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By Jim Duncan

Suburban Restaurant

When my mom was alive, she and I would drive around Iowa looking for cafés that reminded her of her mother’s cooking. Mom insisted that only Tursi’s Latin King still made hashed browns correctly and that only Crouse Café could make decent gravy. Each year around Mother’s Day, I still seek places that my mom would have liked. It gets harder every year to find restaurants that keep faith with the hard work of scratch cooking. My mother’s generation grew tired of the drudgery of peeling, chopping, rolling, stirring, beating, simmering and carefully watching the pot. And who could blame them?

Today, it’s easier to find a genuine four-star restaurant than an old fashioned, scratch cooking café. So take notes. This story is a joyous anachronism nursed by the mutual love of parents and children. In 1963, Morrie and Bernice Cox opened Suburban Restaurant on Highway 69 at Gilbert Corners. When Morrie passed away, his four daughters bought the place. Two of them, Diane Cox and Susie Lyon, run it now, still using their dad’s heirloom scratch recipes.

“Sometimes I think about how much extra work it is. In fact, I was thinking about that today because it’s really hard to peel rhubarb. But, if you’re willing, and you put it up, you can enjoy great fresh rhubarb all year,” Lyon explains.

The sisters tasted some fame in 2004 when their pork tenderloin was chosen the best in the state by the Iowa Pork Producers. They hand cut unadulterated pork loins and hand bread them. Lyon is adamant about a difference between “hand breaded and just dipped.” Their restaurant serves several other things that various foodies have touted as the best in Iowa. Foremost is pie. The Suburban bakes at least eight pies a day and no one ever made a better crust. Only pure fruit is ever used for filling, too. Lyon is happy to reveal their piecrust tips — half butter, half shortening with a milk brushing on top.

“It’s not a secret recipe. The secret is that it’s such hard work hardly anyone bothers doing it anymore,” she says.
But, moms don’t like us eating dessert before dinner, so let’s get back on track. Potatoes alone are worth the drive from Des Moines. Hashed browns are made from scratch. So are mashed potatoes, which serve as a delivery system for the amazing grace of Cox’s gravy, which she always makes from pan drippings and augments with sausage. Homemade noodles are other wondrous absorbers of gravy.

Such side dishes accompany steaks (top sirloin and pork) that are prepared simply, without adornments that usually disguise their essences. Fried chicken ties with pie as the best thing on the menu. It’s also indicative of the spirit of the place. When I complimented Lyon on the flavor of the dark meat, she explained that “outdoor chickens” actually use their leg muscles and thus have better dark meat. In larger cities, the trendy catchphrase “free-ranged chicken” would be blazoned all over the menu. Here it’s “just common sense.”

The Suburban purchases all meat fresh and never freezes any. Their burgers are Story County treasures. The price of such quality is shortages — things sell out every day. If you want an entire pie, you must order it 24 hours in advance: “Otherwise, that wouldn’t be fair to the other customers.”

If you are one of the three people in Iowa who doesn’t like pie, the sisters serve crisps and triple layer cakes — the best of which is a triple chocolate, like grandma used to make.

Side dishes

Trostel’s Greenbriar opens for a rare Sunday service this Mother’s Day… The old 25th Street Café has been sold and renamed DuBay’s, with Brian Dubay (Continental, 801) as chef. Plans are to keep the popular Sunday brunch buffet, but to test both lunch and late night markets with more casual tapas-like offerings. … Paul Trostel, owner of the Greenbriar, was dubbed the best Kenny Rogers look-alike, winning $500 and VIP seats to last week’s Kenny Rogers concert at Prairie Meadows. CV

Past Food Dude Reviews
Amici Espresso (1-4-07) Bandana's (1-11-07)
Perry hotel (1-18-07) Beyond frozen (1-25-07)
Centro (2-1-07) KC BBQ (2-8-07)
Planet Sub (2-15-07) Trostel’s Greenbriar (2-22-07)
Acapulco (3-1-07) Aryana (3-8-07)
AJ's (3-15-07) Ban Thai (3-22-07)
Two Crop Palace(3-29-07) Mo Q x 2 (4-5-07)
What's In A Name?(4-12-07) Lemongrass (4-19-07)
Chef Joe's Place  

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