Wednesday, January 15, 2014

“Chuck, It’s Iowa Food,…

it’s supposed to be bland.”
We are here at the Iowa Café in beautiful Mesa, AZ with Chuck’s Aunt Evie and his cousin Raina and her husband Jesse. There is only one purpose to this visit—for me to indulge in a bit of Hawkeye nostalgia in the form of a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. And the Iowa Café is one of the few places west of Council Bluffs where one can find it.
“In some ways, The Iowa Cafe has been a family business since its opening in 1985, when Ruth Cavendar, a native of the Hawkeye State, established the small northeast Mesa eatery with help from her pie-baking sister, Shirley. When Cavendar sold the cafe in 1999, it remained within the ‘work family,’ taken over by longtime waitress Dani Johnson, who in 2005 passed it along to another employee, Pam Ohsman” (Jess Harter at azcentral.com).
As I have said on numerous occasions, I can make all the Iowa jokes I want. But you can’t. I therefore find the following write-up at phoenixnewtimes.com to be more than a little objectionable: “Are you in the mood for some ‘hog-slopping, field-plowing, hair-on-chest food’ just like they done eat in the Hawkeye State? Well, git on down to the Iowa Cafe in Mesa and grub on some good ol' down-home cookin'…. After chow time, check out the novelty items in the gift shop, such as rubber ears of corn and John Deere bottle-cap catchers. Ooo-wee! It's more fun than a greased pig contest at the county fair.” Isn’t the writer clever?
The Iowa Café is your basic diner but the menu offers a couple of Iowa specialties—the aforementioned breaded pork tenderloin and a “loose meat” sandwich. This “is basically a hamburger that's been cooked ‘loose’ instead of as a patty—think sloppy joe without the sauce. The bountiful helping of barely seasoned meat can be eaten as-is or dressed with standard burger condiments” (Jess Harter at azcentral.com).
Many know of these as Maid-Rites, but one needs to be a franchisee to use that name. Loose meat also gained some small measure of fame “(i)n later seasons of the American sitcom Roseanne. Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr) co-owns a restaurant called the ‘Lanford Lunch Box’ in the fictional town of Lanford, Illinois, which specializes in loose meat sandwiches. The inspiration for Lunch Box was a real-life restaurant called Canteen Lunch in the Alley in Ottumwa, Iowa. In 1993, Roseanne and then-husband Tom Arnold opened Roseanne and Tom's Big Food Diner (based on the fictional Lanford Lunchbox) in Eldon, Iowa (less than 20 miles southeast of Ottumwa's Canteen Lunch), also specializing in loose meat sandwiches” (wikipedia.org). I don’t think their restaurant lasted much longer than their marriage.

Jesse took a pass on Iowa specialties and ordered the meatloaf dinner that came with a small salad,
mashed potatoes, a roll, and green beans with bacon.
But it was, for better or worse, breaded pork tenderloins for the rest of us. The tenderloin appears on the menu at breakfast and is served with eggs, at lunch as a sandwich, and at dinner as a platter. This latter, in another nod to Iowa, is named for Dan Gable. Now I am sure that most of you are familiar with Dan Gable, but for those who aren’t, Dan Gable “is best known for his tenure as head coach of the wrestling team at the University of Iowa where he won sixteen NCAA team titles from 1976–1997. He is also famous for having lost only one match in his entire Iowa State University collegiate career—his last—and winning gold at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, while not giving up a single point.…” (wikipedia.com). Yes, this Hawkeye hero and legend was a collegiate wrestler for Iowa’s cross-state rivals—the Iowa State Cyclones.
The tenderloin sandwich comes in a “junior” and a jumbo size, and it was jumbos with fries for both Chuck and me.
Chuck's

Mine, with lettuce, tomato, and onion

Evie and Raina shared a jumbo with a side order of onion rings.

A really great pork tenderloin must protrude from the bun (ideally toasted as were the Iowa Café’s) by at least two inches.
Mine, without lettuce and tomato

And, as I have written before, there are three schools of thought on how to attack such a behemoth. You can cut the sandwich in half as did Evie and Raina. You can leave the sandwich intact and just dig in and begin eating as Chuck did. Or, you can use my method of choice, which means eating all of the meat hanging outside the bun first and then proceed to eat meat and bun together. If the tenderloin is sufficiently large, one can be full by the time the meat alone is eaten and the remainder can be saved for another meal.

The downside to my method? It is difficult to put my favorite pork tenderloin condiments (onion, hamburger dills, yellow mustard [It must be yellow hot dog mustard.]) on the bare meat.

While I am in tenderloin heaven, I overhear Chuck saying to Jesse (who is seated across the table from Chuck) “It’s kinda bland.” And that is when I made the declaration that opened this blog. “You need the yellow mustard. You need the pickles.” I holler down the table. So he used a small amount of mustard. I’m not sure it helped. And I did notice that Raina and Evie were approaching their sandwich with a decided lack of gusto.

The fries that accompanied Chuck's and my sandwiches were pretty good. The onion rings were not, with a coating that was thick and oily. What I would give right now for a Louisiana onion ring.

We finished the meal by sharing one of the café’s giant cinnamon rolls.
They place the “naked” warm roll on a plate and then pour a warm river of icing over it. The icing spills over onto the plate and you cut off a piece of roll and then swirl it through the warm icing.

In the interest of full disclosure, we probably wouldn’t visit the Iowa Café if not for my periodic craving for a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. I suspect that the rest of the menu is quite ordinary. But remember, this is Iowa food. And I can say that but you can’t. So writing with my head and not my heart, I give the Iowa Café a 3.0 Addie rating.
As we left the Café, we checked some of the small towns that marked the hometowns of previous diners. Since Clinton was marked with a pin, I did not need to identify my Iowa roots.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

3 comments:

eyad ammar said...


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eyad ammar said...


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eyad ammar said...


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