When I told some different people that I was going to the original Rube's Steakhouse in Montour, I consistently received, after first telling me how jealous they were, two different responses.
First, I would hear, "That's a real experience". Alternatively, I would be told, "That's a destination in and of itself."
Turns out, they are both true.
Rube's is a true Iowa culinary destination and an experience every Iowan should enjoy at least once!
After a busy Sunday of stops in Polk, Story, Hardin, Marshall, Jasper, and Tama Counties, I was hungry and ready for my Rube's experience.
Where is Montour? It's in Tama County and not far from Tama and Toledo and the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel on Highway 30. It's about an hour drive from Des Moines but it's also centrally located between Ames, Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City. Marshalltown is about 15 minute drive.
Rube's has been around since 1973 but this was my first stop at the original. In recent years, they opened a second location off of I-80 in Dallas County near Waukee/Booneville. I have been to that location for an event, but I do not think I actually enjoyed a meal there.
So what makes Rube's so memorable?
Well, first and foremost, you pick out your own fresh meat (mostly beef, but they do offer some pork, chicken, and seafood as well) out of a counter and then you - yes you - grill your own meat on an enormous indoor charcoal grill.
I know what you might be thinking - half the fun of going out to eat is enjoying the fact that you do not have to prepare the food. Someone else does that for you and it is served to you.
However, at Rube's...the grill your own concept is what has made the place so incredibly popular and even world famous! It's been a stop for politicians and celebrities and they even have a map where you can pin your hometown to show just how far some people have traveled for this very unique experience.
On Sundays, they are open from 5pm to 8:30pm and I arrived just after 5pm. They have varying hours throughout the week with their biggest evenings clearly being Friday and Saturday.
I ate brunch earlier in the day but purposely did not eat anything the rest of the day to save room for what I expected to be a large dinner. Large was an understatement.
I was greeted by a host who sat me in the very tastefully adorned "Iowa Room" and I was met by a waiter, who asked me if it was my first time. I admitted that it certainly was my first time at this particular Rube's.
He took my drink order and then escorted me up to the meat counter where another guy was working. They have a menu of prices and on Sundays, they offer a sirloin special. I decided to go with that. It was $19.73 and it was advertised as "small" but I would still call it a pretty significant chunk of meat.
I had the guy behind the counter butterfly my steak so that it would cook more evenly. They also offer other items, noted as "skillets or skewers" that you can add to it, including such things as mushrooms or asparagus, etc. I chose to forgo those. They give your meat to you on a plate with a piece of butcher paper underneath.
Now that I had my chunk of sirloin, I decided to head over to the grill to get things started. Rube's has several of these large brick grills with oven hoods throughout the building. They are brick fortresses and since Sunday nights might be a bit slower, they only had one of them fired up. It was already very hot by the time the place opened to the public so I assume someone get's it started in the early to mid afternoon.
The great thing is, the grilling process can be very social. You can stand there with your party, have a drink from their full bar, and see what others are doing as they prepare their meals.
Each corner of the grill has several sets of tongs, a wide array of seasonings, and a container of melted butter.
I seasoned both sides of my steak and let the white hot coals work their magic.
Another family started to grill just after I did. As you notice, they had several pieces of meat. They were also grilling pieces of Texas toast. Near the grill was several bags of bread and the containers of butter had brushes to apply the butter. There were containers of garlic salt for those who want a bit more flavor.
After flipping it a few times, I was satisfied with how my steak was cooked.
I think I nailed the rare/medium rare that I was going for.
Your drinks are extra but included in the price of your steak/meat? Lots of other delicious sides.
For example, they have a pair of amazing potato offerings that are already cooked but are remaining warm near or on top of the grill. You can choose from either baked potatoes or a skillet potato with some onions and peppers mixed in.
Or, you can do both!
As much as I love baked potatoes, I went with the skillet option and they were amazing. I highly recommend.
Meat and potatoes? Sounds like a good meal just there in itself. But it gets better. They also include a full salad bar and a cauldron of sweet baked beans that were fantastic.
It's always good to eat your vegetables and so I did have a salad. All in all, my meal was quite extensive: a steak, skillet potatoes, side salad, baked beans, and two slices of grilled Texas toast. I even went back for seconds on the beans and skillet potatoes, though in hindsight, I think I was already too full.
Rube's makes and bottles their own steak sauce. I love steak sauce and am known to put it on more than just steak. They offer the big name sauces as well (A1, Heinz 57, etc) but I chose to go with the house made option.
My server brought out an entire platter full of different dessert options but I almost laughed at him when he offered me one (dessert not included in price). I was way too full. He departed before I could get a photo of the offering. You'll have to go there and see for yourself, I guess.
The actual restaurant is quite a large building with lots of dining/grilling rooms, at least one bar, and other space where they sell merchandise and even have fresh meat for sale. Additionally, you can buy other grilling products including sauces, charcoal, and seasonings.
You can order steaks to be shipped anywhere in the country. I am sure they would taste as good on your grill as they did on the big indoor grills, but maybe the experience would not be as cool?
If you are really ambitious, hungry, or slightly crazy, you can try your hand at the Belly Buster contest. I believe that requires you to down a 3lbs. steak. If you are successful, I think you get a photo on the wall. I see they also have t-shirts referring to the contest, too.
Rube's also has some other creative marketing elements and deals. They have a burger night and also have a large backdrop that can be used for photos.
Montour is a pretty small community - maybe 250 total residents. Without a doubt, having an iconic restaurant in town truly helps bring activity. The restaurant is in the main business part of town and it's pretty hard to miss. It appears that they even have a patio that can be utilized during nicer weather.
Before stopping in for my Rube's experience, I drove around town a bit.
They have a water tower on the south side of the community.
A nice, well kept city park is available for residents and visitors to enjoy.
I spotted a couple of businesses and commercial buildings.
This beautiful Victorian house was on the edge of town. Simply beautiful. They sure don't build them like they used to!
I can't stress it enough - Rube's is both a destination and experience. It's worth driving to. It's a great spot for an event, a date, a family outing, or a business meeting.
I am glad I finally got to the original. I would encourage you to check out their website and to read more about their business and history. I appreciate that they use beef from farmers within a distinct radius of the restaurant.
Check out the Facebook pages for Rube's Waukee, Rube's Montour, as well as their Rube's Meat Company. I am sure they post regular updates and you can figure out when it works best for you to make the adventure to Montour.
If the Iowa Adventurer were to ever have a seal of approval, I would stamp it on the door.