Sometimes when you walk into a place, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. From the décor of the room to the equipment in the kitchen, the place is like a fully operational time capsule. To me, these places are always some of the best – they don’t update or change with the times because their track record shows they don’t need to!
Several restaurants jump to mind when I think of a classic spot, unchanged by time – and one of my favorites is Mr. Bibbs. It’s a very small “joint” – a minimal building sporting counter service at a semi-open kitchen and six booths set against the walls. The surprisingly large menu includes everything from classic burgers and ham and cheese sandwiches to fried catfish fingers and shrimp baskets.
The burgers are solid, 1970’s fast-food-style lean pre-pattied beef; with their fat-to-lean ration, the patties don’t shrink much. Cheeseburgers are adorned with ketchup, onion and pickle if you desire. All of this is set on what I refer to as “white squishy bakery buns” – a traditional bun that’s the perfect choice when you are jonesin’ for a classic drive-in burger. Mr. Bibb’s also features crinkle cut French fries expertly fried and salted to delicious, crispy perfection. Although the fries are frozen, I don’t hold that against them – they’re too tasty!
Although their burgers are great, that’s just a nice aside to the real purpose for my visit. Any time you visit a place for the first time (or even after an extended absence), you always need to ask what the restaurant might be known for. You wouldn’t want to walk into a whorehouse and order a biscuit now would you? (Ok, if I owned the joint, you might!) Whenever I read a restaurant review, I want to be drawn there by something – especially that special item that’s the star of the menu.
If you read a review on Mr. Bibbs and they don’t mention the pork tenderloins – crumple up said review and throw it directly in the trash! This place is known for tenderloins – the “Iowa Skinny” or “Pork Fritter,” depending on who you talk to. This iconic midwestern sandwich’s invention is claimed by both Iowa and Indiana – I prefer to think of it as an Iowa product, but don’t mind sharing the love with every other state in the nation! (For further reading on tenderloins, you might enjoy The Pork Tenderloin – Iowa’s Edible Icon by Jim Duncan. Also Des Loines, a great blog for tenderloin-lovers.)
Pork tenderloins are often imitated with frozen alternatives, sometimes chopped, formed back together and served at carnivals and ballparks. These imposters are to be avoided! Like Mr. Bibbs, the best tenderloins are hand-made with a single piece of meat pounded flat – when you can get one of these breaded babies, I suggest you do. Mr Bibbs uses a well-seasoned, cracker breading; their tenderloins are fried crispy, but are surprisingly free of the greasy heaviness of some tenderloins. You get a choice of toppings and a nice, squishy, old-school white bun. The onion rings have a similar cracker breading – a lost art when it comes to onion rings.
Mr. Bibb’s is a classic Iowa joint – a little bit off the beaten path, completely free of hype, and a must-visit to experience one of Iowa’s iconic foods.