In February of 2019, in an infamous rant about Middle America, comedian Bill Maher, noted “[Coastal cities] have chef Wolfgang Puck, and they have Chef Boyardee.” It might seem unfair to have a whole editorial about how Maher was wrong, because he is wrong so often. But Maher’s sneering attitude about Midwestern cuisine isn’t uncommon.
In May of 2018, the New York City Hall Bureau chief at Politico, tweeted, “Observations from Iowa — it is very flat, driving is monotonous, there is more unbuilt land in one block than NYC has in an entire borough, dirt roads are terrifying, no one carries almond milk and caucusgoers are extremely well-informed.”
All you have to do is Google “Iowa cuisine” and the results are taco, cheesesteak, and a sundae. Even Google is in on this dismissal of our culture.
The reality is the past decade has seen an explosion of incredible restaurants and food in Iowa, especially in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City region. After the floods of 2008, the area experienced a development boom and with it brought a series of incredible restaurants. In 2013, Carrie and Andy Schumacher opened Cobble Hill. Andy Schumacher is a world-renowned chef, whose vision for real food and connection with customers has inspired a smorgasbord of new restaurants in the area that are inventive, exciting and also really delicious.
Cobble Hill isn’t the only one. Rodina is a new restaurant in Czech Village, whose Midwestern comfort food is gorgeously plated and just really freaking good. Lion Bridge is another treasure with locally brewed beers and the best macaroni and cheese in town. The NewBo City Market has served as an incubator for amazing food, most notably the Melting Bite, which began as a bakery and recently expanded to a menu of Indian street food. Chef Sneh Chopra was included on this year’s list of 40 women to watch by the Iowa Restaurant Association. Local Pour is also an amazing place, which focuses on a small menu of just really good food and whose bartender, Caleb Scales, is one of the best in town.
For pizza there is the eternal Zoey’s v. Tomaso’s debate. On which this editorial board takes a firm, “Why not both?” approach.
There are also a host of Mexican food restaurants like El Super Burrito, La Reyna and El Bajio, whose food is so addictively incredible.
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The Iowa City area has the Rapid Creek Cidery, Goosetown, and Pullman. Baroncini is an absolute gem of an Italian restaurant with $10 lunch options.
There is no way we can possibly list them all. And that’s the point. The food here in Iowa is incredibly good. It’s varied and complex, much like our state. And these businesses are vital to our community. The food they serve, the community they foster, creates a climate that is inviting and open and we all need more of that in the coming year.
So for 2020, eat more of our amazing flyover cuisine. Bring your friends and family to locally, owned and run restaurants and businesses. Go there after church, try them for brunch. And remember, Bill Maher is wrong.
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