Written by MilwVon on 11 Dec, 2007
Buzzard Billy’s – Des Moines, IA100 Court AvenueDes Moines, IA 50309PH: 515-280-6060Perhaps my favorite place to dine in Des Moines, Buzzard Billy’s Flying Carp Cafe is always a welcomed treat even though it’s an hour drive from our home in Ames. Located…Read More
Buzzard Billy’s – Des Moines, IA100 Court AvenueDes Moines, IA 50309PH: 515-280-6060Perhaps my favorite place to dine in Des Moines, Buzzard Billy’s Flying Carp Cafe is always a welcomed treat even though it’s an hour drive from our home in Ames. Located downtown on Court Avenue, this is one of many outstanding restaurants in the area.I was surprised to learn that this restaurant is one of several in a small chain that includes locations in La Crosse, Wisconsin and Lincoln, Nebraska. The Cajun cuisine is some of the best outside of New Orleans that I’ve ever had. The menu features all the usual dishes including po’boys, jambalaya and shrimp creole.When you enter the restaurant, you will immediately see the large bar with televisions throughout. Whether you choose a seat at the bar or one at the television and movie themed tables, you will not be far from a TV if you want to keep tabs on a sports event happening during your visit.We always start our dinner with the shrimp stuffing filled mushrooms, topped with a nice cheese. They come up piping hot, still sizzling and bubbling. As for dinner, both David and I are rather predictable. For me, it’s always the deep fried shrimp with a side bowl of rice and beans and fries. And David typically orders the blackened chicken with jambalaya and beans and rice. Both also come with crisp hush puppies and a basket of sliced French bread. I always pass on the bread in favor of their hush puppies. They really are very good.When we first started going to Buzzard Billy’s, they used to do a wonderful Bananas Foster tableside for dessert. They stopped serving that over a year ago, so the choices are now more traditional like cheesecake and chocolate layer cake. While very good, they are just not enticing enough for me to take in the extra calories, especially after a big meal.The meals are very affordable here, with our total check typically coming to $30 plus tip for two. If you choose to have an adult beverage, you can expect to pay average prices for beers (bottles and tappers), wine and mixed drinks. If you dine on Thursday nights, you can enjoy “cheap beer night” when they feature really cheap canned beers for $1.00 each.If you plan on making Buzzard Billy’s a regular dining spot, you should join their birthday club which will provide you with a complimentary dinner during your birthday month. We have enjoyed our annual birthday dinners there for the three years we’ve been living in Iowa. It will be one of the few things we will miss once we have made our permanent move back to Milwaukee.Additional information, including menus, may be found at: www.buzzardbillys.com . Close
Written by MilwVon on 14 Aug, 2007
With the nearest Great America Amusement Park some 200 miles away down in the Kansas City area, Des Moines’ Adventureland fits the bill for the under 14 crowd! I say the under 14 crowd because the rides at Adventureland are tame in comparison to the…Read More
With the nearest Great America Amusement Park some 200 miles away down in the Kansas City area, Des Moines’ Adventureland fits the bill for the under 14 crowd! I say the under 14 crowd because the rides at Adventureland are tame in comparison to the twisting, turning, and inverted roller coasters that have become a mainstay at most of the Six Flags venues. Six Flags Great Adventure near the Wisconsin-Illinois border, as an example, has 11 high speed coasters that satiate even the most veteran thrill seekers. Of course, the admission prices reflect the vast array of rides at $39.99! Here at Adventureland, there are two coasters... the Outlaw and the Tornado.While Adventureland advertises "over 100 rides, shows and attractions" that is a bit of an exaggeration if you consider that some of the "attractions" are the carnival type activities that cost extra money to throw balls or rings in hopes of winning a stuffed animal or some other prize. As you walk through the park, a family can easily take in all of the age-appropriate rides in approximately a six hour visit. With a nine-year old staying with us for several weeks, we were not at a loss for things to do with him. Unfortunately, we waited until late in his visit to go to Adventureland, which left us with little options when the dog days of summer arrived in early August. Thankfully, there are two water rides that will serve the purpose of an immediate cool-down, even if they do require a 45 minute wait on line for the two minute ride. By far, Logan’s favorite was the Sawmill Splash which is the popular tube like raft ride that takes riders up a tall climb to be dropped through the splash zone leaving all boat occupants drenched to the skin. Not an unwelcome "surprise" when it is 95 degrees outside!!!During our visit, Logan wanted to do several of the rides twice including the Dodge ‘em Cars and River Rapids Log Ride (shorter line than the Sawmill Splash). Admittedly, the heat took its toll on us, making the five hour visit plenty of time to enjoy the park and feel like we’ve taken in as much as we wanted to get our money’s worth.There are also a lot of rides that cater to younger guests, under the age of eight including "kiddie" bumper cars. Slow, low altitude rides tame enough for even first time riders include Balloon Race, Red Baron Airplanes and Lady Bugs.If food and beverages are high on your list of "must haves" you will not be disappointed in the assortment of dining opportunities in the park. We stopped by the "Soda n Sounds" for burgers and light entertainment. Don’t expect Disney quality here in America’s Heartland . . . but it wasn’t terrible. If you want something other than burgers and fries, there are also fried chicken, hot dogs, pizza, and deli type sandwiches at other dining locations. While in Iowa, you must of course have an ear of fresh roasted corn on the cob. And if you have a sweet tooth, it would not be an amusement park without cotton candy, dippin dots, funnel cake, and ice cream cones. There is not a shortage of places to eat . . . I promise! Prices are not as high as you may expect, especially if you’ve been to Disney or Universal Studios recently.Adjacent to the amusement park is a hotel and campground facility making a vacation trip to Adventureland convenient and affordable. More information can be found on the Adventureland Amusement Park website.
