Road Trip: Iowa Style — Part II
By Ann Thelen
Summer is synonymous with adventure, exploration and time spent with family and friends. A road trip is the perfect way to bring all these things together! You don't even need to leave Iowa to find a bounty of scenic stops and sights. In addition to these stops, which take you through south central and south eastern Iowa, throughout the summer you’ll find small-town Iowa bustling with county fairs, sweet corn festivals, farming shows, city celebrations and more!
Editor’s Note: This is the second in our two-part summer series on Iowa road trips. You can find Part I here. By clicking the links, you will be leaving a partially funded checkoff site.
Start in Altoona
A trip to Adventureland — a family-owned amusement park in Altoona, featuring over 100 rides, shows and attractions — is the perfect way to kick off this Iowa road trip.
Once you've experienced the thrill of the rides and expended your energy at the water park, you can satisfy your entire family's appetite with the Monster Burger. This 2-feet tall burger includes two 3-ounce burger patties, a 7-ounce breaded pork tenderloin, a 5-ounce breaded chicken breast, 4 ounces of slab bacon, four slices of American cheese, chili, cheese sauce, mac and cheese fritters and jalapeno poppers! A wooden skewer to holds this monster-of-a-burger together, which is topped with an order of onion rings.
And that's not all you can find when it comes to culinary delights at Adventureland. The park has added a full menu of new items for 2018, including ham balls, meatloaf, pot roast, collard greens and the fried chicken. The new BBQ Sundae — an Iowa-inspired meal — is a Mason jar filled with mashed potatoes, baked beans, coleslaw and pulled pork, drizzled with barbecue sauce and garnished with a pickle spear and a skewered corn muffin.
While we’re talking food (a topic we love!), Altoona is also the home of one of the first Jethro’s BBQ restaurants. Jethro’s n’ Jake’s Smokehouse Steaks slowly smokes steaks over hickory and oak wood at a 90-degree Fahrenheit, without actually cooking the meat. The process gives the meat that smoky campfire goodness and allows the chef to still broil the steak to perfection. Throughout the metro area, Jethro’s is known for its smoked meats – pork, ribs, chicken, bacon, you name it! Jethro’s is the single largest purchaser of pork in the state, purchasing more than 1 million pounds from Iowa farmers every year.
Head to Pella
After a full day or weekend of fun in Altoona, head southeast. On your route, stop at Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe in Prairie City — home of the 2009 Best Breaded Tenderloin Winner from the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA). The small, white building with red-trimmed windows is dwarfed by the nearby grain elevators and the Prairie City water tower. Goldie’s is open seven days a week, serving delicious ice cream, tenderloins and everything between! By the way, dairy (one of the things we love so much about ice cream!) is a big business in the Midwest. There are about 1,370 licensed dairy herds in the state, and the size of the dairy industry in Iowa makes it the 12th largest milk-producing state in the U.S.
En route to Pella a popular summer destination is Lake Red Rock, which is Iowa’s largest lake. Lake Red Rock is in the heart of farm country and local attractions. In fact, its website (redrockarea.com) describes what you'll find during your visit – Balers. Micro-brewed beer. Windows. Goat cheese. Dutch letters. Corn furnaces. Wine. Pulleys. Pella bologna. Trusses. Pepperoni. One-of-a-kind works of art. Whether you’re a connoisseur of art or meats, beer or tomatoes, our local growers, artists, brewers, vintners, entrepreneurs, bakers and butchers are eager to share their stories and wares with you! Need we say more?
In addition to being home to the popular annual tulip festival, Pella is where you’ll find world-class manufacturers Pella Corporation and Vermeer. While in Pella, stop at the Jaarsma Bakery, which has been offering the wildly popular Dutch letters since 1898. Nearby is Ulrich Meat Market – home of Pella Bologna – and other delicious meats (including handmade meat products, such as dried beef, summer sausage, beef jerky) and cheeses.
