Friday, December 10, 2010

Newtons Paradise Cafe in Waterloo

For many years this building was known as Newton's Jewelers on a busy corner in downtown Waterloo. The rehab of this aging building looks like miracle work. A local grant of $50,000 made the exterior renovations possible. This included restoring the original exterior Carrara Glass to its Art Deco glamour from decades ago. Just this year it reopened as a cafe with the jewelery store signage of GOLD SILVER WATCHES DIAMONDS changed to read Great Fresh Local Food. The relatively young chef placed in charge has created a menu of simple comfort foods made with fresh and local ingredients whenever possible. Some of the online reviews claim he has become a local hero, using Farmers Market produce and protein from local farms will do that in a town like Waterloo.

Location: 128 E 4th St. in Waterloo, Eastern Iowa.

Directions: You should look for the revolving sign reading Newtons Paradise Cafe at 4th St and Sycamore when driving around the north side of downtown Waterloo.

Online at: they have a facebook page here.

The Tenderloin: This is at the bottom of the menu, listed as Iowa's Pork Tenderloin. The first thing you notice is the giant size, it envelopes the square plate and dwarfs its bun. The edges of the pork loin form arms and branches that fold and curl like a fried pork octopus. the breading includes some giant bread crumbs that pack a giant crunch while producing hundred of crumbs scattering everywhere nearby. The pork inside was bright white and mostly trimmed, with only one tiny bit of fat. Served on a toasted Ciabatta bun with Romaine lettuce, sliced onions and tomato. Overall 9.0 out of ten.

Price: $8.95
A special note about the size: This thing felt like it must have been twelve ounces of pork loin before breading and frying. If I had eaten earlier that day, I would not have been able to finish this thing. The giant size may scare some people off, as only one other person there was eating the tenderloin, and they were cutting it in half to share or take home. The tenderloin looked about four times bigger than anything else served here.

Also on the menu: A small menu with sandwiches like a Rueben, Roast Beef Dip, or salads and wraps. They serve a full breakfast all day.

The French Fries: these were only fifty cents extra, but the Parmesean and Oregano didn't stick to the fries, and jest fell to the bottom of the bowl. The fountain drinks were $2.00.
Service: Its table service with waiters running around all the time.

Ambiance: They put a serious amount of money and designing time on the interior. There is a green color theme with paintings of farms and ornaments of roosters on the walls. the ceiling has a painted blue sky with clouds against a stain glass sun window. There are tables and booths for seating, and a small bar.
Final Thoughts: Its not uncommon for a restaurant with such a heavy investment to cut corners on the menu. Thankfully, Newton's Paradise Cafe has at least one great menu item. I would not be surprised if the chef had tried the tenderloin at the Augusta in Oxford while developing this one. A nearby sports bar claims to serve the "largest pork loin in the Cedar Valley" on its menu, but I doubt its as big as what they serve here at Newton's.
Newtons Paradise Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

D & D Bar and Grill Cafe in Villisca

The D & D Bar & Grill was recommended in Iowa: An Explorer's Guide , which can be found here.

The sign reading Homemade Country Cooking greeted me before I walked in the door. Its display of a coffee cup on one side and a beer on another reflects the dual nature of most small town pub and grubs, which have to serve everything a small town populace needs in order to get enough business to stick around.

Location: 307 East 4th Street in Villisca, in Montgomery County in Southwest Iowa.

Directions: You take Highway 71 south from 34 to get to Villisca, and the D & D Bar and Grill is on the south side of the main square.
The Tenderloin: What this tenderloin gets right is the crunchy breading and juicy darker meat. You can see in the close-up the breading is made from cracker meal. The tenderloins here all seem to have the same curved bowl shape. Served on a big untoasted bun with pickles by the side. Overall 8.372 out of ten.

Price: $4.25 a la carte.
Also on the menu: A big menu with most of the hometown cafe basics of burgers and salads. There is a fish fry buffet on special occasions I need to check out.

Service: It seemed like one woman was taking everyone's orders and cooking all by herself when I was in.
Ambiance: Locals pack this hometown cafe that seems to be in a time warp with wood panels and old furniture. The interior is a mishmash of checkerboard ceiling tiles and mirrors. There are tables and a bar for seating. The kitchen is in the middle of everything.

