Small Town Food?
Taste of Mexico
Don and I were traveling through Postville, 2 years ago when we stopped for lunch. We didn't see many listings on Yelp, but we found Taste of Mexico, in this old corner building.
Out of Towners
Living in Texas, we've eaten at a lot of authentic, family owned Mexican restaurants. This kind of decor is not unusual.
But this restaurant had its own Mexican grocery store and a party hall as well. There were also restrooms, but I didn't pay a visit when I heard of Don's adventure. "I had to step over some kind of frozen meats to get into the restroom!" He laughed. He also was amused that there was a cup with toothbrushes in the men's room.
Luckily we had already eaten our meal before Don shared that story. The tostada and burrito plates were only about $5.00! And the food was right out of Mexico. Perfecto! Don even had a chance to speak some Spanish with the owner, who warmed up quite a bit.
After lunch, we walked down the block to the Glatt Market to get some food for dinner that night, since we would be staying at a farm B & B outside of town.
In the Shop
When we entered the store, a man with the traditional hair, beard and dress of an Hasidic Jew, looked up from his conversation with the shop keeper. "Don't you look good!" He spoke to Don with an accent. That was an odd greeting, but Don responded with a cheerful, "Thanks!" The gentleman was eager to know all about us and why we were shopping in a Kosher grocery store. We were obvious outsiders, but I was amused at his question, since a number of people have thought I was Jewish in the past. But we had quite a good time chatting for a while, until he needed to hurry on.
Shopping and Recent History
Somehow in recent years, the local Iowa folk, Hasidic Jews, Mexicans and Muslim Somalis have managed to live in this small town, combining their cultures. It's a complicated story that lead me to some interesting books. The history is worth Googling.
Nadia was not Jewish, but she showed us around. She pointed out the Kosher wine used for Passover and helped us pick out a few snacks to have with our light dinner later at the barn.
We headed out of town, but didn't manage to spot any cafes that might have been Somali owned. That would have completed our diverse dining experience!
As we headed out of town, we spotted a mural featuring an image of The Ringling Brother's visit to Postville in 1916. We had a feeling this was the bit of Postville History that the old timer locals are most proud of.
Barn B & B
We traveled just a few miles to our B&B down the highway. Our hosts were Iowa natives and went to Postville schools. Our barn looked over a field of corn.
There were cows and chickens and breakfast couldn't have been more All-American.
It's been almost 2 years since our visit to Postville and my mind is still kind of boggled by the memory. I would love to go back, stay longer, eat more... and ask more questions.
When you're driving through Iowa on a cold, fall day and you see a sign like this... you might as well stop.
Or Stop at a Casino
But it was a toss up. After all, when might we ever get a chance again to eat at a casino, in Iowa... a casino with a barn, silo and retro water tower?
But, the restaurant in Dyersville had a windmill. Well, it had what was left of a windmill. The winds were blowing pretty hard that day, so I could understand why it looked a little beat up.
The restaurant was an interesting shape. Is that supposed to be a silo?
Lunch in a Barn?
It would have been and adventure to have eaten lunch in an old barn. But at least the restaurant was built with old barn and silo boards, collected from farms around the state.
Lots of Stuff
And there was lots of stuff for curious people like me. I explored up on the loft and found quite a collection of antique farm decor. I could also peek down at our table to check to see if the food had arrived.
Since it hadn't, I had time for a trip to the Ladies Room. The stalls amused me with their barn doors. I expected to hear a horse snort back there. Then I got to wash my hands while peering into the mirror, framed by an old horse yoke.
Don was pretty pleased with his Fried Pork Tenderloin Sandwich. The sweet potato fries were yummy, too. I also liked the tiny mason jar salt shakers. I hoped to find one for sale in their rather large gift shop. But no.
Comfort Food on Cold Day
It really was cold for October, so I had to go for the warmest comfort food I could find on the menu. My mac-n-cheese came with a side, so I chose chili. I could have stirred it all together, but I didn't. That was a pretty stick to your ribs, starchy and yummy meal.
I was a little sad that we didn't get one of the twin waitresses. They weren't twins really, but they both had matching, poof-y hairdos that made them look like they'd just whipped up lunch in their own farm kitchen. Our young server was nice, but her hair wasn't memorable.
No Room For Dessert
We were too stuffed for the delicious desserts that had lured us into the place. But we were also in a hurry to get on down the road to the place we had really come to the area for. "Field of Dreams" The wind and temps had our teeth chattering, so we were glad we had fueled up with warm food. We spent a little time enjoying the setting where the movie was filmed in 1989. Then back on the road!
There's not much to say about Toot-Toot, except I really liked that name! Of course I liked the name of the town pretty well... for almost obvious reasons.
Hungry on Our Midwest Road Trip
We had seen signs for Toot-Toot, so the anticipation was growing. At last, we saw the rambling barn style building with the large roof sign. I had hoped for something older and more authentic looking. At least it was family owned, by the Jennings family.
Our Friend Above
Tables and Salad Bar
The "Old Hickory" style table and chair sets added a retro ranch feel to the place. The stained glass sign above the salad bar was a different kind of retro. Hmmm? I'm thinking of TGIF's (Friday's) Restaurant in 1983? At least the price was sort of retro at $6.99. Don's chicken salad sandwich was so so.
Signs at Check Out
This blurry pic of Don with the cashier has another touch of TGIF, with it's Tiffany style lamp. But mostly I was intrigued with all the signs. There seemed to be signs everywhere.
Signs and Stuff
I love stuff. I'm easily amused at restaurants cluttered with curious goodies. But I don't even want to know what those collector's jars were all about. Why would they display those heads. If I had been African American, that would have made me very uncomfortable.
