Scenic retreat – Loya’s B&B near Ames

Rare to hear about an old-style bed and breakfast (vs. an airbnb) but Family Living (the Iowa Farm Bureau publication edited by my husband) recently did a big splash about a farm family that operates Loya’s Little House B&B, north of Ames in the Skunk River Valley, about 15 minutes from the Iowa State Campus. It looks like a very nice house in a lovely rural location, a former family farm on 80 acres. An unexpected touch: Costa Rican-influenced breakfast, thanks to a young farm family member who married a Costa Rica native. The B&B’s four bedrooms can be rented individually or in total, sleeping 16. Good to know, especially around Iowa State graduation time!

 

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Return to: Wheatfields Bakery/Lawrence KS, Arthur Bryant’s/KC and Arrow coffeehouse/Manhattan (KS)

We didn’t get too much time to hang out in Kansas (or Missouri) last weekend because the focus of our trip was attending the wedding of my niece Whitney in Manhattan, Kansas. But a family’s got to eat, right? So we stopped for lunch at Wheatfields in Lawrence, which was fairly quick in and out and had a solid selection of sandwiches (and excellent looking tomato soup). After a quick tour of his alma KU by Dirck, we drove another two hours to the Comfort Suites in Manhattan, which proved serviceable, as always. We stopped for coffee and iced tea at Arrow coffeehouse, where we also could have gotten cocktails as it doubles as a bar. The wedding was in Aggieville (the KState entertainment neighborhood), at a venue on Moro street next to…an offshoot of The Cozy Inn, the famous slider place in Salina, KS. (Who knew there was another Cozy Inn?) On the way home, after shopping for famous Kansas potato chips (Art & Mary’s) that we found out, sadly, no longer are made (Art & Mary went bankrupt about a year ago, we discovered), we ended up happily at Arthur Bryant’s. Emma, our pregnant daughter, was craving ribs and Rachel had never been to KC or for ribs (she was not long ago a vegetarian).  One of the few things I’m not that keen on at Bryant’s is the sauce (yes, I know, the sauce is beloved by many). It’s too peppery. But we discovered Bryant’s offers two other sauces including, I believe, the President’s sauce, which – dare I say it – tasted much like the sweet and tangy sauce served by its competitor, Gates. We had hoped to go to Joe’s (formerly Oklahoma Joe’s) but found out it was closed on Sundays. Good to know.

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Fluffy pancakes we spotted in Tokyo in 2016 have arrived in the U.S. What next? A new kind of ice coffee maybe?

In July 2016, we were intrigued in an Tokyo coffee cafe to see Japanese people eating fluffy pancakes as an afternoon treat. Now comes work that those pancakes (apparently known as “souffle pancakes”) have come to NYC, Pasadena, LA and London, according to the NYTimes.

What next? I predict a new kind of ice coffee that we also saw in Tokyo circa 2016 — details below!

July 2016: At about 4 pm we stopped at a chic coffee cafe called 24/7 where people we eating stacks of fluffy pancakes. It didn’t occur to us to eat them any time other than for breakfast but must say they looked delicious. My ice coffee was served in a ceramic soup bowl with a giant block of ice and a little pitchers of milk and simple syrup. Made iced coffee quite exotic. Must try that at home.

 

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Adventures in southwest Iowa – Sidney, Shenandoah, and Red Oak

Lovely drive through rural Iowa to visit a remarkable 99-year-old woman in the small town of Sidney, famous for its rodeo. I stopped at a 19th-century drug store. And in the town square, I admired the ceramic cowboy boots adorning the street lamps by the Fremont County Courthouse. In Red Oak, I admired Montgomery County’s elegant red court house.

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American Ballet Theatre at Hancher, Brix cheese, AKAR – Iowa City

Cool art installation custom made for “Whipped Cream” performance, with candy wrappers at Hancher. “Curtain Call” by Luisa Caldwell.

Have I mentioned that I love the second coming of Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City? Opened a few years ago to replace the old Hancher that was knocked out by floodwaters, the new auditorium is more intimate and comfortable. I could sit in its plush but sturdy well-upholstered seats for hours. Especially if I was watching dancers like those in American Ballet Theatre’s performance of Whipped Cream as we did last night. The place was packed with well-dressed young children (boys too, I was pleased to see) for good reason – the ballet, a surrealist fantasy about a little boy who O.D.s on whipped cream, had terrific dancing and choreography (by the star choreographer Alexei Ratmansky); otherworldly sets and atmospherics; fabulous costumes. Such a treat to see a world renown ballet company in the middle of Iowa. For future reference: the restaurant in Hancher — with great views of Iowa City – looks worth a try pre-performance.

