What To Eat in Iowa
In Iowa, an “Iowa Pork Chop” isn’t just from local hogs. It is two or three times thicker than a pork chop from anywhere else, and its creamy goodness is beyond compare. Likewise, cinnamon rolls, available in virtually every restaurant, are immense. Iowa is also a nexus of the lower Midwest’s beloved tenderloin sandwich, and it is the custom in here to flatten a slab of tenderloin so it fries up three or four or five times wider than the bun that sandwiches it. Pies are blue-ribbon quality, too, especially that dairy country fave, sour cream raisin pie – a delirious balancing act of sweet and tangy.
In Iowa, a tenderloin is a bunned sandwich for which a slice of pork is pounded thin, breaded and fried to a crisp. Girth is a big issue, some cutlets pounded out so wide that the sandwich is literally impossible to hold. But a super-thin tenderloin runs the risk of frying dry. Excellence is built upon a fine balance: a vast amount of crisp, crunchy crust, but a ribbon of pork within that is thick enough to remain juicy. Traditionally, tenderloins are garnished with mustard and pickle chips with the option of lettuce and tomato.
Outside of Iowa, a pork chop all too often is a triangle of meat about as thick as a slice of Wonder Bread and, sadly, sometimes as chewy as a dog toy. A true Iowa pork chop is as thick as a regal filet mignon; but it is broader by a factor of four, reminding one of a whole rack of lamb. Its inside spurts and sputters as a knife glides down through the caramel-colored crust and into the vast lode of meat. It might come topped with extremely savory pan gravy, which is less for the chop itself, which needs nothing but eager taste buds to attain its destiny, than for the great reef of mashed potatoes that accompany the chop on its plate.
Back in the 1920s when Americans worried about the ill-effects of frying meat, a Sioux City tavern owner created what became known as a tavern: well-seasoned ground beef that is steam-cooked to become a mound of pebbly succulence. Sioux Citians became smitten with the sandwich, which over the years has assumed many aliases, including Big T, Charlie Boy, Tastee and, most popular of all, loosemeats. There's a local pride in loosemeats, which is served by virtually every drive-in restaurant and bar throughout the counties of Sioux, Plymouth, Cherokee, and Woodbury.
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What some Iowans call loosemeats or Maid-Rite is known in Ottumwa as a canteen. Have the crumbled beef sandwich with a rich milkshake and homemade pie.
Jesse's Embers of Des Moines, Iowa, cooks steaks on an aromatic charcoal grill and serves them with great onion rings and expertly-made cocktails.
Plate-wide pancakes put the Grove Cafe of Ames, Iowa, on the Roadfood map. For hearty meals with lots of local color, it's a restaurant experience not to miss.
Tastee Inn & Out is a drive-in serving the northwest Iowa beef sandwich known as a loosemeats, plus delicious fried onion chips with creamy dipping sauce.
The most famous things made at Jaarsma Bakery of Pella, Iowa, are Dutch letters – giant-size pastries in the form of the alphabet.
Cinnamon buns for breakfast, tenderloins & Dutch salad for lunch and always cream pie for dessert: the Coffee Cup Cafe of Sully, Iowa, is a Midwest dream.
Indulge in a turtle sundae, shake, malt, or soda. The ice cream is Bauder's own, the flavor rotation including fresh strawberry and peach in summer months.
In Northwest Iowa, taverns (loosemeats) are more popular than burgers. They're at their best at the Miles Inn, which calls them Charlie Boys.
A Mason City, Iowa, ice cream destination since 1938, Birdsall's is known for in-season peach ice cream topped with peaches.