Iowa: Eating Waterloo and the Amana’s

Waterloo embodies all that one would imagine of a small Midwestern town; bungalo houses, bars full of regulars, block parties, lazy backyard gathering’s, fire pits, lightning bugs, roast hot dogs, folding chairs, and sweet, watery, American beer.

A place like that should not be without its greasy spoon, and while all of the usual suspects are present, Denny’s, Ihop, and the like, only Cedar Falls, Waterloo’s neighbor and sister city (from my perspective) has Gravy’s.

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Gravy’s is on Unviersity ave (Cedar Falls is home to University of Northern Iowa) one of those long, wide, roads that every small city/big suburb has, full of motels, chain restaurants, and box stores, but Gravy’s is a family owned, fifty’s themed, diner with a surprising attention to service and detail. http://gravysdiner.com/ At Gravy’s, breakfast is served all day.

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I thiiink we were seated in the little kid party room

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My order, this visit, consisted of fried eggs with perfectly runny yolks, a sweet, thick slab of fried ham steak, covered and smothered hash browns, and rye toast with a 50/50 ratio of bread to butter. Just what the doctor ordered.

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Our destination for the day was the Amana’s, a 150 year old collection of seven colonies, best known for handcrafted goods, legendry ham (shipped to us occasionaly by my husbands grandmother for our Easter feast) and cheesy German themed events.

I’ve always fantasized about eating my way through the Amana’s, sampling meats and cheeses and beers as I went. But then I got there.

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Things were not quite as I had imagined. Well, it was not at all what I imagined; it was just…a collection of old wooden houses with signs on them; “antiques” NO, and barf.

One, more a hut than a house, masqueraded as a wine tasting room. Inside, an older man stood behind the counter, waiting behind hanging strings of crystals. Behind him, stacks of hot, dusty, bottles and a chalkboard list of fruits.

I asked this fellow if he could please explain our tasting options to me. His response, delivered in a charmingly disinterested monotone; “that one is made with oranges. That one with pears. That one with apricots. Which do you want.”

I picked pear, I think. It was as atrocious as it sounds, hot, sweet, served in a specimen cup. Napa, this was not.

Moving down the road, we found what was possibly an actual brewery or possibly a hut schilling sickly sweet suds in specimen cups; odds were 50/50. Feeling crestfallen and a bit desperate, we gave it a shot

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Thankfully, Millstream was legit. http://www.millstreambrewing.com/

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Quaint, but legit. I settled in with an IPA, a bag of Munchos (?), and some Amana brochures, desperately looking for something, anything, that might actually be cool in that godforsaken place.

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Nope. Nada. Nothing. Two rays of light shone weakly down that dark tunnel. One, a visit to the meat shop and smokehouse, and two, a delicious meal of that legendary Amana ham.

First up, the meat house & smokehouse, where I planned to load up on my weight’s worth of meat sticks and the like to schlep back to California.

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Closed. The Amana’s were really starting to suck.

Time for that awesome meal. There are only two restaurants in the Amana’s mind you, the Ox Yoke Inn and the Colony Inn; of course opinions run strong over which reigns supreme. We went Ox Yoke. http://www.oxyokeinn.com/

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The interior, not at all promising; as bland and devoid of character as the rest of the Amana’s

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The menu is family style, when all we wanted was a snack. This forced us to order a plate (with amana ham, of course) to share, which broke our servers brain, as did the fact that a woman was ordering for the table. We had an Iowan with us who later told me it also broke his brain that I ordered for the men; apparently, that was very “California” of me (?)

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Surprising absolutely nobody, the food sucked. We were smack dab in the middle of Iowa eating a heap of canned corn. I was crestfallen. I did not want to give up. I needed something good to come of this visit. I made a last ditch order of housemade cottage cheese and broccoli salad to go (yet another mind bending request. “May I have a cottage cheese and broccoli salad to go?” “Um….yes? but I can’t tell you what it’s going to cost” Thanks. Pretty sure I can afford it).

With that, we climbed back in the car and bid adieu to the stupidest tourist “attraction” I ever did see.

Back in Cedar Falls, in need of a win, we dropped in to Pepper’s http://www.pepperssportspub.com/cmp/home.html for a an Iowa Tenderloin, a pounded out, breaded, behemoth piece of fried pork perched on a bun half its size, topped with pickles and mayo. Iowa’s crowning culinary achievement, in my humble opinion.

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Our need for deliciousness finally satisfied, it was time for a party in a finished basement.

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