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Touring Eastern Iowa for Perfect Pies

Copy of file4981343831437There are a few things in this big world that offer us an opportunity to reflect on who we are, where we came from and, yes, perhaps even where we’re going.  Some of these things — in combination with this deep insight — also offer an unparalleled joy that consumes our very being. 

I would like to take you on a tour, but one on a road unlike any road you have traveled on before. It takes place in a region you probably thought was known for growing potatoes (because it’s confused for Idaho)… when it’s actually corn.

I would like to offer up an Eastern Iowa Pie Tour for your reading and hopefully soon-to-be eating enjoyment.

You say pie; I say 3.14. Perhaps you crave the crust — flaky, buttery, crumbly goodness that makes up the base of one of our nation’s most prized comfort foods.  Technically it is just butter, water, flour, salt and sugar, and yet it always seems to be impossible for anyone but Grandma to make it just the “right” way. 

Or maybe you fall for filling. As my mother always told me, “It’s what’s on the inside that matters.” Either way, prepare to be satisfied.

Our tour begins on the edge of the state in a small town called Balltown — population 68, according to the 2010 census. In Balltown there is a restaurant called Breitbach’s Country Dining (AAA One Diamond). It is fitting that our tour begin here because this is Iowa’s first restaurant … ever.

President Millard Fillmore issued its federal permit in 1852, and countless patrons — including famous outlaws (like Jesse James), celebrities and politicians — have visited over the years.  The restaurant has survived through economic recessions and two fires.

But enough about the history. What you really need to know is that its two most popular pies are red raspberry and Snickers cream. It’s up to you which one to try…  first. Both are wonderful!

We then travel southwest to Dyersville. You know that movie with Kevin Costner? The one about baseball? “Field of Dreams”? This is where that movie was filmed, which is so cool because I think Kevin is a great actor and … yeah right. Who cares when we have more important things to talk about, like the amazingly awesome restaurant that is Country Junction (AAA Two Diamond).

This is my FAVORITE place for pie. This place literally has ladies who come in at 5 a.m. to start making pies from scratch. I don’t know where they find them or what they pay them, but it’s not enough. And when you go, don’t leave until you try the sour cream & raisin or coconut cream pie. Seriously, don’t leave!

Next stop is the Amana Colonies. I actually wrote a separate blog post on this place because it is so unique. The Amana Colonies is an Iowa must-see. Here you’ll find a Colonial village with many wonderful shops and restaurants. Read the other blog entry for Amana insight, as this one is on a more serious matter — pie!

There is a restaurant here called the Ox Yoke Inn (AAA Three Diamond), which, by the way, is a National Historic Landmark. The one thing that matters here is the delicious pie. The top choice is rhubarb pie, with chocolate cream a close second.

Then we pack our wagons and head back east to Iowa City. This is the land of the black and gold, Tigerhawk country, home of the Hawkeyes but more importantly home of Hamburg Inn #2 (AAA Two Diamond).

A guy named Ronald Reagan once came here and reportedly ate a slice of pie before he ate his dinner. Admirable indeed. The top two flavors here are bumbleberry (raspberry/apple/rhubarb) and chocolate bourbon.  Apparently it is possible to have your pie and drink it too.

Copy of Bettendorf_TDROur last stop on the pie train is in Bettendorf at Ross’s Restaurant (AAA Two Diamond), a true Iowa landmark. Here, President Barack Obama ordered up the signature dish called the “Magic Mountain.”

Regardless of how much fried stuff can be covered with cheese, meals here all end up one way — no, not with antacids and heartburn but with “June’s famous pecan pie.” This pie is so good that the menu lists only this one and then merely states “other pies” as an afterthought.

So, get out your map, find these Iowa towns, mark them down and connect the dots. You’ll come to the realization that the tour not only will lead you to some great pie but also will guide you along a pie-shaped journey, as the route follows a triangular pattern.

Lastly, there are certainly more great pie places that deserve to be mentioned. Please, if you know of such a place, by all means please add it in the comments below.

If you're planning to make Iowa and the pie tour a future travel destination location, check out AAA.com's Iowa Travel Guide.