Decorah Iowa Feature Image

Foodventurous: Decorah, Iowa

It’s pretty common for people to travel the country, and even the world, but miss out on the unique experiences that exist right under their noses. It’s the whole reason “staycations” have become popular: stay at home but actually DO the cool stuff in your area. After 10-15 years of saying we should spend some time exploring northeast Iowa, we finally went to see what Decorah had waiting for us.

 

What’s a Decorah foodventure without food?

Luna Valley farms

Luna Valley Farms Pizza Decorah Iowa

Every Friday night, May through October, Luna Valley Farm is open to the public for homemade, wood-fired pizza. The toppings change from week to week in order to feature fresh, local produce. The pizza pictured above was called “Cherry Pie”: cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella and we added sausage. Several local craft beers and ciders are available as well as wine from small farms in Italy, France and Spain.

Luna Valley Farms Pizza Decorah Iowa

The pizza is outstanding. Maren and Tom are as gracious and friendly as can be. A trip to their farm must be considered an experience. Bring your blanket or chairs and be ready to kick back, listen to the cows bellowing in the distance, watch kids play and take it the beauty of the countryside. There are nights where 250 pizzas are made in that oven! On a gorgeous night like we had, you won’t mind waiting one bit.

Luna Valley Farms Pizza Decorah Iowa

 

Magpie Coffeehouse

French Toast at Magpie Coffeehouse Decorah Iowa

My ideal foodventure involves a yummy, late breakfast, a unique, relaxing dinner with a mid-afternoon treat … and maybe a bedtime snack. Trying as many different restaurants as possible is always a goal; however, we found Magpie Cafe & Coffeehouse on our first morning and returned for breakfast the second morning just so I could try more of their menu! This French toast was my favorite and, if you look in the background, you can see Marty’s breakfast burrito (also note his crossed arms as he patiently waits for me to get a picture … what a guy!).

Magpie Coffeehouse Decorah Iowa

The staff is as warm and inviting as the interior and I can’t wait to return and try their lunch menu!

 

impact coffee

Impact Coffee in Decorah Iowa

Before we left town on Sunday, I had to check out the new digs for Impact Coffee which had been recommended to us by a couple we chatted with at Luna Valley Farm. If I lived in this area, you would regularly find me in one of their comfy seating areas, sipping on a Miel (a personal favorite that I don’t often find), typing away on my laptop.

Scones and coffee from Impact Coffee in Decorah Iowa

Wait … add munching a scone to that description! So Good!

 

sugar bowl ice cream company

Ice Cream Flight from Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Company in Decorah Iowa

Remember what I said about that mid-afternoon treat? Does it get any better than finding an ice cream shop that offers FLIGHTS???? Seriously! Four or six scoops of your choice of flavors served up on an impressive board by Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Parlor in downtown Decorah. I shouldn’t have to say this but Marty and I DID share this flight. You know me well enough to assume I could polish it off by myself … but I didn’t.

Restraint is a virtue.

Next time I’m all in on their Donut Sundae! So much for “restraint”.

 

topPling goliath brewery

Topling Goliath Brewery Decorah Iowa

Speaking of “flights” … here’s a more traditional one. Decorah is home to Toppling Goliath Brewery, named the “Second-Best Brewery in the World” by Beer Advocate! Even though we didn’t try the food, we enjoyed a “bed-time snack” of beer samples as the sun set. Check out that “Mornin’ Latte” … an Imperial Coffee Milk Stout that just might accompany me to the next tailgate!

 

courtyard and cellar

Courtyard and Cellar Decorah Iowa Live Music Patio Bar

We drove by this place several times. On the outside, a beautiful, old corner building. Inside? A hidden gem. Built in 1915, this building has been home to an implement store, seed store, car dealership, restaurants, soft drink bottling plant, an Army Reserve Center and even a mini-mall. Currently, while other parts of the building are being renovated, a BBQ restaurant is open as well as The Courtyard and Cellar. With an open-air space between this building and the next, the perfect patio area was made to accommodate live music and plenty of tables! The lower-level of the building is a bar with architectural charm and a “rare, fine whiskey collection”.

Courtyard and Cellar Decorah Iowa Live Music Patio Bar

 

— and food-related activities

seed savers exchange

Seed Savers Exchange Decorah Iowa | Garden History Hiking

From a collection of rare whiskeys to a collection of rare seeds, Decorah is home to some pretty remarkable businesses. The mission of the Seed Savers Exchange is to preserve heirloom varieties  and share them with other gardeners. It all started with a morning glory flower and a tomato variety brought to the US by the founders grandparents in the 1870’s. As they have collected more varieties, they have collected the stories of how the seeds came to be family heirlooms.

Seed Savers Exchange Decorah Iowa | Garden History Hiking

Not only can you walk the gardens and visit the gift shop (hello new tomato cages), you are free to wander/hike the trails leading through 890 acres of land or fish in the trout streams.

Periodically the farm will host special events like Tomato Tastings or the Harvest Festival. Go to their website or follow them on Facebook to see more.

Seed Savers Exchange Decorah Iowa | Garden History Hiking

 

fly fishing

Guided Fly Fishing Decorah Iowa

He makes it look easy, doesn’t he?

Because we were unfamiliar with the trout streams of the area, we booked a guide to show us where the public access streams are and help us improve our skills. For Marty, that was tips and tricks to make his experiences more successful and enjoyable. For me, it was having someone to show me what to do, show me what to do again, free my fly from the rock bed or tree I had snagged and then show me what to do at least two more times! Kent from Bear Creek Anglers was personable, patient and knowledgeable and celebrates each fish bite. When I was struggling with my backcast, he put it in “mom” terms: get behind me and straighten out! Oh yeah … he’s good.

Fly Fishing near Decorah Iowa
Photo Credit: Kent Kleckner, Bear Creek Anglers
Fly Fishing near Decorah Iowa
Photo Credit: Kent Kleckner, Bear Creek Anglers

Marty’s fish looks bigger than mine but I think he’s just holding it closer to the camera … wink wink.

 

— and exercise!

The scenic beauty of this part of Iowa will take your breath away long before your workout is complete. A simple (or not so simple) walk or hike feels like just another part of the experience. Every close-to-home vacation should include the exploration of the state and local parks.

phelps park

Phelps Park Decorah Iowa

 

Phelps Park was recommended to us as a place for a scenic, moderate hike. When we pulled into the park on the southeast edge of Decorah, we could see a very pretty city park (picnic tables, shelters, playgrounds, etc.) but nothing resembling a trail. It was time to ask for help and help came in the form of a woman with a small child in a stroller. She pointed to a small opening on the other side of the street. A few steps onto the trail and the beauty of this bluff country was opened to us.

Phelps Park Decorah Iowa

So many parks, so little time! On our next trip, we will be sure to visit the highly recommended Dunning Springs and we hope to kayak the Upper Iowa River!

 

— a place to rest

Dry run cabin – decorah

Dry Run Cabin Decorah Iowa Airbnb

The whole Airbnb concept is right up my alley: a unique stay with the ability to choose your experience and flexibility to prepare your own meals. By the time we decided to take this mini-vaca, a lot of the smaller houses/cabins were already booked. I kept coming back to the listing of this beautiful home.

Dry Run Cabin Decorah Iowa Airbnb

I think it was this deck that I couldn’t resist! Dry Run Cabin was MUCH too big for the two of us (6 beds) but we were also looking for a place where our family might meet us in the future. Located about a mile from Decorah, we could easily get to all the places we wanted to visit.

Dry Run Cabin Decorah Iowa Airbnb

With a kitchen like this, can you believe I didn’t cook … at all?!?! There’s always next time!

Full Disclosure: In exchange for sharing this home in my social media
and blog posts, we received a discounted rate from the owner. 

 

save a little time for church

(or save time for a little church)

World's Smallest Church

Country churches have my heart. I love seeing the steeple and cross standing so tall against a bright sky. Not even sure how we came to hear about this one but if you say “World’s Smallest Church” to me, I am going to go see it!