Continue to Oskaloosa
The Frisian Farms Cheese House is located just off Hwy. 163 between Pella and Oskaloosa. Here, you can experience the cheese-making process and try samples of various ages and flavors of their Frisian Farms Gouda. Their famous Gouda cheese is a semi-hard cheese named after a Dutch town in the province of South-Holland and accounts for more than 60 percent of the cheese produced in the Netherlands. Frisian Farms, founded by two brothers who grew up on a small dairy farm south of Pella, has mastered the art and science of cheese-making. In fact, the brothers even hosted a Dutch cheesemaker at their farm so that they could perfect their process. Trust me, it's "Gouda 'nough" to eat!
Plan an overnight stay at The Cheesemaker's Inn! Originally the heart of a dairy farmstead, the turn-of-the-century, craftsman-style home was elaborately customized a century later to accommodate guests who seek the highest levels of comfort and modern amenities. Wake up to a hot and hearty breakfast made from Dutch family recipes featuring the freshest products from Frisian Farms dairy, Fireside Coffee and local gardens.
While you're in this area, stop by the Nelson Pioneer Farm & Museum near Oskaloosa, which is open May through September. Daniel and Margaret Nelson settled their farm in 1843 and raised six children on the farm, along with two Civil War veteran mules! In 1959 when grandchildren Roy and Lillian died, the farm became the home to the Mahaska County Historical Society.
Drive East to Washington
En route to several destinations in this region, you’ll be driving through the southern parts of Keokuk and Washington counties. Keokuk County is a rural community of rich farmland and was named after a famous Sac Indian Chief. The name means "Watchful Fox" or "He Who Has Been Everywhere."
Sigourney is the county seat of Keokuk County, and boasts a beautiful courthouse that sits in the middle of the square with its classical revival style architecture featuring a clock tower and cupola. The courthouse, built in 1911, is on the National Register of Historic places. You’ll find locals and passersby enjoying a meal at the Copper Lantern Sports Bar & Grill, which is a beef lover’s dream. Fridays and Saturdays are steak nights, featuring New York Strip, Porterhouse and Ribeye steak. If you make it on a Thursday, you can also enjoy a 1-pound burger. While we’re talking beef, cattle are raised in all of Iowa’s 99 counties. In fact, cattle outnumber people in our state!
In West Chester, you’ll be in for a rare treat at Hal Colliver's acreage and sign extravaganza. The mecca of antique signs continues to grow from year to year and is a must-stop photo spot for people passing by. The seed and gas company signs along with gas pumps are a reminder of advertising from a bygone era. According to Colliver, he purchased the signs from every corner of the U.S. while working as a truck driver during his career that spanned decades.
Washington boasts small-town charm and was rated as “One of the Best Small Towns in America” three times by author Norman Crampton. A must-see in the area are the Barn Quilts of Washington County in celebration of the agricultural heritage of the area. Over 120 beautiful, folk art, wooden quilt patches are displayed on barns, corn cribs and other significant buildings and can be viewed from the road during a relaxing tour of the country.
If you like having pizza with friends, family, laughter and rustic Iowa charm, then Pizza on the Farm is for you. On a scenic farm near Wellman, Julia McNurlen, owner of Stone Wall Brick Oven Pizza, hosts a pizza-rich event that connects Iowans to their farming roots. It was her grandmother's house, and it has incredible views of the countryside. McNurlen wanted to share the view and offer a unique event. Pizza on the Farm is available most Friday evenings from the beginning of May until late October. Parking is in a pasture dotted with cow pies, so visitors must watch their step, but that is part of the fun.
Regardless of your favorite pizza topping, U.S. farmers had a hand in delivering it to you. In Iowa, ingredients such as sausage, hamburger, pepperoni and cheese are all grown on family farms across the state. Add vegetables and sauce and you have yourself one of America's favorite foods. All hail, pizza farmers!
In northern Washington County, Kalona is home to the largest Amish settlement west of the Mississippi River. At the Kalona Historical Village, visitors learn about the local Amish settlement and discover the great respect the Amish have for family and their elders. The scenic 1800s village also showcases pioneer life in 13 authentic buildings. Each structure was painstakingly restored and is filled with interesting and informative displays depicting the rugged years immigrant settlers spent taming the Iowa prairie.
Kalona Creamery Shop & Deli opened its doors last year in a building, formerly the Kalona Cheese Factory, which was an iconic local establishment that closed in late 2014. The Kalona Creamery Shop & Deli, located on Highway 1, features numerous products made in Iowa including cheese curds, specialty meats and cheeses, pastries, and much more.
