OSKALOOSA, Iowa — It’s been a bit of a burger whirlwind for Michael Glesener and Matt Gunn, owners of the Wood Iron Grille in Oskaloosa.
The two friends just opened their restaurant at the Oskaloosa Public Golf Course last fall, their first foray into restaurant ownership. They then decided to take a shot at the best burger contest sponsored by the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.
The goal was to make it into the top 10 this year and build for the future. But the judges were wowed by their burger and suddenly they were in the spotlight.
“It was a whirlwind,” Gunn says. “The day it was announced we had a line outside the door.”
Glesener remembers the hectic time.
“We did something like 300 meals that night, and they were almost all burgers. In four days we sold as many burgers as we had in the entire month of March,” he said. “… It was a good thing, but it made life a little challenging in the kitchen.”
The two men, both in their 30s, have been friends for years and they talked for much of that time about the idea of opening a restaurant together. Glesener is the chef. A New Sharon native, he worked in restaurants for much of his life. He went off to culinary school in the Chicago area and became a trained pastry chef.
Gunn has also worked in the food industry for much of his life, waiting tables and doing just about every other job in the business. He works the front of the house now at the Wood Iron Grille, running the dining room while his partner runs the kitchen.
They got the call last March about opening a restaurant in Oskaloosa. The building where they work was once a house along the golf course. It had been a restaurant for about four years, but Gunn and Glesener would be starting over.
“His mom picked the name,” Gunn says with a laugh. “Once we had that it kind of set the tone.”
They worked out a menu and began remodeling and hiring staff. Today they are keeping busy serving locals as well as the people who come from all over to sample the best burger.
They actually serve several different burgers, including the ‘Merica Burger with American cheese, lettuce tomato, onion and pickle. The Cajun Black and Blue Burger features Applewood smoked blue cheese and Cajun seasoning. The Wood Iron Original Burger features Applewood smoked bacon, a sweet jalapeño jam and smoked cheddar cheese. All the burgers consist of a mixture of ground chuck and beef short ribs.
“In a perfect world, we would be grinding that ourselves,” Glesener says, “but we get ours from the local Fareway Store.”
There is no perfect way to make a burger, Glesener adds, but he says having freshly ground meat is a good start. He also prefers to use a flat-top grill to allow the juices to caramelize.
And the he does try to still use his pastry chef skills at the Wood Iron Grille, making small and inexpensive desserts, with the idea that having a great burger shouldn’t mean you don’t still have room for just a taste of something sweet.
This is the tenth year for the ICA’s best burger contest. Past winners include Café Beaudelaire in Ames, The Smokin’ Hereford BBQ in Storm Lake, The Chuckwagon Restaurant in Adair, The Cider House in Fairfield, Brick City Grill in Ames, 61 Chop House Grille in Mediapolis, Coon Bowl III in Coon Rapids, The Rusty Duck in Dexter and the Sac County Cattle Company in Sac City.