What merits a six-hour drive to Clinton, Iowa? The locals might try to sell you on the local baseball team, the Clinton Lumberjacks. But that’s assuming you’re already there and haven’t been lured by the holiest of holy: fried chicken at Flavor Flav’s new restaurant, FFC.
From the scant information I found, mostly from TMZ, it appeared that FFC was located right next door to its most fearsome enemy, KFC. Well played, Flavor Flav. Take the game to them.
Clinton was a bigger town than we suspected. From our hotel, it took about ten minutes to drive to FFC. When we saw the signs, we couldn’t stop laughing. My photo isn’t the best quality, but the FFC sign is ever so slightly to the left of the KFC sign. It’s also noticeably bigger.
I turned left after the intersection and ended up in the KFC parking lot. No doubt many of FFC’s customers park here, usurping spots that KFC would prefer to leave available for their own customers.
I drove through the lot and took the alleyway to the correct parking lot. While the restaurant enjoyed stampedes of customers when it first opened in late January, there were only two other cars in the lot.
Granted, we showed up on a Sunday evening, which is a gentle, wholesome time of the week, when people don’t really care what time it is. But what’s more wholesome than fried chicken? Um, how about this wonderful artwork?
We were disappointed and impressed at the same time. Even just a little more lighting, a smidgen more wattage, would have changed the mood. But you have to love the guy for his ability to promote himself. He portrays himself as vibrant, edgy, yet down to earth and appreciative. His children’s spray-painted names adorned the menu board, and there was no shortage of items to choose from on the menu.
The staff sadly informed us that they’d run out of several items, including my personal Excaliber, the ribs. There were no ribs, no greens, no cornbread. We planned to stay in Clinton for a few days, so we asked if there’d be ribs tomorrow. We were assured that there would “definitely” be ribs the next day. For the time being, we ordered chicken, deep fried corn, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese. We’d been on the road so long that day that we weren’t in the mood to eat at the restaurant. After hitting the lovely liquor store attached to the Hy-Vee grocery store, we brought the food up to our room at the Wild Rose Casino & Resort*.
First off, I should say that I’m as close to 100% gluten-free as I can be when I’m not traveling. I stay away from gluten for health reasons and I’ll usually settle for what I can get when I have limited options. But I had driven for six hours to this fried chicken restaurant, and dammit, I would take the hit.
I didn’t regret it. The chicken was the best I’d ever had. The combination of spices is just right. The breast piece in our box rivaled a football in size. My fingers were too greasy to take a photo, and we were too enthralled with our meal to save that piece. The corn was delicious, too. I started to dig through our spirits when I uncovered our Hy-Vee receipt. It included a coupon for, you guessed it, FFC.
The next day around lunch time, we called FFC to check on the ribs. The staff had assured us that ribs would be available, but we wanted to save ourselves a trip if, for whatever reason, the ribs weren’t ready. I listened as my companion called and inquired. “Uh-huh, not today? Will they be there tomorrow? You don’t know. Okay.” Apparently, a “rib truck” was on its way to FFC, but nobody knew when it would arrive.
On our third and last day, we talked about calling about the ribs and the rib truck again. Maybe the rib truck was pulling up right that moment and we’d have piping hot ribs slathered in delicious BBQ sauce. Or maybe the rib truck driver had gotten lost in the plainness of the Midwest. Even though it’s been less than a week since we came back to Minnesota, I can’t remember whether we called or not. I know that all our talk before the trip about eating all our meals at FFC was just that — talk.
Before we left Wild Rose, we called a local shop advertised in the lobby. The shop, called “Espresso, Cigars and More”, was located a few blocks away from FFC and we’d be passing it on our way east. It’s a family-owned shop with a cozy walk-in humidor. The owner and her son showed us some cigars she picked up in Key West not too long ago. I had one infused with Jack Daniels whiskey, and my companion had one infused with rum. We also enjoyed a few cups of Cuban coffee while we smoked in the store. We didn’t put much planning into this visit, but we enjoyed ourselves because we got to relax. The owner told us about shows she had seen at the Wild Rose, and told us about merchandise she had brought back from Florida.
She also told us that before FFC hit the scene, a place called DJ’s Rib Shack used to reside at that location. Now they served DJ’s ribs at a restaurant called Gil’s, a place about 200 yards from our hotel. Maybe she knew about the rib truck. We didn’t ask.
* The Wild Rose, only two years old, is probably the height of sophistication in Clinton. We were pleasantly surprised, especially when our room didn’t smell like cigarettes like the rest of the hotel and casino did. Our room came with free breakfast and dinner coupons for the Coaches Corner restaurant next to the casino. I also won $5.90 at the penny slots.