Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States when Jacob Breitbach, in 1862, purchased the business that is now Iowa's oldest and longest continually operating restaurant and drinking establishment. The business, Breitbach's Country Dining, itself dates back to 1852 after President Millard Fillmore issued a permit. It is located in Balltown, a small village not far from the Mississippi River in Dubuque County that is about 15 miles north of the City of Dubuque.
Mike and Cindy Breitbach are the current owners - 6th generation - and some of the 7th generation are also working within the family's business. Unfortunately, the restaurant building that is used today is not the original that their great-great grandfather Jacob purchased during the Civil War. A pair of fires, less than a year apart in 2007 and 2008, left things in devastation. There is a nice summary of the tragedies on the restaurant's Wikipedia page and plenty more if you do a quick web search. However, through all of the fires, clean-up, and re-building, they actually never stopped serving. Thus, they can accurately claim that they've been in continuous operation.
The current building, which opened in 2009, has the architectural look of an older building, but structurally, it's quite new.
Despite this being a state staple for nearly as long as Iowa has been a state, Iowa Adventurer did not make his first stop here until late Fall of 2020. However, as I like to say, better late than never. My visit was on a Saturday around lunch time and there were plenty of others stopping by for the same reason. When you are planning your own visit, please keep in mind that they are only open Thursday - Sunday.
There's parking along the street or you can find a spot in their large parking lot.
The building was beautifully adorned with seasonal decorations. My understanding is that they do a nice job with this throughout the year.
On the east side of the building is an outdoor space.
I didn't find anybody sitting outside during my visit, but I imagine that during nicer weather, this place is a popular spot to have a "bieer".
There's plenty of lush landscaping to be found and I also discovered a small plaque which gives a little historical information.
Once inside, I found a sprawling facility with several dining room options, a bar, and lots of great interior accents. I believe a couple of these dining rooms are available if you have a larger group or are hosting a private event.
It's hard not to love these beautiful exposed ceiling beams.
I was quite struck by these pendent lights above the bar.
Down one of the hallways is a sizable collection of framed prints and news articles about the restaurant, town, and area.
Near the bar is an impressive painting of the Balltown countryside. It's painted from a lookout just a few hundred yards to the north of the restaurant.
One wall had a lot of antique games, such as Chinese checkers and carom boards, on it.
There's a lot of beautiful mission style woodwork throughout the building and I loved the use of this old ladder as an accent piece.
The mounted deer heads and the collection of plates and other wares helps to give it an added "country" feel.
On the day of my visit, they were offering a pretty spectacular "all you can eat buffet".
They also had gave me the option of ordering off a menu.
I considered ordering a breaded pork tenderloin, which was deemed Iowa's best in 2012, but ultimately I decided to just give the buffet a try. The tenderloin may be on my list for the future. However, in this case, I had absolutely zero complaints about the buffet.
On this particular Saturday, there was a sizable selection of both hot food items and a salad bar.
There was a wide selection of salads available.
There was also a great selection of hot food items.
On one trip through, I enjoyed some of the roast pork, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, and corn. All of it was delicious. If you left hungry, it would be your own fault. I didn't get a piece of pie - there was no room left. Perhaps pie and pork tenderloin for the next visit?
You could also get yourself a bowl of some hot soup.
On the way out, I noticed some opportunities to purchase some other branded merchandise.
However, the shopping does not have to end inside the restaurant. On the north side of the parking lot is a small building known as "The Gathering Place".
As they write on their website, "Through both tragedies, business never ceased operation. During construction, the small building across the parking lot housed the bar, an office, and tables that provided an area for lunching workers during the day and local euchre players in the evening. Referred to as The Gathering Place during the rebuilding phases, the structure now serves as a place to sample local wines and other products."
From floor to ceiling, the small building is packed full of antiques and other fun finds. Like most antique stores, I'm sure the selection changes regularly.
Across the street from the restaurant is another Breitbach family business.
Skip Breitbach Feeds has a variety of unique gift options. They have a large selection of dried flowers, antiques and collectibles, weather vanes, homegrown produce and much more.
This place is part farm store, part gift shop, and part antique shop.
There's an amazing quantity of dried flowers.
You could spend hours looking at all of the stuff for sale and still never see it all.
It even pours outside of the building.
I did spot a darling little cat watching the shoppers on this beautiful Iowa fall afternoon.
After wandering through the various shopping opportunities, I decided to walk up the road to the scenic overlook. I needed to burn off a few calories consumed a few minutes before. It's not a far walk but you can drive if you need to. There's a sign along the sidewalk that let's you know you are headed in the right direction.
Once there, you are treated to some truly breathtaking views.
As the Breitbach's website notes, you can "Walk up the street or drive north out of town to experience a beautiful view looking over the Mississippi River Valley and into the hills of southwest Wisconsin. On a clear day, landmarks over 50 miles away are visible to the casual observer."
In one particular area, a railing, benches, and binoculars have been added.
Several educational sign boards have also been added.
A little further down the road is another spot which has good views, too.
Before heading on my way out of town, I did a little more driving around Balltown. While we do not yet have the 2020 census data (Balltown, incidentally was the first town in Iowa to finish the 2020 census), the 2010 numbers pegged the population at 68. Therefore, it's certainly not a large town. Thus, the Breitbach businesses are clearly a big part of the town's identity.
Balltown is in Dubuque County but it's not far from the Clayton County line. It's also on the Iowa Great River Road, a popular National Scenic Byway.
There's a number of nice, stately homes in Balltown.
I was quite taken by this one.
There's also a few that are maybe a little newer.
Balltown is also home to a Catholic church.
I found a peaceful looking cemetery, too.
On the other end of Breitbach's parking lot is a ball field.
It looks to be in very nice condition.
My visit was during harvest season and I got behind a big combine. Of course, the lifeblood of rural Iowa is agriculture.
If you've never been to this part of Iowa or it's been awhile, wind your way to Balltown to check out Breitbach's and the other great area attractions.
Iowa is full of thousands of great restaurants but only one of them can claim to be the oldest. You don't last for that many years, decades, and generations that Breitbachs has without doing a lot of things right.
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Dubuque 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 site.