One of the best parts of this job is trying to answer questions posed by our readers. Whether it's government, taxes, sports or schools, it's a great way to learn what's important to people who give us their 50 cents.
However, the following question recently crossed this desk:
"I was hoping you could track down the recipe for the Plaza's house dressing. It was like a garlic ranch with bits of Triscuits in it. Thanks for your help!"
Seriously? Salad dressing? From a restaurant that closed six years ago? Does anybody really care?
The answer: Yes, even now.
John Mitchell owned the Plaza for the last 14 years of its existence at 900 N. 12th, and he worked there for 35 years, starting as a busboy when he was 14 years old. He remembers making the house dressing from scratch after he was promoted to a cook's job when he was 15.
"It was a very unique dressing. You can't find anything out there like it," Mitchell said. "It had a little crunch to it, a little tang to it."
He says the recipe was handed down to him by Dolly Boltz and her brother, Jack Settles, who owned the Plaza when Mitchell started working there.
"Their families came up with it," he said.
Now that the Plaza is no longer in business, surely Mitchell would be glad to share it ... right?
"I can't do that," he said. "I've got it written down. I've kept all the recipes (from the Plaza), but I would just as soon not give it out. It's one of those unique items you can't find anywhere."
Mitchell now is employed by Hy-Vee, recently leaving the Broadway store to work at the Harrison Street store. He said he occasionally would make the dressing when the Broadway store offered its pasta and salad bar.
"I'd go back in the corner and make it up so they couldn't see what I was doing," he laughed.
Mitchell says he's considered having the dressing manufactured and marketed by someone else, "but I just haven't got around to it."
Shirkey Kansteiner worked at the Plaza for 43 years -- "I was watching coverage of the Kennedy assassination on TV when they asked me to come in for an interview," she said -- and has her own copy of the recipe. Surely she would share it ... right?
"I'd give it to you in a heartbeat," Kansteiner said, "but it's not mine to give to someone. I don't think that's right for me to do."
Now 75 years old, Kansteiner worked for County Market Catering for six years. She said she made the dressing herself only one time.
"It was gone within ... well, I don't know how fast," she said. "When people found out I worked at the Plaza, that's all I heard. ‘Can you make that dressing?' "
The Patio at 131 S. Fourth has been rumored to be serving the mysterious salad dressing. Before Dolly Boltz ran the Plaza, she and her husband, Carl, opened the Patio, leasing space from Dave Neiswender in the Hotel Elkton. The Boltzes owned the Patio for a year before they left to run the Plaza.
Mark Neiswender now owns the Patio after buying it from his parents in 1985, and he's worked there for 37 years. He believes the recipe for the Patio's house dressing was the same as the Plaza's -- at least at one time.
"But about eight or nine years ago, I went in there and had a house salad, and it didn't taste anything like ours," Neiswender said. "It wasn't even close. Maybe they changed it."
It isn't easy creating the dressing, because the recipe makes a four-gallon batch. Kansteiner won't make it at home for just her and her husband, and when Mitchell makes it, he usually gives it to his family -- all 16 brothers and sisters.
"I think it's one of those things," Mitchell said, "that's just going to die with us."