Trip Advisor’s #1-ranked restaurant in Clear Lake, Iowa, is only open 17 and a half(ish) hours a week.  Might not seem like the best business model, but the sisters who own and manage Starboard Market have made it work quite well in this quaint Midwest town – for 19 years and counting.

That’s right, since 1999, this unique deli has used fresh ingredients, creamy homemade salads, and the smell of freshly baked cakes and cookies to lure locals and tourists through the door.

The cheery staff and memorable flavors have kept them coming back for more.

Starboard Market in Clear Lake, Iowa

Steve and Ann pause for a pic with Jen of Starboard Market.

We stopped in Clear Lake on a recent trip home from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Our friend and fellow blogger, Sara Broers from Travel With Sara, encouraged us to stop, texting to alert us of the short hours and promising it would be worth taking the exit off Interstate 35.

And it was.

Starboard Market in Clear Lake, Iowa

Starboard Market is a quaint little restaurant popular with locals and tourists, alike.

We arrived just before the lunch rush and had the pleasure of meeting owners Jennifer Coffman and Katie Poole along with their small staff. Having had a late breakfast, we opted to get boxed lunches for the road.

Starboard Market in Clear Lake, Iowa

The menu board at Starboard Market.

A huge chalk board menu displayed 20 signature sandwiches and sensing we were having issues with indecisiveness, an employee named Maddy told us numbers three and six were the most popular.

Named after one of the sisters, who was affectionately called “Dude” for years, The Dude (#3) is a turkey breast sandwich with pepperjack cheese, bacon, lettuce, red onion, and Hidden Valley Ranch dressing on a Kaiser roll.

Starboard Market in Clear Lake, Iowa

The box lunch is a great way to enjoy fresh food to go.

Steve ordered the #6 Barrelback which was baked ham, turkey breast, cheddar, swiss, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and Thousand Island dressing on marble bread. I chose the #11 Regatta which is smoked turkey breast (and lots of it), Havarti cheese, Caribbean mango chutney, alfalfa sprouts and lettuce on a toasted multi-grain bread. It was delicious.

The lunch boxes are served with any of the meatless salads, chips, a dill pickle spear and a homemade cookie. We chose the potato salad and a cornbread salad, both from Jen’s mom’s recipe collection and perfected by Katie.

Starboard Market in Clear Lake, Iowa

Some of the delicious salads available at Starboard Market.

With lots of choices, it was also difficult to decide on a cookie for dessert. We decided to split the snickerdoodle and peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.

Starboard Market in Clear Lake, Iowa

Amazing sweet treats at Starboard Market.

A couple hours later, we stopped at one of Iowa’s stellar rest areas (seriously, they are clean, bright, modern and have Wi-Fi) for a picnic lunch. We had a lot of food, so we held off on the cookies, knowing they’d be a welcome treat a few more hours down the road.

Iowa rest area

We stopped at this wonderfully clean rest area in Iowa.

Starboard Market also features incredible scratch made cakes and bars, including a variety of cheesecakes, a tempting six-layer Chocolate Amazon Cake, Cannoli Cake and Hummingbird Cake.

Starboard Market in Clear Lake, Iowa

This six-layer Chocolate Amazon cake looks amazing.

Oh, they also offered a beautifully made Bundt cake called Ruby’s Fresh Apple Cake. It is named after Jen and Katie’s grandmother, Ruby, and the boiled coconut topping with cracked walnuts helped make this cake a favorite of the ladies’ grandfather.

Starboard Market in Clear Lake, Iowa

We didn’t try the cake, but the peanut butter chocolate chip cookies were as good as they look!

The cake, and so many other things, are all wonderful tributes to Jen and Katie’s parents who, with their daughters, started this store. Sue and Roger Poole had been living and working in Des Moines and had initially dreamed of opening a family deli in Northern Michigan where the wooden boats that Roger enjoyed restoring were plentiful.

Starboard Market in Clear Lake, Iowa

A park overlooking Clear Lake is about a block from Starboard Market making it a great place to enjoy your box lunch.

However, while traveling home after visiting an antique show, the couple decided to get off the Interstate at Clear Lake for a meal. They saw the waterfront, liked the small town atmosphere, and drove by a charming little house that was for sale by owner.

About eight minutes later, they’d purchased a home in this Northern Iowa town. Several years later, the family opened Starboard Market and hit the ground running.

Starboard Market in Clear Lake, Iowa

Sisters Katie and Jen own and run Starboard Market.

Jen’s mom and dad came to Clear Lake to help. Roger, who was almost ready to retire from Union Pacific, suddenly went from UP Railroad executive to head dishwasher, and a successful family business was born.

Starboard Market is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 (ish) a.m. to 2:30 (ish) p.m. By 10 minutes ’til noon, you’ll see a line forming at the counter and the staff hurriedly making sandwiches and pouring soups, served on sea foam Fiestaware with real forks and spoons. Don’t let the short hours fool you, though. The staff works full-time preparing all the salads and desserts from scratch as well as catering local events.

