When Jackie Mormann’s three kids were growing up on the family’s Manchester farm, they’d eat — and eat and eat — their mother’s home-cooked meals, then tell her, “That was so good.”
When she’d ask her kids — Blake, Mitchell and Molly — what type of cake they’d like for their birthdays, they’d often answer, “Can I have pie?”
Mormann found a lot of satisfaction from cooking food her family loved. When the kids grew up and moved out on their own, Mormann kept cooking those family-sized meals. Now, she also cooks at The Bread Basket, the downtown Manchester restaurant she bought seven years ago.
Her homey meals have earned the restaurant Trip Advisor’s “Certificate of Excellence” and a place on Iowa’s 99 Must-Try Restaurant’s list. In 2018, the restaurant got a second-place award as KHAK Country’s Favorite Restaurant.
Customers include longtime regulars and newcomers who pull off Highway 20 for a relaxing meal. Because Manchester is just 45 minutes from Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Dubuque, friends and family sometimes meet at The Bread Basket as the halfway point. Mormann offers a cheery “hello” to everyone, whether she knows them or not.
Mormann still lives on the farm where she grew up. Her family raises cattle for themselves and sells the extra to friends as halves and quarters of beef that are processed at a state-inspected locker.
“That’s what we serve here. We raise the best. We want to eat the best,” she said. “We’re a meat-and-potatoes kind of family.”
At The Bread Basket, you can order the family’s roast beef or, when it’s the daily special, beef and noodles. Another favorite is the taco-stuffed garden tomato on a bed of tortilla chips, drizzled with queso cheese sauce.
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Mormann also cooks a lot of meals her grandma used to make. There’s Swiss baked chicken — a chicken breast topped with bread crumbs, Swiss cheese and a from-scratch cream sauce that’s served with mashed potatoes, of course.
“That’s probably our No. 1 requested meal, that and our roast beef,” she said.
Mormann’s farm-to-fork philosophy includes fresh produce from her family’s large garden or in-season fruits and vegetables she buys from local gardeners and farmers.
A lighter menu staple is the chicken chef salad with a variety of fruits and sugared pecans on salad greens with house-made Burgundy poppy seed dressing on the side. The house salad features tossed greens, dried cranberries, mandarin oranges and sugared pecans. House-made croutons top the Caesar salad. On a recent day, customers could order soup or salad with a slice of fresh-baked cranberry orange bread.
The day’s sweets might include a from-scratch strawberry-rhubarb pie, fruit pizza or chocolate cupcakes. But the dessert The Bread Basket is known for is the white chocolate banana cream pie.
It is as decadent as it sounds. Start with a homemade lard crust baked to flakey perfection. Into the cooled crust go layers of sliced fresh bananas. The fruit is then buried under a creamy white chocolate filling with chunks of white chocolate before the entire pie gets topped with whipped cream. There’s no fake banana flavoring; even people who don’t like banana desserts like the pie, Mormann said.
You can order a whole pie — gluten-free crust options are available. If you’re driving in from out of town, call ahead, or there might not be a piece left when you arrive. The pie is that popular.
FROM HOME COOK TO BUSINESS OWNER
Before Mormann bought the restaurant seven years ago, she had been a customer and her daughter, Molly, had worked a few summers there. When the previous owner talked about retiring, Mormann’s sons encouraged her to buy the restaurant.
“I thought that was ridiculous,” she confessed.
Although she certainly knew how to cook, Mormann, who had worked in customer service but never for a restaurant, hesitated. Her son, Mitchell, reminded her she’d always told her kids to try something new and, if it didn’t work out, to move on.
“I decided to quit my job and jump into something new,” Mormann said.
The previous owner worked with her until Mormann got her bearings. Some of the recipes, such as cranberry orange bread and the famous white chocolate banana cream pie, came with the business. Over time, she has included some of her own recipes, and she says the menu is ever-changing.
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“It’s whatever we feel like making,” Mormann said of the crew of women she relies on to help her cook and run the business.
Years ago, before it was a restaurant, the building housed a pharmacy with a prescription pick-up window along the back alley. Mormann repurposed it for drive-up food service.
“I had worked an 8-to-5 job, and I knew that when you have a half-hour for lunch that it goes by fast,” she said.
That same drive-up window came in handy when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Initially, Mormann thought about closing the restaurant. But with so many older people in and around Manchester unable to drive elsewhere for a meal, she kept the drive-up window open for carryout. She also offered free in-town delivery and, for a time, included a free roll of the pandemic’s most sought-after item: toilet paper.
She re-opened for dine-in service in mid-July. The restaurant only has 13 tables, but even before the pandemic, Mormann had spaced the tables away from each other. “I don’t like being in closed-in spaces,” she said. “I don’t like to be talked over by other people.”
Mormann also downsized the volume of gift items the restaurant had for sale — “I’m a less-is-more person” — to open up floor space. You can still buy a pound of The Bread Basket’s private-label coffees: Toasted Cinnamon Pecan, Cinnamon Buttercream, Caramel Kiss or Highlander Grogg in addition to regional Tycoga wines, greeting cards, scarves, handbags and more.
When Mormann took over the restaurant, she changed the previous all-pink decor to blue and creamy yellow but kept the lace tablecloths. The tablecloths and real china plates in various patterns make customers feel like they’re eating Sunday dinner at their grandma’s house.
“I was raised in a family where everybody came together and sat around the table together,” Mormann said. “This restaurant reflects that.”
IF YOU GO
Name: The Bread Basket
Address: 113 E. Main St., Manchester
Phone: (563) 927-4611
Hours: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday