Fast food is a coward’s choice on the interstate journeys through the midwest. Yes, you know what to expect when you pull into a McDonald’s or a Subway, but what you expect is something that will give you the same exact experience you would have if you weren’t where you are. Philosophically, you are denying your full experience of life. Gastronomically, you are afraid.
If you’re driving on I-29 between Lincoln and Kansas City, Rock Port is a little town crawling up the Loess hills and bluffs defining the eastern edge of the Missouri River valley. When Lewis and Clark passed this way, they didn’t have firework stands to visit. Their adventure was more in the tension of not knowing what might be around the next bend – hostile parties of local folk, or some exotic new animal. We travel faster, but we lack the suspense. We know what’s coming, and so our journals will not be published, or even written in the first place.
So, please, get off the highway at Rock Port or some other small town and at least try a restaurant that you’ve never heard of.
Like the Black Iron Grill. It’s a big space, and buckets of peanuts are already on the table when you arrive, along with some sauces you haven’t seen before. But A-1 is there, too, and I have loved A-1 since I was a child, and it meant that we were having a special dinner. Through a door I could see the pool hall/saloon that looked lovely, dark and deep, but I had promises to keep, and miles to go before I would sleep, so I passed the saloon by. Regretfully – it looked like a great one.
The staff is friendly – Tricia was a beautiful young lady who wrote her name with a smiley face on the napkin when she greeted me at the table. After driving alone for a couple hours on the rural county highways of Nebraska and then the grand interstates of the heartland, I lose my natural effervescence and my conversational skills turn stagnant, so the cheerful visual reminder of her name was a helpful guide in my halting return to the social world.
The menu (.pdf) offers a good selection of steaks, chicken and burgers, with a few twists that let you know that it’s not some warmed over Bonanza Steakhouse. There is a 77 ounce steak, free if you eat it all with the sides, $110 if you don’t. There’s no such option for the 3 pound burger. The steaks are all handcut by a local butcher, and the ground meat is ground daily by the same guy. If you’ve ever seen the big industrial tubes of hamburger normally used by places like this, you’ll appreciate the local handiwork.
I ordered a more modest half pound “Black and Bleu” burger, with a single visit to the salad bar as my side. The salad was good, and the burger was excellent. Plenty of bleu cheese – I even scraped some off so that it wouldn’t overpower the dollop of A-1 sauce I added to the top.
And, yes, I did go ahead and get the Rocky Mountain oysters. They were further proof that if you batter fry anything, it tastes good. And you can’t get them at McDonald’s or Subway.