Vegan in Iowa City!?

That was my initial thought…what the heck were we going to eat for the four full days that we stayed in downtown Iowa City. I found a few restaurants on happycow before we left for our family trip, but with the exception of one restaurant, there didn’t seem to be a lot of options. As vegans, we know that we can’t always always be too selective about food, though, so we adapt pretty well and I expected to have to do so quite a bit on this trip.

This was my first trip to Iowa. My partner’s mother is from Iowa, so the purpose of our trip was to celebrate the grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary. Pretty awesome feat given the current divorce rate. We were excited about the celebration and seeing family, but really had no idea what we were in for otherwise.

I will admit that I was pleasantly surprised. When we arrived in Moline, Il and made the drive to Iowa City I was initially pretty skeptical because all I saw on that drive were corn and soybean fields. I didn’t know that what was in store for me in Iowa City was a really beautiful, quaint city. Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa, so it had that college town vibe of begin laid back and pretty liberal. There ended up being three really awesome restaurants within walking distance from our hotel.

fairgroundsWe hit Fairgrounds Coffee/Howling Dogs Bakery every morning for breakfast and for our last dinner. The restaurant is predominantly vegan, but does serve omni dishes as well. We really loved the vibe of this restaurant. Everyone who worked there was super friendly and the food is made to order!

Several mornings we ate the breakfast burrito with scrambled tofu, potatoes, veggies and delicious salsa. I don’t typically like breakfast burritos, but the scrambled tofu was perfect. The boys ate vegan chocolate chip waffles every morning (I helped them finish those off, too). I ate a Summer waffle after my 13 mile run, which had corn, blueberries and lemon zest. It was definitely my favorite meal! For dinner on Monday evening, I had a tempeh “Reuben” and apple slices. I had never had a Reuben before and ate every bite, which tells you I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nicky had a black bean burger that she really enjoyed. Fairgrounds is more of a breakfast and lunch place, but we really enjoyed our sandwiches for dinner. Next time, I definitely want to try their vegan Kielbasa sausage sandwich! They were out of it for dinner on Monday evening after the lunch rush.

thaiWe also ate at Thai Flavors for dinner twice. Again, this restaurant was not vegan, but was very accommodating. I ate the Red Curry with steamed tofu at both visits. We actually all ate Curry and really enjoyed it. Everyone again was very friendly and the food was delicious!

trumpetThe only all vegan restaurant that we found was Trumpet Blossom Café. We ate brunch there on Saturday and were not at all disappointed. Nicky and I both ate eggplant with soba noodles, beet greens and heirloom tomatoes. The boys had peanut butter and jelly, which is typical. Our meal was very good and all the vegetables are locally grown. Nicky and I also both had a fresh pear cucumber juice. I don’t typically drink juice, but I couldn’t pass up this combination. Trumpet Blossom was a very quaint restaurant. Small town feel with progressive locally grown vegan food.

I also ran three mornings that we were in Iowa (that’s how I justified the large breakfast every morning). I hadn’t intended to run the third morning, but couldn’t pass up the weather. I really have to get an iPhone to take pictures while I am out on my run because my long run of 13 miles was beautiful. Part of the run took me along the Iowa River, but much of it was through heavily wooded paths. We have trees in Houston, but I never get the opportunity to run through a real forest! I’ll admit that it did freak me out a little because I wasn’t real sure what was going to come out of the forests! I also loved the challenge of the hills. Whoever said Iowa is flat hasn’t been through Iowa City. I ran plenty of hills and loved the added challenge!

We did spend some time on the farm where my mother-in-law grew up. Pretty cool to see them harvesting oats. I liked that the boys could see large fields and make some connection to their food. However, the predominant crops are corn and soybeans (GMO) grown for livestock feed. This left me with mixed emotions because of how I feel about GMO crops and because I still think we are inefficiently using farmland. Why not just feed the plants to the humans (since so many are starving) and eliminate the livestock step? I know that the farms have been there for a long time and have provided income for many families, but I can’t help but think that the more efficient use would be to feed the product to humans.

Iowa August 2016

Overall, the trip was really much better than I expected. We ended up eating some really great food and got to spend a lot of quality time with family. The weather was amazing and the people were very friendly (even the TSA agents in the Moline airport were friendly). I loved the slower pace of Iowa City and the lack of traffic and congestion. I could see myself retiring somewhere like this for the warmer months and then making my way somewhere warm for the winter. So, if you find yourself in Iowa City definitely check out downtown and eat at Thai Flavors, Fairgrounds and Trumpet Blossom Café. You’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised like I did.

What city has surprised you with vegan fare?