The Flying Elbow is tucked in among other businesses on North 13th Street in Marshalltown, Iowa. Local business owners support one another by encouraging their customers to stop by a neighboring boutique, restaurant, and/or shop. And it’s clear - Iowa’s Best Burger Contest has not only increased foot traffic at The Flying Elbow, but the adjacent, small businesses. The Flying Elbow, an alternative sports bar, was six years in the making. It did not happen by chance; it is the result of pitfalls and perseverance. Now it’s been named Iowa’s Best Burger.
Garrett Goodman, a Marshalltown native, considers himself a foodie, or “a person with a particular interest in food,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Goodman’s passion for preparing food took off early in life, as he spent the weekends cooking alongside his step-dad, a chef. Similarly, his great-grandfather worked in the restaurant business. With no formal culinary training, Goodman can affirm, “You can learn a lot in the field just by doing.”
“In high school, both of my parents were working all of the time. So I was cooking for the family, helping out with my brother and sister,” Goodman said. “Then I got out of the house, and it turns out none of my roommates could cook. So I was cooking for three dudes all of the time.”
Goodman spent the next decade in corporate information technology (IT) then one day decided it was time for a change. While he enjoyed the steady work, he no longer found it fulfilling. Goodman thought, “This isn’t my passion; this isn’t my dream.” His dream was to make people happy. “And the best way to do that is through their stomachs,” he thought. Goodman then entered the restaurant business. Not wanting to get in over his head, he started with a food truck.
“I found a food truck, and spring was coming,” Goodman recalls. “And then we ran into roadblocks.” Goodman’s dad passed away unexpectedly, pushing his opening date back to the fall of 2017. But, it ended up being worth the wait. Goodman’s business, featuring pro-wrestling themed hot dogs, picked up 1,000 Facebook likes and 100 five-star reviews in a matter of months. Business was booming. Goodman thought, “Maybe I have something here.” So he began his search for a brick and mortar, which he would find in December 2017.
The building, located at the corner of State and Center, formerly housed the Corner Tap. After months of renovations, Goodman once again opened for business. Eager customers waited in lines, stretching out the door. Then suddenly, business came to a screeching halt. In July 2018, a tornado swept through Marshalltown, destroying the restaurant. Goodman intended to rebuild. He wrote a business plan, purchased a building site, and worked on financing, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Two years later, Goodman stumbled upon the building The Flying Elbow is now located in, at 229 North 13th Street. The owner of the building, John Hermanson, had purchased the building with the intent of a restaurant with a deck/patio space and a partnership was born. Renovations kicked off in January of 2021 and in September 2021, The Flying Elbow opened its door to the public, serving hot dogs and other food items. The restaurant presents a flair of wrestling memorabilia, including classic merchandise, action figures and vintage wrestling matches. It offers “a little bit of something for everyone.”
“I didn’t want to be a niche establishment for adventurous foodies. I wanted to create a place that everybody could eat at. I’ve always had a little bit of something for everyone,” Goodman said. “(We’re) still doing hot dogs. We’ve added corn dogs and a few different things to the menu: loaded fries and grilled sandwiches.” In late January, Goodman felt compelled to do something “different, new and fun.” He offered the smashburger, a thin beef patty packed with flavor.
“I’ve always wanted to do smashburgers, so I came up with a plan to release a small menu. Within three days, I was smashing burgers,” Goodman said. “In that week, we did the same amount of sales that we did in all of January. We sold out in three days and the buzz started happening.”
Smashburgers found a spot on the regular menu, and have been flying off the grill. Goodman says, “We served 350 pounds of beef in that first week.” The restaurant has continued to serve large quantities of beef, averaging 350 pounds of beef a week. In February, the restaurant’s loyal customers, also referred to as Elbowmaniacs, helped The Flying Elbow secure a spot among the Top 10 restaurants in Iowa’s Best Burger Contest - less than six months after adding smashburgers to its menu.