Adventureland Amusement ParkAltoona, Iowa (approximately 5 miles east of Des Moines on I80)www.adventurelandpark.com (800) 532-1286
Ticket prices: $29 for everyone ages 10-64$25 for those under 10 and over 64
Written by MilwVon on 22 Apr, 2007
Once we moved to Iowa one of the first things I wanted to see was the bridges made famous in the movie "Bridges of Madison County" staring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. Still one of my all-time favorite romance stories, I still cry as he…Read More
Once we moved to Iowa one of the first things I wanted to see was the bridges made famous in the movie "Bridges of Madison County" staring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. Still one of my all-time favorite romance stories, I still cry as he drives away in the rain as she contemplates leaving her husband to join photographer Robert Kinkaid.Madison County is an easy drive from Des Moines, approximately 30 minutes to the southwest of the capital city. As you enter the community known for their covered bridges, there is a small information area in the town of St. Charles with a bridge that has been relocated to a small ravine. This is the Imes Covered Bridge, the oldest of the six remaining bridges in the area. Built in 1870, it is 81 feet in length.The two bridges made famous by the movie are the Roseman and Holliwell Covered Bridges. The Roseman was built in 1883 and is 107 feet across a small creek, in its original location. It is also known as the Ghost Bridge from folklore stories telling of the two sheriffs and their posses who were chasing an escaped prisoner. It is told that the prisoner let out a screechy yell and then jumped up through the roof of the bridge. The body was never found and was determined to be proof of the man’s innocence. This is also the bridge where Clint Eastwood’s character first sought directions to from Francesca (Meryl Streep) and where she later left him the invitation for dinner that would forever change their lives.The Holliwell Covered Bridge is the longest of the covered bridges of Madison County and spans across the Middle River, also in its original location. It is 122 feet long and was built in 1880. This bridge was also in the movie, the locale where the main characters enjoyed an afternoon of photography and nature.During our tour of the Bridges of Madison County, we also paid a visit to Hogback Covered Bridge which can be found in the valley north of Winterset. Built by the same person as the Roseman and Holliwell, Benton Jones, this bridge is also in its original location over the Middle River, and it is 97 feet in length.In Winterset’s community park, the Cutler-Donahue Covered Bridge has been relocated from its original location in Bevington over the North River. This bridge is one of the two remaining that features a sloped roof. (The other is the Imes Covered Bridge.)All of the covered bridges found here have been restored to their original state, with the Cedar Covered Bridge completely rebuilt after arsons destroyed the original in 2002. At the time it was rebuilt, it was decided to move it to a more accessible area spanning the Cedar Creek. The replica was rebuilt using the original plans and materials consistent with the period the original was built (in 1883) and was rededicated just two years later in October 2004. This was also the last covered bridge to accommodate vehicle traffic.It was very interesting to get out and to walk through the various bridges. There was quite a bit of graffiti which was disappointing to see. Many had birds nesting up in the rafters inside the bridge support beams. One was rather nasty with bird poops everywhere! But don’t let that keep you from getting out and looking at all of the covered bridges. They are truly an engineering marvel and great tribute to the people of the late 19th century.Given that there were originally 19 covered bridges built in Iowa, it is a special treasure to have these six still around and accessible to the public for viewing in a relatively close area of Madison County. If you are in Des Moines for business, or traveling North/South on I35, I would encourage you to make time to spend a couple of hours exploring these six covered bridges that represent a period in American history and engineering advancement.Visitors can take part in the Madison County Covered Bridge Festival, in October in the community of Winterset. Not only can festival goers enjoy a guided tour of the bridges, they can also enjoy craft artisans of rural Iowa including weaving, spinning, and wood carving. Music and dancing are also part of the festival weekend, plus plenty of food and drink. The 2007 festival will be held on October 13 and 14. More information may be obtained at their website: www.madisoncounty.com/bridge_fest.html . Close
We enjoyed a lovely spring afternoon visiting the Amana Colonies, located approximately 75 minutes from Des Moines. We started at the far southern and western end of the 10 mile loop road, ending our tour here in Amana. Here there is the largest number of…Read More
We enjoyed a lovely spring afternoon visiting the Amana Colonies, located approximately 75 minutes from Des Moines. We started at the far southern and western end of the 10 mile loop road, ending our tour here in Amana. Here there is the largest number of historical buildings and modern day shops, including restaurants and wineries. We first drop down through the main village street to get a general feel of what there was here to see and do, and parked at the far end at the Amana Woolen Mill.At this end of the town, there was a lot to see and do, and plenty of places to spend money. We started in the Amana Woolen Mills which is celebrating their 150th anniversary this year! Today they largely use more modern equipment to weave their wool fabrics, but it was very interesting to read about and to see the photos of the original processes used over 100 years ago. There is also a video in the factory area that tells about how blankets are made today at Amana Woolen