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