Tenderloin Trek

3_Butchs River Rock Cafe

River Rock Cafe, winner of the “Best Tenderloin of 2013” award

Hello and warmest wishes from Iowa!  It was very cold last night – 3 degrees.  After a week of intense training at work, it was time for a break.  My brain was hurting.  But things are going pretty well so far – reason enough to go for a short van trip to celebrate.  It was about time to get the “V.T. Cruiser” (a friend’s nickname for the van) out for a spin.

6_Mount PleasantThis little excursion was to Mount Pleasant, 74 miles south of the home base in Cedar Rapids.  When people think of Mount Pleasant, they tend to think of three things:  The Old Threshers Reunion (a fascinating yearly event celebrating the vintage farming life), the Amtrak terminal, and the local correctional facility.

There are many unique things about this town but one of the most unusual is the downtown itself.  Like so many communities in Iowa, there is a traditional “town square” – but the courthouse is not in the center!  The original court building (which was in the center of the square) was erected in 1839, the first such structure in the state of Iowa.  It was torn down in 1872 and is now located elsewhere.  There is a plaque marking the site of the first courthouse in Iowa.

Mount Pleasant has another distinction.  Just to the southwest, in the neighboring community of Oakland Mills, is Butch’s River Rock Cafe, winner of the coveted award “Best Pork Tenderloin of 2013” according to the Iowa Pork Producers Association.  That was the main reason for the visit!

2_BridgeOakland Mills is a small settlement along the banks of the Skunk River, just outside of Mount Pleasant. I arrived fairly late – around 4:30 PM – and the sun was quickly sinking.  Near the diner is a dam, camping area, picnic area, an old bridge, etc.  It’s a comfortable, scenic place that I vowed to visit again next year.  This picture was taken after dinner as I sat outside (shivering) and watching the darkness take over.

The breaded pork tenderloin at Butch’s was excellent and easily deserved the award it received.  But Butch’s River Rock Cafe had something I did not expect – Gooseberry Pie!  I am sure there are folks who have never had gooseberries before, so here is a picture.  Gooseberries are difficult to find ripe.  Unripened, they can be like a sour grape.  For that reason it’s normal to “sugar them up” a little bit when baking.  The pie was to die for.  Sorry for talking about food so much but this Iowa boy loves “home cooking” and they don’t have gooseberry pie at the big chain restaurants.  😀

4a_MarrFull of food, it was time to leave town and look for some camping.  North of Mount Pleasant (on the way back toward Cedar Rapids) is the town of Ainsworth and a clean, comfortable spot called Marr Park.  Camping with electricity runs $16 – not bad if you don’t mind not having water or a bathroom at this time of the year.  For a night when the temperature was plummeting, electricity was a good thing!

The van stayed toasty all night – I had the ceramic heater on high.  The only Hot van (2)problem was that I dozed off.  The outside low temp was approximately 3 degrees but the van was over 80 degrees inside most of the time.  At one point the inside temp hit 89 degrees – too bad there wasn’t room to do some hot yoga!

On Sunday morning, I drove back to Cedar Rapids.  Passing by the town of Riverside (the “future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk”), I noticed what I think is a new welcome sign.


I liked the new sign!  Then some bad news came.  While motoring north, the nursing home called and said Dad is not feeling well.  This time his breathing is labored and even with oxygen it is still difficult to breathe.  He’s slowly fading from us and has said he’s “ready to go to Heaven”.  It’s tough but Sis and I are grateful to have some more time with him.  Each day is special!

I paused in Iowa City to get Dad some cookies (and myself some crab rangoons and spring rolls) from the Iowa City Winter Farmer’s Market which is held inside at the local fairgrounds.  It is exciting to have access to produce, crafts, and homemade goodies all year ’round.

9_Oriental Couple

The friendly couple who makes the best crab rangoons I can remember!

After returning to Cedar Rapids, Dad and I talked about the Oakland Mills pork tenderloin sandwich and his eyes lit up.  Years ago he had worked in a restaurant.  Growing up, I remember that breaded pork chops and pork tenderloin sandwiches were things our family enjoyed often.  I will be making some tenderloins this week and promised to bring one to Dad.

It’s about time to wind up this post.  There are plenty of tasks to accomplish before returning to work tomorrow.  While the trip was another quickie, it was still fun to get some fresh air.

8_Baker Cindy

That’s Cindy – one of the best bakers in Eastern Iowa. That small box of cookies by her left sleeve made Dad’s day. (Peanut butter w/peanut butter cups)

Thanks for stopping by!  Your visits and comments are greatly appreciated.  Take care!

Bradford, the “Van Trekker”

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About VanTrekker

I am a former vandweller in Eastern Iowa who, for several years (off and on), lived in a 2007 Chevy cargo van. I still travel around Iowa with my tortoise shell cat, Jennifer Stefanie. Our favorite place to explore is the Country Heritage Community, the four far northeastern counties of Iowa (Clayton, Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Fayette). Ride along as we fish in pristine trout streams, enjoy fine home cooked camping meals, and meet new people. It's all possible on a shoestring budget. Happy travels always! --- Brad, the "Van Trekker"

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