An Eastern Iowa economy food tour

Whoopie Pie

Mocha and pumpkin whoopie pies from Stringtown Grocery

This past busy month, as it turned out, my husband and I got takeout and ate out a lot, so holding down costs was helpful. Here are a few thrifty food finds I thought were worth sharing.

Chinese Express, Edgewood Hy-Vee, Cedar Rapids

After an evening meeting at the Cedar Rapids Edgewood Hy-Vee store, I picked up a few groceries and a two-entrée takeout meal from the Chinese Express counter. After the 45-minute drive home, the chicken (lemon or orange or sesame, I can’t remember which) and beef lo mein were still amazingly delicious, especially for late evening hot-table food. I highly recommend.

Bread Garden Market hot bar, Iowa City

The Bread Garden Market in downtown Iowa City is my new favorite economy dining spot. Their Web site says their hot bar is restaurant quality, and it’s the truth. On recent visits I’ve had the mac and cheese, chicken Marsala, barbecued ribs, garlic mashed potatoes, potato and sausage soup, and bread pudding, and all have been the best anywhere. You can load up your tray (priced by weight of food), get a glass of wine or a beer or soda, and have a leisurely dinner on the enclosed heated porch that looks out on the ped mall and public library. A casual high-quality dinner for two for around $30 doesn’t get any better than this.

Café Dodici, Washington

My favorite dish at the quirky and elegant Café Dodici in Washington, Iowa, is the chicken or eggplant parmesan (about $16). But we were penny-pinching, so I chose the pasta carbonara, made with delicious homemade fettuccini and free-range cottage bacon (a shoulder cut, lean and really good) for about $12. One of the evening’s features was, of all things, red wine-marinated kangaroo medallions with pasta. I wasn’t adventurous enough to order it, but they were kind enough to let me sample the meat. It tasted like I would expect kangaroo to taste, a little wild and somewhere between chicken and beef in texture.

Zin’s, Cedar Rapids

A couple of girlfriends and I had dinner at a new restaurant, Zin’s, before going to the theater in Cedar Rapids. Zin’s is just around the corner from the US Cellular Center. They specialize in “small plate creations,” which on the regular menu are priced at $5 to $13 each. Their pre-theater menu, guaranteed to get you to the show on time, consisted of a choice of three small but generous plates for $16. I had the truffled pommes frites (French fries, actually), lobster risotto, and cheesesteak pizza. All were very good and nicely presented, and the surroundings and service were exceptional. My friends gave me tastes of their Caesar salad and pot roast. The pot roast tasted like Mom’s Sunday dinner, and the salad was good and fresh. Highly recommend.

Amish baked goods, Kalona

Golden Delight is an Amish-run bakery on Johnson-Washington County Road just east of Highway 1. Their cinnamon rolls are yeasty and delicious and have just eight ingredients. Six large rolls are $3.50. The whoopie pies at Stringtown Grocery looked so good I had to buy two; a pumpkin and a mocha. Stringtown sells Golden Delight baked goods as well as some made by local women. It’s located just east of the Kalona Cheese Factory on Highway 1.

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