Starboard Market in Clear Lake, Iowa

Inside Starboard Market

Jen says one of the keys to the success of Starboard Market is consistency. They have a small staff (5 or 6 during the busy season) and little turnover. The soups, salads, and sandwiches don’t change much, in part because the same people make them most days.

After finishing our boxed lunch (and trying the cookies later that afternoon) we wouldn’t change a thing. If Jen, Katie and team keep this up, we expect their #1 Trip Advisor ranking will also remain consistent.


PIN FOR LATER

Starboard Market in downtown Clear Lake, Iowa

Starboard Market in downtown Clear Lake, Iowa

  • Curious to see what Iowa has to offer to visitors besides corn? ⁣
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FOLLOW ALONG on our Instagram and Facebook stories as we travel to Iowa Sept. 19-22. We're going to be exploring Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa, and we can't wait to take you with us!⁣
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We'll hit all the popular attractions like the Surf Ballroom, The Music Man Square, and the Historic Park Inn. And, we'll take you behind the scenes at several unique eateries and venues. ⁣
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Our coverage of our trip to Iowa begins the morning of Sept. 19. We hope you'll join us on what is sure to be another fun-filled Midwest travel adventure. ⁣
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Also, let us know your recommendations for things to see and do in the Clear Lake/Mason City area if you have ideas. We'd love to hear from you. ⁣
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@clearlakeiowa @visitmasoncityiowa @traveliowa @midwesttravelnetwork
  • Steve is 47 today! ⁣
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A definite advantage of getting older and gaining experience in traveling is not being so terrified to hop on the plane and go.⁣
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This is 17 year-old Steve, way back in 1990, as he prepared to leave for Argentina where he would spend six months living with a host family as an exchange student.⁣
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As it turns out, Steve's time in Argentina was wonderful, and he remembers it fondly. After his time in there, he went on to get a degree in Spanish, spend a semester abroad in Costa Rica, participate in missions and community-service trips in third world countries, and finally be a teacher and eventually a school administrator. None of this would have happened if he hand't conquered his fear and gotten on the plane.⁣
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So if you're nervous to travel somewhere, that's understandable. But put your fear aside and go--a life changing experience awaits you.
  • Just over two years ago, we stopped in Pawhuska to have lunch at Ree Drummond's @PWMercantile. From the person opening the door for us to the folks tending the line giving us water, we felt welcome from the moment we set foot in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.⁣
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But it turns out it wasn't just @thepioneerwoman and her husband, Ladd, who went above and beyond to welcome visitors. No, it turns out what they did was just par for the course in this town that's home to some of the friendliest and most welcoming people we've met in all our travels. ⁣
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So we bought a house there. We got it in part, so we could be a part of the community we've come to love. But we also got it so we could help welcome folks to town and let them know how glad we are they came to visit. Come and see Pawhuska. And when you do, stay awhile.
  • Fried dill pickles are a little different in North Dakota than they are in most other places we've been. Instead of just dipping some dill chips in batter, dropping them in the fryer, and then serving them in a basket with ranch, the folks there take their time and make a dish to remember.⁣
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They start with a dill pickle spear, wrap that in Havarti cheese, then put a wonton wrapper around it all. Then, they fry it, and slice it open just so before serving them alongside a spicy aioli dipping sauce. We had these at a complimentary meal at Outlaws Bar and Grill in @visitwilliston, North Dakota.⁣
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Let's be honest, these pickles are just one of many reasons we look forward to our return to @northdakotalegendary next year.
  • Have you ever had the chance to watch a cruise ship come into or leave port? These massive ships, often 1,000 feet or more long, can maneuver themselves by the dock so gently that you don't even realize you've stopped (or started) moving.⁣
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In Bermuda, we had the chance to watch the Norwegian Escape depart. We watched as she pushed away from the dock, then spun 180 degrees on a point before heading out to sea.⁣
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We've seen ships do this dozens of times. In fact, we've been on ships and have been part of this type of maneuvering dozens of times. And yet, given the sheer size of the vessels, it never ceases to impress.
  • You know you want to. Do it. Just book the ticket and go. At the end of your life, you likely won't remember most of the stuff you bought in 2019, but you will always remember the journey you took and the experiences you had. So enrich your life and go. We've never regretted spending money for a trip.
  • This just might be the sweetest, best pecan roll we've ever had. At the @PWMercantile, they bake these delicious treats daily. Covered in a luscious caramel and finely chopped pecans, these rolls are the stuff dreams are made of. Have you had one?
  • Smack in the middle of Portland, Oregon, we found the International Rose Test Garden. Set on 4.5 acres of land, the garden offers visitors a chance to see 10,000 rose bushes from about 650 different varieties. ⁣
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We spent more than an hour walking the carefully tended paths, snapping photos, and just enjoying the beautiful flowers. Our visit here made us glad that we literally scheduled time on this trip to stop and smell the roses.

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