Final Thoughts: I don't get many chances to drive across Southern Iowa on Highway 34. I had tried to visit Susie's Kitchen in nearby Stanton, but always seem to get there when it is closed. The D & D Bar and Grill has much longer hours that make it easier to get in and out. Also, while in Villisca, check out he Axe Murder House just down the street from the D & D:
D & D Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cozy Cafe in Clive

Cozy Cafe occupies the corner of a strip mall in Clive that resembles every other strip mall in the Western Suburbs. A couple Des Moines restaurant veterans turned this location into a comfort food option for people driving along Hickman Road west of Des Moines, and it has a Grounds For Celebration franchise inside serving a full menu of coffee drinks.

Special Note: Cozy Cafe opened in February 2010 in a western section of Clive. It is not to be confused with the Corner Cafe, another suburban retro diner serving comfort food in nearby Urbandale since April 2010, staffed by former employees serving a menu from the closed Urbandale Cafe. That place is down the street from the original Des Moines retro diner, Stella's Blue Sky, now open on 100th st. Cozy Cafe is owned by the folks who operated The Rock Restaurant, and previously ran Pat's Corner Cafe on Ingersoll, and some other place before that.

Location: 15950 Hickman Rd. in the Dallas County side of Clive.

Directions: Its next to Wendy's on Hickman Rd/Highway 6 on the way to Waukee and Adel.

Online at:

The Tenderloin: This thing is a great size and value, and heavy to pick up. The meat is in the classic pork loin butterfly cut that ends up in a sort of triangular shape. The uneven thickness of the meat made some parts much thicker than others. The overall juiciness retention of the meat was exceptional. There was just enough seasonings to add some taste to the breading. The two slices of American cheese were an extra 35 cents. Served with fixins on a large soft toasted bun. Overall 7.943 out of ten.

Price: $5.95, on special with a drink on Thursdays.
Also on the menu: The house specialty is the cavatelli, dating from when the owners served Helen and Pat's Cavatelli, and there is the usual diner fare of coneys and burgers. There are also homemade dessserts, daily soups and a full breakfast served until eleven. The coffee counter and drive-thru have a full selection of espresso drinks. Sides are served a la carte.

Ambiance: The strip mall is less than five years old, and this place has a small dining are with booths for seating. There is new colorful tile and natural light on the decorations.
Final Thoughts: The Cozy Cafe is serving up classic Iowa comfort food for people who don't even know Hickman as the road to Adel. Additionally, you can now get a tenderloin and chase it with a Red Eye without leaving your car. I never made it to Pat's Corner Cafe on Ingersoll before it closed, but people had recommended their Hot Beef Sandwich, and homemade chips to me back then. I may have to head back someday to try the one of the Cavatelli dishes. I just hope I can make it back before the operators of this place move on to open another restaurant.
Cozy Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pump Haus in Cedar Falls

My last trip to downtown Cedar Falls was on a winter night when the sun went down early, but the streetlights and decoration made the business area lively and the nearly fully occupied storefronts are worth walking past and looking inside. There was even a horse-drawn buggy moving down the street that night. While browsing through online restaurant menus, one tenderloin from this area stuck with the option to have the sandwich dipped in BBQ sauce. I had to check this one out.

Location: 311 Main St in Cedar Falls, in Eastern Iowa.

Directions: Its on main street in the downtown area.

Online at:

The Tenderloin: This is listed on the menu as the PH Tenderloin. The thick layer of breading absorbed the BBQ Sauce and kept it close to the meat. The white pork had slightly above average thickness and juiciness. There was a little piece that stuck out like a finger of pork. Served on a large untoasted bun with all the fixings. Overall 7.0 out of ten.

Price: $8.49 with a side, plus 50 cents to dip it in BBQ sauce.

Also on the menu: There is a large menu with burgers, salads, and drink specials. I got the homemade chips with the tenderloin:
Service: Its table service that was typically slow as most sports bars seem to be these days.

Ambiance: This is a recently remodeled Main St. building, with exposed brick and good lighting, with tables and booths or a bar area for seating and flatscreen televisions everywhere.

Final Thoughts: The Pump Haus has a full title with Pub and Grill, and it is better than most sports bars I have visited. The lighting and small table I was sitting at meant I couldn't get any good pictures of this tenderloin. Next on my list in this neighborhood of Iowa is Newtons Paradise Cafe in downtown Waterloo. Pump Haus on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Chatterbox Cafe in Audubon and the Hamburloin

The Chatterbox Cafe lives up to its name, the locals were talking up a storm with the waitresses. If you are a regular here then you can get away with calling it "The Box". The sign reads Down Home Cookin', and the menu is filled with homemade comfort food.

