New, old friends bond over good food at Progressive Dinner

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Enjoy an evening of hospitality, good food and fun at the McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce’s annual Progressive Dinner. The event will run from 5 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15, and include five stops in Marquette and McGregor. 

“Each stop has a different course,” prepared by a local business or home owner, explained Anne Kruse, who’s attended the Progressive Dinner for the past five years.

Despite the name, she joked, “it has nothing to do with politics.”

Attendees will meet at the Marquette Community Center at 4:30 p.m., and split into groups of around 10 people. You can ask to join friends, or be assigned to a random group. The groups will then travel to each location before ending the night back at the community center for dessert, which will be prepared by The Local Oven. 

Hors d’oeuvres, courtesy of By the Spoonful, will also be served at the Marquette Community Center. Little Switzerland Inn, in McGregor, will host the soup course, while Connie and Rogeta Halvorson will provide the salad at Rogeta’s McGregor home. Stauer House B&B, in McGregor, will offer the main course, which includes a choice of stuffed pork chop, mashed potatoes and green beans, or fish, wild rice and vegetable medley.

The catch, though, said Kruse, is that, outside dessert, “you don’t all go at the same time to the same place. You have to be flexible because you don’t get everything in the traditional order.”

Combined, she added, “it’s a tremendous amount of food, and the quality is amazing. You have to pace yourself.”

Donna Staples, owner of Stauer House B&B, which has hosted one of the stops for the past 13 years, said planning for the Progressive Dinner begins weeks in advance. The hosts look at the previous year’s menu and try to come up with something different. 

“You try to have a dark meat and light meat—two different dishes,” she said. “Then there are side dishes of potatoes, noodles or rice, and veggies. I like to add homemade rolls and those special touches.”

Several weeks before the event, especially if she’s cooking the main course, Staples orders the meat. The week of, she considers the rest of the grocery list, sets up the table and makes sure the home is cleaned and decorated for Valentine’s Day. Friday night, she welcomes guests who are staying the weekend at the B&B, and Saturday morning she starts cooking.

“I like to have everything in warmers or crockpots by 2 p.m.,” Staples shared.

Once guests arrive, she said it takes just two or three people to serve and clear the meal. Attendees spend 45 minutes at each stop, with 15 minutes in between for travel. 

“So we have 15 minutes to get in, get the table cleared off and reset it with new dishes for the next bunch,” Staples detailed. Thanks to two sets of dishes, she can be largely prepared for the next group by the time one walks out the door.

“We’ve got the routine down,” she said with a smile.

Attending the Progressive Dinner, which is a fundraiser for the chamber, helps support the community, Kruse noted.

“The people at each stop put a lot of work into it, decorating and getting ready for guests,” she said. “It’s all on a volunteer basis.”

Staples said she enjoys breaking out the good china and special place settings and welcoming people into her home. Cooking is one of her passions, and the Progressive Dinner takes it one step further.

As a hair dresser for 43 years, as well as a B&B owner, she added, “I’ve done nothing but serve—relate to people, talk to people, entertain people. That’s the environment I grew up in. So I like welcoming people into the environment of a home that’s lived in and doing something nice for them.”

When the Progressive Dinner first started over 15 years ago, it was a way to showcase some of Marquette and McGregor’s bed and breakfasts. Although many people from out of town attended, Staples said it attracted a lot of locals too.

“It was an opportunity for them to get out and see what the places look like on the inside,” she said. 

The establishments have changed over the years, to now include more restaurants/shops and private homes, but many of the same people are still coming, she noted: “I look forward to seeing them every year.”

Kruse said the unique stops, paired with the fun atmosphere, is what keeps her coming back.

“It’s something to look forward to, to get out of the house and beat cabin fever,” she said. “You can have a good time with old friends or meet lots of new people. There’s a lot of good conversation.”

Staples said it’s interesting to see how people who may have started the evening as strangers can bond over a home cooked meal.

“They come together, and they might not know each other, but they find something in common,” she shared. “It’s fun to see that and be a part of it.”

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