Mill.The blankets and other products made here are beautiful and very reasonably priced. I was actually surprised at how affordable they were. While we didn’t have anyone to buy for, it was quite tempting since they were also offering a special deal on their blankets; buy two and get the third for free. Most typical size blankets ran between $50 and $75, with more being charged for those full sized beds. They also had a nice assortment of woolen mittens, mukluks, scarves, and ponchos.Across the street from the woolen mill was the Millstream Brewery, one of several micro-brews still producing beers in the Amana Colonies an the oldest in Iowa. With drought beer available for onsite consumption, you can also buy six pack bottles to go. We were especially intrigued by the gentleman in front of us in the line, who had a clear gallon jug which he says is part of their refill program. You buy the empty jug for $9 and can come back to have it refilled for $9 as many times as you want for “take out” off premises consumption. Better yet, every 10th refill of the jug is free . . . a great deal for locals!David tried their Generations White Ale and I opted for their homebrewed, old style root beer. They were served ice cold and were very good at quenching our mid-afternoon thirst. With our whistles wetted, we were off to the next site at this end of the road . . . the Amana Millrace. Completed in 1869, it took workers from all seven of the Amana villages to build the six and one-half mile canal system and hydro-electric plant. It’s amazing that the original settlers in this area understood enough to build such a technologically advanced system to harness the power of the Iowa River for the purpose of generating electricity for their mills.From here, we got in our car and drove back up to one of the main parking lots atop the 220th Trail. We explored several of the stores and shops, buying some decadent walnut fudge at the Amana Colonies Village Store. Next we browsed in the leather shop next door which was a bit of a disappointment. While they did have some lovely homemade lace items, their leather goods were largely other brands such as Minnetonka and Buxton. Their selection of leather purses and hats were somewhat limited in choice, and didn’t really indicate where they were made, so we passed on making a purchase here.Across the street and next door to the Ox Yoke Inn is the Ackerman Winery. With a nice walk through self-tour and free samples of their award winning wines, we really enjoyed this stop during our tour of the Village of Amana. Many of their wines were of the fruit variety, including apple, peach, rhubarb, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, and dandelion. They also had their own chardonnay and merlot. If your shopping list includes wine related gifts including racks, glasses and novelty openers, this is a store you’ll want to make time to visit.We wandered down to the Chocolate Haus where we enjoyed watching homemade chocolates being made. They had all different kinds of chocolate candies available for purchase including covered nuts, clusters, and fudge. Being a week after Easter, they still had some seasonal holiday items available at substantial savings.Across the street and down about a block we ventured into the Amana Stone Hearth Bakery. By this time, it was late in the afternoon and the items still available for purchase were rather slim pickins. Known for their hard crusted breads and homemade pastries, this bakery provides baked goods for many of the local restaurants in Amana. We would later enjoy rolls at the Ox Yoke Inn that were baked here.This is just a small representation of the shops found in Amana. Because we arrived rather late in the afternoon, our time had to be spent on those areas that we were most interested in . . . and to coincide with our desire to eat supper around 4:30pm before getting back on the highway to head home to Ames, nearly two hours away. Other shops and artisans of interest in Amana include the world famous Amana Furniture and Clock Shop, Custom Cutlery and Ironworks, and the Heritage Designs & Quilting Supplies. For those with children, you may want to pay a visit to the Little Red Wagon or the Christmas Room for kids of all ages. Close
The Amana Colonies were founded by Germans who had left their Buffalo, NY homes to find a better life in the Midwest. This religious group founded seven communal villages which by design were one hour by ox cart from one another. In the communal village…Read More
The Amana Colonies were founded by Germans who had left their Buffalo, NY homes to find a better life in the Midwest. This religious group founded seven communal villages which by design were one hour by ox cart from one another. In the communal village culture, the community owned all of the buildings and land, with residents contributing to the village through their work effort. Communal schools, kitchens, and churches existed in each village to support those who resided there. With the depression came, question as to whether or not their communal lifestyle was still viable. A vote was taken in 1932 to dissolve the communal system. Many of the original buildings remain in tact today and are open for visitors to gain a glimpse into what it was like to live in the Amana Colonies during the early 20th century.There are seven communities that make up what is known today as the Amana Colonies: South Amana, West Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, East Amana, Homestead and Amana. Many of the communities are very small with little in the way of visitors’ sites, with a majority of the interesting shops and artisans in Amana. The Amana Heritage Society features seven historical sites which may be visited individually or as part of a complete tour package. Because we visited early in April, many of the buildings were not yet open season. More information about hours of operation and fees can be found at: www.amanaheritage.org.Because there is so much to see and do in Amana, I will feature that