Location: 120 N. Division St in Audubon, in Western Iowa.

Directions: Its right on the Highway 71, the main north-south drag through town.

The Hamburloin: This isn't the biggest tenderloin you will find, but the meat is expertly trimmed and kept thick through the tenderizing process. The breading is a thin golden brown layer that locks in the pork taste. The hamburger was alright, it may have been locally grown meat. The whole thing dragged through the garden, topped with enough vegetables to add moisture to the bun and breading. The final product had a "leaning tower" effect that comes with many sandwiches with toppings stacked up. Served on a toasted bun. Overall 8.193 out of 10.

Price: 5.25, or $4.00 for just the tenderloin.

Also on the menu: Comfort food at affordable prices including a hot beef sandwich, full breakfast and homemade pies for dessert.

Service: There is a to-go counter and table seating.

Ambiance: There is a dining are with tables, decor is wood paneling with agricultural signage.

Final Thoughts: Driving past Albert the Bull on the highway through town, its easy to miss this little spot. It sorta fits you would find a tenderloin with a burger on top in a town with a giant bull beside the road. I think this one holds up against the Uptown Cafe a few blocks away in Audubon, as well as Darell's Place in Hamlin and The Red Barn further down Highway 71 in Exira.

Chatterbox Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 27, 2010

Billy Jo's Bar & Grill in Algona

Algona claims it is home to the World's Largest Cheeto, but I missed out when driving through earlier this year. I had tried a couple other places around town before stepping into this Pub 'n Grub with a humble exterior on State Street.

Location: address is listed as 4 E. State St in Algona, Kossuth County in Northern Iowa.

Directions: This is right on the edge of the main street near the courthouse. Get there by taking state highway 169 and turning on State St.

The Tenderloin: From a distance this one looked like two smaller loins on top of each other. The meat here was over-tenderized and was folded in half to fit into the take-away box and stay on the bun. The pork was white, steamy hot, and had been butterfly cut before being pounded into such a huge size. This felt like it was at least seven ounces before cooking. The flour-dusted bun was toasted, tasting rich and buttery. Overall 8.0 out of ten.

Price: $8.95 with a side.

Also on the menu: the menu is large with steaks, a grilled tenderloin, and other fried stuff.

Service: There is table service or sitting at the bar.

Ambiance: This was a high-end pub 'n grub with woodwork along the booths and a seasonal patio.

Final Thoughts: This was the last thing I ate before visiting the Grotto of Redemption in nearby West Bend, thus I have taken to this one as the Tenderloin of Redemption.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dairy Sweet in Dunlap

In anticipation of the IPPA annointing another tenderloin as "best in the state" next month, I decided to write up one the the previous top tenderloin award winners. The Dairy Sweet was awarded the IPPA Best Tenderloin award in 2005. The plaques on the walls claim they sold six thousand sandwiches in 2006, and up to twelve thousand in any given year after that. A local real estate company recently listed the property with a note reading "owners looking to retire". This place was listed as "permanently closed" on google maps, but I called and they are still open. I would assume they are staying open at least until their regular winter break at the end of October.

Location: 714 Iowa Ave. in Dunlap, Iowa (population 1,139) in Harrison County, Western Iowa. Its about 50 miles north of Council Bluffs.

Directions: This place is a block west of the Lincoln Highway on the main street through town. Look for the sign.
The Tenderloin: The first thing you notice is the thickness and the odd shape. Its clearly beaten into a sort of thick and wavy loin shape with large bumps and curling parts sticking out. The bright white meat is consistently tender throughout. No two ever look the same. The fine breading here may have the most taste packed inside that I have found. There is just a ton of what tastes like seasoning salt and black pepper in every crunchy bite. I would put this one only behind The Augusta in Oxford among the tenderloins awarded by the IPPA. Overall 9.374 out of ten.

Price: $4.95
Also on the menu: Its surprisingly big with a full ice-cream selection, burgers, fried stuff and taco salads.

Service: Its counter service with a walk-up or drive-thru window on the side. It looked like three teenagers and one adult running the show when I visited.
Ambiance: This is another small town ice-cream shop with small tables in a cramped interior and picnic seating outside. I think there were jigsaw puzzles hung on the walls inside.

