Finding a great meal in the Midwest isn’t difficult. As the world’s breadbasket, there’s an outstanding eatery on almost every corner from Ohio to North Dakota. In between, the challenge is to find a totally unique restaurant. You can enjoy a steak dinner at several impressive steak houses, but have you tasted a sirloin served to you by a monk? Or, how about a rock ‘n’ roll-themed grill? The Midwest offers a few amazingly unique eateries, and I’ve sampled quite a few of them during my travels. Here’s a look at seven of my favorite places to enjoy great food in an interesting setting (in no particular order).
1. Dr. Getwell’s
Its exterior is nondescript, except for the sign that reads Dr. Getwell’s. Once inside, grab a seat at a booth or table. You then notice the server coming to get your prescription, err, order. Dressed in scrubs, the ambiance of Dr. Getwell’s in Keokuk, Iowa, makes sense — a restaurant with a medical theme. Menu categories use medical terms such as First Responders for appetizers, Code Green for salads, and Emergency Room Burgers for its hamburgers and more. You can create your own burger or order one of their prescribed items, such as the ham, egg, and cheese burger or avocado bacon burger. If you’re up for it, take the Heart Attack Challenge, which involves a 1.5-pound burger with half a pound of pulled pork and four slices of cheese topped with a pound of fries. Eat it in less than 20 minutes and it’s free. Plus, you get a free T-shirt. If you’re not sure about the challenge, order the Mini-Heart Attack, an 8-ounce burger topped with pulled pork and two slices of cheese. You’ll leave satisfied, and happy the staff didn’t want to admit you for tests.
2. Brother Sebastian’s Steak House And Winery
Brother Sebastian’s Steak House and Winery harkens back to the days of the Spanish missions, with the building resembling an old mission you might find in California, including a bell atop the building. Monks chanting plays over speakers, preparing you for a special experience as you approach from the parking lot. Once inside, Brother Sebastian’s looks like a monastery, with dining rooms designed with specific themes, such as a library and wine room. The staff’s outfits even resemble monks’ robes. As one of Omaha’s best steakhouses, you can expect an outstanding dining experience. With choice Angus beef, you’ll savor the New York strip, ribeye, filet, and sirloin, prepared to your preference over an open flame. The aroma tells you that you’re in for a treat. Brother Sebastian’s also has the best prime rib in Omaha. A throwback to the days of the classic steakhouse, the restaurant features an impressive salad bar, complete with chilled plates. You may also want to consider sampling the wine, as the restaurant has strived to create an outstanding wine collection.
Editor’s Note: In the mood for Italian? See Tim’s picks for the best Italian restaurants in Omaha here.
3. Surf District Rock ‘N Roll Grill
Clear Lake, Iowa
Located in Clear Lake, Iowa, Surf District Rock ‘n Roll Grill celebrates rock music along with its casual food menu. It’s a short walk from the venerable Surf Ballroom, where young rock ‘n’ roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper performed at the annual Winter Dance Party before their fateful plane ride that crashed in a nearby farm field, killing the young musicians and their pilot in 1959. The Surf Ballroom has been a place of reverence over the years. That musical history influenced the Surf District Rock ‘n Roll Grill, where you’ll find music posters, photos, and more while you enjoy a meal featuring unique burgers, sandwiches, wings, and beyond. With headers such as Sound Checks and Headliners, the menu features delicious items such as the Love Me Tenderloin (featuring Iowa’s famous pork sandwich) and the Sweet Caroline Burger, topped with pulled pork and Carolina barbecue sauce. The dimly lit restaurant provides a concert vibe during your meal with colorful lighting and music playing. The musical stage’s backdrop features music icons, with images of the Bee Gees, Tina Turner, Johnny Cash, and the Beatles joining the three rock legends.
Editor’s Note: Passing through or headed to Clear Lake? Read up on why clear Lake, Iowa, is worth a visit here.
