Tag Archives: Travel

Iowa’s best burger: and the winner is…the Coon Bowl burger in Coon Rapids

When I was writing a travel story for the New York Times in 2000 about agritourism in Iowa, (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/26/travel/historic-hybrid-in-iowa.html?n=Top%2fReference%2fTimes%20Topics%2fSubjects%2fT%2fTravel%20and%20Vacations) we stayed with our then-small kids at the Garst Farm Resort in Coon Rapids (now known as the Whiterock Resort)  Quite an adventure. We were tempted to visit a bowling alley and diner in town with the intriguing name – the  Coon Bowl  – and I vaguely remember a local telling us it had good food. But we never got there.

Now comes word that it’s been named the maker of Iowa’s Best Burger (this is an annual award bestowed by the Iowa Beef Industry Council and Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.)  Who knew? see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26wLnPu0938 No word on whether they use the infamous “pink slime” in their burgers. (The DM Register reported that the diner “uses an 80/20 blend of ground chuck.”) Word has it the Coon Bowl also has a “killer meat loaf.” The contest is based on customer votes and apparently the diner’s customers – including farmers, road work crews and employees of a nearby ethanol plant – pitched in to fill out nominating forms at the diner’s counter.


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Filed under Agritourism, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

The Downtown Farmers Market resumes Saturday May 5 – a Des Moines treasure but rabbit?

One of the best things about living in Des Moines is the Saturday morning farmers market downtown, which starts its season this Saturday. It’s not only a great place to buy fresh produce and prepared foods, from Midwestern favorites like sticky buns to ethnic specialties like humus, papusas, guacamole and samosas.  It’s become part street fair (with lots of street performers), part community get-together (we rarely go without bumping into old friends and neighbors.) I scanned this morning’s Des Moines Register story for word of what’s new at the market – not that there HAS to be something new – and what I came away with is: Rabbit meat. Thanks but no thanks. But I’m sure there will be lots of other great items for sale, especially in a month or so when peak season for fruits and veg arrives. I’m also hoping that the construction on Court Avenue that complicated market-going last year is now over.

For more information including a helpful glossary that attempts to define terms like “hormone-free,” “certified organic” and “heirloom,” check out the farmers market website: desmoinesfarmersmarket.com

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Absolute Bagel-Rita’s frozen custard – Do Hwa korean food in NYC

I’ve been somewhat lost on the bagel front ever since H&M Bagels closed on the upper west side of NYC. But yesterday I stumbled into Absolute Bagels on Broadway near 107th street and was impressed with the bagels, not to mention the lox-cream cheese and bagel sandwich. So all  is not lost. A little further south as I was walking down Broadway on a spectacular spring day, I happened upon  Rita’s frozen custard – and since frozen custard something I rarely find these days, I bought a small cone. Yum. I walked all the way from 108th to Central Park (with a stop at Pinky’s for a splurge mani-pedi because my back was aching and I needed to rest for a bit) then back west to Lincoln Center where I took the #1 train to meet my brother and sister-in-law and her mother for dinner at an excellent Korean restaurant, Do Hwa, at 50  Carmine Street. Now I understand why they like Korean food! (we had very good bbq beef, bimimbob, a pancake with kimchi in it, and beignets, oddly, on the house.)

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Antiques in eastern Iowa!

Squiers Manor Bed & B

Newly married and new to Iowa (way back in 1990), we used some of our wedding gift money to buy some furniture at Banowetz Antiques in Maquoketa, Iowa. We still use the chair, end tables, dresser and dining room dresser, which have not only added character to our home but proved very functional. (They must have made stuff well 100 years or so ago.) So the news that Banowetz is not going out of business – as I’d once heard – is good. They’re having a “grand re-opening sale” at their new location at 123 McKinsey Drive in Maquoketa april 14-29. If you want to stay overnight, check out the Squiers Manor B&B, a gorgeous place the Banowetz family operates in town that,yes, is full of antiques. And it is Squiers (named after J.E. Squiers who built the brick Queen Anne style mansion in 1882.)

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Filed under antiques, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

Listen – and learn – at Drake University choir concert Sunday 4/15 in Des Moines

One of the unanticipated benefits, for me, of singing in the Drake University Community Chorus (DUCC) has been learning  so much about so many things to do with music – not just what it takes to perform music but to create it on the page. And that learning experience is often available to the public at large, along with the performance ,  free of charge, I might add (although it’s always good for concert-goers to give a freewill offering, since the show never goes on at no cost. Far from it.)