village in a separate review. This review will highlight the South, West, and Middle Amana villages.As you leave I80 for the Amana Colonies Loop Road (Rt. 220), you will have a choice of which direction to go. We choose to visit South and West Amana first. South Amana features a handful of original buildings including those that today are the Mini-Americana Barn Museum and the Communal Agricultural Museum. The Communal Agricultural Museum is one of the oldest museums in the colonies and features farming tools and implements from the era. Photographs also tell the story of the Nation’s largest communal farm here in Iowa.In West Amana we enjoyed our time at the Broom & Basket Shop and the Wood Shop. In the Broom & Basket Shop the woman at the main counter was weaving a picnic basket while an older gentleman was teaching a young girl how to make a witch’s broom. It was very interesting to watch him help her to make her very own broom! (See the photo attached to this review.) We then went next door to see Iowa’s largest walnut rocking chair . . . and my was it huge! You can see David sitting up in the chair in the attached photo. It has over 300’ of walnut and weighs nearly 700 pounds and took 75 hours to make. In the shop there were a lot of very nice handmade wooden crafts and household items including picture frames, kitchen implements like rolling pins, and cutting boards and some lovely end tables. Children of all ages could have fun playing with and trying to put together the wooden jigsaw puzzles.From West Amana we headed over to Middle Amana which for our April visit was a bit of a bust. Hahn’s Original Hearth Oven Bakery had already sold out their day’s goods and were closed by 1pm. Next door the Communal Kitchen and Copper Shop was still closed for the season scheduled to reopen Memorial Day weekend. The Communal Kitchen last served a community meal in 1932 and has been preserved to what it looked like when that last meal was served there. Part of the Amana Heritage Society, a guided tour is offered to visitors to tell stories of what living in the Amana Colonies was like during its communal living era.We did not visit East Amana as we were told there are no public buildings or shops there. We also did not have time to venture down to Homestead, where there are several more of the Amana Historical Society sites including the Amana Community Church Museum, the Homestead Blacksmith Shop, and the Homestead Store Museum. Again all of these sites along the seven stop tour reopen Memorial Day weekend and welcome visitors throughout the summer until mid to late September.I hope that we will have the opportunity to visit Amana Colonies again this summer when more of the buildings, museums and exhibits are open to the public. Close
Written by MilwVon on 09 Sep, 2006
ISU has quite a regional following. Tailgating begins six hours before game time, with motor homes, old converted school buses and students converging on Ames. Of course there is also the opposing team! This weekend was UNLV which does not have the…Read More
ISU has quite a regional following. Tailgating begins six hours before game time, with motor homes, old converted school buses and students converging on Ames. Of course there is also the opposing team! This weekend was UNLV which does not have the big following on the road that other schools have. When Nebraska, Colorado or Texas A&M are in town, you know it!Jack Trice Stadium holds approximately 55,000. The great thing about Cyclone fan(atics) is that there will be ANOTHER 55,000 people OUTSIDE the stadium partying for as much as ten hours on game day!! It's actually pretty amazing how peaceful and safe 100,000+ people are with all the beers that are flowing. It truly is an excuse to throw the mother of all keg parties.This afternoon, I stopped through the campus area once the parking lots opened for the tailgaters. Adults (the old farts like me) and students alike, were friendly and willing to share the tent and a brewski with you.ISU has approximately ten parking areas, all well lit after nightfall so that people and their stuff are safe. Tomorrow morning, the grassy areas will be disturbingly littered with beer cans. Not just the litter is disturbing, but the nickel a can that was lost in the deposit when the beers were bought. I've been told that there are litter cleaners who work the lots after ISU games who make nearly $1,000 for their efforts. Not bad for a few hours of clean-up detail. On Monday morning, as I drive through the campus to work, I will not even be able to tell that there was a home game this weekend. It is pretty remarkable!Getting tickets from outside the ISU system is a bit of a challenge. Students have an "in" for them, as it should be. After all, isn't college football for and about the students? Alumni and faculty are probably next in the pecking order. I've been told that locals can pick up tickets on game day for about four times face value. I don't know, I've never been able to score!My husband thinks I'm weird, but I must admit . . . I LOVE driving through the campus on game day. The sea of red and yellow . . . the young people having fun . . . and school spirit running rabid! AWWWW to live in a college town! Close
Written by susiejwp on 07 Nov, 2005
Almost a month passed between July 5 and August 2, 1993. What happened during these 28 days changed forever the way geologists will look at this quiet Midwestern part of the US. You see, before this time, the spillway at Coralville Reservoir was simply that--a…Read More
Almost a month passed between July 5 and August 2, 1993. What happened during these 28 days changed forever the way geologists will look at this quiet Midwestern part of the US. You see, before this time, the spillway at Coralville Reservoir was simply that--a spillway made of pavement sitting idle, quietly waiting. All that changed during "the great flood of 1993." The overflow of the Coralville Reservoir Spillway exposed what is now known to scholars and visitors alike as The Devonian Fossil Gorge.
