SAC CITY – “Good cooks never lack friends,” proclaims the decor at the entrance into the kitchen at the Sac County Cattle Co.
It’s certainly true at this popular Sac City restaurant, where its mushroom Swiss burger was recently named the 2010 Best Burger in Iowa by the Iowa Beef Industry Council and the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.
“Within a few days after we won the Best Burger contest, we sold about 400 burgers,” said owner Doug Kruchten, who noted that the half-pound burger is a 100 percent ground beef patty loaded with sauted mushrooms and topped with melted Swiss cheese on a toasted bun.
A three-person judging team traveled the state to sample the nominated burgers in late March and early April. The burgers were judged on appearance, taste and proper cooking temperature. The judges were looking for a burger that was visually appealing and had a nice plate presentation, as well as being full of flavor, juiciness and cooked to the proper degree of doneness.
Other restaurants rounding out the top five contenders for the Best Burger prize included The Farmers Kitchen, in Atlantic, for its Cy-Hawk Burger; Beck’s Sports Brewery, in Waterloo, for its Jack Daniel’s Burger; The Grinnell Steakhouse, in Grinnell, for its Steakhouse Burger; and Rube’s Steakhouse, in Montour, for the Rube’s Burger.
“We received more than 900 nominations for the contest, and I think that speaks very highly for Iowa’s beef industry for producing such a quality product,” said Bryan Waddingham, director of industry relations for the Iowa Beef Industry Council.
Carving a niche as a steakhouse
Since March 29, the Sac County Cattle Co. has offered a Monday Night Burger special that features all burgers at half-price. Options include a choice of the basic hamburger, bacon cheeseburger, vegetable burger (a beef burger loaded with fresh vegetables), the Hwy 57 burger and the now-famous mushroom Swiss burger.
While the Sac County Cattle Company has garnered attention for its Best Burger in Iowa award, Kruchten said the restaurant has really carved its niche as a steakhouse. In fact, he unknowingly bribed the burger contest judges with steak.
“A few guys I didn’t know came in here one day and started asking me all these questions about the menu. I told them they needed to have a steak or a pork chop if they wanted to know what our place was all about.”
When the order came back for a bacon cheeseburger and a mushroom Swiss burger, Kruchten couldn’t believe it. Since the restaurant wasn’t full of other diners, Kruchten served the guests a ribeye steak after they finished their burgers. “Later I found out they were the judges,” he said.
The restaurant’s steaks are hand cut from the loin as each order comes in, which guarantees freshness and a great eating experience. “The reputation of this restaurant is built on our ribeyes,” added Kruchten, who noted that the most popular ribeye is, “The Dude,” a lightly seasoned, 16-ounce cut that’s flame broiled to each customer’s taste.
What’s the secret to a great steak? “We like choice beef or higher, and I like to have the meat sit in the cooler for at least a week after I get it,” said Kruchten, a Fonda native who grew up on a farm and is well versed in Iowa’s beef industry.
Restaurant serves hundreds each weekend
After graduating from high school and serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Kruchten farmed full-time from the early 1970s until 1984. After earning his finance and banking degree from Buena Vista College, Kruchten worked as a loan officer for banks in South Dakota and Iowa for 15 years.
He also raised purebred Charolais cattle in Sac County and later owned a cattle operation in Missouri before turning his attention to the restaurant business. He expanded a bar into The Hay Market restaurant in Fonda before setting his sights on new opportunities.
He opened the Sac County Cattle Co. in May 2007 in a former clothing store along Highway 20 in Sac City. He didn’t advertise (and still doesn’t), but word of mouth grew the business from about 25 customers on the first Tuesday night the restaurant was open to 285 customers by Friday night of that same week.
The restaurant, which can seat about 200 people, currently serves around 600 people each weekend, and customers come from Fort Dodge, Sioux City, Denison, Jefferson, Madrid and beyond.
“There are a lot of restaurants out there, but not a lot of good steakhouses,” Kruchten said. “We’re basically a red meat-and-potatoes place that serves quality beef, and I believe that keeping things simple is the key to our success.”
The Sac County Cattle Co. is not open for lunch, but opens for business at 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. It is advised to call ahead at (712) 662-4655 for reservations on Friday and Saturday nights.
You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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