities for kids. Let the good times roll!


Fresh and flavorful, bright and light

Some simply do what their name implies and whet the appetite for the main course. Others can be hefty enough to be a meal by themselves. Some would be best shared with the entire table while others at dinner may want to keep as their own. Appetizers abound on the menus around the Iowa Great Lakes. Here are a few intriguing and delicious options to try.

1. Banh Mi Nachos

Pho — Fresh Asian Bistro & Bar, Arnolds Park, 712-332-8127

Nachos are perhaps the most ubiquitous of appetizers, appearing on just about every restaurant menu from the small town to the big city.

At Pho, they put a unique twist on this staple of starter menus with their Banh Mi Nachos.

“It starts with our crispy wonton chips which we fry fresh every day,” said chef Matthew Bichel. “Then we have our house seasoning with our pulled pork which roasts for 12 hours. Then we have our housemade cilantro lime slaw topped with our house favorite dipping sauce, the sriracha aioli, and garnished with more cilantro. There’s a lot going on.”

It’s a play on the Banh Mi sandwich, which Bichel says may not be quite authentic when it comes to the ingredients but plays toward the restaurant’s Asian-American fusion menu.

“There a lot of influences from Mexican and Asian to American with a lot of flavors happening that you’re not going to get on a plate of nachos anywhere else,” Bichel said.

Bring a big appetite for this one, or maybe a couple friends to share. This appetizer’s portions and popularity have inspired the restaurant to add a half-order to the menu this year.

2. Seared Sushi Grade Ahi Tuna Fish Tacos

Okoboji Store, Okoboji, 712-332-5628, www.theokobojistore.com

There are fish tacos, and then there are fish tacos.

The Okoboji Store offers three versions and the Seared Sushi Grade Ahi Tuna variety definitely belong in the latter category.

Combined with a sriracha slaw for a spicy kick and pieces of mango to sweeten them up, slices of ahi tuna soar to the top in each bite of the three tacos served up in this offering.

Queso fresco binds it all together and a cilantro garnish puts a nice bow on top of a delicious package.

“Everyone loves a good taco,” said general manager Daryn Fischels. “When you do it right with fresh ingredients it’s appreciated and we use the freshest ingredients possible.”

3. Scallops Dynamite

Maxwell’s Beach Café, Arnolds Park, www.maxwellsbeachcafe.com

Sometimes a short-lived feature item inspires such a reaction that it simply has to be brought into the starting lineup.

Such is the case with the Scallops Dynamite at Maxwell’s Beach Café.

“It’s kind of one of those dishes that I had up my sleeve for a number of years,” said chef Tim Stephenson. “It was so well-received as a feature last year we decided to put it on the menu as an appetizer. It’s kind of a Midwestern classic in the sense that you put anything with cream cheese and we’re going to love it. It’s super comforting yet light. Great for a summer evening, creamy, rich and still light.”

Three pan-seared U-10 scallops are topped with a cream cheese and crab blend served on toast points with local microgreens.

A couple enjoying a nice romantic dinner may have to be creative as they try to decide who gets the final one of the three pieces.

4. Charcuterie Board

Waters Edge American Grille, Arnolds Park, 712-220-3200

If there ever was an appetizer meant to share with the entire table it would be the Charcuterie Board at the Waters Edge American Grille.

Far from a wooden plank full of meat and cheese, the Waters Edge version of this appetizer explores 22 items covering a wide range of flavors from mild to bold. “There are some items people will probably have never seen or heard of,” said manager Tom Hansen. “This has all sorts of flavors from all over the world.”

When brought to the table, the presentation is reminiscent of still life paintings by the old masters of Europe.

“It’s great for sharing and definitely a talking point, too,” Hansen said. “Maybe this gets someone to try something they’ve never had before which is kind of what we’re about here — offering a different dining experience they haven’t had before.”

5. Ahi Poke Buttercups

Snappers Turtle Bay Café, Okoboji, 712-332-8293

Go lettuce wrap style or use a fork to tackle this appetizer. It’s your choice with the Ahi Poke Buttercups at Snappers Turtle Bay Café.

“It’s kind of a deconstructed sushi roll,” said manager Kelsey Schmitz. “You have the lettuce then the rice, then the tuna. Once they try it everyone loves it, especially with a little side of wasabi for an extra kick.”

Each of the three buttercups could probably supply enough ingredients for a standard eight-piece sushi roll.

The sashimi grade tuna and rice are joined on their bed of lettuce by scallions, cucumber and thick slices of avocado.

All the fresh flavors combine to keep up perfectly with the Caribbean style of Snappers.

6. Rice Paper Shrimp Roll

Bracco Okoboji, Arnolds Park, www.braccorestaurant.com

A new menu item this summer at Bracco is sure to inspire interesting reactions.

The Rice Paper Shrimp Rolls are crispy and crunchy but at the same time airy and fluffy on the outside. Inside the butterfly shrimp will please any fan of the popular crustacean.

“It almost has the texture of Rice Krispies,” said manager Nick Gross. “We’ve been getting great feedback on it. It’s one of those dishes you won’t get full from and fits right in with the tropical menu theme.”

Garnished with an orchid flower and served with a side of wasabiyaki dipping sauce, these shrimp rolls certainly bring the island vibe that Bracco has established.

7. Spinach Artichoke Toast Points

Minerva’s, Okoboji, 712-332-5296, www.minervas.net

Light, flavorful and well-balanced. The Spinach Artichoke Toast Points at Minerva’s are a great bridge to the main course, awakening the taste buds and holding off the hunger until the meal arrives.

“They’re probably my favorite appetizer on the menu,” said chef Robert Larsen. “I’m a big fan of the focaccia bread we use. It takes a light toast really well and stays soft in the center. It’s a really well-balanced dish.”

The focaccia toast points are layered with a spinach artichoke dip and arugula Roma mix with a balsamic reduction over the top for color.

Bruschetta tomatoes and Parmesan complete this appetizer.