Eating Iowa

By John Tuccillo.

It’s midday and I’m hungry. What to eat? Maybe pasta salad from Pastafari or a slice of raspberry-peach pie and a lemonade slush, or Mr. Pork Chop. I can’t decide! The breakfast burrito from Farm Boys is still rattling around in my belly, but I have to eat. So many choices!

No, I’m not in a food court or downtown among a bunch of restaurants. I’m on my bicycle on a state highway in Iowa in the middle of a seven-day bike ride with 20,000 of my closest friends.

RAGBRAI, The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, began in 1973 and this year’s ride was number XXXVII (Take that, NFL). RAGBRAI runs every July from west to east across the state and lasts seven days covering 400-500 miles.

You burn lot of calories riding and you have to eat and drink enough to keep you going. RAGBRAI makes a pleasure out of necessity. Each town you pass through rolls out the red carpet. Church groups prepare chicken and noodles and baked berry pies; boy scouts serve bacon, eggs and French toast for breakfast; Lions clubs offer sweet corn. Volunteer fire departments grill pork tenderloins for sandwiches, great Iowa pork, pounded flat and then grilled, overflowing the bun on which it’s served. It’s terrific!

But that’s not all. Commercial vendors set up outside the towns. Strategically placed so that riders would reach them when they were hungry, the vendors offer a wide variety of really good food. Breakfast is either Mama Raphael’s (a buffet offering breakfast burritos and more traditional items like pancakes) or Farm Boys Breakfast Burrito. Farm Boys is by far the people’s choice. Getting one of these terrific concoctions of scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, potatoes, salsa and jalepenos wrapped in a tortilla, required standing in line for about 20-30 minutes. An inconvenience, but well worth it.

Lunch can be Pastafari or Mr. Pork Chop. While both are equally popular, and required another long wait, I give the nod to Mr. Pork Chop. His distinctive pink bus is visible miles away and the smell of grilling pork chops pulls you to him like a moth to a flame. He cooks his meat over fires made of corn cobs, injecting two-inch thick chops with butter to keep them juicy. The chop has a minimal amount of bone and is served wrapped in a paper towel. It is the best pork chop I’ve ever had. After eating it you can do nothing but savor the experience lying in the grass under a warm Iowa sun with a gentle breeze passing over you. But that’s OK, isn’t it?

Later in the afternoon, to perk up your energy, you can stop for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of milk, just like at mom’s. I’m not sure, but I think this bike ride is just a pretext for guilt-free eating!


Flavors and More Magazine – September 2009

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