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Local Food in Iowa

I'm looking to all you Heartland Chowhounds to help me out.

I am launching a new magazine, "Edible Iowa River Valley," and while I know the area fairly well, I don't know it all. So please post your recs for the best food, best farmers, best artisans in the region that runs from the Des Moines/Ames metro east to the Mississippi, and I'll try to get some recognition for the folks who are doing the local/sustainable thing really well.

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    1. I'd be happy to...
      got some?

      1. Howdy,
        In Ames: the Cafe and Aunt Maude's are buying lots of local meat and produce. The Cafe, Aunt Maude's sister restau bakes their own organic bread and both wine lists are well crafted. Also, in Ames, Stomping Grounds. This is a coffeehouse that has morphed into a cafe, with nice wines and the best cup of espresso I've tasted in the state. The BLT with local pepper bacon and heirloom tomatoes is transcendent. Also rec their Croque Monsieur.
        Still in Story County: Prairie Moon winery. A father/son operation, they make the best Iowa wine I've had. Their Foch is done in American Oak barrels, and has 5% malbec thrown in for some backbone.

        in D.M.
        Trostel's Dish
        Bistro Montage
        Star Bar (serving Cleverley produce and Niman meats)

        In Grinnell: Cafe Phoenix. Local food and wine is the rule, not the exception.
        Hope this helps.

        1. Elkhorn IA is a settlement of Danish immagrants just west of Des moines. There is a buffet at the Danish Inn there that features several danish dishes. Ableskeevers are the signature breakfeast dish. They are basically pancake balls that are a little larger than golf balls. I think the only place you can get them are at the area B&B's. There is also a cool danish museum and windmill there. The windmill was actually brought over from Denmark.

          1. Alright! This is what I'm talking about! Who's got more? A farmer with the best asparagus? A homebrewer? A contraband cheesemaker?

            We're cataloging the good stuff here folks

            2 Replies
            1. re: Devotay

              An obvious one would be Graziano Bros in Des Moines. These guys can make sausage.
              I'll add more when my brain starts to clear from the weekend.

              1. re: Devotay

                Someone recently told me that the meat department at Fairway makes all their own brats and salami and stuff. Don't know if it's true, but the meats I tried were pretty delicious, and I was pleasantly surprised that a grocery store would go to such lengths -- that is, if it's true.

              2. I assume Stringtown Grocery and the Kalona Cheese Shop are already in your book...

                1. Did you hear the interview with Simone Delaty on The Splendid Table the other night? Pretty good press for Eastern Iowa. You can listen to the webcast here: http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/...

                  Also, she did a short bit on Zindrich's, Sykora's & Polehna's (all Czech Village standards) in another recent show. That link is here: http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/...

                  1. Well, I traveled down to Iowa to St. Olaf in northeast Iowa between Marquette and Elkador. My pursuit was the world's largest pure pork tenderloin sandwich at the St. Olaf Tap. Too bad we can't post pictures here but it is a must see. You can see the vista view of St. Olaf in a valley, the St. Olaf Tap building and the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich itself on my website.


                    The St. Olaf Tap tenderloin was the only tenderloin mentioned in the Chicago Des Moines Register article, "100 Foods You Have to Eat in Iowa Before You Die". I was surprised not more were mentioned considering 5 pizzas were listed.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Davydd

                      If you are traveling through Des Moines you might try Porky's, but at least check out their website for their various versions of the midwest special. Sadly some of the old timers in the city haved passed on and their families could not maintain the businesses with perhaps the exception of George the Chili King. Try the fat man special.


                      1. re: DrWine

                        The last time I had a Porky's tenderloin it seemed as if it was chopped and pressed. It was not good. George's is one of my favorite places. Been going there for 40 years. They do an ok version of the tenderloin, but they are not fresh and hand pounded. They are made good by the greek style chili I have them put on it.
                        Michaels in Beaverdale is the best loin I've had. Truly a thing of beauty.
                        Mr.Bibbs on 6th ave makes a good fresh loin cheap.
                        Smitty's get's a lot of play, but they are prefab frozen loins, much better to be had.
                        Kelly's Little Nipper, hand cut and breaded daily, but to thin for my taste.

                    2. Bob, As i remember Kelly's had a good sausage sandwich. Have you ever tried the sausage at The Library near Drake U?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: DrWine

                        Kelly's has a 1 lb sausage sandwich made with Grazianos Italian sausage for like $5.00. Served on a half loaf of fresh french bread, it is a feast. One of the best lunches in Des Moines.
                        The Libary does a great sausage sandwich also. Their Budweiser sauce is excellent. I have not had one of their burgers in forever, but they were/are very good. The Library is truly a chowhound kind of place. A tiny place next to a college, it doesn't have to be as good as it is.

                      2. Devotay: Have you ever tried Cafe Dodici in Washington? Small county seat town owned by a local who spent 20+ years in Italy. Brought her favorite food and chef home to the small town. Certainly not a pure "Iowa" place, but sure is a surprise.


                        1. Iowa City has some great eats.

                          Bread Garden: serving a variety of fresh breads(obviously), sandwiches, a yummy Tuscan Tomato soup, and gorgeous pastries to marvel at, let alone eat!

                          The Vine, IC and Coralville: best wings in IC, IMHO

                          Wig & Pen, Coralville: fantastic pizza

                          Mondo's of Coralville: black bean soup and salads were always a hit, but its been a while since I've been, so I can't make any other recco's

                          1. being from ames, i feel i must mention the grove cafe on main street, simply for it's pancakes. unbelievable.


                            1. This may be beyond your coverage area, but the Lincoln Cafe in Mount Vernon is outstanding and well worth the trip (I drove over an hour and a hald to eat lunch there). Inventive presentations and perfect execution.