That said, check out the latest concert this Sunday at 3 p.m. at Drake’s Sheslow Auditorium, performed by DUCC and two Drake University student choirs.  The theme this time around is “Words for Music” – i.e. learning about how poets and composers work together to compose music.  Before the concert, at 2 p.m., you can learn more about this from three composers and two poets who collaborated to produce some of the pieces we’re performing.   The pre-concert discussion will be held at Drake’s Levitt Hall in the Old Main building. And, of course, you’ll also hear some beautiful music as well!

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Filed under Des Moines, music

Archie Bunker’s chair! Ben Franklin’s Walking stick! American Stories exhibit at D.C.’s Smithsonian!

Fairmount Fire Company volunteer firefighting outfit

One of the more entertaining ways to soak in history is to study the history of things – so a new Smithsonian exhibit that presents history through a timeline of artifacts, including pop culture junk,  is right up my alley. The National Museum of American History’s new exhibit includes over 100 “iconic items” dating back to the Pilgrim’s arrival in 1620 (iconic item #1: a piece of Plymouth Rock.). Other items include a slave ship manifest, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the “Wizard of Oz”,  and a Barack Obama campaign button written in Hebrew. (Hey, I have a Bill Clinton campaign button written in Hebrew!) There’s also a mobile app for the exhibit with more info on each object – in English and our new second U.S. language, Spanish. The exhibit is called American Stories and to see more of what’s in it (including the hat above) see:

I’ll be in DC in June and this is definitely on my list! I remember an exhibit at the Iowa State Historical Museum that took a similar approach to the sixties – that made me feel a bit like an relic myself as I pointed out to my then-little kids such once-familiar items as “hot pants.”

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Filed under Washington D.C.

a longtime fan of Iowa’s Loess Hills

While I’m at it, here’s a travel story I wrote about the Loess Hills many years ago for the DMRegister.

Loess Hills Loess Hills, Iowa (Sylvan Runkel Preserve)

A new observation area offers a glorious panoramic view of the short, soft hills.


Moorhead, Ia. – Talk about a deck with a view.

If you’re looking for a new way to take in a beautiful expanse of Iowa’s Loess Hills, check out the huge observation deck recently built near Preparation Canyon State Park, off Highway 183 between the small towns of Pisgah and Moorhead.

Several times the size of your average suburban back-yard number, this simple wooden deck sits on a hilltop overlook long known to locals as “The Spot.”

For good reason.

The spot offers a glorious panoramic view of the short, soft hills that are considered a geographical wonder. A narrow band of mini-mountains stretching from just north of Sioux City south to the Missouri border, the Loess Hills were fashioned from silt deposits or “loess” blown in from the Missouri River floodplain more than 14,000 years ago.

To find another area like it, you’d have to make a much longer trek – to China’s Yellow River.

Before the observation deck was built this spring, locals “used to just crawl up on top of the hill and sit there,” says 41-year Moorhead resident Pat Severson.

For good reason.

The spot marks the convergence of five different ridges. On high, the land seems to stretch forever, free of the stain of civilization. Sure, to the west, farms dot the Missouri Valley flatlands. But it’s still easy to pretend you’re all alone with the birds.

The deck extends outward, offering the kind of aerial view you get flying in a plane over Iowa. Looking down, you see a bumpy quilt, with alternating patches of lush green woods and grassy fields.

Getting to “The Spot” is half the fun. Driving south from Moorhead on Highway 183, you turn right on a road still described by locals as “the second right” even though it now sports a sign designating it as 314th Street (for the edification of the emergency medical service).

At the top of the hill, you jog to the right. (If you go left, you’re in the 344-acre Preparation Canyon State Park, the site of an 19th century Mormon settlement that’s now popular for hiking and picnics.) Soon after, you take another right onto a gravel road marked as Oak Avenue.

This puts you pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

But what ho! It’s a really big deck!

If you’re lucky – and chances are you will be – you’ll be the only one there. It’s so quiet you can hear the wind.

The deck is also wheelchair accessible, thanks to a long wide ramp winding up to it. There are also several benches on the deck from which to contemplate the view.

This spot really isn’t that hard to find but it’s wise to have more than a few gallons of gas in your tank when touring the Loess Hills. You may want to call the visitor’s center in Moorhead, in advance, to get a map of the area or drop by for one.

The map plots out several scenic loops through the Loess Hills; offers tips on highways most suitable for bicycles and cars; and marks Loess Hill attractions, large and small, from the De Soto National Wildlife Refuge to an abandoned country school.

Diligently detailed, the map also comes in handy for the adventurous traveler who likes to get lost. Plenty of remote roads winding through and around the Loess Hills will give you that impression. But just when you think you’re lost, you’ll come to an intersection – complete with street signs – and discover you’re not lost at all.

What ho! You’re at the corner of Olive Avenue and 235th Street. And there it is on the map.


Filed under DESTINATIONS - Iowa