Last week we visited the Pumpkin Ranch in Winterset to spend a fun day with the family and pickup a few pumpkins. We had a great time and wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it for anyone looking for a great pumpkin patch around Central Iowa. Afterwards, we were all hungry and ready for some dinner. We’d heard of the Northside Cafe and wanted to give it a try.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Northside Cafe was used in the film The Bridges of Madison County. I was so impressed with the charm of this place that I snapped a shot of the seating and counter where ironically Clint Eastwood’s character dines. The Northside Cafe is a special place. Diners are common in the US, but not many can claim to have been around for over 100 years in the same building, but the Northside can. The name derives from the fact that it is located on the Northside of the Winterset town square.
There’s a charm to this place that is hard to define through word or picture. It has a transcendent quality, like someone who has lived through a series of great events, with amazing stories to tell. Dining here is akin to sitting down with a relative whom you thought you’d long lost. Suddenly you find yourself part of this great history, undeniably intertwined amongst the stories it’ll tell someday.
The Northside Cafe has recently gained new owners, owners who are cognizant and respectful of it’s historic past, while firmly confident in the future that it has. Recently, it received a welcomed update where they preserved the best of it’s past and infused a slightly modern style into it’s blood. Remaining are the historical stools and chrome of yesteryear. But now a fresh interpretation on what a diner should be, is present.
A beautiful red cover houses the menu. Found within its pages are an American centric menu.
A thank you note greets the diner, along with a note of their items being scratch prepared using only the freshest ingredients available. Their sauces are made from scratch using single ingredients, nothing boxed or from a can here. Their hot beef sandwich uses beef roasted onsite. The buns are from a local bakery found just down the street. Whenever possible they near source in season vegetables.
The theme is well executed throughout from their decor, menu, and to their glasses.
We had a hankering for some fresh cheese balls… something we can always agree on.
The cheese balls were wonderful — cheddar cheese adorned by breading, fried to a wonderous crunch. As you may have predicted, we made short work of these beauties.
Winterset has a number of claims to fame — possibly none more important than being the birthplace of John Wayne. The house he lived in until he was four years old (before his family moved to Los Angeles) is just a few minutes from the cafe. On the menu is the John Wayne chili. Rumored to be his favorite chili recipe, it is a tomato-soupy chili with chunks of steak. A portion of the proceeds of every cup and bowl is donated to preserving his historic birthplace home.
I struggled to decide what to order. There were so many choices that sounded perfect, but I finally settled on their Monte Cristo. I’ve had my fair share of Monte Cristos. More often than not it seems they are prepared with the fully assembled sandwich dipped into a French Toast batter, then pan fried. Not so with this one. The Northside Cafe does theirs a bit differently, with two pieces of traditional French Toast housing the innards. I found this method to be much more enjoyable. It seemed everything was able to stand out on it’s own versus being dipped in nonsense. The ham they’ve sourced was top shelf and they didn’t skimp on the portion.
My wife opted for their Patty Melt. We were both stunned by how good it was, and it left us pondering whether it may have just been the best Patty Melt we’d ever tried. It was so moist and flavorful, the beef and onions working together in perfect harmony. Her side of coleslaw was different, yet very good. Unexpected was the description. It seem to hint egg. I personally found it great.
My daughter really wanted Mac ‘N Cheese, and one night a week they feature it. However, this happened to not be that night, but they were kind enough to whip up a wonderful substitute. The noodles, swimming in butter, were topped with shaved Parmesan. Heavenly…
We couldn’t bring ourselves to letting this train ride end early, so we snagged two of their homemade desserts, their Apple Pie and their Flourless Chocolate Cake. The Apple pie had layer on layer of finely Julienned Apples.
We opted for a scoop of ice cream.
Their Flourless Chocolate Cake was wonderful, nice and chocolately with a drizzle of caramel sauce.
It’s not often that you find just the right combination of factors in a restaurant: great history, great atmosphere, great service, and great food. But it does happen occasionally as it did with the Northside Cafe. In all, we were blown away by the exceptional flavor and quality of the food. The service was some of the best I’ve experienced in a long time. They were very attentive, thorough, kind, and accommodating.
If you’re in the mood for a drive, or happen to be in the area, the Northside Cafe is certainly worth your time and money. Here’s your chance to become part of history.