Tuesday, April 15, 2014
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.
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.
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.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
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.
Saturday, March 15, 2014
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.
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:
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.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
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.
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:
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.
Saturday, February 15, 2014
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.
Price: 7.00 with fixins and a side of ruffled potato chips.
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.
Saturday, February 1, 2014
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.
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|
|Big City Fries|
|This could have been something beautiful.|
|Modern design with green and white color scheme|
|Its all chopped up.|
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
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.
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.
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.