One of the subseries of my Trundlebed Tales podcast is a series about travel and hobbies called Travel Times. Sometimes I interview someone, but sometimes I just talk about something I know about and this is one of the later. Today you get the inside scoop of eating at the Amana Colonies in Iowa. It’s right off I-80 so anytime you passing through the state, plan a stop.
Utopian NOT Dystopian
Right now Dystopian fiction, stories about what happens after we destroy the world and how every thing will be a whole lot worse, are the literary trend (which is historically true in bad economic times), but in other, more hopeful days Utopian worlds were not only the rule in fiction, but people believed they could be created in real life. There were several attempts at Utopian colonies in North America, but one of the most successful was the Amana Colonies. The colonists came from Germany, started in New York, but later permanently settled in Iowa starting a cluster of villages that straddle two counties. Such colonies normally fall apart as the second generation comes up and is not as committed to the ideals, but that didn’t happen in Amana’s case. They began in 1714 in Germany and it took the Great Depression of the 1930s and the overload it produced on their system designed to help even outsiders in need that ultimately made it obvious they couldn’t continue. Rather than give up entirely they stopped the practice of providing members with what they needed, broke up the communal kitchens, and formed a corporation. In 1932, the former practitioners became share holders in the various Amana businesses. While there are private businesses in Amana a good deal is still owned by the shareholders.
While the Amana Colonies were still a Utopian colony, women assigned to cooking cooked in large communal kitchens strategically located throughout the group of communities. The food was German in origin. It was served family style (meaning full serving dishes were put on the table and passed, rather than individual portions being plated up) and there was lots of chance for refills if any of the serving dishes turned up empty. Today at the Amana Colonies the traditional restaurants still follow those same practices and hungry Iowans can tell you.
Although a combination of recent historical factors have driven several of the restaurants out of business from their high point, today three traditional style Amana restaurants remain:
|741 47th Avenue||Amana||319-622-3030|
|4420 220th Trail||Amana||(800) 233-3441|
|4408 220th Trail||Amana||(888) 348-4686|
At these three restaurants you can still order by the plate, but if you’re going to have the Amana experience go with someone else and order family style. Although the meat is very good, unless you have a huge appetite or just plan on taking the meat home with you, I’d see if you could get the sides alone. They are always more than enough to fill me up.
Other Things To Do in Amana
There are other restaurants in Amana, not the original type, but range from coffee houses that offer Italian style sodas to Breweries.
Amana is also a center for unique shopping opportunities. All sorts of unique stores are scattered throughout although the two best known are the Amana Woolen Mill (which still sells fine wool goods) and the Amana Furniture Store (which specializes in very fine wood furniture and wooden clocks). I myself always like to stop at the Kitchen store, but there are many all around town. There are also many small museums dedicated to individual parts of the Amana story, like the communal kitchens and the entire experience at the main museum.
Recognizing their current circumstances (high end chains in nearby Coralville, etc.) Amana makes sure to have an event going almost every weekend so there is plenty to do. Before you leave town be sure to drive by their famous Lily Pond.
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.