The following day began with breakfast in another small town; Winterset, Iowa, which is in Madison County, as in The Bridges of Madison County. But that wasn’t why we were there. I’ll get to that in a bit. First, breakfast. There are many sub genres within road food. One of my favorites is old-school drug stores that still have lunch counters and soda fountains. Winterset has such a place: Montross Pharmacy (and Coffee Shop).
They have a beautiful set up, at least to those of us who find beauty in such things. My wife and I grabbed two seats at the counter. Their pie case immediately caught my eye. I hadn’t expected that and couldn’t have been happier to see it. But we had a quality breakfast first; very good pancakes with bacon for me.
When it came time for pie, although they had various flavors of cream pie, the great banana pie from The Coffee Cup in Sully the previous day had ruined cream pie for the rest of this trip for me. Instead, I had a slice of blueberry pie. The fruit filling was excellent; the crust, nothing special.
While the Montross Pharmacy is a gem, our main reason for visiting Winterset was its association with one of Hollywood’s all-time legends; John Wayne. He was born there and we went to see both his birthplace and the museum devoted to his life and career. I mentioned in an earlier post that I have become a big fan of Westerns in later years and nobody raised the genre to greater heights than Duke. He may not be in fashion today, but nobody was more dominant at the box office for a longer period of time than John Wayne.
We passed by this rock on our way out of Winterset.
In a first for me, when we got back to Des Moines, we went to our second drug store-restaurant of the day. Bauder Pharmacy has a lunch menu with an array of sandwiches, but we were there for ice cream. My wife ordered a massive cinnamon-apple-crisp ice cream sandwich, one of Bauder’s specialties, and impressively finished it. I went with that Midwest classic, the turtle sundae. This is usually served with hot fudge and caramel. In this case, butterscotch was used in place of caramel. The pecans aren’t visible in the below photo, but they are buried underneath the other toppings.
After all of the eating we had done so far that day, we needed an activity that would keep us on our feet. The Des Moines Botanical Gardens fit the bill. Admittedly, looking at the beauty of nature is generally more my wife’s department than mine. But this place was extremely impressive.
We had a low-key, light dinner near the hotel that night, then hit the road the following morning. We were headed to Le Mars in Northwest Iowa, the home of our next classic steakhouse.
It takes nearly three-and-a-half hours to drive from Des Moines to Le Mars. As you can imagine, we passed an awful lot of corn. We also made our way onto the Lincoln Highway at one point. It stretches from New York City to San Francisco and was one of the main routes to take across country in the pre-Interstate days.
Naturally, I view driving for several hours through an unfamiliar state as an opportunity to pick out a classic restaurant at which to stop along the way. I went with Cronks in Denison, Iowa. Cronks was a very large restaurant and had a prototypical mid-twentieth century coffee shop layout in the room in which we ate.
I mentioned breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches (BPT) at the beginning of part one of this trip report. In much of Iowa, BPTs are more popular than hamburgers. And they tend to be absolutely massive, usually stretching way beyond the edges of the hamburger bun on which it’s served. They generally come with the same toppings you’d see on a burger. While I don’t dislike BPTs, they are not really a favorite either. I much prefer burgers. But I was in Iowa. I didn’t feel like I could leave the state with my self-respect intact if I failed to eat at least one BPT.
So I ordered one for lunch at Cronks. Of the four BPTs I’ve had over the years, this one was not in the top three. But at least I could say I ate a BPT in Iowa.
The slice of peach pie I ordered for dessert at least partly redeemed Cronks. It was not in my pie pantheon, but it was very satisfying nonetheless.
Unfortunately, Cronks closed permanently during 2020.
We arrived in Le Mars a little early for dinner and checked out the downtown area. They bill themselves as “the ice cream capital of the world,” although I felt that was a stretch. But they did have a classic-looking, old-fashioned Blue Bunny ice cream parlor, which is connected to a visitors’ center on their main strip.
It was time for dinner and it would be at the second of four classic steakhouse-supper club type restaurants we would hit on this trip. Archie’s Waeside is a Le Mars institution that was opened by the late Archie Jackson in 1949. The interior was very dated when we were there, as you’ll see in one of the below photos. But Archie’s has since remodeled and – based on the photos I’ve seen – is looking mighty spiffy these days.
For dinner, I chose one of the night’s specials, a surf-and-turf of prime New York Strip steak and fried shrimp, which turned out to be very good. And in true mid-century fashion, dinner included all kinds of pre-entree goodies, including a relish tray. I was also offered a salad, which I refused, so our server asked if I’d like cole slaw instead. Nope. I’m very finicky about certain types of food, including mayo and cabbage, and I really didn’t want to get too full before the main portion of our meal arrived. But she wouldn’t let me off the hook that easily. I was presented with a third option: Jello. Yeah, Baby! There is always room for Jello; cherry Jello in this case.
The view when leaving Archie’s parking lot is not what you normally get when leaving a restaurant in my parts.
We headed to our hotel for the night and got a dose of the Rat Pack on TV before turning in.
The following day, we had one more type of food that is Iowa to the core to try before heading into Nebraska for the next leg of our vacation. I’ll get into that and the remainder of the trip in the third and final part of this report.