Here’s the beef

Anyone searching for a superb burger need look no farther than Rides Bar & Grill, 723 S. 31st St.

It was announced Monday that the local eatery is a finalist in the annual search by the Iowa Cattleman’s Association and the Iowa Beef Industry Council for the restaurant serving the best burgers in the Hawkeye State.

Nominations in this contest are sought from the public. The burgers at the 10 establishments receiving the most votes are then evaluated by judges, who anonymously pay them a visit and sample their offerings. The judges then choose a winner for the top honor. That decision will be announced May 1.

Corey Lombard, who owns Rides, said restaurants from more than 200 Iowa communities were initially in the running.

The contest is now in its fifth year and has grown more competitive each year. According to information provided by its sponsors, the 456 eating establishments competing this year is up from 349 in 2013.

The goal of the undertaking, however, has remained the same.

“We’re looking for the best burger served in an Iowa restaurant,” said Roger Brummett, who is also chairman of the Iowa Beef Industry Council, in a Feb. 12 statement announcing the competition. “Although burgers are often standard fare, we know from experience that the winners of this contest serve outstanding burgers.”

Lombard said he is honored that Rides made the top 10.

“It makes you feel pretty good,” he said. “I’m absolutely excited, very happy. I thought it was pretty awesome.”

What makes this distinction even more personally rewarding for Lombard is that he is a very hands-on restaurant owner. He does much of the cooking.

“I am the main cook,” he said. “I cook Monday through Friday days and usually three nights a week at least. … When you are back there cooking, you should be taking pride in what you are putting out. It’s great when you hear good comments because then you know you are doing something right. If you just keep putting out a good product, people will keep coming back and visiting you.”

Burgers have been a main feature of the cuisine at Rides since Lombard opened the establishment in August 2009. He said there typically are 25 sandwich choices on the menu about 80 percent of which are burgers. The sandwich names reflect the theme embodied in the restaurant’s name.

“We have a lot of different varieties of burgers, like the Studebaker, which is a double-bacon cheeseburger with peanut butter and a fried egg on it,” he said. “It has been one of our most popular. My sandwiches are named after cars or bikes – themed around bikes and cars.”

Burgers, of course, are just part of the story at Rides.

“We do prime rib on Friday nights and have home-made lunch specials.” Lombard said. “For lunch specials we try to do home cooking.”

Meet the owner

Corey Lombard is a native of Fort Dodge. He graduated from Fort Dodge Senior High in 1990.

In 2009, he bought the Roman Inn, a long-established local restaurant, renamed it Rides Bar & Grill and shifted the culinary focus from Italian specialties to burgers and steaks.

Lombard said operating a restaurant is a good fit for his personality.

“I love it.” he said. “My customers become like friends and family. I’m a people person. I like talking to people.”