When Marianne and Matt Pacha moved to Huxley six years ago, they immediately felt at home with the sense of community the central Iowa town of 4,500 provided. The intersection of community and family values with a desire to create a restaurant with a hometown feel led the Pachas to develop and open Flight Bar + Grille in 2022.
With a name inspired by the local Ballard school district’s mascot – the Ballard Bombers – the restaurant offers a first-class experience with its elite menu, including “The Foundation,” which was crowned this year’s Iowa’s Best Burger. Other menu items give a nod to the aviation theme with Flight Fries with house-made aioli sauces, Bomber Sliders, the Flight Club and a kids’ menu for pilots in training, featuring Jet Sliders named for the town’s youth football program mascot.
“Our Foundation is a double-smash burger with cheddar cheese. It includes mustard aioli, lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions and is topped with thick-cut bacon served between a beautiful and buttery brioche bun,” explains Katie Boughey, executive chef and kitchen manager. “We use simple seasonings – salt and pepper – to let the beef’s flavor be the star of the burger.”
The burger features 80% lean, fresh ground beef – the ideal ratio for creating outstanding flavor. The never-frozen and Midwest-sourced beef is rolled into a meatball and then smashed straight on the grill with a steak weight to give it a crisp crust. The crust preserves the juices inside, resulting in a perfectly cooked burger that makes the food an exceptional experience. House-made pickles and flight fries (aptly dubbed the most delicious fries you’ve ever tasted!) round out a plate of goodness that has taken off for patrons of this restaurant turned must-visit destination. It’s one of a half dozen mouthwatering burgers on Flight’s menu.
The Foundation burger is special for its award-winning flavor and has become a community favorite for another reason.
“For every Foundation Burger that we sell, we donate $1 to the Ballard Education Foundation,” Matt says. “It was the inspiration for the burger’s name, and it’s been in place since we opened Flight. It’s important to us to give back to the community, and this is one way we can contribute.”
In the Pachas’ first year of business, they donated more than $3,000 to the Ballard Education Foundation, which funds its local schools, the Ballard Community School District. After being named a Top 10 Iowa’s Best Burger Finalist, they shattered their one-month record by raising $700 for the Ballard Education Foundation.
The designation as Iowa’s Best Burger comes after a two-phase competition sponsored by the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association and Iowa Beef Industry Council. The first phase is based on votes from the public. For a month, burger lovers voted for their favorite Iowa burger online, submitting nearly 6,500 votes representing more than 500 restaurants. At the end of the month, the 10 restaurants with the most votes are declared the “Top 10.” From there, several anonymous judges visit each of the restaurants, scoring the burger patties based on taste, doneness and presentation.
This is the Pacha’s first foray into the restaurant business. When they moved to Huxley, their sons, now 3 and 8 months old, weren’t born yet. They were looking for a local spot to relax and enjoy delicious burgers and brews. When they learned a place wasn’t available, it got their wheels turning. But, with the couple both having comfortable careers – Matt in the retail food business and Marianne a preschool teacher and photographer – the thoughts were more ideas for “someday” rather than “now.” Then COVID hit, giving the co-pilots in life more time to determine if this dream could ascend to reality. They landed on a destination and approach and then set the wheels in motion.
“We landed on the name Flight for the restaurant because it ties so well into the community but also gives us fun ways for people to experience flights of food and drinks,” explains Marianne, the creative mind behind the restaurant’s branding, visual assets and marketing.
The duo appreciates the opportunity to offer flights of local fare and beverages, including Iowa-based craft beers and plans to continue integrating more homegrown foods into the menu. Guests can expect the restaurant’s smokers to be fired up more frequently to transform beef and other proteins into culinary masterpieces.
For the chefs, Iowa’s changing seasons present a canvas for creativity. Last fall, Katie made a burger with apple chutney (using a local orchard’s apples), blue cheese and bacon, along with house-made condiments. Soups and salads often rotate on the menu, allowing them to incorporate things like Iowa-grown sweet corn into specials for patrons.
To soar above the rest in a highly competitive industry, every aspect of Flight is elevated to a high standard. It revolves around the customer experience – creating a welcoming, fun and relaxing atmosphere with a good ambiance. Warm brick accents and windows along the front of the building flank classy matte black walls with aviation decor. Music plays in the background at just the right decibel – never too loud to overpower conversations but loud enough to provide a contagious feeling of joy that permeates from the owners and staff. An outdoor patio with restaurant seating overlooks a pond. Inside the bar and grill, a separate room with a golf simulator offers entertainment for groups.
All food that is served is elevated with special touches and flavors. From wings to burgers to pickles and onions, there is something unique and special about each item.
“Beyond being so proud about the food we present to guests, it’s a great culture where we work hard, but it’s also fun and flexible,” explains Brady Flattery, sous chef and assistant kitchen manager, who started his career in the retail food business and then went to culinary school at Des Moines Area Community College. “We work with people of all ages, and I appreciate being able to train and coach young people and show them how fun and rewarding cooking can be.”
Every detail is meticulously planned, from creating a wonderful in-house experience to ensuring to-go orders are perfect when they arrive in guests’ hands. When Flight was sourcing French fries, for example, the Pachas, along with Brady and Katie, evaluated and tasted dozens of options. They wanted a French fry that would be exceptional for in-house dining guests but also hold up well in to-go containers. All aspects of the restaurant center on first-class levels of consistency.
“Food service has always had my heart,” says Katie, who is a registered dietitian and brings that experience to create food that is always fresh and creative. “Food is love, and it’s what brings people together. Whether it’s a family or a group of friends having dinner together, I want to enhance the experience by giving them a memorable meal that makes them want to come back again and again.”
The Flight Bar + Grille invites its customers to join their FLIGHT CREW, an exclusive annual membership. Participants enjoy many first-class perks, including:
If you visit Flight Bar + Grille via U.S. Highway 69, turn at Fareway, which is located immediately south of the restaurant. Take a right through the grocer’s parking lot. Parking for restaurant patrons is available in the front and back. The restaurant can also be accessed via North 5th Avenue in Huxley, which runs parallel to the restaurant’s back entrance. In addition, North 5th Avenue connects to the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail.
The Iowa Beef Industry Council and Iowa Cattlemen’s Association kindly ask new and existing customers to be courteous to restaurant staff, while visiting Flight Bar + Grille. Former contest winners have reported an influx in sales, well after Iowa’s Best Burger announcement was made. We hope you will understand the potentially longer wait times. Flight Bar + Grille looks forward to serving you!
Editor’s note: High resolution photos of the winner and burger can be downloaded here: https://bit.ly/2023BestBurgerWinner.
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.”