With reports of a "perfect martini" found in the heart of Iowa, the reporters at the New York Times may have finally realized that the people of the Midwest are more than ham-fisted, meat-eating, troglodytes and they too deserve nice things to eat and drink. Jeremy Peters, a media and political reporter for the paper, dabbled into the dining section today with a paean to the perfect martini but not before documenting the debacles along the way. "A restaurant in New Hampshire served an editor friend of mine his martini in a wineglass," wrote Peters, adding: "It was a different setting entirely from the bar in the north concourse at the Omaha airport, where I was given Bombay in a nine-ounce plastic cup." As Daily Intel's Joe Coscarelli hypothesizes, "The New York Times has a history of elitist reportage that seeks out the spoils of the Manhattan kingdom among the simple people across the rest of the country, where they might not understand the finer points of something like vegetarianism or cocktails." Coscarelli is of course referring to the vegetarian plight of one AG Sulzburger. The drama, such that it was, in both of these pieces turns on the amazing discovery by Peters and Sulzberger that there are actually good eats to be found in the great middle swath of the country if you look hard enough. (Call it a "Manhattanite Bites Midwest Food, Doesn't Recoil in Horror" story.)
But we wondered: just how difficult is to find these hidden gems while driving through Iowa and MissourI? So we compared the New York Times' gourmand newsgatherers against the hoi polloi in the local Yelp reviews. You can judge for yourself on whether discovering a fine martini in Cedar Rapids qualifies as a feat of gastronomy.
The Perfect Martini
Location: Vino's Ristorante; Cedar Rapids, Iowa
What The Times Says: "This was an exceptional gin martini. It was cold, clean and crisp, shaken just enough so there was a small island of ice shavings floating at the top," writes Peters. Adding:
The gin, Boodles, was an unexpected find in a restaurant sharing a parking lot with a Play It Again Sports and Godfather’s Pizza. I rarely come across Boodles, an airy 90.4-proof British spirit with a hint of coriander, at bars in Manhattan. So when the waitress listed it as one of the options among the more conventional brands like Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire, I couldn’t say no.
What Yelp Says: 4.5 stars. "One of the fancier places in Cedar Rapids, despite the location, and the service is fantastic. It's nice to have a great locally-owned place like this nearby ... If an out-of-towner asked me where to go for a quality meal and experience in CR, this is where I'd send them."
The More Than Good Enough for AG Sulzberger Vegetarian Spots
What The Times Says: "It should be stated right up front that the Midwest, with its rich culture, stark natural beauty and superlative decency, quickly defies stereotypes," wrote Sulzberger. He adds:
But here — with a notable few exceptions like the Aladdin (the best lentil soup I’ve ever had), Blue Koi (expert dumplings and noodle dishes) and Lill’s (terrific Spanish tapas) — the best options are better described as good enough.
What Yelp Says:
- Aladdin, 4 stars. "Started with a cup of lentil soup. It was a stunningly beautiful bright yellow color and tasted of sweet Middle Eastern spices - turmeric, especially. This was easily the best lentil-based soup I've ever eaten. Get it."
- Blue Koi, 4 stars. "I'm actually not sure the last time I had meat here, and I'm not even technically a vegetarian -- that's how good the veggie options are at Blue Koi. "
- Lill's on 17th, 4 Stars. "Best kept secret in Kansas City. Excellent ambiance, fantastic food. Shhhhh....... It's small, so don't let the good word get around. Reservations recommended. If you are a foodie, Lil's is a can't miss."
AG Sulzberger's Vegetarian Road Trip Delight
Location: Thai Spice, Webb City, Missouri
What The Times Says: "And though many meals, particularly in small towns, are of the bread-and-water variety, I have stumbled upon some decent restaurants as well" writes Sulzberger. "My favorite place to stop on a reporting trip, Thai Spice, just outside Joplin, Mo."
What Yelp Says: 4 stars. "Great little Thai restaurant. Building and decor was much nicer than expected and the food and service were excellent." wrote one Yelp reviewer.
Photo via: Shutterstock and 3523studio; flickr user: Tuaussi; Screenshots via: Blue Koi, Thai Spice and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams