iowa appreciation day
February 29, 2008 5:20 PM   Subscribe

forget nyc, it seems that today Iowa is the new askme destination of choice! what should i know to best experience Iowa City and Davenport? mostly this is a quest to know the local area and what should be appreciated here. i have 3 days (may, weekend), and a car. also, what must i buy/eat? anything else you feel urged to write on the topic is also welcome!
posted by n y my to Travel & Transportation around Iowa City, IA (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Eat breakfast in the Amana colonies at Ronnenburg or Brickhaus.
Shop at Prairie Lights in Iowa City
Go to the Museum of Art in Cedar Rapids for original and amazing Grant Woods Collection.
Find Maid-Rite sandwiches somewhere in there!
posted by Rae Datter at 5:38 PM on February 29, 2008

In Davenport, take in a minor league game a John O'Donnell stadium. It's an old fashioned ballpark built in the 30s. It's right on the river, so you have a great view of the Mississippi.
After the game, go to Arsenal Island and check out the museum and Confederate cemetery.
For dinner, sneak across the river into Rock Island, Il for Jim's Rib Haven.
In Iowa City, go to the Old Capitol Mall and grab a Monster cookie from Cookies & More. --I'm biased on this last one, the store is owned by my Aunt and uses my Grandmother's recipes.

Also, seconding the Brickhaus recommendation at Amana. I'd take their dinners over breakfast for the smoked pork chops, though.
posted by Eddie Mars at 5:51 PM on February 29, 2008

Re: Iowa City:

Seconding Prairie Lights. It's Iowa City's only cultural landmark.

The Amanas are OK, but very touristy. I'd have breakfast at Lou Henri's on Jefferson in Iowa City myself.

I would have a look at the Pentacrest (the old capitol and four other buildings on the crest of a hill overlooking the Iowa River). The Old Capitol is open for tours, but I would rather go through MacBride Hall (on the Pentacrest)--their Museum of Natural History is pretty cool.

If you'd like to see some Amish in their buggies, go south 20 miles to Kalona. The Tuscan Moon there is supposed to be a pretty good lunch spot, but I can't vouch for it firsthand.
posted by bricoleur at 6:20 PM on February 29, 2008

i guess Bushnell's Turtle is long, long gone ... but in discovering that, I came across a Chowhound discussion of Iowa City (and surrounding area) recommendations. It's a lengthy thread, but seems to have a lot of good information.
posted by kuppajava at 6:36 PM on February 29, 2008

Best answer: I can speak to Iowa City.
I don't see what the big deal about Prairie Lights is. Yeah, nice bookstore, but whatever its cultural value, it just looks like a bookstore. If you like bookstores, knock yourself out! While you're downtown, though, you can try out what counts as the cool shopping and restaurants in IC.
- Java House is the typical local coffee shop on Washington St
- There are several cool shops in the ped mall and downtown region (Akar, Soap Opera, RSVP stationery, ARTifacts, etc.)
- Eat at Motley Cow (nice food without silly prices), Devotay (tapas with somewhat silly prices), Pagliai's (very popular thin crust pizza place), Mondo Bread Garden (great soup, sandwiches and apparently a market in their new location on the ped mall).
- The non-college bars in downtown (Saloon, Graze, Donnelly's) or the college bars if you're into that (Vito's, Brother's, they're easy to spot)

You could also try to catch a show at the Englert Theater or Hancher (the U of Iowa's theater). If the winter ever, ever ends, you should make time for a stroll through City Park (start the path in downtown by the river and walk north).

I can't be specific about this, but I once went to some very cool antique/junk shops along the river in Davenport. If you find any reference to such a street of yuppie shops and like the idea of it, you should go there.
posted by parkerjackson at 7:04 PM on February 29, 2008

If you drink too much and need some tasty, greasy food the next day, the Hamburg Inn never did me wrong.
posted by rachelpapers at 7:19 PM on February 29, 2008

I have no creds whatsoever as a foodie, but I just went through the chowhound thread kuppajava posted and it reminded me of a couple of things:

Simone's. She has a farm southwest of Iowa City where she does private dinners. I haven't been to one of those, but I can attest that she knows how to cook, and the setting is fantastic. THAT would be a great Iowa experience.

And if you want to venture further afield for breakfast, the Four Corners restaurant in Ainsworth (20 minutes south on 218) is good Iowa breakfast and cute waitresses. Get the Mess if you're a meat eater, the Veggie Mess if you aren't.
posted by bricoleur at 7:22 PM on February 29, 2008

Best answer: I have no advice on the Davenport front (we drove there a lot in high school, but we pretty much just got coffee at the Village Inn, which is marginally cool when you're 16 but less so later), but I'm an IC native.

Ditto to Prairie Lights if you like books, the Motley Cow, Devotay, Akar, Java House, etc.. Eat breakfast at Lou Henri for the food or at the Hamburg Inn for the atmosphere (though their food isn't half bad). If you're vegetarian or vegan, or just like veggie food, check out The Red Avacado. I'm partial to the sugar cookies at Cookies & More.

The Sanctuary is the best non-college bar, if you like your bars mellow and full of microbrews (many on tap). The Mill is my favorite place to see music. They get a lot of bluegrass type bands, and once in awhile Greg Brown plays there.

If you're a Berke Breathed fan, be sure to stop in the Iowa City Public Library to see his farewell to IC cartoon. You can see the Bloom County house at the corner of College and Brown, I think (it's on College within a block or two of there, anyway). In any case, enjoy your visit!
posted by newrambler at 7:57 PM on February 29, 2008

I've spent the better part of my life in those two towns. What will you be around for? Will you be on your own?
posted by the christopher hundreds at 8:37 PM on February 29, 2008

Grew up in Davenport. Not a lot of experience there as an adult. Here are a few things I can think of off the top of my head:

Jim's Ribs in Rock Island is absolutely worth driving across the river for. Highly recommended. The Figge Art Museum in downtown Davenport is brand new and apparently has some worthwhile exhibits (haven't been there myself). John O'Donnell Stadium is fun, although I think my mom told me it's no longer called John O'Donnell. If you get there in the spring you can think "Hey, I've been there," when you see pictures of it flooded in the national news. The Mississippi is supposed to be REALLY high this year. There's gambling on the river boats. There are a lot of nice B & B's in the small towns up and down the river.

Have fun.
posted by PhatLobley at 9:57 PM on February 29, 2008

Oh, and while you're in Iowa, somewhere, get a pork tenderloin sandwich.
posted by PhatLobley at 9:58 PM on February 29, 2008

Best answer: Halfway between Davenport and Iowa City is my hometown, Wilton. There you will find the Candy Kitchen, one of the oldest soda fountains in the United States. They still make their own ice cream and their own soda. It is run by the biggest bitch I have ever met, Thelma, and her super sweet husband, George. It still looks like it did 70 years ago. You will love it.

Another link
posted by Foam Pants at 10:27 PM on February 29, 2008

Thirding or fourthing the Motely Cow.
posted by turducken at 11:38 PM on February 29, 2008

Apparently, there is some bar in Iowa City that Raymond Carver described as "where dreams go to die." Anyone know the name of the place? I'd go there.
posted by degoao at 1:13 AM on March 1, 2008

Response by poster: this is exactly the kind of thing i wanted to hear! thank you so much so far!

bonus for all you natives (who i wasn't expecting): i hear there's a taco pizza somewhere to be eaten? this was probably iowa city, and i remember the name of the restaurant being really... bland. (Bob's or something... ?)

the christopher hundreds: i'm arriving alone, but will probably be staying with someone there through couchsurfing or something like it. i'm not going for anything specific, it really i a "look & feel" visit while i'm in the area.
posted by n y my at 2:07 AM on March 1, 2008

I only know Iowa City -- went to school there, miss it still, and believe that if you have to be in Iowa, Iowa City is the place to b.

Seconding The Soap Opera if you at all enjoy good-smelling things. Amazing selection.

If you enjoy architecture, definitely take a walk around the campus -- both sides of the river. Lots of late-20th century modernism and post- stuff. The U of I art museum might be worth a stroll as well.

I can't believe no one has mentioned the Deadwood. Great place for cheap beer and a decades-long atmosphere of collegiate debauchery.

@kuppajava -- OMG, Bushnell's Turtle. I used to work there. They did have some great stuff on the menu. Still have an apron I snagged before leaving. Thanks for the memories!
posted by Work to Live at 8:48 AM on March 1, 2008

Bob's Your Uncle is probably what you're thinking of, and it has a mighty tasty taco pizza. (not much for atmosphere though.) For Iowa City pizza, Pagliai's or The Sanctuary (mentioned above) are your best bet. Try the pizza pimienta at the sanctuary if you like spicy.

The Java House is great, but Fair Grounds Coffee House is my new favorite coffee shop in Iowa City. The University of Iowa Museum of Art is free and pretty darn good. Save yourself the trip to ugly Cedar Rapids and go to UIMA for free.

Seconding the englert but it's pretty expensive.

For bars:
The place "where dreams go to die" is probably Dave's Foxhead. PBR is the only beer on tap there. It is rumored to be Vonnegut's bar of choice, and lots of literate folks hang out there. Dublin underground and The Deadwood are not to be missed. Try to catch a show at The Picador, The Mill, or The Yacht Club if there is anything good playing. My favorite bar is probably Old Capitol Brew Works. Stop by and have some delicious local beer. They also serve OCBW beer at Quinton's, along with some great sandwiches.

Seconding Lou Henri, they beat out the (overrated) Hamburg any day. Stop by the Hamburg and look inside, then go to Lou Henri to eat.
posted by anomie at 8:53 AM on March 1, 2008

Best answer: In answer to taco pizza, there's also Happy Joe's Pizza in Davenport. They aren't my favorite pizza place in the area, but they're what I think of when I think of taco pizza.

The also sell my all time favorite kind of pizza: Canadian bacon with sauerkraut.
posted by Eddie Mars at 12:18 PM on March 1, 2008

The taco pizza was almost certainly from Happy Joes. It's a Davenport (well, Quad-City) institution. The one in Iowa City was destroyed by the tornado that came through a couple years ago but there is a location in Coralville that delivers to Iowa City.* Another Quad-City institution with an outlet in Iowa City is Whitey's Ice Cream. They claim to have invented the candy-bar shake sometime in the olden days. I recommend the chocolate Butterfinger shake.

Jim's Ribs are worth the trip. There's no liquor license so you have to buy your beer from the gas station next door. While you're in Rock Island, the Blue Cat is a good brew-pub. All bars and restaurants in Illinois are smoke-free now. Front Street in Davenport is also smoke free and has great food. Their beer isn't quite as good. If you want a smoky dive bar with character, try Macs in downtown Davenport or the 11th Street Precinct in East Davenport (at Mound Street and 11th). There is a huge antique store in downtown Davenport on, I think, the 400 block of Brady Street. There's also a vintage clothing store on that block that supplies old clothes to filmmakers. The woman who owns it is fun to talk to.

The Rock Island Arsenal is tricky to get in to due to the security theater at both entrances but is worth it if you're in to history or architecture. I'd call the museum (which is lame unless you're a gun enthusiast) and ask how and when the guards will let you through. You can't even ride the bike trails unless you're DoD or in the military. That said, there are bike trails up and down both sides of the river and it might be worth renting a bike for an afternoon. There is a ferry, the Channel Cat, that makes stops in Iowa and Illinois you can load your bike on or just ride the circuit. It goes all the way around the arsenal island.

Do not go to the River Music museum in Davenport unless it's free or a band is playing. The exhibits are a waste of time. A trip to John O'Donnell for a baseball game is a good idea if there's a home game. I think it's $6 to get in or $8 for box seats. The Putnam Museum is pretty interesting for a town the size of Davenport. I've never been to the Figge. The least trashy casino in the area is in Riverside, Iowa (just south of Iowa City) which is where Captain Kirk will be born in a million years or so. It's also 20 minutes out of the way.

If you're interested in BBQ in Iowa City, The Pit is relatively new but very good. The India Cafe on Washington Street downtown has a good lunch buffet. The Thai place on the opposite side of that block (on Burlington) is also very good. I can also vouch for the quality of Cookies and More in the Old Capitol Mall. The Chinese place in that mall is also worth checking out.

I don't know much about the bar scene in Iowa City, but the legendary Gabe's Oasis is now known as the Picador and I think they wiped down the tables or something but it is otherwise the same place. The Mill is equally legendary. Vonnegut and other greats drank there while teaching at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. IMO neither are worth going to when there is no band...

*The last couple of times I used google to get the phone number for that Happy Joes it was wrong one. The guy is used to getting the calls and will give you the correct phone number.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 1:29 PM on March 1, 2008

The Herbert Hoover library in West Branch
posted by brujita at 12:16 AM on March 2, 2008

I agree that Happy Joe's is the place to get the taco pizza. For Iowa City bars, I always favored Joe's Place. I have no idea if it is still open.

I haven't been to the Figge myself but a friend said it was great.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:10 PM on March 2, 2008

I spent a total of four years in Iowa City, and loved it. anomie's post, however, has nailed Iowa City smack in the belly.

If the weather's nice when you're there (and in May, it likely will be), make sure you spend some time hanging out in College Green Park (small and cute and near downtown), and the PedMall (small and cute and in downtown).

Are you a carnivore? There's a brilliant grill-your-own steakhouse out in West Branch. With a pool table downstairs, and cold Leinie's on tap. Grill-your-own-steakhouses are just the most brilliant thing to come out of the midwest since Flannery O'Connor. Don't miss it, if you likey the steaky . . .
posted by deejay jaydee at 8:30 AM on March 3, 2008

Response by poster: Foam Pants recently sent this to me by me-mail, and the sheer roadside-america-ness of it made me want to post it here:

When in Iowa, you'll have to stop at a Kum-n-Go. Take a picture. No one ever believes me that they exist until I show them a snapshot. The world's largest truckstop is along Interstate-80 at the Walcott exit. You may want to head east out of Wilton on the highway, through Durant, then make the turn to I-80 at Walcott just to see an automatic carwash big enough to fit a semi-trailer inside. They also have a wide selection of girly mudflaps.

posted by n y my at 2:45 PM on April 23, 2008

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