Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Machine Shed in Urbandale Iowa



 The Machine Shed is probably the busiest restaurant in all of Iowa. I can't think of any place that gets through as many guests as this place, and it has a giant parking lot and multiple dining areas to keep the flow of people moving. The Machine Shed gets a lot of visitors with out-of-state license plates, and has a bit of a reputation as a place where visitors go to eat when driving through on the interstate.

Location: 11151 Hickman Road in Urbandale, Iowa, in suburban Des Moines

Directions: Its right off the Hickman exit from 80/35 in Urbandale, in the Western suburbs of Des Moines.

Online at: Website for Des Moines location is HERE.

The Tenderloin: The first thing you notice is the flaky and slightly oily batter covering the pork meat. It had a nice crisp crunch, and the meat was deeply juicy. My tenderloin had some slightly grey loin meat, and there were tiny bits of untrimmed fat in between the grain of the meat. This was not enough  to detract from the softness of the meat, which was good throughout. Served with onions, tomato, pickle on a gigantic soft toasted bun. Overall 7.9 out of ten.

Price: $8.99 with soup and a side. I went with the chili and sweet potato fries.

Also on the menu: The menu is huge and filled with simple midwestern American foods like double cut porkchops. The breakfast or brunch buffets are decadent and huge, and prices are always very reasonable. There are also desserts like pies and giant cinnamon rolls available at a to-go counter.

Service: The servers are dressed like farm workers in denim overalls and service was okay when I stopped in.

Ambiance: The giant building right off the highway is filled with farm themed antiques, and there is a gift shop to walk through before getting to the dining area.

Final Thoughts: The menu claims the breaded pork tenderloin is their most popular sandwich, I thought it was everybody's most popular sandwich.

 The Machine Shed Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Breitbach's Country Dining in Balltown, Iowa


How many restaurants can claim they won an IPPA Best Tenderloin Award and its just a footnote to their history? Breitbach's has a legend which has developed over time after multiple fires have leveled the building. In 2009 Breitbach's was named an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation. Breitbach's is also featured in a recent documentary titles Spinning Plates, alongside Alinea Restaurant in Chicago, which I have not yet seen.


Location: The address is listed as 563 Balltown Rd. in Sherrill, but its in the small unincorporated community known as Balltown. Its near the intersection of Breitbach Road and Balltown Road, at the top of a hill with a handful of buildings making up Balltown.


Directions: You are probably visiting here from Dubuque, and then take Highway 3/Route 52 to Sherrill Road which changes into Balltown Road and leads into Balltown. You can also take James Road north from Richardsville and bear north as it turns into Horshoe Road.

Online at: Website is HERE.

The Tenderloin: I have had battered tenderloins at plenty of places and this seemed to have a little bit of a salty aftertaste. This was pounded out wider than any of the other battered loins I have tried as well. You get a huge amount of soft crispy batter to go with the very tender and bright white pork meat underneath. Served with all the fixings on a toasted bun. Overall 9.2 out of ten.

Price: $6.25 a la carte

Also on the menu: The menu is really simple midwestern food like burgers or fried chicken, and sandwiches like ham and cheese or a patty melt. There is a buffet service for lunch and a weekend breakfast buffet.

Service: I ate at the bar but there is a dining area with table service.


Ambiance: The building has been rebuilt more than once, but has the character of a rebuilt historic building. The woodwork and paintings on the walls of the nearby panorama look great. There is also a beer garden area outside for when the weather is warm.

Final Thoughts: Breitbachs claims in Spinning Plates trailer that they may serve up to two thousand people in a single Sunday between the Brunch or Breakfast buffet. Getting that kind of a following to travel from Dubuque is a mighty task that requires no shortage of consistency and quality for decades. It was fun to drive up and down the tiny hills leading into Balltown, and I hope to be able to do so again someday.

 Breitbach's Country Dining on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Claxons Smokehouse in Altoona, Iowa

8th St in Altoona used to be a classic restaurant comparison street with two places serving the same kind of food. Altoona was once divided between Kin Folks patrons on one side, and Claxon's patrons on the other. Time has passed and Kin Folks is no more, and Claxon's has built itself a new building while 8th street has slowly filled with more chain restaurants in between the strip malls.

Location: 3131 8th St SW in Altoona, Eastern Suburbs of Des Moines, Central Iowa.

Directions: You take Hubbell Ave out of Des Moines and turn right at some intersection just beyond city limits to reach 8th St in Altoona.

Online At: Facebook page is HERE.


The Tenderloin: This sandwich and the plate it came on were really heavy, like cargo crane worthy between the huge fries and the sandwich. The problem with the meat was that it had been cut into a large portion but hadn't been tenderized or pounded out to soften the inside. Biting into this was tough and chewy compared to nearly every other tenderloin out there. Served on a giant flour-dusted bun that may be better suited to large amounts of smoked meats and dripping bbq sauce. Overall 7.0 out of ten.

Price: Its $9.99 with one side, but the menu said another side was just $2.00 more for a total of $11.99 and then I couldn't help myself from trying two sides after reading that. Funny how that works.


Also on the menu: The menu is big and based on smoked meats first with other options added to round it out for other tastes. The ribs were listed as one of the 100 Things to Eat in Iowa Before You Die by the Des Moines register back in 2006. I was impressed by the slightly misnamed "Fried Corn" side dish. It was corn, but not fried. It had brisket bits that were deeply softened from hours of cooking. A lot of BBQ places in Iowa get away with stiff brisket but this was deeply soft in texture:
"Fried Corn"
Service: I came in on the off hours and just ate at the bar and was attended to with no delay.

Ambiance: This is not Claxon's first building, although I never made it to the old one. This space has high vaulted ceilings and is split between a dining area with tables and booths and wide windows, and bar area covered in sports and beer signs.


Final Thoughts: I was optimistic about my visit to Claxon's but the sandwich only reminded me that tenderizing is an important part of making tenderloins and tenderness is key to their enjoyment. I will probably return to try the ribs or other bbq items soon.


Claxon's Smokehouse & Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Darrell's Place in Hamlin, Iowa


Darrell's Place is an aluminum siding building with a gravel driveway parking lot and a giant antenna on the roof. Its at the "busy" intersection of highways 44 and 71 in Western Iowa, in a town with less than 300 people. The autobiographical stories on the walls tell of a farmer from near Exira who decided to open this restaurant back in the eighties, and its word of mouth reputation slowly spread throughout the small burgs of Western Iowa.

Location: 4010 First St in Hamlin, Audubon County in Western Iowa.

Directions: Take the Highway 71 exit from I-80 and drive north through Brayton and Exira and find Darrell's place in Hamlin at the intersection with Highway 44.

Online at: facebook page is HERE.

The Tenderloin: The cutting and trim job on the pork loin meat is meticulous and yields a smaller size piece of meat with a juicy and chewy texture. The sandwich feels like six ounces, much smaller than the jumbo loins sold elsewhere. The tenderizing is very consistent so there are no thin drys spots or tougher thick parts. Breading is a super fine and super thin layer of golden yellow with just a touch of seasoning that keeps the steam inside from escaping. Served with pickles and onions on an a small untoasted bun. Overall 9.3 out of ten.

Price: It was $4.25 a la carte the last time I stopped in.

Also on the menu: The menu is big with fried appetizers, sandwiches, burgers and other entrees. But seriously, why bother with anything other than the tenderloin and dessert. I went with the Butterscotch pie picked out from the Pie Board and appreciated the creamy and sweet filling:
Butterscotch Pie
Service: This is a seat yourself table service restaurant, and a couple waitresses are spread throughout the dining area. The small town place gets busy and the food isn't fast, so be prepared for a little wait.



Ambiance: The walls are wood panels covered with everything from t-shirts to newpaper articles about the IPPA award to posters from the local high school sports teams. The seating includes a bar area and tables for groups.

Final Thoughts: The story of Darrell's Place is also the story of the IPPA Best Tenderloin in Iowa Award. The 2003 award was the first one given out, and the IPPA even published a list of places nominated for the award before giving out the top five. That list was the first real guide to finding breaded tenderloin sandwiches, and the IPPA contest with its exposure on rural AM radio still reaches the small town diners more than any modern internet search, newspaper articles, or restaurant review websites like yelp or urbanspoon. I have to wonder if Darrell's Place was the reason they started the award in the first place.

Darrell's Place on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Duncan's Cafe in Council Bluffs, Iowa


Duncan's cafe has been serving up breakfast and diner food in downtown Council Bluffs for a long time. I get the idea that Duncan's sells a lot of tenderloins, some other people were eating them as I walked through the dining area.

Location: 501 S. Main St. in Council Bluffs, Pottawattamie County in Western Iowa.

Directions: The cafe is at the corner of 5th and Main St. in the old downtown area. You have to enter a hallway area to reach Duncan's.

The Tenderloin: The size was good, this thing dominated the multicolored plate with potato chips. The meat portion would be described as steamy but not moist and definitely not juicy. The breading felt dusty but had a distinct salty seasoning blend. Served on a large toasted bun that felt like the Rotella buns that come from Omaha. Those are good buns. Overall 7.1 out of ten.

Price: 7.00 with fixins and a side of ruffled potato chips.

Also on the menu: The menu is just regular diner food like chicken fried steak or daily specials, with full breakfast options served on big skillets.

Service: Its just table service with a counter for paying the bill and grabbing to-go orders.

Ambiance: The outside of the building is a historic main street facade, but the interior is unsophisticated small town diner with tables and booths and bright colored plates. I almost expected the plates to start beeping and lighting up.The exposed brick walls are covered with just plain random and weird pictures.

Final Thoughts: I have not exactly spent much time in Council Bluffs over the years. I read a local article a long time ago that pointed me towards the Railway Inn and LPL Lounge. I still haven't found a real good one any closer than the Dairy Sweet in Dunlap. My next stop might be a roadhouse in Beebeetown if I can find the time to drive through during the day.

 Duncan's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Big City Burgers & Greens in Des Moines, Iowa


One of the biggest restaurant trends of the last decade was the proliferation of high end and upscale burger places across the country. It used to be difficult just to find a burger topped with bleu cheese in Iowa, now its on practically every menu. If anything, its difficult to find a good "regular" burger that isn't topped with something exotic or given a goofy name or served in a themed restaurant. I knew BCBG had the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich as a daily special from time to time since they opened. I just happened to notice it on the regular menu on a recent trip to downtown Des Moines.

Location: inside the Capital Square building at 400 Locust St in Downtown Des Moines.

Directions: This is in the southwest corner of the ground floor of the Capital Square Building, accessible from the skywalk.


Online at: website is HERE.

The Tenderloin: First things first, the size of the pork loin meat for the amount they are asking for is a great value. Its hard to find a decent homemade tenderloin downtown for any price. The loin meat is well tenderized and the coating of cracker textured breading has a great crunch. The menu's claim of "fresh ingredients" is not just promotional fluff. The lettuce and tomato are noticeable crisper and fresher than any other place serving tenderloins. The pickles were thick and juicy if that's your thing. But that brings me to another part of this sandwich. Its served "chopped", cut in halt. Why would someone take something that is beautiful and cut it in half? Even with a side of potatoes the presentation of the cut sandwich left so much empty space on the plate. Another problem was the "addition" of the side of honey mustard aioli sauce, this just seemed like a portion of salad dressing. I was under the impression that a confident chef would always serve his food the way he wanted people to eat it. Putting sauce on the side looks indecisive and pointless. At least the "honey mustard aioli" is served in a biodegradable container so after its thrown out it will vanish from the earth with less of a footprint. There are already two different mustard bottles at each table, why add this extra condiment when it isn't any better than the classic mustard described simply as "yellow". Served on a soft and warm toasted potato bun. Overall 7.7 out of ten.

Price: $5.50 a la carte.


Also on the menu: Burgers and Greens name refers to a menu which is mostly burgers and salads. They have unique daily specials and a huge selection of toppings for whatever you order.

Big City Burger
The Big City Burger: I ordered mine in the double size with white cheddar cheese and fried prosciutto. The prosciutto was under the fixins and was crumbled into tiny pieces. The melt job on the cheese was just right. The ground beef was in some thick round patties and cooked a little past medium well. This is a tasty burger.
Big City Fries
The Big City Fries are tossed with olive oil, asiago, and parsley for $3.75

Cheesy Potatoes
 Another side option is the Cheesy Potatoes, with little pieces of fried proscuitto mixed in with seasonings and Swiss cheese. I like the thick chunky potatoes and the cheese was melted with garlic.

This could have been something beautiful.
Service: There is a long counter with an area where you can see the salads being made. They have some high tech system where you take a card and stick it into a machine that tells them where you are sitting and they bring the food to your table. Like most lunch places attached to the skywalk, BCBG has short hours and is only open for lunch on weekdays.

Modern design with green and white color scheme
Ambiance: You have a great modern design with a green and white color scheme and three seating areas, inside and outside. They have another dining area for private parties or catered events. This is the nicest place in the thoroughly drab, terrible designed, utterly awful example of bad architecture known as the Capital Square building.

Its all chopped up.
Final Thoughts: BCBG is operated by some of the most professional restaurant people in Des Moines, and it shows. Lines move fast, food gets out quickly, the design is modern and bright. The toppings for the burgers are clearly fresher and higher quality than nearly any other place I have visited. Long before BCBG occupied this location, there was lunchtime pizza place that also served a tenderloin. I can't remember the name but I never made it in there before it closed. The location above BCBG was home to Stella's Blue Sky Diner, which did great business for a long time before moving to Urbandale and then closing a few years ago.


Big City Burgers and Greens on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Apron Strings in Mediapolis, Iowa


I think the Burlington Hawkeye newspaper had a local poll for the best tenderloin in Southeast Iowa a while back. The Apron Strings was one of the nominees, and Mediapolis is conveniently located on the road north from Burlington. Get here early for the breakfast and lunch specials, because Apron Strings closes at two in the afternoon.


Location: 608 Main St in Mediapolis in Des Moines County, Southeast Iowa..

Directions: This is just off Highway 61 on the main drag through Mediapolis, just north of Burlington.


The Tenderloin: I liked the soft homemade bun this was served in. Buns don't have to be toasted if they are soft yet firm enough to hold up the sandwich. This tenderloin had a good eight ounces of well trimmed pork loin. The meat was well trimmed and bright white inside. Overall 8.4 out of ten.


Price: $4.95


Also on the menu: There is a full breakfast service along with "noon specials" for lunch. I think they claimed to have homemade cole slaw for a side.

Service: There are two dining areas with table service as well as a counter area. I grabbed my loin to go and paid at the counter.

Ambiance: This place has a very rustic atmosphere with tiny tables and booths. Wood paneled walls with aprons set the tone.


Final Thoughts: I love pulling up to small town diners with vintage soda logo signs and superlative claims of culinary excellence. Be sure to check out my list of other tenderloin places along old Highway 61 on the list I've compiled HERE.


Apron Strings on Urbanspoon