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Traveling Lincoln Highway through IN, IL, IA, NE - need recommendations

Would appreciate recommendations on where to eat - anything except pizza and fried food, although I must try a Maid-Ride in Iowa. The Lincoln Highway was the first coast-to-coast road in the US. Much of it is US-30 today. We drove it from NJ to Fort Wayne, IN last year and will now do the next leg. We didn't find a lot of memorable food in the eastern states, except Balyeat's Coffee Shop in Van Wert, OH.

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  1. In Nebraska, you need to hit Ole's Big Game Bar in Paxton. The food isn't the best, it's typical Nebraska steakhouse, but it's really a Nebraska institution. Ole's has been open in one form or another since the end of Prohibition. The whole place is a tribute to the original owner's big game hunting, with different trophies everywhere. I've really never seen anything like it; it's definitely worth the stop, if only to say you've been there!

    1. I second the Lincoln Cafe recommendation. I have yet to eat at an equal or better restaurant within 200 miles of that place (and I've been looking!). So far, it seems to be the best restaurant between Chicago and Omaha.

      1. For recommendations in the towns where the Lincoln Highway goes through the Illinois portions of the Chicago area, I'd suggest that you ask on the Chicago board. The relevant towns would be Chicago Heights, Joliet, Aurora, Batavia, and Geneva. (I assume you know this, but the Lincoln Highway leaves US 30 just south of Aurora, goes north on Ill 31 to Ill 38, then stays on Ill 38 to Rock Falls where it again turns into US30.)

        On the Indiana side of the border (which is still the Chicago area, but the Chowhound folks insist on posting about them here), there are numerous places to recommend in Dyer, Schererville, Merrillville, and Valparaiso. It all depends on how much time (and money) you want to spend.

        Some of the more interesting places would be Bistro 157 and Strongbow Inn in Valparaiso, Teibel's in Schererville, and Gino's Steak House in Dyer. And there are literally dozens of restaurants in the couple miles on either side of the US30 interchange of I-65 in Merrillville. Most are chains, some are not and are quite good (eg, Gamba's).

        If you make a post on the Chicago board, I'll reply with some suggestions in Batavia and Geneva...

        1. North Aurora is on the Lincoln Highway, there is a sign posted on Rte. 31 at State Street (Rte. 56). Harner's Bakery and Cafe is just down the hill from this intersection where the bridge crosses the Fox River. Harner's as a bakery has been around Aurora in different locales for 40 or so years but in North Aurora about 25 years. It's very much like a old Wisconsin lodge, a little shabby, has a great view of the River and bike paths but inside it is warm and friendly with great food. First you must pass through the bakery and that's hard, you will see many people in the dining room with boxes of pasteries, ready to take home or a fresh, hot pastry to eat with their breakfast. Harner's is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner but breakfast is my favorite. The Harner family farms in near west Kaneville area and raises their own pigs, anything pork in the restaurant is wonderful! The first Friday of the month is a Pig Roast for dinner and always a long line! My favorite is the corned beef hash and next is the sausage patties but everything is great and you get a hearty portion.

          Harner's Bakery & Restaurant
          10 West State
          North Aurora, Il.
          630-892-4400

          1. I've got family in Nebraska & drove the Lincoln Highway across Nebraska a few years ago. Most exits had a single fast-food joint with a mini-mart & gas pumps. But if you take an exit and go a short distance into town (not sure if your stops must be "on highway" or detours are ok) you can often find one or two local diners/restaurants. Some haven't changed since the 1950s. It might be hard to find decent coffee! Valentine is a bit out of the way...but Valentine NE is a popular place for locals to have weddings & to mail cards for Feb 14. Small town, two good steakhouses where the potato is the veggie...I always enjoy the long list of "international" beers - Coors, Bud & Michelob...don't dare ask which is imported!

            If you are passing through Omaha head into the Old Market area - this old freight train has been turned into large market with antique shops & cafes. I cannot recall the name - but there is a nice food/wine shop that serves good food. Had really nice wild rice & duck soup, salad & glass of wine.

            I would definitely second Ole's - food is better than OK but the experience is worth it! Get a postcard too - some people won't believe a verbal description of the place.

            If you get close to Beatrice there is a really nice place - I think its "The Black Crow" - but not certain. Also you might see the comedian "The Cable Guy" - he lives nearby.

            Lincoln has a couple of good restaurants as well. Most locals would call Lazlo's the best steak in town. In the Haymarket area there is a brewpub, a good Indian restaurant - The Oven, too.

            Finally, on the western end of Nebraska be sure to check out the massive Cabela's. While the restaurant is mostly fast or near-fast food, they also have stuff to take with you on the drive...elk jerky is one of my favorites. We brought a cooler and got a nice tur-duck-hen.

            2 Replies
            1. re: bigonion

              Actually, the Lincoln Highway route swings well north of Lincoln and Beatrice. Both of those destinations would be well over 2 hours off the path. However, yes, the Black Crow is excellent, and definitely unexpected given it's location in a meat-packing town. High-scale New American cuisine.

