Ben Halperin, Jeri Halperin, and Nathan Ruble have brought the culinary magic of New Orleans to Augusta Restaurant in Oxford, Iowa. August won in two categories this year: Best Affordable Meals and Most Kid Friendly. (photo by Lin Mullenneaux)
Source readers, we’re so proud of you! Not only did you vote in record numbers in the 5th Annual Regional Restaurant Contest, but you also sent us plenty of heartfelt and mouth-watering stories of dining out in Iowa. Read on to see who you picked for the top honors in each contest category, then go Unforgettable Meals to find out what our readers cooked up for you.
BEST SUNDAY BRUNCH
Fairfield (641) 472-0856
Our voters have spoken: Café Paradiso in Fairfield is their favorite spot for Sunday brunch. Readers love the café for its “hearty and wholesome pancakes and potatoes, plus the best lattes for miles around” as well as their “amazing omelets.”
For some, brunch at Paradiso is the only way to spend the weekend. Said one happy customer, “I travel a lot and an Iowa weekend isn’t complete—and I can’t travel on—until I’ve lazed about at Paradiso for brunch.” There seems to be only one downside to eating brunch at Café Paradiso: “It’s so popular that it can be hard to get a table!” Better hurry up and get there early.
• “When I’m at Café Paradiso I don’t feel like I’m in Iowa, in fact, not even in the Midwest of the United States of America.”
• “Best place for Sunday coffee, brunch with friends.”
• “Great food, best coffee, great company.”
It turns out that there are a lot of great places to have brunch in eastern Iowa. Among them is Washington’s Café Dodici, with its eggs benedict and blueberry French toast. One voter raved, “Everything is always delicious and eye appealing.” Readers also love stopping by Oxford’s Augusta Restaurant for “a big old plate of YUM.” They love the crab cakes benedict, homemade sausage, French toast, biscuits and gravy, and more, all served by friendly staff and made from scratch with a New Orleans flair.
If you are looking for a French take on the traditional brunch, stop in at Petit Paris in Fairfield and enjoy their “wonderful crepes and chicory au lait” in a “delightful atmosphere.” Or you can enjoy a “superb assortment of wonderfully fixed food” at Devotay, or “great hash browns and pancakes” at Hamburg Inn 2, both in Iowa City.
BEST AFFORDABLE MEALS
Oxford (319) 828-2252
Last year, when Augusta was barely a month old, the fledgling restaurant scored enough votes to become a finalist in two categories. In 2009, their loyal customers catapulted them to the top of two lists (they also won Mostly Kid Friendly).
How did New Orleans residents Jeri and Ben Halperin end up in Oxford, Iowa? In two words, Hurricane Katrina (read the whole story on page 13). With a cajun-influenced menu, generous portions of made-from-scratch food, and shockingly modest prices, Augusta Restaurant is cherished by local residents as much as farflung fans.
• “Plate is overflowing with food, every bite is delicious, very affordable.”
• “Great home-cooked food, all made from scratch, that is easy on the wallet.”
• “Hard to believe you can get this kind of freshly prepared foods at their menu prices. Very affordable, even for a family.”
• “Best Pork Tenderloin in Iowa—need I say more?”
Asian Deli in Fairfield won many votes for its selection of healthy and tasty entrees, all of which are moderately priced. At Café Dodici the lunchtime pasta, soup, and salad are so well priced “they practically give them away.” Iowa City’s Hamburg Inn, home to exceptional and cheap diner food, appeals to both “the CEO and the person making ends meet” because “the food is always tasty.” At Oasis Falafel in Iowa City, the savvy diner can get “quick ethnic food for a great price,” including the “best hummus and falafel around.” And the Thai food at Fairfield’s Noodle House is“delicious, satisfying, local when possible, and non-GMO.”
BEST ETHNIC FOOD
Washington (319) 653-4012
When it comes to international cuisine, Café Dodici is a clear winner. Readers love the “blend of ingredients from all over the world” that they find on Café Dodici’s menu. From the stuffed cannelloni to crostini topped with black olive tapenade and mozarella, to the coffee-soaked tiramisu, Dodici excels at “exceptional food that tastes just like I’m in Italy.”
