A lot of fans of this site recommended that I make the trek to tiny Ladora in Iowa County to visit the popular Ladora Bank Bistro. After visiting, I can see why it came so highly recommended. In fact, it's probably one of the best restaurants I've ever been to in Iowa - and that's because of the quality of the food. But, when you add in the venue, the story, and the history - it's clearly one of the most unique eating experiences you'll find absolutely anywhere.
The building is on the National Registry of Historic Places and it's believed to be one of very few of the very few "jewel box" style banks left in existence.
The owner has done a wonderful job preserving the history and character of the building. Once inside, you realize how truly unique this eating experience is. There is a lot of natural light and the lighting, flooring, decorative touches, light switches, and sayings that run along the ceiling are truly amazing. Many offer some smart financial advice that are certainly still relevant (if not more relevant) today!
Elsewhere inside, a galley style kitchen was created and the vault, which appears to still largely be intact, is where a lot of the wine and alcohol are kept. I know a few wino friends that wouldn't mind being locked in there for a weekend, perhaps (as long as there is a corkscrew in there, too).
There is a bar area with some seating and some great historic touches and antiques. It's all behind the bars of where the bank teller would have likely worked.
There is some seating at the bar but also a few other seats at a table or two n the bar area.
The restaurant is not ADA accessible from the standpoint that the restrooms are in the basement and down a sizable flight of stairs. There is no elevator or chair lift. However, the distressed nature of the interior, in places, really adds to the character.
There is also an upstairs that is open to the public and it's a great place to explore after your meal. There is an amazing old staircase.
This all leads upstairs to where, presumably, the bank President had his office. Near the top of the steps is a non-functioning "washroom". Certainly not a lot of privacy with the glass window in the door.
At the top of the stairs, there is a room that was, again, presumably the office of the bank President.
Presently, it's just mostly set up as a seasonal sitting room. I am guessing it's much more comfortable when it's either not really hot or really cold outside.
It would be a nice, somewhat private place, to enjoy a glass of wine and conversation with a friend or date.
Located at the bottom of the stairs is a table and chairs. When space is a premium, you have to get creative where you can fit people.
My friend and I enjoyed Sunday lunch here (Super Bowl Sunday) and rolled in at about 1:15pm after visiting the Ross Street Roasting Company in Tama. It was not overly busy but that is usually not the case on most evenings and weekends.
In fact, it is strongly recommended that you contact the restaurant either by phone or through their online reservations portal ahead of time, or you run the risk of being out of luck.
The place can only realistically seat about 30 to 35 people at a time, at the very most. There was a small little room to the left as you walk in the front door. There was a small party in there, but this is not the kind of place where you can bring a huge party of people, unless I suppose you rent out the entire bank.
Because I had made reservations and it was not overly busy anyway, there was a table waiting for my friend and I when we arrived.
They offer some like snack options to tie you over until your food is ready or to enjoy with your beverage of choice.
They have an extensive wine menu and a wide selection of beer and other non-alcoholic beverages. On this particular Sunday, they were offering a few specials on their board.
If you are looking for a restaurant where you can order just about anything in the world (like a Perkins), this is not your restaurant.
Instead, they have about 10 core items and they do those items extraordinarily well. I like a place that does not try to be all-things-to-all-people. The food is served tapas style and these plates are meant to be shared with whom you are dining with.
My friend ordered the Duck Potstickers and I tried the Bulgogi Beef Bao, although I tried one of the potstickers and shared one of my little sandwiches. Both dishes were simply outstanding.
You can read more about their menu on their website.
For dessert, they were offering bonbons. The flavor of the week was chocolate mint. That is my all-time weakness. I ordered just one and it was one of the best decisions of my weekend, without a doubt. Heavenly.
To be honest, this is the kind of place you would expect to find in a large city - from the standpoint of their food, wine, and beer menu. It's big league.
However, the fact that it's in a town of less than 300 people and a hour and 20 minutes from Des Moines, 30 minutes from Iowa City, and 45 minutes from Cedar Rapids, makes it all the more unique. It's worth driving a lot longer than that to visit.
I would encourage you to check out their website and Facebook to learn more about the history and the restaurant. I think they do special events from time to time, including live music.
I believe they were also hosting a special valentine's dinner with a fixed menu, but I am sure that's been booked up long ago. Nevertheless, this place gets a big thumbs up from the Iowa Adventurer and I want to thank my loyal readers for the strong encouragement to get here as soon as possible. It was memorable experience all the way around.
Afterwards, my friend and I walked about a block down the street to the Ladora Stora to grab a cup of coffee for the road.
It's part small-town gas station, convenience store, grocery store, coffee meet up spot, and museum. The clerk working there was very kind to visit for a few minutes.