Final thoughts: Both of my visits to the Dairy Sweet have been special experiences while driving through the more scenic part of Western Iowa. Its really heartbreaking to see a place like this might be closing down, although I get the idea the owners are getting old and are ready to move on. Hopefully new owners can keep the tenderloin recipe intact. I really doubt any small town ice-cream shop ever suffers from a lack of business, especially over a hot summer.

Dairy Sweet on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Angle Inn in Walford

I drove past this humble pub'n grub on a cold night earlier this year. It was named honorable mention in the 2009 IPPA Best Pork Tenderloin in Iowa contest. For such a sizable town, there doesn't seem to be any other operating restaurants according to google maps. The one place that is open here serves up some tasty fried food, and the award-winning tenderloin. My camera just wasn't working right on this night, but the tenderloin was too good to forget.

Location: The address is listed as 505 US 151 Walford, population 1,200 in Eastern Iowa.

Directions: This is just southwest of town on the surprisingly busy road connecting Cedar Rapids and Amana.
The Tenderloin: First off, this thing is huge. The other patrons tell me that each tenderloin has a different shape, and this one was a little bit thinner and wider than what is usual for the Angle Inn. The meat was a little on the dark grey side, and was soft in even the thinnest parts. This one was pounded so much that holes were present in the middle. There was enough flavour in the breading to keep it interesting. The small bun just wasn't useful here. Overall 8.0 out of ten.

Price: $4.49, an incredible value.
Also on the menu: The usual fried stuff, pizza, and burgers with The Angle Inn Burger as the specialty.

Service: I ate at the counter, surrounded by regulars who made a lot of conversation with the bartender.

Ambiance: This is a pub and grub that caters to racing fans, with beer posters and a pool table. The lights were dim and my photos turned out bad, really bad.
Final Thoughts: The Angle Inn had a brief moment of fame when it lead a "Fight for Freedom" against the 2008 Iowa Smoke Free Air Act. Small town bars across the state were frustrated by the legislation, but few took their protests to the point of civil disobedience. The Angle Inn eventually went smoke free. Its hard to quantify the effects of the ban on many small town bars and restaurants that are desperate for business. Although it has made trips to once-smoky bars more enjoyable for me in the past two years.

Angle Inn on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Gateway Market and the Vegetarian Tenderloin

Local Des Moines super-chef George Formaro is not afraid to put something a little bit different on the menu, and never forgets about the vegetarians. For Iowa State Fair time, three vegetarian versions of midway food classics are available at the Gateway Market Cafe. Along with a Seitan Gyro, and a Veggie Grinder, the Veggie Tenderloin is available through Fair Week until August 22nd. The Gateway Market website reads "George is crazy about the state fair..." and "even meat-eaters will find them fair-worthy". We'll see about that.

Location: 2002 Woodland Ave. in Historic Sherman Hill Des Moines. The west location at the Villages at Ponderosa, reviewed here, just recently closed

Directions: This is at the high traffic intersection of Woodland and Martin Luther King Jr.

Online at:

The "Tenderloin": First off, it looks like a tenderloin, but doesn't smell like fried pork. The menu describes this as "A monster veggie patty on an egg bun", and I don't understand the use of the huge, toasted sesame-seed bun. The veggy patty tastes likes its mostly made of beans along with some tiny white bits of what feels like tofu. There is a solid layer of fried bread crumb bits, but beneath lies a grey and dark mass that is mushy and just no fun to eat. The patty is thick and with the big bun and toppings it weighs over half a pound.

Price: $7.50, with fries.

Also on the menu: There is a diverse selection of high end food, like fresh raw-men noodles or an expensive hamburger.
Service: Counter service with food brought to your table.

Ambiance: Air conditioning, well-dressed erudite epicurean patrons, clean tables, a distinct absence of body odor or any other smell; its basically the exact polar opposite of the State Fair that inspired this sandwich.

Final Thoughts: I just don't see any appeal to this sandwich. Its nice that someone tried to give vegetarians a taste of a pork tenderloin, but this is like a veggie burger with less texture. There are some other "tenderloin" sandwiches made from other meats around Iowa, like a turkey tenderloin, that I may check out sometime. As a general rule, I would advise people to accept no substitutes for real Iowa pork.