“Ever since, it’s been busy, busy, busy. We’re serving 400 plus pounds of beef right now. And we’re using the best product,” Goodman said. “I’ve always wanted to use the best product I could. My mentality has always been to use the best product, prepare it the best way we can and the rest will work itself out.”
Goodman’s smashburger features a blend of chuck, brisket and short rib, which is fresh, never frozen and sourced from Midwest cattle. He also incorporates Wagyu beef, raised by a Marshalltown producer, into the mix. Goodman said, “It’s basically a custom blend that nobody else has, and the flavor from the Wagyu took it over the top.” In the end, patrons are presented with a “nice, juicy patty with crisp edges.” Goodman says, “The beef speaks for itself.”
The Flying Elbow customers are offered choice in their selections. The “Attitude Menu” allows customers the choice of a hot dog, grilled sandwich, loaded fry, or burger. They can then choose different topping combinations. But in the end, “it all boils down to the basics,” Goodman said.
“We have a fresh baked, sesame seed bun. We (also) use the best beef we can and have researched the best way to prepare it,” Goodman says. “Seared meat is the best meat because you are bringing out flavors that you can’t with a thicker patty.”
The Flying Elbow sells a lot of the “Real American.” The burger is named after Hulk Hogan’s theme song, and is Goodman’s take on the popular fast food, standard cheeseburger. It features the basic toppings: ketchup, mustard, pickle, and grilled, minced onion, which complement the fresh burger patty. Other popular burgers include: The Brisco, George the Animal, and Tombstone.
Goodman reflected on Iowa’s Best Burger Contest, a two-phase competition sponsored by the Iowa Beef Industry Council and Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. The first phase is based on votes from the public. For a month, burger lovers went online and voted for their favorite Iowa burger joint. At the end of the month, the 10 restaurants with the most votes were placed in the “Top 10.” From there, three anonymous judges visited each of the restaurants, scoring the burger patties based on taste, doneness, and presentation. Goodman relayed:
“I’m very thankful. There are some great restaurants in this competition, and I just want to say ‘thank you’ to those who voted for us, and the Iowa Beef Industry Council and Iowa Cattlemen’s Association for hosting the contest. I’m excited, and I think this is going to be a good thing for the business. I’m excited to serve more customers, get our product out there, and see where this takes us.”
The Flying Elbow, located at 229 N 13th Street, Marshalltown, Iowa 50158, is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m Friday through Saturday. Hours of operation may change, heading into summer. Goodman encourages interested parties to follow The Flying Elbow on Facebook for updated hours.
Additionally, the Iowa Beef Industry Council and Iowa Cattlemen’s Association kindly ask new and existing customers to be courteous to restaurant staff, while visiting The Flying Elbow. Former contest winners have reported an influx in sales, well after Iowa’s Best Burger announcement was made. We hope you will be understanding of potentially longer wait times. The Flying Elbow looks forward to serving you, and will do the best it can to make this an experience for all visitors.
Editor’s note: High resolution photos of the winner and burger can be downloaded here: https://bit.ly/2022BestBurgerWinner.
About Iowa’s Best Burger: The Iowa’s Best Burger contest is sponsored by the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association and funded in-part by the Iowa Beef Industry Council through the Iowa State Beef Checkoff Program.
About the Iowa Beef Industry Council: The Iowa Beef Industry Council is funded by the $1-per-head National Beef Checkoff Program and the $0.50-per-head Iowa State Beef Checkoff. Checkoff dollars are invested in beef promotion, consumer information, research, industry information and foreign market development, all with the purpose of strengthening beef demand. For more information, visit www.iabeef.org.
About the Iowa Cattlemen's Association: The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association represents nearly 8,000 beef-producing families and associated companies dedicated to the future of Iowa’s beef industry. ICA’s mission is “Grow Iowa’s beef business through advocacy, leadership and education.”