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Heard on the Hill: Michele Bachmann’s Iowa Eats Tour

Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is restaurant-storming her way across the Hawkeye State in preparation for the first-in-the-nation caucuses Jan. 3. Her plan, apparently, is to schmooze as many pizza lovers as possible.

Getting Iowans’ official stamp of approval remains an important bellwether for those with designs on the Oval Office. And courting that politically lusted-after constituency means logging countless hours in local truck stops, diners and, at least in Team Bachmann’s case, pizza joints.

The tea party darling kicked off her “99 County Tour” of Iowa on Friday, and she has already “checked in” at six locations for Pizza Ranch. She’s only begun to scratch the surface, though, because the all-you-can-eatery boasts 68 restaurants in Iowa alone.

An analysis of Bachmann’s epicurean agenda uncovered detours at additional pie-tossing outlets, including Pizza Hut (Ida Grove) and Princess Grill & Pizzeria (Iowa Falls).

Because we’re no authorities on Midwest dining, we consulted with regional experts about where politicians should stop to grub and gab with native Iowans.

Quad-City Times entertainment editor David Burke wholly endorsed Bachmann’s Pizza Ranch pit stops.

“Pizza’s in its name, but it serves some of the best fried chicken this side of the Colonel. It’s cooked in peanut oil, giving it a richer, crispier crunch,” he said of the signature bird. “The barbecued chicken is excellent, as well, with a rich, tangy sauce.”

Burke advised visiting politicians to pop their heads into:

• The Machine Shed (Davenport, Des Moines): “It’s a regular stop for campaigning and has been nationally recognized for its breakfasts,” he noted. “Everyone I’ve taken there from out of town has been incredibly impressed.”

• Ross’ Restaurant (Bettendorf): “It’s a 24-hour restaurant, the kind of place you hit between the bars and home for many. Its specialty is the Magic Mountain, with hash browns smothered in gravy, chopped meat, cheese and, if you wish, an egg,” Burke explained, noting that President Barack Obama popped by in 2010.

• Mary Sue’s Café (Davenport): “It’s a mom-and-daughter place. Quaint, but good food for the money,” Burke said.

Cityview dining editor Jim Duncan recommends gutting Pizza Ranch from the schedule — “not recommendable in my brief experience,” he said — and seeking out more nostalgic environs such as:

• Vaughn’s Cafe (Clarinda): “One of the better small-town diner-type restaurants, fewer shortcuts than others take,” he said, touting its town square location as ground zero for consensus building.

• Milwaukee Wiener House (Sioux City): “The old Greek Coney joint Old Milwaukee is classic; [the] first place former Sioux City residents go when they come home to visit,” Duncan said. 

• Miles Inn (Sioux City): “More tavern than café, but it’s another Sioux classic … famous [for] loose-meat sandwiches and defying Prohibition (Sioux City in general did that),” he said.

• Lincoln Cafe (Mount Vernon): “The best in Iowa,” Duncan insisted, noting that the folksy respite was a favorite of the late, great R.W. Apple Jr., the New York Times writer/gourmand.

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