              The Lincoln Highway enters Nebraska in Omaha. The Old Market isn't a train, it's really the old commercial district from the 1900's. Brick streets, old warehouses and shop fronts that have been converted to upscale boutiques, antique stores, and good food. Search this board for Omaha or Old Market, you'll get all kinds of recommendations.

              I also agree with stoppingat Cabela's in Sidney NE. It'll be at the far western part of the Lincoln Highway in Nebraska. Of course, I'm biased, my sister and brother in law both work there, and their dog has "modeled" in the catalogue before. If you're into camping or outdoor activity at all, Cabela's will probably have something that'll make you say "I've been looking for something like that!"

              You'll definitely have to post after your trip and let all of us know where you've stopped!

              1. re: OrganicGal

                Another thought...I recall staying in an interesting Iowa hotel - Jumer's Castle. I think they are a small Midwest chain. We stayed at the one in Quad Cities. Gothic styling, decent German food. Not sure where other Jumer's might be - but could be along the route.

                OrganicGal, Yeah...serves me right for emailing at 6:30 a.m. before my full coffee quota. Dropped "depot" from the "old train".

                I must say, for me, in the midst of a long road-trip with nothing but bad food behind me I'll drive a couple extra hours for a good meal!

            2. As you're going through Grand Island, head downtown. I know you said no pizza, but Wave Pizza is a surf-themed restaurant in Grand Island. Come on -- SURF-THEMED. And the pizza is excellent -- go figure. Maybe just stop in for a beer.

              There is also a brewery downtown -- Thunderhead Brewing. The beer is pretty good, food is standard bar fare.

              I also ate a pretty good Mexican restaurant just south of downtown -- the name escapes me, but it was attached to the Mexican grocery.

              That's one piece of advice I can give you about IA and NE -- because of the meat packing plants, many of the little towns have surprisingly good Mexican or Central American food. Ask around for the local favorite, or just look for the one with all the pickups in the parking lot.

              3 Replies
              1. re: heatherkay

                The last paragraph is so true. Small towns in Iowa, eg West Liberty, Columbus Junction, have some true Chowhound finds. Good Mexican or Central American and dirt cheap too.

                1. re: mander

                  Ahhhh. Someone else who has been to El Patio and La Reyna.

              2. Thanks for all the suggestions. The best food we had was in Chicago and Denver - not for this board. Other decent food included:
                Three Floyds Brew Pub, Munster, IN
                Taylor's Maid Rite, Marshalltown, IA
                Wave Pizza, Grand Island, NE (thanks for the suggestion)

                3 Replies
                1. re: AmericanRoadTrip

                  Sounds like a great trip. Have to ask, was the Taylor's Maid Rite the Sloppy Joe style burger? I've found huge inconsistencies w/ Maid Rite...

                  1. re: lenwois1

                    A true Maid-Rite should have no sauce. There is debate about whether they should be seasoned, though. I believe the revived Maid-Rite corporation adds some seasoning to the meat.

                    1. re: lenwois1

                      There was no sauce and it was not dry but not greasy, with onions and only a hint of other seasonings. According to Brian Butko in "Greetings from the Lincoln Highway", a special blend of spices was part of the original recipe, and Taylor's Maid Rite still grinds their own beef and uses a 75 year old cooker.

                      Funny thing, the only other time in my life that I had one was in the early seventies. We went to a family reunion in Albert Lea, MN and my mom insisted we stop for one even thought we had just eaten picnic food. She loved then when she was a teenager. We passed three more Maid Rites on the Lincoln Highway in Iowa, in Ames, Ceder Rapids, and Marion but it was Sunday or too early for them to be open.

                  2. Folks who are mourning the closing of Stone's in Marshalltown will be happy to know that it will reopen on February 14. I am going to post some info on my Iowa website (www.essentialiowa.com) when I got my notes transcribed. If you are passing down the Lincoln Highway after mid-February you might want to try it out. They still offer liver and onions on their menu and are famous for their lemon meringue pie

                    1. It’s wonderful to see all these Lincoln Highway recommendations. A few other interesting stops right on the route are the tiny Cindy’s Diner in Fort Wayne, IN; family-owned Thai Pavilion, DeKalb, IL; the restored Niland’s Café in Colo, IA, east of Ames; and the vegetarian McFoster’s in Omaha.

                      In my follow-up to “Greetings” called “Lincoln Highway Companion” (due out next year - but deadline looming!), I offer very brief listings (10-100 words) of a few eating and lodging places per state to help fellow travelers. The best listings are in the words of those who have been there, much like all your descriptions above. I’d be glad to consider a few more if you’d like to contact me at brian@brianbutko.com. The LHA has a good map of the route at http://www.lincolnhighwayassoc.org/ch... showing the main 13 states, plus there was also a dogleg to Denver. You can eat your way from coast to coast!

                      Brian