Friday, July 15, 2011

Leon's Malt Shop in Vinton

Vinton is a small town close enough to Cedar Rapids and Waterloo to allow its residents to commute to work in each city. It has a well maintained main street with cute streetlights lit up at night, and a large park north of town. But I had never found anything good to eat while cruising up and down the main drag. While driving into town on Highway 218 one day, I couldn't help but notice the word Tenderloin hand painted on the side of a tiny ice cream stand. This made me pull into the gravel parking lot like a bee to honey.

Location: 210 North K Ave. in Vinton, Benton County, Eastern Iowa.

Directions: Highway 218 turns into K Ave as it passes through the west side of Vinton, the Malt Shop is on the east side of the road.

The Tenderloin: The meat was cut in a butterfly pattern visible from above, with three parts sticking far from the bun. Breading was a lightly seasoned crackermeal that turned into a nice golden brown color. The meat was white throughout, although one side was thicker than the other. The whole thing felt like it weighed about seven ounces. Texture included above-average juiciness. The bun is huge and untoasted. Served with your choice of fixins, Overall 7.2 out of ten.

Price: $4.85 a good value a la carte

Also on the menu: Its a relatively simple menu with fried stuff, hamburgers and a full selection of ice cream and sweet stuff.

Service: Its counter service with local kids running the show and what looks like the owners around as well.
Ambiance: The small interior is filled with nostalgic Coca-Cola themed decorations and pictures of the local high schoolers. The seating inside is limited, but there are tables for seating outside.

Final Thoughts: I can't remember if Leon's is open year round or only seasonally. I could have sworn I visited this place one winter day and it was closed for the season. Each online review I found of Leon's mentioned the tenderloin, and I can confirm that its a solid homemade sandwich.

Postscript: While I was going through the City of Vinton website and checking out the other restaurants in town, I visited a page for the High 5 Sports Bar, which had a note at the bottom reading:
Oh! We do have a 5 lb tenderloin, 5 inches high with 5 toppings. If you can eat it all in two hours or less it's free. To attempt this huge tenderloin you must give us 24 hours advanced notice to prepare it. What happens if you don't eat it all - well you pay just $35.55.
Has anybody out there ever tried this thing or even seen it? It appears the place has only been open since late 2010. This would appear to the the only eating challenge involving only a tenderloin, not a tenderloin stacked with all sorts of other stuff on top.

And check out Sweet Corn Day Festival:
Leon's Malt Shop on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 1, 2011

Farmers Kitchen in Atlantic

The Farmer's Kitchen is known far and wide for comfort food in Western Iowa. The chef here, Mark, is a perfectionist making all dishes from scratch and tinkering with recipes to win local and national acclaim. Since it opened in 2002, the wall of awards has grown to take up an entire corner of the restaurant. The pies have been noted by Jane and Michael Stern from Gourmet Magazine and Roadfood. The local paper tells me Mark has been entering competitive chili contests for over twenty years. Finally, the Cy-Hawk Burger has been nominated by the Iowa Cattlemen as one of the best in the state just last year. In 2005, the IPPA named The Farmer's Kitchen as an Honorable Mention in its annual Breaded Pork Tenderloin contest.

Location: 319 Walnut St in Atlantic, Cass County, in Western Iowa. About seventy miles west of Des Moines, Atlantic is close enough to the Interstate for travelers to reach it without taking too much time off of their trip.

Directions: Going south from I-80 Exit 57 turns into County Road N16 which turns into Olive St in Atlantic, turn West of 3rd St to reach the restaurant.

Online at: website with local access television show is HERE.

The Tenderloin: This is listed as Nate's Pork Loin Sandwich. I had to make a new visit when I found out the tenderloin recipe was changed by marinating the pork loins. This adds a significant amount of juice. The breading is batter-like in character and has some light seasonings forming a fine layer that tears apart revealing the bright white meat underneath. The meat is cut thick and tenderized three times, resulting in a unique texture pattern. Served with all the fixins on a toasted Ciabatta bun. The bun is fresh and nicely toasted, but it is large compared to the meat portion. If you get the lettuce, tomato and onions they serve it with a knife stuck through the top. Overall 8.9 out of ten.

Price: $6.49 with side, I went with the "City Fries" cut in house.
Also on the menu: The menu is large with all the classic hometown cafe favorites. Hot beef sandwiches, chicken fried steak, fried pickles, meatloaf, locally raised Kobe beef, and there is a breaded pork loin appetizer named Pig Lips. They also serve a full breakfast menu from scratch.

This is a photo of the Onion Rings with their special sauce I took a while ago:
There were at least 14 types of pie to choose from during my last visit, I chose one with a Blue Ribbon next to it from a contest award from 2009. The Peanut Butter Chocolate Explosion has two layers of pudding with chocolate syrup and peanuts:
Service: Its seat yourself with tables in two dining areas, waitresses are the attentive small town type and food takes time.

Ambiance: Its farm themed decorations with tables for seating that can be moved for large groups. The high ceilings with hanging lights that make photos difficult.
Final Thoughts: Its no mistake that the Farmers Kitchen pack in the crowds in the small town of Atlantic. It has become a gathering place for the locals of this town and the area around it.This place has been on my radar since 2005, and I've been impressed with each visit. I may have even volunteered to drive to Red Oak and back just so I could eat at Farmer's Kitchen for lunch at one time. This place lives up to its mission statement printed on the menu which claims "we do not serve fast food..." and "We do NOT serve homestyle food. We serve HOMEMADE food". Farmers Kitchen on Urbanspoon