4. JoDean’s Steak House And Lounge
Yankton, South Dakota
Yankton is home to South Dakota’s best salad bar and buffet. JoDean’s Steak House and Lounge dedicates a room just for the buffet. Its hand-carved ham is succulent. The roast beef is moist and delicious. Along with fried fish and fried chicken, the buffet includes vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy, as well as rotating specials. The 50-foot-long salad bar is a dining experience unto itself. With fresh lettuce, quartered tomatoes, and other add-ons, the salad bar includes fresh cottage cheese, macaroni salad, potato salad, sliced beets, and a couple of choices of soup. While most diners tend to opt for the buffet, available for lunch and dinner, others enjoy ordering one of JoDean’s choice steaks or fresh burgers. With a decor that resembles Grandpa and Grandma’s farm, you’ll enjoy checking out items such as old farm tools, bicycles, feed bags, and school memorabilia. After your meal, you can press your luck with a visit to the on-site casino (what South Dakota dining establishment doesn’t have one?).
Editor’s Note: For more area inspiration, consider these 12 incredible experiences in Yankton, SD.
5. Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant
Kansas City, Missouri
Your meal arrives by train at this railroad-style restaurant at Kansas City’s Crown Center. From the moment you see the locomotive and railroad crossing sign at the entrance to Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant, you feel the train vibe. Your booth resembles sitting in a train car, with your own view of a famous Kansas City icon, such as the World War I Museum and Memorial, painted in your window. Check out the menu featuring a variety of burgers, from a single patty to a quad patty burger, sandwiches such as pork tenderloin, chicken, and fish, and hot dogs. Enjoy a side of fries, onion rings, or chili with your order. You phone in the order on a direct line from your table. The order arrives by a miniature train running along a rail above the serving area. The train stops above your table, and your order is lowered using a tray located behind the locomotive. After polishing off your sandwich and sides, consider topping off your Fritz’s train experience with a root beer float or sundae. Fritz’s also has locations in Shawnee and Kansas City, Kansas.
6. Tiger Burgers
With the feel of a 1950s diner, Tiger Burgers in Hayes, Kansas, takes you back to the days of poodle skirts and milkshakes. A popular hangout for students at Fort Hays State University and locals alike, you can enjoy an outstanding burger and fries while feeling like a teenager again. The casual menu features homestyle burgers, offered with a variety of toppings, such as jalapeno poppers, mac and cheese, smashed onions, and an over-easy egg with hash browns. You may want to consider the chicken wings or a chili dog basket (served with two dogs). The appetizers are excellent, featuring fried onion scoops (instead of rings) and fried pickle Os. You can’t go wrong with either choice. After your meal, enjoy the monthly milkshake special. Decorated with vintage memorabilia and pictures celebrating Hays’s history, including the famous Blue Light Lady, a ghostly figure of a medical crisis heroine said to haunt the countryside. Even more impressive than that may be the floor of pennies, with coins dating back to 1893 — each laid by hand and heads-up for good luck. However, there are two wheat pennies, with their backs showing, featuring the years 1942 and ’43, which were the birth years of the owners’ parents. The pennies signify their parents’ commitment to being together through the years.
7. Fitz’s Root Beer
St. Louis, Missouri
With a statue of rock ‘n’ roll legend Chuck Berry steps from its entrance, Fitz’s Root Beer bottles each of its 19 craft soda flavors on their classic bottling line on the first floor of the restaurant in St. Louis’s Delmar Loop area. Since the restaurant can be busy, take your time and enjoy watching the bottles make their way along the vintage conveyer belt as they’re filled and packaged for shipment to area stores. While Fitz’s has been bottling root beer, creme soda, and other flavors since 1993, their location is an early 20th-century art deco building. The restaurant’s menu will tease your taste buds, making it difficult to decide what to order. Consider the buffalo cauliflower as an appetizer, which is a favorite of our family. The pulled nachos are another excellent choice. The main menu features a variety of burgers, sandwiches, wraps, salads, and pizza. Among the Fitz’s Specials, the St. Louis Slinger is sure to challenge your appetite. It features crispy fries topped with a Bottler’s Burger, warm homemade cheese sauce, shredded Colby Jack cheese, and Fitz’s house-made chili — and a sunny side egg caps the monstrosity. For palates preferring a regular taste, the Bottler’s Burger (Fitz’s most popular burger) is served on a sesame seed bun with a side of its famous kitchen sauce (homemade ketchup). No visit to Fitz’s is complete without dessert starring a root beer float. Fitz’s has a second location in South County.
Editor’s Note: For more St. Louis food inspiration, check out a local’s take on how to do a delicious St. Louis rib crawl, plus everything you need to know about St. Louis-style pizza.