Downtown Ames is a great place to visit at any time of year. With its array of impressive and historic buildings housing a diverse line-up of small businesses, non-profits, restaurants, and bars, it's definitely morphed into a central Iowa destination. Not to mention, they do a great job scheduling a busy calendar of special events, such as the Ames Farmers Market.
However, there's always been one head scratcher for me: the beautiful old train depot. Located on the south side of Main Street and on the west end of the downtown district, the depot has always, in my opinion, been a building that seemed to not live up to it's potential.
When I was a college student in Ames from 2004 to 2008 and then working my first two jobs in the area until late 2009, the depot was carved up into a spot for several tenants and thus housed several businesses. I distinctly remember hair salons and Gumby's pizza (home of the very addictive pokey stix) to at one point call the depot their home. Today, it's a new era for this handsome and distinguished building. The depot is home to a restaurant with the culinary offering, character, and ambiance that is truly worthy of the building it occupies.
That new restaurant is Cornbred (not Cornbread) and it is not your typical barbeque joint.
Last year, not long after it opened to the public, I stopped in to Cornbred and I was blown away. This past weekend, I stopped back in again. The second visit also left me quite impressed.
The depot is obviously not a new building and they do not try to make it seem new. In fact, the character of the exposed brick, gorgeous windows, and architecture are on full display.
They have put in a full-service bar with truly beautiful accents and features. I learned that the interior decorator is Casee Burgason Interior Design, a local business in Ames, that has also done work for a number of other local clients. Very impressive.
I am a big fan of the lighting (both the lighting elements and the natural lighting from the gorgeous windows).
There are several seats at the bar but also a few small tables in the area. This is where I dined on my first visit.
The drink menu is quite extensive and changes regularly.
There are several other dining room areas both on the main floor and upstairs in a couple of areas that I would describe as loft-like. They store some of the wood for the smoking of the meat under the stairs.
Most of the seating on all levels is at tables of varying size.
Although, there are a few booth seats too.
There are nice restrooms on both levels of the restaurant and they did not cut any corners with that. There are nice trays of complimentary items for guests in all of the restrooms.
At the top of one of the sets of stairs is an old piano. I'm sure if someone wanted to sit down and provide a little dinner music, it wouldn't be totally discouraged.
There is nice historic looking decor on the walls and beautiful lighting fixtures everywhere.
In the middle of the restaurant, at the bottom of each set of stairs, is the kitchen. You can see into it and it's front and center when you enter the establishment.
So what's coming out of that kitchen?
Well, it's quite delicious. The owners have accumulated a few accolades and some are display in a few different areas.
The menu is not overly broad (and that's probably a good thing - do what you are good at...and do it well) but it's got more than enough options. If you just want a hunk of smoked meat and some delicious sides, you can do that. If you want a nice sandwich prepared with an array of fresh ingredients, they can do that too. The photos below are of the menu from this past summer. I didn't take any photos of the menu from the second visit but it has changed slightly. You can check out their website or Facebook page to see the latest.
On my first visit, I got a little bit of the brisket and a little bit of the pulled pork and then got a side of beans and the cornbread pudding (which is like a corn casserole - so unbelievably good). It came with a couple of slices of bread, some pickles, and some pickled onion.
There are bottles of house made sauce on the table and I added a little of the sweet and sassy to my tray.
On my second visit, I got the pork and cornbread pudding again but tried the "hallelujah potatoes" instead. Everything was outstanding though my pork was a bit fattier this time.
Everything comes with a nice plate of wet naps (and a lemon) and a nice place setting.
Before you leave, you can get yourself some branded merchandise to remember this very memorable dining experience. It's near the host table and big Iowa flag.
Since my first visit, they've added a neon "Make Ames Weird" sign that appears to be their official slogan.
During warmer months, they have a sizable outdoor area that is perfect for the youthful college-age population of Ames.
Given that it's a depot and there are still active train tracks just feet away, the outdoor space has been named "The Railyard". It was obviously pretty desolate when I visited this past January weekend.