We love our local restaurants, but there are a few gems outside of the metro worth a mini road trip, too. Here are three spots to try less than an hour away.
The Rusty Duck
Find it: 732 Marshall St., Dexter
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Distance from downtown: 33 miles
Travel time: 35 minutes
What we ate: The Ultimate Cheeseburger, $12.99.
Why it’s worth the trip: Take a look around the rustic, lodge-like dining room at the Rusty Duck and you’ll understand why patrons from all over central Iowa flock here. The meat. There’s a thick steak or massive burger on nearly every table.
The Ultimate Cheeseburger is considered by many to be the best in Iowa. It’s 14 ounces of beef topped with roasted red peppers, sauteed onions and mushrooms, bacon and cheese. Lots of cheese. It arrives at your table on an oversized oval platter (er, plate), that could hold a small Thanksgiving turkey, and topped with a thick, fluffy bun.
Cut in half, the burger is cooked to a perfect temperature (in our case, medium), which is remarkable for such a large hunk of beef. Just half the juicy burger requires both hands, and bits of red pepper and onion escaped with each juicy bite.
While you’re in Dexter: Stop by the Dexter Fall Festival, planned for Aug. 26 and 27, for food, entertainment and historic details of the Bonnie and Clyde shootout in Dexfield Park.
Find it: 108 Monroe St., Pleasantville
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 5-9 p.m. Sunday
Distance from downtown: 27 miles
Travel time: 40 minutes
What we ate: The Philly steak hoagie, $6.99
Why it’s worth the trip: The Checkerboard started as a small pizza shop in 1975, and has grown to a large-capacity restaurant with a menu including sandwiches, steak, fish, chicken and burgers, in addition to pizza. The most popular item, the Philly steak hoagie, has clearly been perfected over the years. It’s no wonder people love it.
Inside a soft, lightly toasted hoagie, a mound of tender grilled strips of steak is topped with sauteed onions, green peppers and mushrooms. The steak is thin and juicy, with crispy edges. The mozzarella and cheddar cheeses are melted perfectly. To add a touch more flavor, the inside of the bun is brushed lightly with Italian dressing for a barely noticeable tang. An ultra crunchy dill spear is served on the side, but nothing else. Sides, for $2.50 extra, include fries, hash browns, steak fries or a baked potato.
While you’re in Pleasantville: Take a walk through City Square Park or Shadle Park, which offer a slice of the pleasant life with gardens, ponds and playgrounds. Or, take a 15-minute drive to Lake Red Rock for a hike or bike ride.
Find it: 804 E. First St., Pella
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Lunch served 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Distance from downtown: 45 miles
Travel time: 50 minutes
What we ate: The Boricua sandwich, $5.50.
Why it’s worth the trip: If you don’t want the fuss of a large restaurant for a weekday lunch, stop at Cammie’s. The quaint, quiet coffee shop serves up a great cup of joe, as well as a tasty and refined lunch menu. Try the Boricua, a plump, juicy and seasoned grilled chicken breast served with melted cheese and fresh pesto on flatbread. The meal arrives on an antique-looking serving tray with a thick slice of ruby red, August-ripe tomato, deep green lettuce and chips. It’s hard not to smile while looking out the window, just off Pella’s square, while enjoying a sandwich and French vanilla cappuccino in this cozy spot. Be sure to save room for a freshly baked dessert, like carrot cake, coconut creme pie or lemon meringue pie.
While you’re in Pella: Visit the Molengracht, which means “mini canal,” a complex of five buildings built along a Dutch-style canal that includes a theater, restaurants, a hotel and more. Go to pella.org.