I’ve Been Everywhere & Then I Had Dinner, Oskaloosa
We ate at a place called Chunkie Dunkers. I really don’t know what else there is to say. It was exactly what a place named Chunkie Dunkers should be, and now (months later) my body is still trying to expunge the grease that’s caked to my guts from that lunch.
It started as a text to my insanely talented writer friend, Annie Raab.
I need to eat dinner in Oskaloosa. Want to come? The only place I can find online is called Chunkie Dunkers.
That is the most obscene name for a restaurant. Ever.
So you’re coming?
Annie shows up at my place on April 4, 2016 around 11:30 a.m. and we set out on a mini-road trip. Oskaloosa’s only about an hour drive from where I live, and on this day Kansas weather was being unnaturally cooperative. We hadn’t yet gotten into tree-breaking thunderstorms, or soul sucking summer heat, or stupid golf-ball size hail. The sun was out. The breeze was cool. The roads were twisty. As we headed west Annie and I figured out all the things Chunkie Dunkers should be:
“I think there’s going to be farmer people in overalls.”
“Totally, and everything’s going to be fried.”
“Yeah, and the portions are going to be gargantuan. Enough to feed a family of four.”
“And maybe it’s kind of like a dirty bar where people might get in a fight at night.”
“And they’re going to look at us, and be like, ‘Those girls aren’t from around here.’”
Highway 16 dropped us at the edge of town. We stopped at the flashing red light, turned left, and found our way to town square. GPS said the restaurant was on the square, but we bumped around the brick-street square twice, (It took about two minutes.) before we noticed this door.
Getting out of the car we were met by the smell of slow-roasted, smoked meat. A cook enjoyed his cigarette outside the kitchen. We said hi, because in small towns (Oskaloosa’s population is just over a-thousand.) people say hi to everyone. There was a guy at the bar with his kid, which was weird because it was a Monday at one o’clock. It seems like kids should be in school on Monday’s at one, but she didn’t seem to mind, and was having a grand old time twisting around on the high-bar chair. The bartendress told us to sit where we like, and we passed a guy gambling on his computer, and a farmer-looking guy (in overalls) eating with his sun-burned friend, to take a booth toward the back. Every table had a full roll of paper-towels on it.
The bartendress slapped the plastic menu onto our table and let us know they were out of sausage. I ordered a bourbon-and-coke and Annie ordered a beer. The bartendress asked, “You want a large?” Annie paused deliberating how responsible she wanted to be today, and I reminded her I was driving, dinner was my treat, and this was her going away present before she left for Morocco. She acquiesced.
The menu was extensive; chalk full of the barbecue that had smelled so good out front and insanely well versed in things that could be fried. We thought about the deep fried green beans, but decided we should get something neither of us had had before. There was something called a Roadie Boat on the appetizer menu, seemed like a house special, and we thought for the full experience that would be the best option. About this time the bartendress comes back and sets this in front of Annie.
We order the Roadie boat, and I go for chicken fried steak, but they were out. Annie goes for mac-n-cheese, but they were out. We try for the brined chicken sandwich, but they were out. I look to our bartendress and say, “Why don’t you just put in the Roadie boat for now? We’ll figure it out.”
I settled on something called the Stinky’s special and Annie falls back on the Reuben. I’m half way through my bourbon when the mythical Roadie Boat appears. It’s a basket of fries as big as my head covered with cheddar cheese topped with pulled pork and then topped with more cheese. It’s a gigantic, greasy mess of awesome and we dig in. The pulled pork is smokey and the house barbecue sauce is tomato based and sweet. I opt for the spicy version, which isn’t really that spicy but it cuts the sweet better. I alternate between it and ketchup. I really like the smokiness of the pork with the sweetness of the sauce, but the whole thing is so dense and massive that we can’t eat even a quarter of it by the time our real food shows up.
Now Annie’s Reuben came out in a relatively normal size with all the normal stuff: grilled corn beef on marbled rye, topped with sauerkraut, Swiss, and Thousand Island. But Stinky’s special is made for starving families of twelve, and my dinner is served in two parts. There’s the white butcher paper wrapped meat, a grease-soaked package the size of my laptop. And, just in case we didn’t have enough potatoes in the Roadie Boat, another side of fries and a generous helping of baked beans. The pulled pork was tender and smokey. I’m sure the ribs were decent and the beans were fine, but by this time I was so full of dense, intensely rich food I ate little more than a few bites.
We ate and took turns pointing out our favorite parts of Chunkie Dunkers. Annie was a fan of the “No-Push” inscription on the chalkboard in the pool-table section of the room. My favorite part was the sign on the way to the bathrooms. “Respect the cue-Bartenders discretion to charge for damaged pool cues.”
Chunkie Dunkers isn’t messing around. Nobody’s leaving hungry or sober on their watch. If I worked manual labor all day, and needed a ton of food energy this would be the place to go. It was insanely cheap, (Roadie Boat- $ 7.50, Rueben $5.75, Stinky’s special $12.50) and the barbecue was respectable. I, however, am a person who, as my Grandpa put it, is not made for manual labor. And, there was enough food in this lunch to last me for a week. Also, if you’re thinking barbecue may not be your bag, don’t worry… they make chinese food once a week.