Other restaurants that our readers love when they want to travel the world from a restaurant chair are Gupta Vegetarian in Fairfield, where the food is “just like in India,” and Petit Paris, also in Fairfield, where everything from the chefs to the food is authentically French. As one vote said, “Where else can you find France in a small town rural Iowa?” In Iowa City people love the “awesome food” and lunchtime buffet at Masala Indian Vegetarian. And if all the Mardi Gras celebrations have made you crave some New Orleans cuisine, look no further than Augusta Restaurant in Oxford for the “best Cajun meal in the corridor.” Wondering where to find real-deal Middle Eastern cuisine in Iowa? Head to Oasis Falafel in Iowa City for food that is “as good as Afula—the falafel capital of Israel.”
BEST LOCAL FOOD
Fairfield (641) 472-6733
Nothing is tastier or fresher than food grown locally, especially when it’s used in a green salad or on a wood-fired pizza at local Fairfield hot spot, Revelations. Our readers praised the “incredible soups, pizzas, and paninis” as well as the “scones and other pastries” which are “always delicious, often local organic.” Oh yeah, and did we mention how much readers “love the local veggie pizzas”? Apparently they’re “AMAZING!”
• “I’ve never eaten anything I didn’t like at Revelations.”
• “Nice owners and staff, good lunches, good lattes.”
• “Love the atmosphere, owners, and local food.”
Revelations isn’t the only restaurant supporting local growers to the benefit of their customers’ taste buds. Owners Lorraine Williams and Alessandro Scipioni of Café Dodici in Washington are “big supporters of the farmers’ market each week.” Readers praised them for offering local farm-fresh eggs and milk. At Augusta Restaurant in Oxford “they use as much locally grown and raised as possible and make their own dressings, sweet potato chips, mayonnaise, etc.” And no discussion of local food would be complete without a mention of Devotay, where owner and author of Slow Food in the Heartland, Kurt Michael Friese, “started the slow food movement in Iowa City.” Readers praised Red Avocado for its “great atmosphere and commitment to local growers.” And some lamented the recent closing of Small Planet in Fairfield: “RIP,” and “Everything I eat there feels fresh and healthy.” At Iowa City’s Motley Cow Cafe, our voters loved its always-changing menu because it reflects the freshest in-season ingredients. “With a focus on providing local items, you never know what the menu will contain . . . but you do know that it will always be good.”
And finally, in what is probably the first time a university cafeteria has ever won an award in a restaurant contest, readers applauded the MUM Dining Hall, also in Fairfield, for growing as much of their own produce as possible in their own greenhouse.
BEST FOR A DINNER DATE
Fairfield (641) 472-2766
Looking for a place where you can get cozy with a loved one, a nice glass of wine, and impeccable food? Our readers voted Vivo as the top spot for dinner dates. “Elegant atmosphere and incredible ingredients = a great date,” one voter said. The “wonderful food,” including the popular Ahi Tuna Sashimi appetizer, cedar plank salmon with chipotle cinnamon butter, and the crème brulee trio for dessert (“to die for!”), and the refined ambience make Vivo a no-brainer when deciding where to romance your special lady or gentleman.
• “Nice and quiet place to wine and dine.”
• “Elegant, top-cabin dining.”
Other wooing readers recommended Café Dodici, noted for its “private, romantic, impressive atmosphere.” “Ask for the little round table,” one person suggested. Next best place for a dinner date? Augusta, in Oxford, which was called a “sweet, romantic spot to take that special someone.” Come dessert time, “Share chocolate beignets there and that’s love!” Also noted for its intimate atmosphere was Linn Street Café in Iowa City. The “white tablecloths, candles, and elegant food” create a magical setting for a special night out. One reader shared, “Our New Year’s Eve/32-year wedding anniversary was SO incredible!”
MOST KID FRIENDLY
Oxford (319) 828-2252
“The owners seem to love kids and are very attentive to them,” said one voter of the Augusta. When the whole family shows up for a meal, owner Jeri Halperin brings games, toys, and crayons to the table. And while Augusta’s spicy cajun dishes are strictly adult fare, the menu’s four kids’ classics keep the little ones happy, too.
• “Kid friendly menu and atmosphere. A nice way to relax with the family.”
• “Kids will love the crayons and games they give them to play with while Mom and Dad enjoy a great meal.”
