When I entered the Suzie Q Cafe I wasn’t expecting to make friends with two construction workers and witness magic tricks. In the corner of a parking lot on 2nd street is one of the oldest establishments in Mason City and the smallest restaurant I’ve ever seen. I was skeptical approaching the diner. Lets just say it doesn’t scream “fine dining.” It sits between a rusting lamp post out front and a beaten down red pick up truck parked behind. The restaurant is also the shape and size of a trailer. Not the typical dining décor my spoiled Los Angeles taste buds are accustomed to.
Outside, three picnic tables offer customers a splintery solace from the Midwestern sun. The outside of the trailer diner is covered in vertical red white and black stripes. I contemplated how this establishment holds up during a harsh, snowy Iowa winter. I entered the Suzie-Q and became overwhelmed in the best possible way with the scent of burger grease.
The ceiling was just a few feet from my head. The only seating consists of about ten red and white stools in an “L” shape configured around the counter, forcing the customers to get friendly with each other. I sat next to two construction workers in their full neon yellow gear who were enjoying lunch at the diner. Their wrenches and hammers peeked out of their tool belts as they jeered at me asking what the hell a 21-year old California college girl was doing in Mason City Iowa, population 27,000. I gave them my tired response, “I’m visiting my family.”
I turned my attention toward the deep fryer and grill, where Troy Levenhagen, the owner and main cook of the restaurant was wearing an apron splattered with grease. He took my order for the famous Suzie-Q “Spic and Span Tenderloin” sandwich and a Diet Coke, or “pop” as its called in the Midwest.
The restaurant has a nostalgic nature. Their first dollar bill is framed up on the wall next to a black and white photograph of the restaurant when it opened in 1948. Inside, it still feels like 1948 with cluttered menus on the walls and a cherry red analogue clock on the counter beside a soda fountain. The walls of this miniscule diner are decorated with cluttered menus and a license plate that reads, “SUZIE Q.” I watched the tenderloin sizzle in the deep fryer just a few feet away from me.
The sandwich was served on crispy toasted sourdough and perfected with mustard. The saltiness of the thin fries complimented the peppery tang of the tenderloin and combined with the pop, made a Midwestern trifecta.
I thought I could be left alone with my sandwich. That was until Mr. Levenhagen started to entertain me with magic card tricks. When he is not serving up award winning sandwiches at the Suzie Q, Levenhagen doubles as “Levi the Great.” He made an egg appear from behind his ear and a penny vanish from his hand. As I got ready to leave, Levenhagen approached a particularly scruffy customer counting change and said, “It’s okay, why don’t you just help me with the dishes today.”
Levenhagen restores that Midwestern hospitality, comfort and entertainment at the Suzie Q.