I felt a little better when I had some cow time with the Toot-Toot Cow on the hill. This was not my favorite diner stop of the road trip, but I did like the cow. Maybe I should have given them more of a chance to win me over at Toot-Toots. I should have chatted and asked more questions. Next time.
Ox Yoke Inn or The Ronneburg Restaurant?
Don and I were eager to have a meal in the old Iowa town, settled by German immigrants over 100 years before I was born.
We both love German food and we loved the idea of eating the foods that were once prepared in communal kitchens... homes in Amana didn't have their own kitchens! Which place should we pick?
Ox Yoke Inn
But it was already clearing out by 6:00. We stepped into this newer room to see if we could grab a beer at the bar. Where are the Crowds?
Cindy Welcomes Us!
Cindy had just collapsed into a chair near the bar. "Come on in and pull up a seat!" she said, patting the chair beside her. She and her grown children had worked a busy 2-day Apple Festival weekend and Cindy didn't try to hide her weariness. We joined her after ordering a beer at the bar. Cindy began filling us in about the history of the restaurant, stopping to introduce us to her daughter and son in law who were bustling in and out. Her grandfather had run the restaurant for 40 years and she pretty much grew up in it.
Lina and William
Cindy had us follow her upstairs to see a few things. She pointed to a portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Leichsenring, who opened the restaurant in 1940. Mrs. L. appeared to be holding a bible in the photograph... unless it was a cookbook.
Evidently she worked in one of the communal kitchens as a young woman, until the depression. That's when the Colonies found they could no longer remain self-sufficient... the end of the communal kitchen. Cindy remembers when Mrs. Leichsenring used to come in daily to test the potato soup. The Ox Yoke is still owned by the Leichsenring family.
Yokey and Our Cookbook
Cindy took us to a room filled with antique crocks and stuffed beasts. She wanted to show us Yokey the Bear. She laughed about how that stuffed bear scared her as a little girl. I then had to share my silly cook book with the water color illustration and recipe for Ox Yoke Sauerbraten. She was pretty surprised to see the restaurant featured in the 55 year old book.
On to Ronneberg!
We tried not to rush, but wanted to check out the other nearby German restaurant we had heard about.
Don and Elsie Oehler opened the Ronneburg in 1950. Elsie's grandmother had been a "kitchen boss" during the communal day.... I believe in this very building. In this photo you can glimpse at a few folks through the windows, some wearing suspenders. We were too late for the German band, but we saw a few gentlemen in lederhosen relaxing around the bar.
Our table was almost too small for all the dishes that cluttered the checkered cloth. Meals are all served family style as they were 150 years ago. The only difference is that Don and I got to sit at the same table. Men and women ate at separate tables back in the day.
More Than 15 Minutes
We felt a tiny bit rushed since we were some of the last diners, but at least we got more than 15 minutes, which had been the allotted time for Amana dining. How would we have eaten our Sauerbraten and Wiener Schnitzel that came with cottage cheese, slaw, fried potatoes, gravy, green beans , Spaetzle and bread!! I'm guessing we wouldn't have had wine and beer either!
Lunch in Ladora, Iowa
Don and I heard about the bank while on a midwest road trip last fall. Some fellow travelers insisted, "If you're traveling down Highway 6, you should definitely stop for lunch!"
1920 "Jewel Box" Style Bank
We had already planned on taking that route to Grinnell, so I'm guessing we would have noticed the fine building with bold Doric columns. There's little else to see in the town of less than 300. But we might not have noticed that the bank had turned into a bistro. I'm so glad we were tipped off!
The owner Jim, welcomed us through the glass from the kitchen, near the vault. He invited us to take a seat anywhere. The cozy nook with cushy art deco seating was tempting.
Words of Wisdom
Small Town Dining?
A Little History
Jim told us he had been working as the chef, when he and his wife, Holly recently had the opportunity to purchase the business. He talked about the odd history of the building that had been used as Ladora Savings Bank, for only 11 years.
Then, Jim brought us the menu and a yummy assortment of nuts, which made us thirsty for a couple of beers on tap. We sipped and studied the small plate choices... Stromboli, Sausage en Croute, Duck Rillette? It was so odd to have these options in a tiny Iowa town. We finally decided on a platter of crab cake sliders and they were amazing.
As we sat in what was once a grand lobby, we read the words at the top of the four marble walls. We pondered these serious thoughts of diligence, integrity, frugality and wealth and tried to imagine the local farmers banking here nearly 100 years ago.
The Depression hit and the building became a "flop house" for truckers and a Red Cross office, among many things. Jim pointed to a nearby counter and chuckled about how the thick glass didn't even break when a hammer fell from a high ladder during renovation. This classic revival structure was obviously built to last!
A Tour with Holly
Paying at the Teller Cage
Holly arrived as we were finishing lunch. She offered to take us upstairs to see a meeting room and to peek at the Executive Washroom through the glass panel. I had been a little concerned earlier when I noticed the "see-through" door to the Ladies Room. Evidently these 2 were "display only" bathrooms. The bistro was throwing a little spotlight on one of the bank's exciting features in 1920. A bank with restrooms was somewhat of a novelty, I guess.
Jim was happy to settle our bill at the table, but I sort of insisted Don go up to the barred teller window to pay up! I wanted to have the full bank experience!
Heading on Down Highway 6!
The famous "Jewel Box" bank, designed by Louis Sullivan was as impressive as I remembered. Too bad it's still a bank, though. I wish I could take that bank and combine it with my favorite childhood food joint in Grinnell. Then I could sit beside a hefty vault door, while enjoying a frosty mug of A &W root-beer!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.