Last Saturday, I managed to make it to two of the best named towns in all of Iowa: Coin in Page County and Carbon in Adams County. Both are tiny hamlets that have seen better days but each have several aspects that are worth celebrating.
In Coin, I visited the Buzzard Day Festival, which acknowledges the annual tradition of turkey vultures arriving in the community as the temperatures warm up. "Look alive, the buzzards have arrived," is the aptly coined slogan.
In Carbon, I made a stop at a remarkable restaurant. The Branding Iron Steakhouse and Saloon is starting to pop up on the radar of travel sites, especially after being selected as part of Travel Iowa's 99 Restaurants tour. After visiting, I can see why it would be wise to grab a periodic table with friends and family. They know what they are doing.
Carbon is a community of about 30 people in Adams County, which is smallest county (population) in all of Iowa. Carbon was established as a coal mining town in the late 19th century but was not actually incorporated until 1903. Prior to the name of Carbon, it also had a few other names. I even see that the name Carbon was used elsewhere in other Iowa communities for awhile too. The Wikipedia page on Carbon has some good history, if you are into that kind of thing.
This was my first ever visit to Carbon. Outside of the steakhouse, I found some homes, a camp area, a church, and another fellowship hall.
I did not expect to find a restaurant of this size and scale in a town of 30 people - but I'm glad it's there and I hope the surrounding communities and other Iowa adventurers will frequent it often.
I don't know if this was an older building that has been rejuvenated or if it is new construction, but it a lovely building with ample parking.
I really loved the lamps on the wood pillars on the front "porch".
There is some seating or wait space on the front porch and even a bench swing.
Inside, you immediately encounter a beautifully furnished restaurant with a style that I would probably describe as "Industrial Western".
It's a nice combination of new looking mission style chairs and tables, polished concrete floors, corrugated metal on the ceiling and walls, and barn doors and wood, too.
Of course, since you are in steakhouse, there's plenty of "old west" decorations, too. I absolutely loved these old wooden ladders with lamps used as lighting fixtures.
There is a large grill in one of the corners where staff grill the various protein options on the menu.
There is a full bar with a large television above it.
Inside the bathroom, they turned an old barrel into the sink. They did not cut corners on the details, which I can certainly appreciate.
As I mentioned above, The Branding Iron is quite proud of their inclusion on Travel Iowa's list of 99 restaurants to try and they had some table tents advertising this fact.
Now, to the actual menu and food. It was memorable. Their menu is not overly complicated. I can appreciate a place that sticks to a core list of items and focuses on doing them right. That keeps things simpler to manage too.
While I was certainly not starving, I decided that since I was in a steakhouse...I had better try a steak. So I got the sizzlin' sirloin. As indicated on the menu, that came with Texas toast, salad, choice of potato, and one "sidekick".
As soon as I placed my order, they brought me a small plate of crackers with some cheese dip. Admittedly, I only ate the crackers because there was some Ranch seasoning in there and along with mushrooms, that's a non-starter for me.
Next, they brought out my side salad and I ordered it with Italian dressing.
Finally, it was time for the main course. My steak was cooked to a very nicely done medium. I had the option of picking between mashed potatoes, skillet potatoes, a baked potato, and homemade fries. While they all sounded good, I chose to go with the skillet potatoes. They were cooked with bacon and other seasonings and that was an outstanding decision.
For my "sidekick", my server said they sell a lot of the cowboy baked beans. These are cooked with sausage and there were several types of beans in the dish. It was quite hearty.
As I mentioned, the steak was cooked to a nice medium and I added a little A1 sauce for good measure.
The end result? Practically licked clean. Fantastic.
I got there at about 5:30 on a Saturday and I was the only one dining at the time. Another family came in just as I was about to leave. However, the server mentioned that by later in the evening on weekends, they will usually end up considerably busier. Since there is not a huge population in town and not many (if any) other businesses, the Branding Iron definitely has to be a destination. This is in a town of 30, but you could drop this restaurant in a town of 3,000, 30,000, 300,000, or even 3 million and it would fit right in. I would encourage you to make the adventure to Carbon and sit down for a cold drink and a good meal. I am confident you won't be disappointed.