Lucky choices at Meskwaki10/15/2014
The Meskwaki Casino is imbued with delicious irony. The Lincoln Highway’s course was only altered in one place — between Marshalltown and Tama. In 1955 the powers there moved it several miles north of its original course through the Meskwaki settlement. From 1918 till that move, the highway had delivered an economic boon to the tribe. Their Stone House gas station attracted tourists (“The Wild West begins in Iowa”) who bought crafts from the tribe’s artisans who set up shop on the roadside every day. Some 35,000 visitors attended the annual Pow Wow, held along the old highway. After the suspicious move, the tribe suffered. They owned some land on the southern side of the new highway, but they lacked the money to move water lines, gas lines and electricity. Without the commerce, most of the tribe moved away.
In 1989, the tribe finally had earned enough money hosting bingo in their gymnasium to finance a stand-alone bingo hall on the new highway. That evolved into a casino, hotel and spa that has financed large modern farming operations, three schools, a tribal clinic, a senior living center, housing and the purchase of a bank. Almost the entire population has moved back to the settlement.
Meskwaki Casino transports one to another time and place. I can go there for a couple days and never want to leave the complex, even though I only gamble on horse racing. The halls and lobby of the hotel and spa comprise a de facto museum of tribal history. Some of the best Indian artists in America (Leonard Young Bear, Bill Prokopiof, Randall Blaze, Pahponee, etc.) are shown here along with antique relics like turtle rattles, bear claw necklaces and historic photos.
The casino’s restaurants are some of the best kept secrets in Iowa. Consider Prime Cut, the tribe’s steakhouse and a place I almost always visit when driving between Des Moines and Cedar Rapids or Waterloo. I used to stop at Rube’s, a legendary steakhouse in nearby Montour that raises and ages its own superb beef. Then Prime Cut started using Rube’s steaks and burger. At Prime Cut, a 20 ounce T-bone dinner costs $23, just $19 on Wednesdays. That includes a choice of soup or salad (they make a superb French onion soup), fresh baked bread, and a choice of several side dishes. How good of a deal is this? If you were to go to Rube’s and buy raw T-bones a la carte, you would have a choice of 16-ounce steaks for $26 or 26-ounce steaks for $34. At Rube’s restaurant in Montour, the same steak dinner would cost $27 and you would still be expected to cook it yourself.
Prime Cut is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, but, as casino luck would have it, Jackpot buffet hosts a “steak night” on Mondays with Rube’s steaks. Each Monday, the grill chefs tell me, they go through 600 – 800 T-bones and ribeyes in just four hours. Guests pay $13 ($3 less for seniors) for that “all you can eat (AYCE)” dinner. Those steaks are cut thinner than at Prime Cut, but you can order two at a time. Jackpot is one of the best AYCE places in Iowa. They serve three meals a day, including a “cook to order” station at each and a carving station at lunch and dinner. The casino also has a full-service diner open at lunch and breakfast, plus a food arcade with several options, including walking tacos on Indian bread.
And Meskwaki artisans are selling their work again in the gift shop instead of out along the highway.
Side Dishes: Vollereaux will host a champagne dinner at Table 128 on Oct. 28, $85 includes tax and gratuity. The winemaker will talk about their wines and will be pouring five… NGEO’s “Little Pig Man,” a reality series about Rustik Rooster Farm’s Carl Blake and his Iowa Swabian Hall pigs, will debut on Dec. 15. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.Meskwaki Casino 1504 305th St. Tama, 800- 728-4263 One restaurant or another is open 24-7-365.