Book Review: ‘Iowa Supper Clubs’ by Megan Bannister

'Iowa Supper Clubs'

Megan Bannister -- The History Press

One never knows when the inspiration for an unforgettable road trip might happen. But you will most likely experience many of those unignorable “let’s go right now” moments that will get you to hit the road while you read Iowa Supper Clubs, released in August from The History Press. Megan Bannister adds the historical flavor to these iconic Midwest restaurants with her debut book—and the mighty portion of nostalgia that’s served up from this classic dining concept is very much the featured special page after page.

The Cedar Rapids area is blessed with The Lighthouse Inn and the Ced-Rel, but as you will learn from Bannister’s writings, there were once many more supper clubs all over Iowa, including within the Eastern Iowa area. Even though times have changed, the ones that have remained are keeping the tradition alive.

One of the most useful sections of Iowa Supper Clubs is the appendix where Bannister details some very useful tips for enjoying your experience at your first and several future visits. She defines highballs, grasshoppers, pink squirrels and many of the other cocktails you saw in those grainy home videos from decades ago, as well as classic cuts of steak and the fresh relish trays that you’ll wish were at every meal.

Throughout the book, Bannister’s enticing photographs illustrate many more classic supper club creations, such as the all-American favorite onion rings, legendary barbecue ribs, seafood nights and some local twists that you can only find at these Iowa institutions.

Bannister makes you crave the open road as much as you’ll crave the food she describes. Reading Iowa Supper Clubs, you begin to dream about a trip to the Dubuque area just so you can say you’ve eaten at Iowa’s oldest restaurant in Balltown. Or you’ll want to trek to Mason City for Greek spaghetti. Never craved braunschweiger? You just might when you get into the meat of this book — and I can tell you that I’ve taken a break from my routine for sillier reasons!

Bannister doesn’t hold back on the historical element of the book. Each supper club, whether it’s bygone or still operating, has its own story, and she blends in tales from the locals that will make you want to mix a Manhattan and wonder why you haven’t sought out each and every one of these clubs yet. You now have an excellent motivation to do so with this new book as your historical guide. Just be careful — you may not want to say, “Jesse James sent me.” Or maybe you should! Pick up your own copy of Iowa Supper Clubs to see where that line might work out for you.

As for me, I could really go for a hunk of prime rib and a side of pickled herring right now.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 287.

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