One of my favorite things to do when I am out and about is stop at small town cafes. They are often the lifeblood of the community and the food is always authentic.
Earlier this week, I made a trip to Anita, which is located in Cass County in Southwest Iowa. Anita is home to CAM High School and that was the location of a re-certification clinic for Iowa High School Speech Association (IHSSA) judges. I've been a judge since 2005 and every three years, we have to attend a re-certification clinic.
My meeting started at 7pm, but I got to Anita around 6. With an hour to kill and no established plan to find a meal, I drove around town looking for somewhere to have a quick bite to eat.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the whole downtown area lined with cars and trucks. I saw several shops that, given more time, I would have loved to look through. (A future adventure, no doubt!) However, one particular cafe really caught my eye - the Weather Vane Cafe.
I found a place to park and as I walked in the door - my suspicions were proven true. This was exactly what I hoped it would be.
This is the kind of place where the locals gather for coffee in the morning, where the world's problems are solved, where harvest yields are embellished, and where rumors are started or continued. This is the kind of place that is the heart of rural Iowa communities.
A couple of very friendly women were working in the kitchen and as servers and an elderly couple was finishing dinner as I sat down.
The decor was an eclectic mix of barnyard/country with a modest splash of patriotism. There was a lot of interesting art work on the walls, the tables were all unique, and there were great wooden booths. In a couple of different spots, there were hand made items (knitted garments, etc) for sale.
I had not planned on having a heavy dinner but when they tell you that the daily special is a hot beef sandwich, with corn, and a salad bar - it's hard to say no. The salad bar was exactly what you might expect from a small town cafe - nothing elaborate but everything was fresh.
The beef was certainly tender, the potatoes were real, the gravy had to be homemade, and the corn was buttery. Literally, nothing about this place - from the servers and atmosphere to the food or the prices - could be considered phony.
They do have a larger menu (including Friday night prime rib!) but I decided to just stick to what I assumed they did extraordinarily well - their daily down home specials.
As I was paying my bill, I asked my server if they are always open in the evenings. She noted that they are usually a breakfast and lunch establishment - but open in the fall during harvest. In Iowa during the fall harvest months, farmers do not have time to stop for food. They rely on family members or spouses or neighbors to bring them their nourishment so the combines and tractors can keep rolling. That's why these kinds of places are great for providing carry out options. In the brief time I was there, at least two different people came in to pick up carry out orders.
I know there are a couple of others options in the Anita area to grab a bite to eat (including, apparently, a notable steakhouse). Maybe the next time through Anita, I'll stop elsewhere. However, I wouldn't at all be disappointed to come back to the Weather Vane. It's definitely a place pointed in the right direction!