Local flavor, whether at a diner or farm-to-table restaurant, is a big part of every trip we take. On my recent press trip to Council Bluffs, Iowa, our travel group ate at several locally-owned restaurants and bakeries. All of these Council Bluffs restaurants were winners.
Named for the local area code, 712 Eat + Drink uses as many locally-grown ingredients as are available. My Fig & Ham Flatbread combined pork belly, prosciutto, fig jam, fontina cheese, baby arugula, and a balsamic glaze for a perfect sweet-smoky-salty combination. The restaurant offers 23 craft beers on tap, but I opted for a Lemon Berry Acai craft soda, a nice complement to the flatbread.
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At the Mad Ox Bakery, I couldn’t resist ordering a chocolate croissant. The buttery pastry, filled with bittersweet chocolate, was the largest croissant I’ve ever eaten—and I finished every last crumb. Other delectable treats that the bakery offers include cupcakes, gourmet donuts, and bar cookies like Raspberry Macadamia and Pumpkin. They also serve a different signature sandwich each day of the week.
The bakery is decorated in a super-hero theme. You’ll even find a magazine rack filled with comic books that you can read while enjoying your breakfast treat. Oh, and the name Mad Ox? It’s derived from the owners’ surname Mattox. How fun is that?
After serving ice cream and sandwiches from a walk-up window for fifteen years, Steve and Kathy Tisher opened the full-service Tish’s Restaurant in 1995. The menu varies from a simple steak sandwich to entrees like Seared Asian Ginger Chicken and Barramundi Sea Bass. I chose the Signature Fettuccine topped with extra virgin olive oil and added sautéed shrimp to it. I couldn’t pass up the Double Fudge cake for dessert.
When the wait staff at Nicola and John Shartrand’s restaurant in Omaha told Nicola that many customers asked about gluten-free foods, she began working on gluten-free recipes. Then the Council Bluff’s mayor convinced Nicola to open a business in Council Bluffs. She and John opened Stay Sweet, Nicola’s bakery in an 1874 building. A lot of the bakery’s business is special order or wholesale. However, there are plenty of treats, many gluten-free, for walk-in customers. The Big Gigi Egg Casserole is a full meal. I had a breakfast cookie, a sweet treat with banana, raisins, and several different kinds of seeds, a meal in itself.
Nicola treated us to a taste of her signature Italian Lemon Cream Cake, which she developed when she read that Martha Stewart said that every restaurant needs to serve something lemony. She serves the cake at both her Omaha restaurant and in the bakery. It took Nicola six months to develop the cake, which was voted best dessert in Omaha.
Barley’s is a good choice for pub food. Its varied menu includes everything from burgers and other sandwiches to pizza and salads. I ordered the Trifecta Thursday special, fresh-cut, breaded tenderloin sandwich, tater tots, and iced tea. My sandwich was larger than I could eat. In fact, seeing what the others in our group ordered, all meal portions are huge.
Several members of our group participated in the Taco Ride. An area tradition, on Thursday nights bicyclists ride the Wabash Trace Nature Trail to Toby Jack’s in Mineola, Iowa. Those of us who didn’t ride met our group’s bicyclists at the restaurant. The casual restaurant’s menu includes sandwiches, steaks, a salad bar, and more. I went with the Thursday taco tradition, but my tacos—pulled pork tacos—weren’t traditional at all. The smoky pulled pork was complemented with undressed coleslaw—that’s coleslaw with no dressing, so you get the crunch without the mayo. I also ordered a blueberry margarita because it’s something different, and I love blueberries. I was not disappointed; it definitely had a pronounced blueberry flavor.
When you walk into a café and see old men gathered for breakfast and police officers on their morning break, you know the food and coffee is good. Pancakes are plate-size; a hash brown order is a full pound. And the warm pecan roll? Delectable!
Bella’s Bakery & Café wasn’t technically part of our press trip. However, those of us who arrived in Council Bluffs early were treated to lunch here. Part of the Ameristar complex, connected with a walkway to the hotel where we were staying, the restaurant most likely isn’t locally-owned. However, it was a good lunch choice. Some of our group ordered breakfast dishes like the Farmer’s Skillet: eggs scrambled with cheese and veggies, atop hash browns. My Baja Shrimp Salad (seasoned shrimp, lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, corn, avocado, and cilantro vinaigrette) was refreshing. Bella’s offers “taster” portions (approximately half size) of some dishes for those with smaller appetites.
What are your favorite Council Bluffs restaurants?
What are your favorite Council Bluffs restaurants? Tell us in the Comments section below.
Wondering where to stay on your Council Bluffs visit? We stayed at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Council Bluffs-I-29. There is a walkway from the hotel to the Ameristar Casino. Check rates and reviews on TripAdvisor
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