This area, closely managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, is adjacent to Coralville Dam and McBride Beach, located just north of Iowa City on North Dubuque Street. During the floods, the water level behind the dam rose over 4.5 feet above the spillway of the Coralville Dam. These fast-moving waters carved away pavement, clay, bedrock, and top soil to expose the Devonian-era fossils below. Though the water flowed at a rate of only five to six times the normal rate of the Iowa River, it rushed downhill in such a way that it ultimately carved out of bedrock, a 15-foot gorge showing clearly the layers of fossils below.
The Coralville Lake was authorized under the Flood Control Act of 1938 as a way of controlling the Iowa river and its winding path throughout the area. The basic work on the dam began in 1949 and, according to a guide at the site, was completed in 1958, after a delay in construction because of the Korean War. The Coralville Dam still controls waterflow and offers flood protection to the cities and towns downstream of the Iowa river and, in its almost 40 years of exisitence, has had no problems whatsoever.
For those who may not know, the Devonian era was a time in history of about 375 million years ago and is easily viewed though a horizontal "cut" in the earth exposed by nature's flood waters of 1993. For scholars and visitors alike, to view this world from so long ago is to see it as one might see parts of a layer cake! It is true that if visitors look carefully, individual fossils can be clearly seen embedded within the rock, something unique to any area and seen previously in museums or books. Though this is a unique way to view history, you need to have a smattering of background of the era to fully appreciate all that was exposed during the summer of ’93. Within this area of land, fossils seen include crinoids, coral heads, and even bracheopods, some so perfectly preserved that the individual details are clearly seen without any extra magnification. It is as if they were set ther for all to see and appreciate, or perhaps to remind us that there was life in the area BEFORE people, that this area has many secrets yet to be revealed. Of course, the area must be stabilized to protect both the viewers and the exhibit, so unfortunately many of the best-preserved fossils have had to be covered in order to better preserve the area. Knowing this, the viewer can take comfort in the fact that a large number of the most impressive fossils have been relocated to the visitor center at the top of the hill.
While we are on the subject, be sure to stop at the aforementioned visitor center. Though the climb is in fact steep, this center has an impressive display of fossils found at the gorge and deemed important enough to remove and display here. One impressive fossil has a perfect impression of a sea creature that at one time grew to lengths of over 80 feet--pretty impressive when you remember that today most of the land around this area is planted in corn and other crops, with nary a sign of sea life in sight! It is pretty amazing that this little piece of the Midwest, so quiet and thought boring by many visitors, can have such a wonderful piece of history on display.
Although actions have been taken to preserve this important look into the history of Iowa, there are many occurrences, both natural and man-made, that threaten its existence even today. Freezing and cooling, both of which are common to this area of the Midwest, will tend to chip and break off the rock surface after a time, and the often harsh Iowa winters with their sleet, ice, and heavy snows can take their toll on this piece of history as well. Though winters have been mild since summer of ’93, we Midwesterners know this cannot last forever; we are bound to have the storm of the century, and with these storms come the worries that the change in temperatures can (and most likely will) cause irreversible damage. The various natural growth plants and such also threaten the gorge, for as they grow they expand the rock, causing cracking and possible irreversible damage.
Though these natural threats are worrisome, there is one that is much more so. The greatest threat to the area is not snow, rain, or even plant growth, but the threat of human hands! While it most certainly is tempting to carry away a "nice little fossil" to have a piece of history, the many visitors every year must remember that such "collecting" is illegal. The Army Corps of Engineers have posted signs warning visitors against such action without a federal permit, a warning they have been known to sternly enforce. And if a "warning" is not enough for you, consider the fine involved with removing and item from a national park; these can be quite steep and certainly nothing to play around with!
According to an employee at the site, this gorge dates back to the Middle Devonian period, approximately 375 million years ago. Fossils found here include coral, and it is because of the evidence of this coral that a nearby town, Coralville, was so named. The fossils seen in the 23 exposed beds of the gorge are staggering to the mind and are, in fact, still being discovered and catalogued as this piece is being written. Geologists have spent much of their time at the gorge since it was discovered, simply discovering and identifying the different layers, fossils, and debris found in the gorge. School-age children from miles around regularly make trips to the gorge during the year, learning and discovering alongside professional scholars at the site. To see this gorge is to believe it. To try to explain to someone who has no idea of the area, the expanse of the gorge, or the horrid rains of ’93, it is close to impossible to convey the sheer amazement one feels when first viewing this gorge, realizing all the while that this was alive with sea creatures 375 million years ago. The thought of it is staggering and truly only experiencing the gorge for oneself can you really appreciate it all being photographed for possible use in future texts about the Devonian age. As a teacher I can only encourage any and all who travel to the area to experience this gore for themselves and see the multi-layered history firsthand.
The best time to visit this site is in the spring or fall, as the gorge does not catch many cool breezes. In fact, the limestone that is so common to the area there tends to hold in the hot Iowa sunshine, and anyone who has experienced sun in Iowa can tell you it is best to avoid it if at all possible during the hottest parts of the day. Also, please remember that when you do visit the gorge, you will be doing a fair amount of walking and climbing, so wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes. While it is not for young children, it is common to see young children at the site with parents, but don’t let your children run around. This isn’t a playground, but a museum of sorts and definitely not a play place. The rocks are steep and somewhat hard to climb, so one could easily be hurt if they aren’t careful while viewing the gorge. During the school year, many schools take field trips to the gorge for firsthand lessons, so beware that there may be a crowd during late fall and early spring. And while there are no official guides, there are usually persons present who would enjoy "lecturing" on the finds at the gorge and who will happily share the various finds around the gorge that they have discovered on previous visits. Don’t forget your camera, for while taking the fossils themselves is forbidden, pictures are encouraged, and with digital cameras today, sharing your find is as easy as finding the closest cyber café! Bottom line is this folks: check out this real life slice of history, learn about the gorge, and share it with your kids, your spouse, or that special someone in your life--you don't get chances like this every day.
Written by btwood2 on 25 Nov, 2004
It wasn’t long after Bob and I got married that he showed me how to make maid-rites. They’re not hard to make. You just fry up your hamburger meat loose, instead of forming it into a patty. Then you put it on your hamburger bun,…Read More
It wasn’t long after Bob and I got married that he showed me how to make maid-rites. They’re not hard to make. You just fry up your hamburger meat loose, instead of forming it into a patty. Then you put it on your hamburger bun, squeeze on your catsup,and try to keep it from falling all over the plate as you're taking bites of it. Why then, do Iowans make such a big deal about them? They’re a virtual Iowan institution. A few years into our marriage, I threw in a few extra things to make the maid-rites more interesting. That turned out to be a big no-no. They’re no longer maid-rites then. Why was I trying to turn them into sloppy joes?
We’d arrived on a very rainy day on Bob’s home turf in Oskaloosa. We’d hardly set our motor home down on the soggy fairgrounds campground when hunger pangs became more intense. We’d already decided on the way, in passing a Maid-Rite place, that we’d go there for lunch. We’d seen them in other towns but had passed them by. The sign over the door and the rug on the floor say simply, "EatMAID-RITE since 1926".
As we walked inside, out of the rain, we suddenly found ourselves in the ‘50s. All shiny chrome, red plastic, and bright neon. Working in the Maid-Rite place were NOT teenagers, but actually people in THEIR 50s who, like us, had actually been around in the ‘50s -- wow, strange. There sat my image of a classic Iowan farmer, a big guy in cap and overalls, under the red and white checkered Maid-Rite clock, chowing down on a maid-rite.
Like the cheeseboorg-Pepsi place on Saturday Night Live, there may be other things on the menu, but just about everyone who comes here seems to order maid-rites. That includes the Mega-maid-rite ordered by my husband -- more meat on a bigger bun. The buns, by the way, are homemade bakery buns that are baked fresh daily and come in white or wheat, which was my choice -- satisfyingly soft, grainy, and very fresh. The French fries came either crinkly or homemade, with the skins on. Bob liked the puffier crinkle fries, but for me, the homemades were the hands-down winner.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression; the menu’s got variety. Breakfasts, soups, salads, all kinds of sandwiches and baskets, and a great fountain with cups, cones, malts, shakes, floats, and sundaes. On our second visit, we were handed coupons for free ice creams with our maid-rites. For low-carbers (though I don’t endorse that concept in any way, shape, or form), there are lettuce wraps and low-carb salads with 5 grams or less. A kid’s meal includes the mini-rite (too cute), chicken little-bites, and a couple of "dogs".
Legend has it that maid-rites originated in 1926, when Muscatine, Iowa, butcher and restaurant owner F. Angell cut, ground, and spiced his 100% prime Iowa beef to make a tasty sandwich. When he tested it out on a delivery man, the satisfied response was, "This sandwich is just made right." As of 2002, there were 83 Maid-Rite restaurants, most in Iowa and Illinois, but also in Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. If you want to try one but aren’t planning on visiting Iowa anytime soon, order some frozen maid-rite meat from Taylor’s Maid Rite.
