Dinner at the Cellar in Fort Dodge, Iowa

by foodhoe on November 9, 2011

116 Kenyon Road (Intersection of HWY 169 & HWY 20), Fort Dodge, IA 50501 | 515.576.2290 |

This post is from the drafts archive from a couple years back about the only restaurant I have eaten at in Iowa, which is so much in the news these days…  While visiting Mr. K’s parents in southern Minnesota we made arrangements to hook up with his cousin Christy along with her daughter and niece, who all live in nearby Des Moines, Iowa.  I was charged with finding a suitable restaurant in Fort Dodge, Iowa which is located somewhere in between Fairmont and Des Moines (our respective starting points).    It was more than an hour drive for each party to get to the restaurant, we traveled along country roads dotted with farm houses and I felt like Laura Ingalls Wilder traveling through the prairie.

I searched long and hard online for Iowan cuisine and found a list of 100 things to eat in Iowa before you die that was compiled by the Des Moines Register.   This list features regional/house specialties and unique dishes no other place serves (or does quite as well).  At the top of the list is taco pizza and some standouts were sauerkraut salad, spaghetti soup, loose meat sandwiches or sloppy joes from Maid-Rite and an apple dumpling from a truck stop.   I was dismayed to note that not one specific item of the 100 could be found in the Fort Dodge area or even Webster County; however, the breaded pork tenderloin is an Iowan specialty that has been documented here, here as well as on the fabulous Roadfood website, so I could only hope that item could be found on most menus.  I called the Chamber of Commerce of Fort Dodge, who directed me to their now defunct website, which listed menus and even had photos of the food.  In this age of electronic media, I found it to be extremely challenging to gather much information online at all… even on Yelp.com.  Also, in consideration of some of our parties dietary restrictions, I nixed trying to track down the taco pizza and we decided to meet at the Cellar, a small steakhouse which features old-school American cuisine.

The restaurant is attached to a motel which was conveniently near an off ramp at the junction of two highways.  The entrance was gloomy and a bit shabby with the feel of a bowling alley or casino ambience, but we were seated in a brighter dining area.  People in Iowa take their pork seriously, and I found that the chef, Kevin Moore,won the designation of Premiere Chef at the  Taste of Elegance this year, which is probably the most prestigious culinary competition in Iowa.  He humbly said, “One of the things I’ve always kept in mind is that I cook in Iowa, and I cook for people who really like their ‘meat and taters.’ So I can only go so far out on the limb…”  Read about the competition here and a local version here.

The Cheeseburger Chowder is considered to be a regional specialty, which I had to order.  It was a thick soup, like cheesey cream of velveeta with browned bits of hamburger.  Chunks of chopped pickle, fried onion, tomato and lettuce would have made it more interesting…

Since we were in pork country, there were plenty of options on the menu.  I was pleased to be able to order the Breaded Pork Chop which was served in a bun with fries on the side.  The meat is lean, a tenderloin-cut pork chop which is pounded flat, breaded, and deep fried and served on a bun with ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and dill pickle slices. It is very smilar to schnitzel and as such, may be related to the large population of German immigrants that originally populated central Iowa.  Tonkatsu in a bun to me…

My father-in-law Don had a bowl of cottage cheese as a first course, which was served with saltine crackers.

Mr. K’s salad was a pile of ice berg lettuce and some dry shreds of carrots and red cabbage on top, along with a cellophane wrapped packet of saltine crackers placed directly on the lettuce.  It was very cold like it had been sitting in the refrigerator.

Both Mr. K and his father ordered the Baby Back Ribs, which Don said was very tender, although Mr. K thought it wasn’t spicy enough.

Don had this enormous mound of cheesy mashed potatoes that looked like it may have spent some time under a heat lamp.

My MIL (mother in law) Harriett had the “Iowa chops,” nearly two inches thick.  She said it was a bit tough and dry.

I shared dessert with the two girls, a chocolate volcano cake drizzled with chocolate and vanilla sauces.  It was good for a few bites, very sweet, the kind of dessert that is meant to be shared…

By the time we were finished, the restaurant had begun to fill up with a mix of regulars, some in fancy evening wear, many in jeans and baseball caps.  It was a very interesting experience for me to travel out to this somewhat remote area with very few dining options.  Next time we are out in the midwest, I would love to explore more of the regional specialties, like the little diner serving hot dish…

 

Cellar Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa November 9, 2011 at 8:42 am

Definitely an interesting experience!

Cheers,

Rosa

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Cookie November 9, 2011 at 8:44 am

OMG cheeseburger chowder? That sounds ridiculously good!

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Gastronomer November 10, 2011 at 4:05 pm

So, that’s how they eat in Iowa. Thanks for the coverage, Foodhoe ;-)

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Linda Plyem November 11, 2011 at 5:30 am

I knew it was bad out there, but really!!!

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Sam November 11, 2011 at 6:22 am

Easily the worst looking food I have seen on this site. I do not mean to be rude but is no way near the quality this blog usually puts up.

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foodhoe November 11, 2011 at 7:26 am

Rosa, to be sure
Cookie, it’s a very interesting idea no?
Gastronomer, I hope not everywhere in Iowa!
Linda, it was pretty far out there!
Sam, thanks for your comment and for visiting… I’m not sure that i really have standards for food or photography, but I do like to explore the regional cuisine when I’m out traveling. This meal wasn’t the culinary highlight of the trip, but it certainly was interesting to me…

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Ben November 11, 2011 at 10:30 am

Gosh, you really had to go through a lot of work to find a place to eat, huh? I can’t believe your father-in-law started his meal with cottage cheese? And just a plain dollop too. Is that popular for the area? The saltines on the salad really takes me back to the 1970s when our family traveled by bus across the country and we’d stop in diners and they’d give saltines for everything from soup to salad. I thought they were kind of neat as a kid because it would make any boring meal crunchy. Plus, I’d save them to eat later on the bus ride. Ah the memories. LOL.

Oh, btw, your solvemedia step threw me off. I thought it was part of the ad for Macy’s!

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mn December 13, 2011 at 4:53 pm

I can’t believe you people. I travel to Fort Dodge 4 times a year for 3-4 days at a time. The Cellar is the best restaurant in Fort Dodge (I do not stay at the adjoining hotel). The food is very good. If you are all as picky as you sound, take a real trip. Go to New York or Chicago, California, Texas or Colorado. The steaks you find there are extremely overpriced, tough and tasty only because of marinade. You people need to to get a life, do something other than bitch and actually try to enjoy where you are.

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Cindy in Iowa February 19, 2012 at 11:57 am

I’m from the NW Iowa area, and we ate at The Cellar this week for the first time. Trust me, it is one of the few “nicer” places to eat in this area! Another one is Mineral City which has been totally rebuilt after a fire. I’m always searching for better places and yes, some of us prefer healthier food which is hard to find out here. I don’t think most people would order cottage cheese at a restaurant. Three of us had steaks (tender) and one a pasta dish that looked very good. The service was great. One of the owners even came over to talk to us as our friends with us have been going there several years. He said their specialty is seafood. We were given free champagne for a birthday toast (my birthday).

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foodhoe September 8, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Cindy, thanks for visiting and happy belated birthday. That is true hospitality that they served the table free champagne for your birthday! I’ll remember to try the seafood the next time I’m out that way.

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elliott May 9, 2012 at 11:21 pm

I love good burgers. I can honestly say when i think of the best burger i have ever eaten this is the place my mind wonders too. It was amazing!!!!!!!!!! nothing else has been as good

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Mollie @ Sprinkles of Life September 8, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I, too, am from Iowa. I live in Des Moines, the capital city of the state and my parents live near Fort Dodge. I have never been to The Cellar but you should know that Fort Dodge is not a big city and not very culinaryily diverse. I never order pork chops and rarely choose steak when dining out, but just because people do, doesn’t mean they are making wrong or bad choices. I think that the commenters on this post are ignorant in making their statements. This is one restaurant in one small town. Not an exact replica of what everyone eats in Iowa. And Linda- you say you know it’s bad here. How and why do you make that statement? Is there any intelligence or knowledge behind it? I just hope the readers of this post and everywhere realize that there’s differences all around us, even in our United States but sterotypes needn’t be made.

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foodhoe September 8, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Hi Mollie, Thanks for visiting. I like to explore local food when I travel, I prefer to try to find local gems and specialties versus going to boring chain restaurants. This was an interesting meal I enjoyed with my in-laws and I learned about regional dishes we don’t have out in California. Last weekend I ordered cottage cheese instead of hashbrowns for breakfast, and it was delicious!

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Mollie @ Sprinkles of Life September 9, 2012 at 7:05 am

Foodhoe- No ill comments meant towards you. You were just documenting your experience. :)

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Drew Palmer December 6, 2012 at 1:35 pm

I’ve been visiting friends in Fort Dodge from California and agree that the Cellar and Mineral City are both fine diners, just not fine dining.

I don’t normally eat seafood unless I can smell the ocean, so can’t attest either way to that, but the steaks at both places were perfect once I was politely suggested to order them rare (which means medium) and not fried (which means deep-fried; most menus here list “grilled” when they mean fried or sauteed on a griddle).

I didn’t notice the cheeseburger chowder on the menu before, but I’m headed to the Cellar for dinner tomorrow and will definitely try it out!

and, btw, most restaurants in California offer cottage cheese or a fruit cup with breakfast or lunch instead of potatoes, so I didn’t even notice that was unusual!

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katie February 13, 2013 at 9:38 pm

I am from Fort Dodge and for the love you people make it sound like we’re out in the damn boonies! Trust me, Fort Dodge is Not the smallest city or town in iowa, and very few dining options??? we have applebees, sports page, the cellar, mineral city, village inn, perkins, chinese restaurants, pizza places- the taco pizza is at godfathers! or casey’s convenience store which is actually good. pizza hut, dominoes, little caesars, marco’s pizza, there’s a couple subways, a couple dairy queens, wendy’s, burger king, mcdonald’s, culvers, jamars, taco tico, taco bell, some other tex mex place, kfc, lomitas, tres amigos, local places..maybe it’s not what you would find in a bigger city but if you think that’s Very Few dining options you must be a little too spoiled! i have nothin to say about the criticism of the meat because im vegetarian and couldn’t care less about meat and dont look at meals with meat. and of course the salad was in the fridge where else would it be? if the plate was cold they apparently premake the salads, i don’t think it’s that big of a deal, what do you want them to go pick fresh veggies and milk cows to make ranch for you? Also, so that’s how they eat in iowa?? Really?? you take one person’s experience at one restaurant in one town in iowa, the only one they have been to in this state, and that is all you need to judge how all of iowa eats??? someone heard it was bad there?? have you actually been here?? by the way we also have stores which must be a shocker to some of you who apparently live in the OC or hollywood or beverly hills or some crap. we have a mall, walmart, target, hyvee, kohls, yadayada. this isnt a great city but we’re not under a rock.

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Mr. K February 14, 2013 at 3:03 pm

This is my favorite comment of all time.

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Guest February 18, 2013 at 8:46 am

Haha, that is precisely what was meant by a lack of dining options. This comment is hilarious.

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Linda edwards February 18, 2013 at 7:29 am

I have lived in or around Ft. Dodge nearly all my life and to be fair, fine dining restaurants have opened and closed here. They can’t seem to make it which breaks my heart but we just don’t have enough interest to keep them afloat. A restaurant can’t make it serving special occasion and Saturday night customers. I do enjoy Wednesday nights at the Willow Ridge as the cuisine is International or US regional prepared by our local culinary students. Plating is lovely and often the dishes are outstanding (not always, they are learning after all). Other than that, when I want the gourmet dining experience, I leave Ft. Dodge for Ames, Des Moines, Omaha or cook at home.

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Jeremiah July 18, 2013 at 4:31 pm

I would like to let you know that I know the Cellar very well. I love how you did not order anything that the Cellar is Known for! People all over the States have stopped at the Cellar to get The Ribeye of the Filet! And no, there is no one in an hours square radius that can even compare to these 2 dishes. The Cellar sells more Seafood than it does pork! The Jumbo Shrimp is must have and on Monday’s and Tuesdays, the Oscars are the best dish in the state. Just because Iowa is known for Pork does not mean every restaurant in Iowa SPECIALIZES in Pork, and yes that Tenderloin is pretty awesome! In 15 years, as a customer, I never once notices anything wrong with the cracker on the salad, because that is how us Iowans do it!!

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foodhoe July 19, 2013 at 7:09 am

Jeremiah, thanks for visiting and your comments. I love to get recommendations for a restaurant’s specialties, and wish I had known about the Ribeye of the Filet when we dined at the Cellar. Next time! BTW, I stashed the crackers in my purse for snacks on the road…

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