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  • Writer's pictureStreetViewVagabond

First Interview! Ham balls in Menlo!

Updated: Mar 29, 2020

This is an amazing addition to my posting about Menlo, Iowa. As I was doing my streetview visit to Menlo, I came across the Menlo Café and their Facebook posting about their ham balls and I became really curious.

What are ham balls? Are they just meatballs made with ham? Is that tomato sauce on them? Why have I never heard of them before?

I got my answer by conducting the first ever Streetview Vagabond interview. I have explored the world through Google Streetview and produced a few blogs about the experience of “visiting” a place remotely and it has been a lot of fun...but now I have taken a new step in actually reaching out to people in these communities. After exploring Menlo, Iowa I had questions about ham balls!

On a bleak Tuesday morning in February, I gave the owner and manager of Menlo Café a call at about 6:30AM Iowa time. Amy Hale was in the middle of making some eggs for customers and needed to put me on hold, since she was the only one working at that time. When Amy returned to the phone she wanted to make sure that she heard me correctly. I had to explain again that I am a blogger from Washington, DC who explored Menlo and was interested in learning about ham balls. Not the call she was expecting during her breakfast rush!

Once her customers were taken care of and I clarified that I was just a really curious former geography teacher travelling the world using streetview she was ready to share her story.

Amy, her husband Scott and their daughter Morgan moved to Iowa from Nebraska a little over a year ago and took over the management of the Menlo Café. They wanted to make sure that their menu reflected the tastes of the community so they asked around. Apparently, they needed to have ham balls on the menu. This was new to Amy and her family so they needed to do some research. Once she figured out that some ham, sausage and some sweet tasting glaze would fit the bill she shared it with her customers. Apparently she nailed it! So much so that customers have said that they are the best ham balls they have tasted and they wished they served it more often.

Amy not only learned how to make ham balls but also how labor intensive they are. Producing them at scale requires many hours of work which is why they are only offered a handful of times a month.

Ham, sausage with a sweet glaze sounded so good that I pitched the idea of shipping some to me. Amy is still investigating how best to fulfill my request and if I ever get some I will be sure to share what I experience on this blog as well.

Amy continued to add to her menu based on her customer feedback. Apparently, tenderloin was common in the area since hog farming is so prevalent around them. And don’t neglect the coffee.

She has a group of men that show up every morning at about 6AM to sit, play cards and drink lots of coffee at the 12 person communal table in the middle of the café. They socialize until about 9 or so when their wives start to fill in the other half of the table. Amy wasn’t sure if it was directly related but said that the men seem to leave once their wives settle in for their socializing hour. Regardless of whether it is a tag team affair or the rhythms of the morning, the Menlo Café is a community spot that serves coffee to the morning crew to keep them going...maybe until the next ham ball serving which apparently is not as often as the customers would like!

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