We left Decorah midmorning on Sunday, right about the time we would normally be in church. About 15 miles and just outside the town of Festina, Iowa, down an appropriately named gravel road, we found it: St. Anthony of Padua Chapel.

World's Smallest Church

Seating 8 people, this church is 14’x20′ was built in 1885. The sign out front says the chapel was built to fulfill a vow by Johann Gaertner’s mother “should her son, who was drafted into the French army and served under Napoleon, return safely from the Russian campaign.”

After saying a prayer thanking God for all the people who built churches and started congregations as our state was formed, we returned to the road and to our home.

We’re already planning our next weekend in Decorah. Marty has declared it to be a fishing weekend which means Casey’s doughnuts and breakfast burritos at McDonald’s. And that’s just fine with me …

After all, it’s not like I can’t drive myself!

decorah, Iowa

Visit Decorah Iowa Foodventure

To read about more of my foodventures, click here!

The New Tic Toc Restaurant in Boone, Iowa

Foodventurous: Italian Hospitality in Boone, Iowa

In 2017, I spent a week in Rome. When I say “spent”, I mean “ate my way through”. The food was truly amazing but the thing that resonates with me to this day is the sacredness of the dining experience. Sit back. Relax. Order in courses. Talk. Listen. No pressure to free the table for the next guests. From pastry to pizza to pasta, dining is an experience. Sounds nice, right? I’ve been looking for a place here, in Iowa, that captures that feeling and I found it in my new hometown of Boone: The New Tic Toc Italian Trattoria.

Tic Toc Tortellini

 

history

Fifty-some years ago, the Tic-Toc Lounge was the place for authentic Italian food (especially pizza) in the Boone area. A good friend of mine grew up in Boone and remembers the restaurant well for the spaghetti, steak sandwich, pizza and, most importantly, the hospitality. She tells of a time when the owner knew the people so well, he would run a tab for families and made a practice of passing through the restaurant to make sure everyone was happy and enjoying their meals.

Tic Toc Newspaper Ad

The restaurant changed hands several times over the years and even changed locations, moving a few doors down the street. When up for sale again in 2016, the history and traditions of the place, including the original name, were a big selling point.

The name itself is a bit of a mystery. No one seems to know how The Tic Toc became The Tic Toc.

dedication

Even the new owner/operator isn’t sure where the name originated, but he knew he wanted to revive the legacy and atmosphere of the original. Let me introduce you to Victor Martinez.

Tic Toc with Victor

Martinez and a silent partner worked together in 2016 to bring back the authentic Italian dining venue. Victor strives to emulate the original owner, Rudy Fraulini. Modern times don’t allow a restauranteur to “run a tab” for customers, but Victor has learned how to give his customers a terrific experience.

Immigrating from Mexico when he was 19, Victor found a home in Seattle and in the restaurant business. He didn’t just complete the jobs he was given, he created a well-rounded knowledge base and made some pretty impressive friends along the way.

One of the friends that he mentions with particular affection is World Association of Chefs’ Societies Global Master Chef, Rino Baglio. Martinez had worked for, and trained under, Chef Baglio for many years in Washington and recruited his help in opening the restaurant and building the menu. The other, Joe Vilardi, gets the credit for “polishing” Victor when it comes to hospitality, service and consistency. These names were not familiar to me before meeting Victor but a little time with Google and the results show two very impressive, talented and successful mentors.

respect

Creating an authentic and delicious Italian menu for his restaurant was critical for the success of his restaurant, but Victor also knew the way to build a happy clientele was consistency. He respects his customers, knows they have other options and doesn’t take that for granted.

One of the first things Marty and I noticed on our very visit was how clean everything was: water glasses, silverware, tables, menus, etc. When I complimented Victor on this, he smiled like the proud parent of a newborn. Seriously, he did. This is something he emphasizes to all his employees. The way you perform your job shows that you have respect for yourself and the work you are doing.

