The Iowa Pork Producers Association gives out an annual award for the best pork tenderloin in the state. The Iowa Beef Industry Council awards a best burger and the Iowa Egg Council highlights an outstanding omelet. These are highly sought after awards and can really put your restaurant on the map. Someone at Iowa Pork was even clever enough to create the idea of the "Iowa Tenderloin Trail" and have a passport that can get stamped at the participating winning locations.
On the Saturday before the Super Bowl, I was looking for somewhere to go and saw that Albert the Bull (The Super Bull) was going to be highlighted in a commercial during the big game. I have driven by Albert a few times, but I never stopped and thought maybe a visit to Audubon County was in order.
On my way to visiting Albert, I got hungry.
And where's a good place to get food on the way?
Well, of course, it has to be the locally famous Darrell's Place in Hamlin, a small hamlet a few miles to the south of Audubon.
From everything I've gathered, Darrell's has almost a cult following in southwest Iowa. Local folks are sure proud of their cafe! After my stop, I can see why. It was memorable - in a very good way.
Darrell's won the Iowa Pork Producers' Top Tenderloin award in 2003 and they use that honor heavily in their marketing. They display the plaque on the wall, along with a Des Moines Register story about the honor.
When I rolled in about 1:00pm on a Saturday afternoon, there was barely any tables or spots to be found. It was as if the entire community of Hamlin was packed in there.
After a bit of a wait, I was met by a server. They had specials available (smoked brisket sandwich!) that day and a full menu of what appeared to be a lot of great options. However, once I mentioned it was my first time in the door, the server strongly suggested I experience the breaded tenderloin.
The tenderloins are breaded and then fried to order and come served in a basket with toppings (lettuce, tomato, pickles, etc) with french fries and coleslaw. Because they are freshly breaded, these tenderloins haven't been previously frozen. Thus, they are not as flat as the pork tenderloins that are often served in restaurants or at your county fair. You could tell that these were freshly prepared based on the breading and the fact that they curled up a bit after frying.
I grew up not liking coleslaw but as I've gotten older, I've grown to like it. Darrell's coleslaw was very finely chopped and quite tasty. I didn't take an "after" pic of my basket, but I can assure you I left nothing. Very, very good.
I am told that the pie is also quite good and the ice cream sandwiches advertised on the table were tempting, but my hunger was more than satiated after my pork tenderloin basket.
On each table was your traditional array of ketchup, mustard, and napkins - but they also had a beer bottle with a positive or kind saying popping up out of it like a flower. I don't know if this is a regular thing or if it's Valentine's Day decor, but I liked the positive and motivational touch.
Mine said "No Regrets".
However, a few neighboring tables at others.
The rest of the decor highlighted the history of the town, the business, and the community feel of the place. Truly, this is the community gathering spot for Hamlin and the surrounding area.
In one corner of the restaurant, you could buy some branded merchandise or soy candles.
Darrell's place also has a bar that sells beer and liquor.
It wouldn't be a small town cafe without a bulletin board full of business cards and community announcements. I even added my own. Can you spot it?
You can still buy a local newspaper in one of the distribution boxes outside. In this rapidly accelerating digital age, that will sadly soon only be found in museums and antique stores.
There is ample parking but in one little section of the parking lot is a small building which is the community's recycling center.
Hamlin is technically an unincorporated community, but I drove and walked around a little after my lunch and before heading to see Albert. I needed to walk off that tenderloin a bit!
Hamlin is on the Western Skies Scenic Byway.
A couple of buildings along the highway had definitely seen better days.
Along the highway, there is a bike path and a nice park. It's just to the east of Darrell's Place.
If you are in Audubon County or willing to head off I-80 for a few miles in order to find an award winning pork tenderloin, I would strongly recommend a visit to Darrell's. I look forward to a return trip. It was exactly the kind of lunch spot I was hoping to find.
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Audubon County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through this website.