Friday, October 23, 2009

PJ's Drive-In in Panora

The location at the end of the Raccoon River Valley Bike Trail and the nearby Lake Panorama mean Panora gets more visitors than the average small town in Iowa. This means more diverse dining options, a near fully-occupied downtown, but most importantly more good tenderloins. So a couple years ago I picked up a Smoke-Free Dining Guide to Western Iowa, and this place was listed as specializing in homemade tenderloins. I had to check it out.

Location: 600 E Main St. in Panora Iowa, in Guthrie County about an hour west of Des Moines.

Directions: This place on the east side of Panora has a big green sign in front on Route 44, the main drag through town.

The Tenderloin: The first thing you notice is the unusual cut, with small connective thin part in between a couple thick round chunks of pork. The breading is thick with little dots of black pepper visible. There was a some untrimmed fat on the edges but most of the pork was steamy and delicious. Served on a toasted bun. Overall 7.5/10

Price: $3.75 a la carte, a good value for an average-size tenderloin sandwich, or in a special with side and drink for $6.50. Also available grilled.

Also on the menu: the typical diner stuff like burgers and salads, there is a special Friday Night Fish Fry. This is the Cole Slaw:
Service: There are a lot of people moving around the kitchen here, its counter service with food brought to your table.

Ambiance: This place looks dull from outside but the interior is brightly lit and has a big mural of the bike trail covering a wall. There are tables inside and covered picnic tables for outside when the weather is good.

Final Thoughts: This place has a welcoming ambiance and is a great place to visit while passing through Panora. Its the best tenderloin I have found in Panora, after trying the Coyote Grill and 44 Drive-In already, the next place on my list is the restaurant at the Panorama National just north in Lake Panora.
P J's Drive-In on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Butch's River Rock Cafe in Oakland Mills

More than one person has recommended me to locate a bait shop in a small unincorporated township outside of Mt. Pleasant. For a long time Oakland Mills store was a cafe in an old railroad depot building, and a general store with live bait being made for catfish. Just a few years ago the owner retired and a cook from Mt. Pleasant took over the location. Some changes have been made, and while live bait is no longer sold, they still make the tenderloin from scratch right here. The mailbox in from still reads Oakland Mill Store in big letters. The new sign with a catfish claims "Dam good food", and "Were here to feed ya, not fatten ya up".

Location: 1529 253rd St in unincorporated community of Oakland Mills in Henry County, just five minutes drive from Mt. Pleasant in Southeastern Iowa.

Directions: You reach Oakland Mills by going south on Franklin from Old Highway 34, or take Jefferson St. south from Mt. Pleasant. The Cafe is across from the dam, good luck. The Tenderloin: This is a very large slice of pork loin pounded into the usual tenderloin shape clearly filling the plate. The thickness varies, so it was probably pounded by hand. The breading tasted like cornmeal with only the slightest seasoning. There was plenty or pork hanging over the bun. Overall 7.75/10.

Price: $4.25, a la carte,a good value, served with a steak knife. Also on the menu: Homemade pies are the specialty, so are burgers including an elk burger and hamburger salads.

Service: Its seat yourself with a busy waitstaff, one had a shirt with the definition of the word "tenderloin" printed on the back. Ambiance: This is a small old building that has been renovated a couple times to expand the dining area. The booths and tables are small, so is the counter. Outdoor seats are available also. There is no longer fish bait or live worms right next to where everyone eats.

Final Thoughts: From the cafe you will hear the century-old dam that once powered the mill serving a prosperous community. While the mill closed a long time ago, it looks like the fishing and outdoor activities bring their share of visitors to Oakland Mills. The road from Mt. Pleasant has some new houses and is paved the entire way to the main intersection of the small community. I may never know how this new cafe compares to the old Oakland Mills Store, or its tenderloin. But the place was filled with locals when I stopped in, many were getting the tenderloin.

Oakland Mills Store on Urbanspoon