Empty Nest: Where to eat in southeast Iowa

With the eating season upon us — Thanksgiving through Easter — here is where Ginnie and I like to eat in southeast Iowa (and beyond): The Filling Station in Yarmouth will fill you up with excellent food, and the decor is quite interesting. The drive there is relaxing also, with flat fields going on for miles, making for great Iowa vistas.

In Burlington, we like Gator’s, especially on Wednesdays when they have barbecue ribs. Lips to Go is fun for special occasions, like the Super Bowl. They’ve now added sit-down space for those who don’t want carry out. You don’t know what lips are? (it’s kind of a Burlington thing.) You’re in for a tasty surprise. La Tavola Italian Restaurant in downtown Burlington is wonderful for authentic Italian cuisine. Teriyaki Madness on South RooEmpty sevelt is a lot of fun. A little further south at the Spirit Hollow Golf Course is Lambo’s. They have a beef brisket that you’ll need a doggy bag for. Dine while watching Shankopotamus. The Drake is the place to find a friend — ask Sam, the owner — he’ll be there to greet you. Martini’s Grille, overlooking the Mississippi River Bridge, is probably southeast Iowa’s finest restaurant for special occasions, or just dropping by.

Over in Ft. Madison, much to Ginnie’s chagrin, I head for the Fort Diner, home of the Wally Burger. Sit on a stool at the counter and watch the short-order cook work his magic for down home good cook’n. Between Ft. Madison and Keokuk, at Montrose, there’s a remote place along the River Road called Fat Jimmy’s Smokehouse and Spirits. Check it out. They even have entertainment on some weekends. In Keokuk, it’s the Hawkeye Restaurant, and across the river in Hamilton, Illinois, there’s a little diner called the Hamilton Family Cafe, where you won’t go away hungry. In Nauvoo, Grandpa John’s Nauvoo Cafe has a loaded buffet full of the best fried chicken. Too much food? Head for the Nauvoo Mill and Bakery a block away for soup and sandwich.

At Farmington, it’s the Bridge Cafe, in Bonaparte, the Bonaparte Retreat, and in Keosauqua, the Riverbend Pizza & Steakhouse will treat you right.

Fairfield has Revelations Cafe — a quiet spot for lunch, meditation, and books. The Riverside Family Restaurant III is always good, as is Torino Pizza and Steakhouse.

In Ottumwa, I met and proposed to Ginnie at the Riverside Family Restaurant, and bribed the waitresses into singing “Going to the Chapel.” So, I have special affinity for the Riverside, there are three of them — Ottumwa, Fairfield and Osky. Eating in Ottumwa isn’t complete without a stop at the Canteen Lunch in the Alley. They were voted the #1 Loose Meat Sandwich in Iowa. There’s even a World Championship Canteen Sandwich Eating Contest in the spring. Burp. Discover what a “wet” Canteen means. In Oskaloosa, Smokie Row on the square has great food and atmosphere. Try their cheeseburger soup. Attached to Smokie Row is the Book Vault. Find a book, bring it into Smokie Row for a book-and-burger. The Wood Iron Grille at Oskaloosa Public Golf has super gourmet burgers, and fine art.

In Washington, Cafe Dodici is where we go for Italian done to perfection in a semiformal setting. Blue jeans and a seed corn cap are still welcome. Next door is Art Domestique, for Italian food and art.

In Mt. Pleasant, the Jefferson Street Grill has been drawing a crowd for good reason — great food and service. Little Mexico Restaurant is the place for good Hispanic food, and Breadeaux Pizza has the best crust. For Oriental it’s Mei’s China Palace, and for Asian, it’s Pad Thai Restaurant. Try their fresh spring rolls. Butch’s River Rock Cafe has the best tenderloin by a Dam Site.

Branching out from Mt. Pleasant, Mama’s Back Porch in Rome is very good, the Four Corner’s Restaurant in rural Lockridge is outrageous, and the Dairy Barn in Morning Sun is thee place. Try the Short Stop in New London for their tenderloin or another version of the loose meat sandwich.

On your way to Des Moines, stop at Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe in Prairie City. Not only do they have good ice cream, but a great tenderloin, as voted number one in 2009.

On I-80 at Brooklyn, The Classic Deli and Ice Cream Shoppe is fun. Try their bread pudding. If you’re in Ames, stop at Hickory Park for melt-in-your mouth BBQ. Save room for dessert; they have a whole menu for Blue Bunny ice cream concoctions to totally blow your diet. Downtown Marshalltown has one of the original Maid-Rites — Taylor’s. Ask them about the story behind ketchup being served. Iowa loves their loose-meat sandwiches almost as much as tenderloins.

Centrally located in the middle of the Quad Cities of Mt. Pleasant, Winfield, Morning Sun, and New London, is the Union Station, in Mt. Union. Without elaborating, I’ll say it serves the best breakfast and coffee I have ever had.

I know I have left some fine eating establishments out, and for this I apologize. It’s only because Ginnie and I haven’t gotten there yet. With no kids at home, we eat out more often than we should. It’s something we enjoy doing together. In the morning we hit the treadmill. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at or visit his website at