Where’s the beef?
Classic Iowa steakhouses draw customers from across the nation
With its rich agricultural heritage, Iowa is a meat-and-potatoes kind of place. It’s a region where farming roots run deep, and restaurants that have been run by the same families for several generations showcase the best of Iowa’s bounty, especially beef.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in two of Iowa’s steakhouses, including Archie’s Waeside in LeMars and the Northwestern Steakhouse in Mason City. Though the decor and menus vary, from an old-school Midwest supper club vibe to an ethnically-inspired eatery, these classic Iowa steakhouses satisfy carnivore cravings while serving up a side of local flair.
Archie’s Waeside earns James Beard honors
For 70 years, Archie’s Waeside has featured dry-aged, hand-cut steaks, cooked to perfection. Dry-aging the steaks makes the meat tender and the flavor more intense. Archie’s steaks have won raves from Food Network star Rachael Ray to Roadfood’s Jane and Michael Stern. The restaurant has been featured in the New York Times and won the prestigious 2015 James Beard Foundation Award for Excellence.
“Set in what was once a roadhouse bar, Archie’s Waeside is a citadel of American beef cookery,” notes the James Beard Foundation. “Seated in commodious booths, in a dining room accented with Christmas tchotchkes, regulars drink perfect Manhattans, snack on a well-curated relish tray, and eat porterhouses, dry-aged in-house for four weeks.”
Expect a deliberately old-school steakhouse meal that begins with a relish tray and continues on to salads with homemade dressings and concludes with the beef that has made the restaurant famous. It’s all about tradition at Archie’s. And tradition, like steak or a fine wine, gets better with age, says Bob Rand, the third generation of his family to own the restaurant.
Established in 1949 by Rand’s grandfather, the late Archie Jackson, Archie’s Waeside reflects the American dream. After escaping from Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, which led to the eventual rise of the Soviet Union, Jackson came to America and made his way to the Midwest.
He learned the art of cutting and dry-ageing beef in the meat-packing houses of Sioux City in the 1930s and Los Angeles in the 1940s.
“He knew you needed great beef to have a great meal,” Rand said.
The techniques he learned were used to create a distinctive flavor of steak that he featured on the original menu at Archie’s.
After Archie’s death, the tradition was passed on to his daughter, Val, who continued to expand the business. She instilled in her five children a strong work ethic and taught them the restaurant business from a young age. Her youngest child, Bob, embraced this legacy and took over the ownership of Archie’s Waeside in 1995, following his mother’s retirement.
Aided by his sister Lorrie Luense, Bob Rand has continued to help the business grow, most notably with the addition of a large, diverse wine selection. Today, Archie’s menu contains 12 different cuts of meats, as well as a large selection of fresh seafood. Archie’s menu is loaded with steaks, including top sirloin, ribeye, porterhouse and a peppered New York cut.
If you say you want the “Benny Weiker,” you’ll be served a delicious, dry-aged beef tenderloin cut. It all goes back to a beef salesman from the Sioux City stockyards in the 1950s and 1960s named Benny Weiker, who thought the beef in northwest Iowa was the greatest in the world. The claim was that all the beef Weiker bought went to posh restaurants in New York and the like.
“Benny was legendary in the yards,” said Rand, who has been Archie’s principal meat cutter since he was 14 years old. “Grandpa Archie decided to name a steak after the man.”
Rand, who remembers getting out of school Monday afternoons to go with his grandpa to the stockyards to select meat, agrees with Weiker’s philosophy.
“The greatest beef in the world is raised right here in northwest Iowa and northeast Nebraska,” he said. “We’re fortunate enough to be able to buy that every day and dry age it and sell it. That’s our secret.”
Get your Greek on at the Northwestern Steakhouse
Steaks take on a whole different flavor profile at the Northwestern Steakhouse in Mason City. This casual, “come as you are” restaurant has been described as a steakhouse that hasn’t fully moved into the twenty-first century, and that’s just the way people like it.
“We have customers whose families have come here for five generations, and we get visitors from all over the world,” said Ann Papouchis, who has run the Northwestern Steakhouse with her husband, Bill, for roughly 30 years.
The Northwestern Steakhouse features aged, USDA top choice Iowa beef cooked in extra virgin olive oil, butter and their special blend of Greek seasonings that make every bite of steak melt in your mouth, especially the 9-ounce fillet. Many of the steaks are still cut by hand.
“Never stray, order the fillet,” advised Mindy Anderson, a Greene, Iowa, native whose family has been coming to the Northwestern Steakhouse for nearly 60 years. Even after Anderson and her husband, Paul, moved to Minneapolis, they still made the more than two hour trip to Mason City about once a month to enjoy fine dining at the Northwestern Steakhouse.
“It’s a family tradition,” said Anderson, who parents patronized the Northwestern Steakhouse for years, making it their go-to spot to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions.
The Northwestern Steakhouse has been serving up a unique, savory taste of Iowa for nearly 100 years.
“This area was a melting pot a century ago,” Papouchis said. “There was a cement plant in this area, along with a sugar-beet processing plant, and our family’s restaurant started as a little cafe that fed migrant and immigrant workers from the cement plants.”
While the forerunner of the Northwestern Steakhouse opened in 1920, owners Pete Maduras and Tony Papouchis moved the business (known as Pete’s Place in those days) in 1932 to a little building on North Federal Avenue in Mason City. T-bone steaks cost a whopping 25 cents.
In 1954, the pair moved Pete’s Place to its present location in the northwest part of Mason City. By 1965, Maduras wanted to retire and sold the business to Papouchis. It was at that time the name changed to the Northwestern Steakhouse.
Papouchis was still cooking at his beloved Northwestern Steakhouse at age 96. In an interview with the local newspaper, he said he continued to work because he liked it. “Better to be working,” said Tony, who worked 365 days a year and passed away at age 98.
Today, the Northwestern Steakhouse is operated by Papouchis’ son, Bill, and Bill’s wife, Ann, who keep a portrait of Tony Papouchis hanging on the wall behind the cash register. The menu showcases the finest beef in Iowa, all prepared in olive oil and doused with a blend of Greek seasonings and top-secret ingredients.
Meals are served with an array of side dishes including spaghetti topped with olive oil, Greek seasonings and parmesan cheese, along with Greek salads served with feta cheese, black olives, mild peppers, olive oil dressing and Greek seasonings.