The Midwest, Iowa to be precise, is an unlikely place to come across as a tourist. That’s the upside of working at a university. You get invited to such unlikely places. This is how I ended up exploring the midwest.
Foodwise, it has been quite a surprise. I expected greasy food and sweetened softdrinks. What I found was quality meat, great wines and craft beers, creative american-mediterranean fusion and dive bars that serve turkey gizzards. The latter one might be a culinary stretch for most people, but after your third IPA you might come to appreciate it.
Grinnell: Jewel of the Prairie and the Magic Dive Bar!
So, first things first: The place I stayed at was Grinnell College in the town (rather village) of Grinnell, Jewel of the Prairie. And yes, it turned out to be a kind of jewel. The presence of the college turns the somewhat godforsaken place into a vivid, diverse and colorful tiny place. This is how even the local dive bar turns into a magic place on some days. Rabbitt’s Tavern is a hangout for locals, workers, artsy crowds, and your occasional philosopher. The jukebox plays your or the bartender’s favorite tunes. He is a musician himself. The magic happens through the simplicity of the bar and the diversity of the crowd.
And yes: there is a jar of rotten looking (yet fresh) pickled turkey gizzards. The looks of this peculiar food doesn’t improve a lot when dragged into fresh air. Eaten with a generous splash of tobasco, some sips of local IPA it is tasty. Don’t let the looks deceive you! And as a girl from the eastern parts of Germany I was surprised to find another jar: pickled eggs: A thing in Germany called Soleier. Great to go with shots… The prairie reminds of Germany in terms of landscape and drinking habits. The world is a small place indeed!
Steak Heaven: Rube’s Steak House in Montour
And the steak place: A thing not to miss around Grinnell is Rube’s Steak House. About 25 minutes by car in the middle of nowhere you can find this huge BBQ place. They make you work: The grill is operated by the guests. The DIY steaks turn out fine. No worries, if you’re not the master chef of the fireplace, just listen to the instructions of the waitresses. They know how it’s done. Don’t expect anything else than great steak! The salad bar is kind of sad. Just stick to meat and a few veggie options on the grill. The meat is premium quality and huge quantity. A mix that beams me straight into foodie heaven. Don’t bring your vegetarian friends if you value their friendship. This is an experience for meat lovers only!
If you had enough of the wild west experience, you can head to Pella for some Dutch baked goods and the tulip festival.
For an evening out in a more urban environment head to Iowa City. The Clinton Street Social Club offers a great wine list, american-mediterranean fusion cuisine, live music and the most beautiful pool table I’ve ever seen. St. Burch Tavern serves assorted oysters, best enjoyed with a sip of Muscadet. All these jewels of the prairie have been disclosed to me by my sweet colleagues from Grinnell College:)
Find all those places here.