Lincoln Cafe


  Henry Adams wrote about visiting Chartres, the magnificent gothic cathedral rising from the plains of central France: “For a first visit, choose some pleasant morning when the lights are soft, for one wants to be welcome, and the cathedral has moods…”*  I thought of that last weekend as I drove into Mt. Vernon, Iowa for dinner at the Lincoln Café. 

  It was obviously late in the afternoon not morning, but the quality of the light bathing the limestone bits of Cornell College protruding above the trees in the distance was similar to what it would have been twelve hours earlier. 

  Numinous.  And that sight, at the end of a ninety minute drive through Midwestern verdant fertility, was both perfect denouement as well as a cerebretory set of stage.  The Lincoln Café is no ordinary restaurant and to arrive with a mixed up everday mind would diminish the experience and you’d never know what you’d missed.

  It’s marked by an unassuming main street storefront and, well, is equally spare neutral inside.  No distractions – food’s the thing.  Be on time.  No reservations.  We were the first there at 4:45.  Nice looking lady with white templed glasses looked through the glass part of the door, unlocked, and then opened at 5:00 sharp.  All tables filled by 5:05.  Another seating’s worth of uninitiates turned away.

  There’s a menu and the burgers that walked by looked good and I’ll probably try one someday, but the stuff on the chalkboard was that for which we’d traveled.  One appetizer.  Three main course selections.  Three deserts.  All ingredients nearby local fresh.  Frequent minor changes due to short supply chain.  Major overhaul about every ten days.

  We did start by sharing the House Braunsweiger, shaved onion, mayo, and butter lettuce.  My thirty four years of wedded bliss that day wife had for her main course: Roasted Organic Chicken with avocado crema, masa cakes, peanut truffle jus, wilted local lettuce, soft egg, and blue lake beans.

  Me? I had Overnight Heritage Pork Belly, local peaches, sweet corn,  black pepper fiddle faddle, and dried cornbread cubes.    Let me put it like this:  There is just enough of each of those bits on the plate about for which your senses to marvel and to which the rest plays counterpoint.  And be assured, while complex, it is joyful music in a major key with utensils playing percussion.

  Desert? Yep. We chose to share the Toasted Walnut Cake, with vanilla infused local peach, and balsamic vinegar ice cream.  Wow.  The walnuts sang above the din in baritone, the peach with sultry languor, and the ice cream rang with OMG pizzazz. 

  No booze.  So either bring your own or buy from their nearby wine bar and save corkage fee.  We brought a bottle of a Sonoma white Rhone blend for which daughter had been winemaker and a Napa Cabernet which we’d bought upon birth of other daughter.

  Total investment?  Would have been less than you’d spend at most places that serve heaping platters of continental paper mache – especially if you bring your own grape juice.  To our surprise though, this fine repas was free.  Our three kids had called ahead!

*Henry Adams, Mont-St-Michel and Chartres, 1904

**Lincoln Café website:

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