The Oskaloosa Maid-Rite is located at 902 A Avenue W (Highway 92), phone number 641/673-6327. Check out their website.
Written by btwood2 on 15 Dec, 2004
A few days after our somewhat disappointing lunch in Pella (see dining review: Windmill Café), Bob’s sister-in-law Marilyn encouraged us to return to Pella with the express intent of sampling Dutch food at Strawtown Inn. Now this was more like it! For one…Read More
A few days after our somewhat disappointing lunch in Pella (see dining review: Windmill Café), Bob’s sister-in-law Marilyn encouraged us to return to Pella with the express intent of sampling Dutch food at Strawtown Inn. Now this was more like it! For one thing, the atmosphere of the charming old inn is Dutch through and through, from the Delft blue decorating every room to the exceedingly steep stairs up to the Vogel Nest attic bar or down to the Kelder café and pub in the basement. Memories flashed of my Opa’s home in Dordrecht, Holland, where steeply angled, narrow stairs were more like ladders.
After we were seated and had ordered lunch, Marilyn suggested we explore the extensive dining options in this rambling old 1855 inn. The dining rooms on both floors are individually named (Rembrandt Room, Noord Zee (North Sea) Room, Delft Room, and Garden Room). Although the basic furnishing and decorative style is Country Dutch, every room is distinctive with a character of its own and a slightly different color scheme. Our dining room was dominated by a lovely antique mahogany sideboard, displaying a Delft blue plate and blue porcelain "wooden" shoes filled with dried flower arrangements. A ledge above the doors and windows held Delft blue vases, copper pots, and old gin bottles. At waist height, Delft blue tiles were wedged at intervals within a continuous wooden ledge. Smaller dark blue tablecloths were placed diagonally over the white tablecloths on each table, surrounded by four blue wooden chairs with caned seats. Cheerful red and white gingham valences trimmed the tops of the windows. On the floor lay a red and blue diamond-patterned carpet.
"Pas op!" (Be careful! Or more literally, Watch out!) warned the sign above the steep stairs as we gingerly descended to de Kelder (the Cellar). In this cozy pub, color photos of Dutch landscapes hang on rough brick walls above light knotty pine backrests for the cushioned benches along the walls. Highly varnished wooden tables hold condiments, and small framed chalkboards on the wall advertise, "Grinder, fries, and Straw Town cider, $9.50", and warn, "No Smoking". Hanging pink tin lanterns with cut-out floral designs complete the decor.
At the cheerful Hindeloopen-decorated Rembrandt Bar on the first floor, clear wine glasses of all shapes hang upside down from a wooden ceiling rack, ready to be filled with spirits. For those not inclined to sit on the high bar stools, there are tables in front of lace-curtained windows and Hindeloopen-painted shutters. For still more comfort, two stuffed armchairs sit in front of a black cast-iron Dutch furnace. Hindeloopen refers to a style of painting developed in the small harbor-village of that name in the province of Friesland, the Netherlands, in the 17th century. Floral designs and sometimes birds are embellished by a mass of acanthus scrolls, in blues, greens, and reds.
Hindeloopen vines climbing red pillars and wineglass rack are also found in the Vogel Nest (Bird Nest) attic bar, after ascending an even steeper winding stair with a thick rope handrail. "Prost!" (Cheers!) is painted neatly top-center on the rack. Sloped low walls behind the bar make one hope the bartender is of shorter than average stature. The arched doorway leads to expansive outdoor seating on the large balcony, overlooking leafy tops of trees, gardens below, and the lodging part of the inn. This attic bar and balcony can be rented by groups. Wedding receptions and parties are often held here. Rooms with long tables for group dining are also available.
Why the name "Strawtown"? When Pella was founded, the first settlers built small sod huts with thatched straw roofs, most of them in the northwestern corner of the community, so this section came to be known as Strooijstadt (Strawtown). As Pella grew and its citizens’ affluence increased, the soddies were replaced with larger, fancier structures, among them was the G. Hagens home in 1855. Over the next 117 years, the building served as family home, and later, bakery and even college dormitory. In 1972, the now complex of buildings was falling apart and slated for demolition. Two Pella couples, however, intervened, saved and renovated the historic buildings, and 2 years later opened Strawtown Inn as a restaurant featuring traditional Dutch recipes handed down through the generations. Its success led to expansion of the dining facilities, and eventually, starting in 1983, the establishment of a 17-room bed-and-breakfast adjoining the dining rooms.
