Ava and I traveled to central Iowa Saturday in search of food. We followed an article in “Edible Iowa River Valley”, a magazine “celebrating the abundance of local foods.” I picked up a free copy at the farmer’s market a couple of weeks ago. Ava took these photos.
We started in Grinnell, a little college-and-farming town, at the Phoenix Cafe and Inn. It was closed for dining but the proprietor, Kamal–an Egyptian immigrant and Chicago transplant–let us in to look around. It was a nice, homey place with a bed and breakfast. I bought a loaf of challa bread, and after having a nice conversation with him, he gave us two small pieces of baklava to take with us. It was fantastic.
Next, we drove up to Marshalltown, an industrial city with a meatpacking plant and a site of a recent major illegal immigration raid. We stopped at Lillie Mae Chocolate for a tasty assortment fudge and famous “Tor-tush” (basically a chocolate turtle, so named as to not violate trademarks) before trying out the exceptional local Mexican food at Restaurante Aztecas. The waitress didn’t speak English very well. One of the other patrons translated for us and convinced her to let us try what he was having: menudo, a spicy soup with tripe. Ava and I weren’t too nuts about tripe–it doesn’t have a nice texture–but the soup itself was awesome. We bought some gorditas and tacos to go, as the day was getting late and we were discovering these places close early on Saturday.
So we sped down to Newton, home to Maytag appliances and, apparently, the Maytag Dairy Farms, for some blue cheese. We were one minute late and they had closed, so we zipped across town and found the Jasper Winery open. Jean, the owner was still there pouring samples and selling crates for the long weekend. She let us taste the whole lineup, starting with the dry stuff, and showed us the distillery floor. I bought a red and a white.
We took a break at the Newton courthouse to eat our gorditas, bought some Maytag blue cheese at Hy-Vee, then headed for Lynnville and the Maasdam Sorghum Mills.
The mill turned out to be on a family farm down a gravel road. When we called ahead, we found they weren’t particular about when we stopped by. The mill doesn’t operate until late summer when the sorghum is ready, so lady of the farm showed us a video of process and then let us sample the sorghum syrup, which has a strong taste and consistency similar to molasses, but which is supposedly rich in antioxidants. I bought a couple of small bottles and in fact used it in my oatmeal this morning.
Our food odyssey concluded in Susan’s kitchen. It may seem like we ate a lot but we restrained ourselves admirably, which left us room for homemade rhubarb crisp dessert with Blue Bunny vanilla ice cream, served by Susan in her kitchen.