I figure I should begin this article with a bit of honesty: I’d lived in Iowa for four years and roomed with a State Pork Queen runner-up in college, but had yet to experience the sandwich I’d seen on nearly every menu from Ames to Zearing: the pork tenderloin.
That is, however, until my visit to Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe, 304 W. Second St. in Prairie City, last week.
Awarded the Iowa Pork Producers Association’s esteemed honor of the Best Pork Tenderloin in Iowa in 2009 and, more recently, featured in the Chicago Tribune’s travel section, the quaint white building along Prairie City’s main drag boasts an impressive array of diner fare.
It wasn’t always this way, though. While the building had housed restaurants off and on for more than 50 years, Golda Ingram’s idea for a seasonal ice cream shop took off in the 1995. By 2007, though, “Goldie” was ready to retire, leaving the fate of her business in question.
During the 11 years Ingram built her brand around concoctions such as the aptly-named Peanut Butter Suicide Twister — a blend of ice cream, peanut butter, peanut butter cups and Butterfinger candy — Brad Magg was busy baking up a storm on his parent’s farm just a few miles down the road, outside Colfax.
“I have a culinary arts degree, but it was supposed to be more of hobby,” Magg said with a laugh. “I started baking cookies and pies in third grade and had a commercial kitchen at my parent’s farm by my freshman year in high school.” From this kitchen Magg Family Catering was born — an endeavor Magg thoroughly enjoyed, save for one tiny detail.
“In catering, you’re stuck in the kitchen all the time,” he said “I wanted the opportunity to go out and visit with people.”
This is where Ingram and Magg’s paths converged. Magg bought Goldie’s in 2007, electing to keep the name and the majority of the menu the same.
“The original idea was that we would just serve a few sandwiches because Prairie City hadn’t had a restaurant in two years, and we had people in town who’d want to stop and have something for lunch,” Magg said.
Those few sandwiches soon grew into a menu including everything from classic hamburgers to last Friday’s special, fried chicken gizzards. It’s the tenderloin, though, that keeps folks coming back to Goldie’s.
“People on their first visit always get the tenderloin, even sometimes on their 15th or 20th,” Magg said.
“I’d never liked tenderloin before,” said Deb Dakin, a regular from Knoxville. “But I came here and had a bite of his (her husband, Dennis) and now we don’t go anywhere else.”
In addition to stopping in for lunch themselves, Prairie City residents Linda and Gene Snetselaar make sure to spread the word about Goldie’s award-winning sandwich.
“I have a farm equipment business and we get lots of guys stopping in,” Gene said. “I’ll always ask them if they’ve been here. So far no one’s been disappointed, but you need a good appetite,” he laughed.
In fact, the sheer popularity of the sandwich prompted a few local spins on the traditional recipe.
“There used to be a drive-in in Colfax named Charlie’s, and the Charlie’s special was a tenderloin with a cheeseburger on it,” said Magg. “We had a lot of customers request it, so now it’s the Magg Combo.” Also on the menu: the Mingo Special — a tenderloin topped with locally-made sausage.
“My uncle owns the Mingo Locker and my dad raises all the beef on his farm, so we have fresh beef and sausage that never leaves Jasper County,” Magg added.
While the ingredients may be local, Goldie’s clientele is anything but.
“People will come in and mention if there are license plates in the parking lot from out of county or out of state,” Magg said. “Seventy percent of our business comes from outside the county, and we have someone come in from out of state every day. About once a week or so we’ll get someone from outside the country.”
This increase in interest and, in turn, sales, can at least partially be attributed to the attention the restaurant has garnered since earning the 2009 award.
“The award tripled sales from where we were going through 300 tenderloins a week to 500 a day,” Magg said. “They said it would be busy for a year (following the award), but we’ve maintained it and managed a 10 percent increase in business each year.”
It hasn’t hurt, of course, that metro newspapers such as the Des Moines Register and the Chicago Tribune have spotlighted Goldie’s as a premier destination for comfort food in central Iowa.
“A food writer from Vegas contacted me about the Tribune and I thought that’d be fun, but I didn’t think we would have people visiting from out of state,” Magg said of the article that ran Nov. 25. “But right off the bat on Sunday we had two groups of people come by and say they’d seen the article...I knew people would see it, but I didn’t think they’d stop by.”
“We had a group passing through from Chicago to Omaha who decided they wanted a tenderloin,” he added. “They Googled it and decided that we’d be better than anywhere in Des Moines.”
Goldie’s setting away from the chaos of the metro area is, in fact, one of its most endearing qualities. Along with the gravel parking lot and grain elevators across the street, patrons are guaranteed a healthy dose of Midwestern hospitality.
“Sometimes we’ll have two people sitting at one of the bigger tables and, if it’s busy, another couple will sit down with them,” Magg explained. “By the time they’re done, they’ll find out they’re related or whatever ... it’s that small town hospitality that makes it fun.”
“It’s just a great place to be able to chat over lunch the old fashioned way,” said Mike Biutenwerf of Altoona.
“You know you’re getting good food and meeting with good friends,” added Jerry Sullivan of Clive, who shares a table with Biutenwerf and other friends a few times a week for lunch.
Sullivan and Biutenwerf represent just a few of the familiar faces Ingram welcomes from behind the lunch counter a few times a week, as Magg has kept her on board throughout Goldie’s’ transformation from ice cream parlor to homestyle diner.
“He asked me to stay on for the transition, but I couldn’t sit at home doing nothing after that,” Ingram said with a laugh. “I missed the people, I missed seeing the kids grow up.”
“I used to laugh at the idea of that, seeing kids grow up in front of your eyes, but I see it now,” Magg said. “They almost become family.”
For more information, contact Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe at (515)-994-3190 or visit www.goldiesicecreamshoppe.com.
Nicole Wiegand can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 422 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.