At Revelations Cafe and Bookstore, parents love the “reading room of children’s books, with tables to eat your lunch.” And even though Café Dodici’s elegant decor and sophisticated menu might lead you to think otherwise, “all ages are welcome” at Washington’s beloved eatery.
Fast food joints are not exactly our idea of restaurants here at the Source, but many voters picked McDonalds and Pizza Ranch as “totally kid friendly.”
Fairfield (641) 472-0856
Once again, Fairfield’s Café Paradiso takes the cake—I mean, the cappuccino—when it comes to doing coffee right. Readers raved about Steve and Meret Giacomini’s “undoubtedly, unquestionably, impossibly brilliant espresso,” calling it the best in the Midwest, the country, even the planet! One voter mused about the “passionate preparers behind the counter, paper table covers & crayons for those times when one can linger while sipping,” and called being at Paradiso “a self-perpetuating experience in a timeless dimension of its own.”
• “Hands down the best latte I have ever had . . . and I’ve had a lot. The milk used is incredible, and the technique is spot on.”
• “Steve has pretty much spoiled me to all other coffee. Sometimes that’s frustrating when I’m out of town.”
• “Aromatic elixir.”
Our voters lauded Java House in Iowa City for its “best brewed coffee” and “best people watching.” One reader praised its “great atmosphere for a great cup of coffee and a book.” At Café Dodici in Washington, “the Crème Brulee Latte is the best.” . Other readers liked Dodici’s “homemade scones,” “great selection,” and “interesting people.” Fairfield’s favorite bookstore/café Revelations won praise by coffee drinkers as well. It’s “where everybody knows your name,” one reader remarked. Another said, “Great atmosphere, and the turtle mocha is delicious!”
BEST OVERALL DINING
Washington (319) 653-4012
For an exceptional all-around dining experience, no restaurant beats Café Dodici, where “great service, tasty food, and creative presentations” reign. One reader described Dodici as “a truly unique restaurant—delicious, attentive, and comfortable,” and another praised it as “the perfect place to celebrate an anniversary, milestone birthday, graduation, or any other major life event—or just to celebrate life!” From the innovative chefs’ creations like Pesto-encrusted Swordfish and Key Lime Cheesecake, to the waitresses that “are the best anywhere,” Dodici has our readers wrapped around its little olive oil-drizzled finger.
• “Always awesome food, wonderful service, and great ambiance.”
• “The food is fantastic, the atmosphere rivals New York City restaurants.”
• “Amazingly talented chef, highly involved owners. I admire them for bringing upscale restaurant quality and style to a rural town.”
• “Cafe Dodici is the gold standard by which other restaurants should be measured within Iowa.”
In a close second place was Vivo, which boasts the “best sashimi this side of Tokyo and great drinks to boot.” Many of our readers loved the prompt and professional service, the “great quality food,” and the unique atmosphere. Also in the top three was Augusta, which one voter likened to “a little piece of heaven on earth . . . my taste buds water all day just thinking about it!” In this “restored old building with fabulous ambiance,” “the warmth just flows.” The outstanding food and service make Augusta “a gem of a place in our hometown.”
Another honorable mention was Fairfield’s Petit Paris. One reader mused, “Authentic French cuisine made with organic and/or local ingredients; wines hand-picked by the owner from wonderful small French wineries; attentive but not overbearing service; and a surprisingly modest tab at the end—what’s not to love?”
In Iowa City, diners raved about Linn Street Cafe’s eclectic culinary offerings: “We’ve dined here on a variety of occasions. Each experience was EXCELLENT in every aspect!” At Devotay, also in Iowa City, their arty ambience and consistently top-notch dishes drew such comments as “They have it all” and “They’re the best. Period."
Thanks to all of you who voted and made our 5th Regional Restaurant Contest such a success! And congratulations to this year’s drawing winners:
• 2 tickets to Raising Medusa at Riverside Theatre, Iowa City
• $50 gift certificate toward the performance of your choice at the Englert Theatre
• $25 gift certificate from Everybody’s Whole Foods in Fairfield
• 2 $25 gift certificates from New Pioneer in Iowa City/Coralville
Joseph Lyons and Susan Korsgaden
• 2 tickets for Capture the Magic at the Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts, Fairfield
See what our readers chose as the Best Iowa Restaurants 2008.