Terrace View at Hancher Auditorium

The weather was suddenly spring like and the downtown ped mall in Iowa City was packed with students and locals and visitors, including those enjoying the Mission Creek Festival. We stopped, as always, at Prairie Lights, where we try to buy at least one thing. It’s the least we can do. Also did some graduation gift shopping at the cool design store AKAR (gift-of-the-times: reusable, sustainable plastic bags and wrapping for food). And we tried Brix cheese and wine, where we had a not particularly interesting cheese and dried meat board. (The Cheese Bar in Des Moines does it better.)

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My story in Minneapolis Star Trib on Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood

Here’s my story on Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood with major assist from my kids. Click on the link to see who got the much-deserved credit for the photos in the story (which are not the photos below. )

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Emma at Hopleaf

MARCH 29, 2019 — 9:16AM

The Andersonville neighborhood offers a buffet of delights, Swedish and otherwise.

By Betsy Rubiner Special to the Star Tribune

Glögg goes down easy on a cold winter night in Chicago, as I learned recently when my son-in-law insisted I visit the venerable Simon’s Tavern to get a full-bodied taste of the city’s North Side neighborhood of Andersonville (andersonville.org).

With a sweetness that masks its punch, the traditional Swedish mulled wine is a Simon’s mainstay (served warm in the winter and cold in the summer, as a “glögg slushie”) and a robust reminder of Andersonville’s past, when mid-19th-century Swedish immigrants settled in what was then the boondocks north of Chicago.

Other signs of Swedish-ness endure — the most obvious being a water tower replica painted blue and yellow to resemble a massive Swedish flag, perched above a former hardware store housing a Swedish American Museum. Nearby is Svea, a Swedish cafe opened in 1924, serving meatballs, pancakes and a chicken sandwich named after Pippi Longstocking; and, of course, Simon’s, opened in 1934, with its landmark neon sign of a blue and yellow fish holding a cocktail, a nod to another Swedish delicacy, pickled herring.

But as the neighborhood’s Middle Eastern bakery, feminist bookstore, high-end art supply shop and other independently owned galleries and vintage/antique stores make clear, Andersonville offers a smorgasbord of stuff, Swedish and not. During frequent visits, I usually discover yet another enticing shop or restaurant, often with help from enthusiastic transplants — my young adult kids who have found relatively affordable housing in Andersonville and the surrounding Edgewater area.

Shopping standouts

Lined with low-rise, turn-of-the-20th-century brick buildings, some clad in creamy decorative terra cotta, Andersonville’s main commercial drag — a roughly milelong stretch of N. Clark Street — retains an endearingly small-town feel that sets it apart from the big city, making it ideal for wandering and people-watching.

My favorite shops, mostly concentrated in the eight blocks south of Rascher Avenue, tend to have a distinct sensibility, environment and mood. At the self-described feminist bookstore Women & Children First, which caters to Andersonville’s sizable LBGTQ community as well as women and children, it’s always interesting to see which books are prominently displayed, with helpful staff reviews, and I often discover unknown gems (womenandchildrenfirst.com).

Also carefully curated is Martha Mae Art Supplies & Beautiful Things. Owned by a young Art Institute of Chicago alumna, the small, light and airy shop sells a remarkable assortment of elegant utilitarian objects — from Swiss fountain pens, French stationery and Japanese papers to brass staplers and wrought iron scissors — impeccably arranged in uncluttered displays near the occasional contemporary painting and taxidermied animal (marthamae.info).

In contrast, the dense collection of vintage decor at Brimfield — heavy wool blankets, plaid thermoses, college pennants, wood tennis racquets, tweed sportcoats, flannel shirts, wicker picnic baskets, darts and scouting patches — feels like the set of a Wes Anderson movie (brimfieldus.com). Visiting the tiny vintage clothing store Tilly, packed with gowns and costume jewelry, is like stepping into the closet of a glamorous starlet from decades past (1-773-744-9566).

At the midcentury furniture store Scout, the vibe is hip retro urban (1-773-275-5700), while the eccentric offerings at the shop/gallery Transistorinclude lamps made from old rotary telephones, slide projectors and desk fans (transistor­chicago.com).

Dining and drinking

A colorful history and atmospherics are a big part of the charm at Simon’s, opened by a Swedish immigrant who ran a speakeasy in the basement and a bulletproof mini-bank in what now looks like an abandoned broom closet in the bar.

Warm and welcoming, the neighborhood tavern’s dim, tunnellike space includes the original 60-foot-long mahogany bar with a ship etched into the glass, across from a long 1956 mural titled “The Deer Hunter’s Ball,” its canvas buckled with age. Nursing our glögg, served in a glass mug with a thin Swedish ginger snap, or pepparkakor, we could clearly see the mural’s deer in the wild and murkier scenes of people partying (1-773-878-0894).

A block south, Hopleaf Bar offers an extensive beer selection (craft, draft, bottles) and upscale Belgian-inspired pub grub, from mussels steamed in a Belgian beer broth to a Wisconsin smoked ham sandwich on dark pumpernickel bread with Gruyère and coleslaw. The pomme frites are delicious. Even better are the thin and crisp onion rings, served in a large mound.

We like eating at a wood table in the comfortable back dining room, which has old tin beer advertisements hanging on exposed brick walls, a wood-burning stove and windows overlooking a backyard patio. One heads up: no kids — or anyone under 21 — allowed. This is a bar, even though the backroom feels like a restaurant (hopleafbar.com).

Specializing in “heirloom Southern cooking,” Big Jones(bigjoneschicago.com) produces delicious crispy-not-greasy fried chicken, cooking it in lard seasoned with bacon grease. Its traditional Cajun-style gumbo is made with a proper roux. Need I say more?

At Lost Larson, a stylish Swedish bakery that opened last year, the traditional pastry cardamom buns, or kardemummabullar, taste pretty darned close to those we ate last year in Stockholm during many a fika, the Swedish coffee-and-cake break. But, psst, the cinnamon roll and monkey bread are pretty great, too (lostlar­son.com).

Next visit, I hope to try one of Lost Larson’s open-faced sandwiches, served on heavy Swedish rye, flavored with fennel, anise and orange peel. I also want to eat at Passerotto (passerottochicago.com), one of last year’s hot new Chicago openings, serving “fun Korean” dishes with “minor” Central Italian touches. Its cavatelli with nori butter landed on Time Out Chicago’s 2018 “Best Dishes and Drinks” list.

Before leaving Andersonville, I often stop at the Middle East Bakery & Grocery to order a shawafel wrap (a chicken shawarma/falafel mashup) to go at the counter and load up on hummus, tabbouleh, baba ganoush and cushiony barbari flatbread for the drive home (middleeastbakeryandgrocery.com).

Des Moines-based writer Betsy Rubiner (betsyrubiner.wordpress.com) writes the blog Take Betsy With You.

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Swedish goodies at Lost Larson

 

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Trying Al Punto (Argentian) and return to Panka (Peruvian) — the South American restaurant craze in Des Moines

We tried out the latest South American restaurant in town, Al Punto — serving meat-centric Argentinian fare in a strip mall in the Des Moines suburb of Windsor Heights. I’m hesitant to knock any earnest newcomer but the menu was too limited and  meat-heavy, albeit quality meat-heavy for me.  There seemed to be too much emphasis on volume, although I gather that’s the Argentinian way (and the Brazilian way).  My husband and I would have preferred to share the restaurant’s signature entree — the $30 per person mixed meat/vegetable grill aka “Gaucho Experience”  — but were discouraged from doing so (for starters, we were told it would cost $10 to share) so we both went Gaucho, along with our friend D.  and ended up taking much of it home.

The meat arrived on a portable wood-fired “Parrillada” grill — a heap of beef, lamb, chicken, chorizo, red peppers, onions and asparagus that looked less alluring to eat than daunting to tackle. The meat was  well-seasoned and well-cooked.  There was just too much of it.  It was served with delicious garlic potatoes and excellent homemade chimichurri sauce (which greatly enhanced the meat and veg). It also came good beef empanadas (although we would have preferred something other than beef but the two other options listed on the menu weren’t available) – plus a choice of starters including Cesar salad (so-so) and deviled eggs stuffed with salmon salad ( too rich and pale pink for me). One of our party did get shrimp as an entree — huge “Wild Argentinian red shrimp” – – which also arrived in a big mound.

 

Meanwhile, I’ve returned twice to the new Peruvian restaurant in town, Panka and continue to be impressed. Maybe I just prefer Peruvian cuisine to Argentinian — especially wide and diverse selection, including light options such as ceviche.  I tried a second soup — a perfectly seasoned Chupe de Camarones, hearty chowder with pieces of shrimp and chunks of creamy yellow potatoes – and a delicious Causa de Cangrejo (an attractive round mound layered with yellow mashed potatoes, slices of avocado and crabmeat.) There are still many things I want to try on the menu, although I already have some favorites I’d love to eat again…

 

 

Shrimp Chowder at Panka (and almost-devoured Causa to the right). The purple drink is a Peruvian classic — Chicha Morada, made with purple corn, fruit and spices.

 

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