Head North to the Amana Colonies
Just north of Interstate 80 and northwest of Kalona is the Amana Colonies area. The Colonies — listed as a National Historic Landmark since 1965 — have been a treasure on the Iowa prairie for over 150 years; welcoming visitors to a unique and wonderful experience. The seven villages of the Amana Colonies offer visitors the opportunity to step back from today’s busy pace, and to relish in the comfort of locally crafted foods, furniture, art and more.
A striking feature of the Amana Colonies is that for 80 years – until the Great Depression – they maintained an almost completely self-sufficient local economy, importing very little from the wider, industrializing U.S. economy. The Amanians achieved this independence and lifestyle by adhering to the specialized handcrafts and farming occupations, which they had brought with them from Germany. Today, Amana is a major tourist attraction known mainly for its restaurants and craft shops, including woodworking shops, wineries and a craft brewery called Millstream.
The Ronneburg Restaurant in Amana is an area favorite. Operating since 1950, the restaurant serves traditional German and American entrees and is known for its famous family-style portions. Whether you want beef, poultry, pork, fish, soup or salad, this menu has something for everyone. You will not leave hungry!
Drive West to Brooklyn and Newton
As you get back on Interstate 80, Fireside Winery can be found just north of I-80 in Williamsburg. Fireside Winery was born from a desire to embrace the “life is too short” philosophy, a long-term passion for wine, and a wish to pass on their farm heritage to their children. For five generations, stewardship of this small corner of fertile eastern Iowa soil has rested with the Wyant family. Few places on earth possess the same perfect combination of geology and climate as this Iowa land. Though corn and soybeans are their primary crops, wine grapes have a long history in Iowa dating back to the 1800s. Now, Fireside is helping to rebuild a wine grape-growing legacy in the rich soils of the area.
Brooklyn is in the heart of Poweshiek County. The county, formed in 1843, was named for the Indian chief of the Fox tribe who signed the treaty ending the Black Hawk War. Brooklyn is aptly named because it is nestled between two brooks, Big Bear Creek and Little Bear Creek. The town of nearly 1,500 is known as the Community of Flags and passersby can catch a glimpse of an 80-foot flagpole from portions of Interstate 80 and historic Highway 6 — an east-west U.S. highway that extends for more than 300 miles across the state.
There are several attractions and historic locations along Highway 6, including an old-time Standard Oil Station dating from the 1930s where you can still get full-service gas; John Wayne Historic Marker; Flag Display, Brooklyn Historical Museum; and the Historic Route 6 Wall Mural, which includes a drive-up to enable cars and motorcycles to pose for a picture.
Newton – about halfway between Brooklyn and Ankeny – has worked hard on community revitalization. Once home to Maytag Corporation and known as the “Washing Machine Capital of the World,” the area fought back after the company left 10 years ago. A big draw is the Iowa Speedway, a 7/8-mile paved motor-racing track. The track was designed with influence from Rusty Wallace and patterned after Richmond International Raceway.
The Iowa Corn 300 is a 300-lap IndyCar race that calls the Iowa Speedway home. The race, sponsored by Iowa Corn Promotion Board and Iowa Corn Growers Association, generates awareness of ethanol and allows racing fans to learn about the benefits of supporting the ethanol industry. One bushel of corn creates close to three gallons of ethanol that can be used to either power a flex fuel vehicle or push an IndyCar to 200 miles per hour!
The home of Maytag Blue Cheese is also right here in Newton. Seventy-five years after the first wheels of Maytag Blue Cheese were made, the family tradition continues. Each wheel is handcrafted on the family farm in the rolling hills of central Iowa. The company is still owned and operated by the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of E.H. Maytag.
And there’s more… Newton is the home of Iowa’s first Maid-Rite franchise. Fred Angell started the concept of the Maid-Rite sandwich in Muscatine, Iowa in 1926. Angell began to franchise his idea, selling the rights to the communities of Newton in 1927 and Marshalltown in 1928.
There you have it! A glimpse into numerous stops for a summer road trip. For a robust list of additional attractions, events and places to enjoy great Iowa food visit www.traveliowa.com.