Which leads me to . . . De soep is klaar! We arrived at the end of lunch time. I ordered a cup of Dutch pea soup (infinitely more robust and satisfying than any other I’ve tasted!), and this Strawtown version lived up to what I’d been yearning for. Chunks of Dutch sausage and potatoes, plus subtle spicing, enhanced the hearty soup. When the soup was served, our waitress considerately covered the bowls with inverted saucers to prevent it from cooling off while we were still wandering around the inn. What a nice touch! The teapot was nestled in a quilted tea-cozy, keeping the water piping hot as well. Sugar and sweeteners sat in a miniature wooden shoe. Bob and Marilyn both ordered the Dutch onion soup, similar to French, but "with an allspice twist" – delicious. Next came our sandwiches. I had spiced-pressed beef made by a local butcher on an open-faced slice of sourdough. Bob had a Pella Bologna Reuben with Edam cheese and sauerkraut (this was the best!), Marilyn fish (beer-battered cod), and chips. After our hearty meals, there was no room for dessert. Total cost came to just over $30, including Bob’s beer and my tea.
Strawtown’s dinner menu is, of course, bigger, including steaks, shrimp, the obligatory but mouth-watering Iowa pork chops, chicken, and fish. Dutch favorites include Hutspot (spiced beef stew), Stampot (Dutch spiced meatballs served on a bed of cabbage and potatoes), and Rodekool met worst (red kale and mashed potatoes with pork/beef sausage). Daily desserts are apple bread pudding and cheesecake, plus additional specialty desserts.
Very Highly Recommended: I’ve included a description of Strawtown’s gift store in Pella Delights. Strawtown Inn is located at 1111 Washington St. For more information, reservations, or room rates, call 641/621-9500 or go to the Strawtown website. I highly recommend Strawtown Inn for its authenticity and hearty food and would no doubt overnight in its bed-and-breakfast if we hadn’t already been staying in our motor home.
Bakers, butchers, and Delft blue: Truth be told, I’m not a big shopper and neither is my husband Bob. But in the day and a half we spent in Pella, there simply wasn’t time to do justice to all the delightful opportunities for browsing…Read More
Bakers, butchers, and Delft blue: Truth be told, I’m not a big shopper and neither is my husband Bob. But in the day and a half we spent in Pella, there simply wasn’t time to do justice to all the delightful opportunities for browsing and buying that presented themselves to us. While Bob became fascinated with the old pictures, antique butchering tools, and mouth-watering cuts of meat, plus famous Pella sausage at Ulrich’s Meat Market, I wandered over to De Pelikaan.
This gift and imports store contains display after display of Delft blue, traditional and modern styles; walls of wooden shoes, plain and painted; and downstairs, imported Dutch and Indonesian foods and spices. Since Christmas is right around the corner in October, I bought tree ornaments: a regal Sint Nikolaas on his white steed, some Sinterklaas Kapoentje shoe ornaments, and a little wooden Dutch girl that dances when you pull on her string. At Jaarsma Bakery and Vander Ploeg Bakery, both on Franklin Street, you can find the famous Dutch letters, which have spread throughout Iowa as a favorite treat. These are puff pastry shells shaped into S’s and filled with almond paste. Does that appeal to your sweet tooth? You can order them and other delicacies from the Jaarsma Bakery website. West of downtown at 1109 Washington Street next to Strawtown Inn is Strawtown Gifts. Its rooms upstairs and downstairs are a riot of color and variety, with lots of Christmas themes, including many uniquely decorated trees.
Plentiful parks of Pella: There’s lots to see in Central Park, the heart of downtown Pella. The Tulip Toren (tower) on the south side of the park figures prominently in Tulip Time. It’s the second Tulip Toren, as the original wooden tower built in 1940 deteriorated and was torn down. In 1968, a 65-foot high concrete structure was erected and is holding up quite well. A 155mm Howitzer cannon stands on the southwest corner of the park. It was given to Pella by the U.S. government after World War II to replace two civil war cannons Pella had donated to the war effort. A big black circular sundial dominates the center of the park. Scholte House and Gardens is across Washington Street, north of the park. The 23-room mansion is open for tours for a $4 admission. The gardens behind the house are free, and in blooming season, display more than 34,000 tulips and flowers. The pond in Sunken Gardens Park on north Main Street is shaped like a wooden shoe! It’s also got a windmill, ducks, and a floating miniature Dutch-style building. In addition to the aforementioned parks, Pella has 10 more parks scattered throughout town. Not bad for a town with a population of just over 10,000! We’re told that in spring these parks and almost every Pella garden overflow with tulips and other Dutch bulb blooms.
Historical Village, bounded by Franklin, Liberty, and 1st and 2nd Streets, takes up an entire block and inner courtyard. Admission is $7 for adults and $1 for students in grades K-12. Vermeer Windmill and the adjoining Interpretive Center were completed in July 2002. A miniature 1850s Dutch village is being created on the second floor of the Interpretive Center. Wyatt Earp’s restored boyhood home, a log cabin, potter’s and blacksmith’s shops, library with collections of Dutch books, community records, Delft and Dutch dolls, and Hindeloopen cow in the courtyard are just some of the sights in the Historical Village. From the Vermeer Windmill, cross 1st Street to Molengracht Plaza for a pleasant stroll along the canal and some more window-shopping.