Another element of respect for Victor? Hospitality. He wants his customers to feel like family. He greets as many people at the door as possible, will call returning customers by name and checks with each table to be sure they’re happy with their food and their service. If they aren’t? He will do whatever he can to ensure that meal at The New Tic Toc will not be their last.

Toc Toc Tables

 

quality

The meat and vegetables are fresh, not frozen. The bread, sauces, balsamic vinaigrette, soups and desserts are homemade. And you can taste it …

Tic Toc Sampler Appetizer

 

Tic Toc Gnocci

Tic Toc Fillet

an iowa italian restaurant experience

If I have convinced you to find your way to this gem in Boone, and I certainly hope I have, here are a few suggestions to fully enjoy your experience:

  1. Ask questions. If you don’t know what something on the menu is, ask. On our first visit to The New Tic Toc, the waitress told us that one of the soups was Cream of Lettuce. I had never heard of such a thing but after her explanation, I had one of the best cups of soup ever.Tic Toc Soup
  2. Order soup. It doesn’t matter what kind they are serving. Order one or both!
  3. Eat in courses, sharing plates with someone so you can try more. Tic Toc Budino
  4. Don’t skip dessert … especially if the Budino is on the menu: apple and golden raisin bread pudding with a bourbon-caramel sauce and vanilla gelato.
  5. Follow them on Facebook for notices on specials, menu changes and special dinners!

fifty years later

As the photo of the advertisement at the top of this post says,

“THE TIC – TOC IS THE PLACE TO ENJOY AN EVENING OF TOTAL RELAXATION AND PLEASURE.”

True in 1965 and true now. Thanks, Victor, for bringing this place full circle.

Oh, and if you happen to know how The Tic Toc got its name, please share that story with the rest of us. Maybe over a slice of pizza?

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Want to read more about our foodventures in Italy? Here are the links:

Foodventurous: Olive Oil in Lazio
Foodventurous: Rome

Foodventurous: Miami

September is not the month this Iowa girl would pick for a trip to Miami.  Cooler temps and turning leaves typically have me pulling out flannel shirts and making chili and molasses cookies. However, when an opportunity to spend a few days in southern Florida presented itself, I pulled out my swimsuit and sunscreen and started planning a foodventure. Continue reading “Foodventurous: Miami”

Foodventurous: Olive Oil in Lazio

Which travel personality are you? Are you the laid-back, we’ll-figure-it-out-as-we-go type? Or are you like me … Type A, FOMO (fear-of-missing-out), Google-obsessed planner? You can imagine then that a trip to Rome as the master-planner for 6 people might send me into overdrive. It did. Prioritization became a must … “everyone pick ONE thing you REALLY want to see/do.” Thanks to my relentless Google/Pinterest/travel guide browsing, I knew that we would be in Italy during the heart of the olive harvest and I wanted to see it. Continue reading “Foodventurous: Olive Oil in Lazio”

Foodventurous: Rome

Just how exactly does one put Rome into words?

Even if I narrow it down to “food in Rome”, it is still an overwhelming task.

Having just returned from a week in Italy and placing a magnificent check-mark next to one of my upper-tier bucket list items, I find myself trying to pick just the perfect pictures and words to do it justice. The story could be told chronologically, or by food type, or even through recommendations and reviews. But it has to be so much more than just a retelling of what we did … it needs to be a collection of food related experiences and lessons. I have more than enough material because I took advantage of every opportunity to ask questions, sample the unfamiliar, and learn from “mistakes” made along the way.

The first thing you need to know is my new favorite word: Mangia!

It means, “Let’s Eat!”   Continue reading “Foodventurous: Rome”

Farm Crawl 2017

Farm Crawl 2017

Whether you consider it a “crawl” from farm to farm because of all the gravel roads and traffic, or a “crawl” because that’s all you can do at the end of the tour, it doesn’t matter. A beautiful fall day spent touring farms showcasing Iowa agriculture, arts, people and food is a good day. Continue reading “Farm Crawl 2017”