Bonaparte Retreat: Dining in an Old Grist Mill

I knew we were in for a great lunch at the Bonaparte Retreat based on our morning visits to the Milton Creamery and Dutchman’s Store. I couldn’t have been more right.

This is the third in a series of five posts about the Villages of Van Buren, twelve small towns in Southeast Iowa’s Van Buren County. You won’t find a stop light or a fast food chain anywhere in the county. Rather, small shops and independent restaurants take center stage.

Bonaparte Retreat ambiance

Bonaparte Retreat is housed in an 1878 grist mill on the Des Moines River in Bonaparte, Iowa, the smallest Main Street Community in the United States. The building, placed on the National Historic Register in 1983, maintains the rustic charm of yesteryear with exposed beams, wood floor, two-foot-thick brick walls and lots of antiques. The mill’s water wheel, visible through the back windows, and the river view beyond add that much more to the ambiance.

Bonaparte RetreatBonaparte Retreat water wheelBonaparte Retreat interiorwater wheel from inside Bonaparte RetreatDes Moines River

Bonaparte Retreat meal

Bonaparte Retreat is known for steak dinners, but lunch is more casual fare of sandwiches, salads, Blue Plate Specials and homemade pie. In fact, we had word that we should order our pie with our meal to ensure they don’t run out. As it was, they had only one pie left, so we ordered the entire pie, just enough for our group.

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The Blue Plate Specials on the day we visited were creamed chicken over biscuits and oriental pork with rice. Since I knew we’d be eating quite a bit on this trip, I chose the lighter of the two, the oriental pork. Served with buttered peas and a choice of potato salad or cottage cheese, the meal was like eating at Grandma’s, fitting right into the rustic ambiance. The strawberry pie, made with strawberry gelatin, was a sweet finale to the home-style meal.

Bonaparte Retreat specialsBonaparte Retreat Blue Plate SpecialBonaparte Retreat Strawberry Pie

Bonaparte Retreat staff

Rose and Ben Hendricks opened Bonaparte Retreat in 1970. Ben recalls playing in the mill as a child and emerging covered in white flour. Rose is the one these days, though, more likely to be covered in flour, as she does all of the cooking.

During our meal we chatted with a couple delightful Bonaparte Retreat staff members. Our server, Elaine, started working at Bonaparte after she retired from another career. Marie, over 90 years old, has been working at Bonaparte’s Retreat for 30 years. It’s obvious that the Hendricks and the staff enjoy what they do, as it shows in both the meals they serve and in their customer service.

Elaine, Bonaparte Retreat staff member

Marie, Bonaparte Retreat

If you go

Bonaparte Retreat, located at 713 1st Street in Bonaparte, Iowa, is open for lunch seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and for dinner Monday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Check the web site for further details or to view the menus.

Disclosure: My visit to Bonaparte Retreat was hosted by the Iowa Tourism Office and the Villages of Van Buren, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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2 thoughts on “Bonaparte Retreat: Dining in an Old Grist Mill

  • November 25, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Great post! We loved our visit to Bonaparte’s Retreat earlier this year as well! Nearby Bentonsport is definitely worth a visit too the next time you’re in the area.

    • November 25, 2015 at 1:24 pm

      Thank you, Megan. We visited Bentonsport, too. I’m covering it in my next two posts.


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