(Editor’s note: Check with the establishments on updated hours/closures when planning your trip.)
By Eden Ehm
Stretching across east-central Iowa, the Grant Wood Scenic Byway (GWSB) is named for the region’s ties to Grant Wood and art culture. The byway corridor is where Grant Wood grew up, went to school, led his Art Colony, gathered inspiration and subjects for his paintings, and is buried. But the artistic resources of the GWSB include much more.
Traveling the 80 miles of the GWSB, one will find local art on display, live music, poetry, delicious culinary arts, local foods, and many other creative resources. Along the byway are several restaurants with ties to history and art that serve unique cuisine and local ingredients and drinks. The ties to the past range from a 100-plus-year-old family business to historic buildings, and art ties include live music, art on display, and ties to art culture.
Starting on the west end of the GWSB in Stone City is the Stone City General Store and Pub. Located in the heart of town, this historic building was built of locally quarried limestone in 1897. The building served as a general store and post office before being turned into the popular restaurant. You might recognize the building from Grant Wood’s 1930 painting “Stone City.” The Stone City Pub has earned its popularity through great food and a fun ambiance. Burgers are the most popular menu item, with many unique topping combinations to choose from, and the option to make any burger an “American Gothic” by doubling the patty and toppings. As their menu says, “you may need a pitchfork!”
Further East in Maquoketa is the Decker Hotel. Originally known as the Decker House, the building was commissioned by New York transplant Mr. James Decker and designed and built by a New York architect in 1875. The hotel has the Decker Hotel Restaurant on the main level and The Buffalo Room bar on the lower level. The Restaurant has a traditional menu with soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, and steaks for lunch and dinner and is famous for their Sunday Brunch. The Buffalo Room was added after World War II by hotel owner Jack Decker Wherry after he returned from the navy. It was run as a key club with prospective visitors required to pay a $1 membership fee to join the Maquoketa Sports Car Club. Today, it is a casual lounge where one can order off the menu of the Restaurant and enjoy beer and cocktails.
On the east end of the GWSB in Bellevue, overlooking the Mississippi River and Potter’s Creek is Flatted Fifth Blues and BBQ at Potter’s Mill. This restored grist mill, known locally as “Potter’s Mill” after original owner and local businessman E.G. Potter, was built in 1843 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside, it still feels like the inside of the old mill with stone walls, exposed beams, and equipment still in place or on display. If the location isn’t unique enough, the menu is! The jazz and southern food of Bourbon Street meet the blues and BBQ of Beale Street inside Flatted Fifth. The menu features southern-style food that is rare in the Midwest. Inside on the stage, or outside in the yard, live music, especially blues and jazz are heard most nights. Flatted Fifth lives up to its slogans “Grinding out the Blues” and “Bourbon, Beale, Bellevue.”
The Grant Wood Scenic Byway is a special place where the region’s historic buildings, talented artists and musicians, and local culture merge, resulting in a unique blend of flavors awaiting those who visit. It is a scenic byway, so driving to the local eateries is an experience upon itself! For more information on traveling the GWSB, please visit www.iowabyways.org.
Find this article in the July 2017 edition of City Revealed magazine and discover more about Iowa’s Scenic Byways, below: