Most residents, even restaurant owners and vegetarians, seem to agree which Ottumwa restaurant is most famous. Now foodies in New York and elsewhere will read about Ottumwa’s love of Canteen Lunch in the Alley.
New York magazine’s online food page, Grub Street New York, searched 50 states for memorable dining experiences. They chose only one for each state and one in Washington, D.C. The single must-see site in all of Iowa is in Ottumwa.
The list, “50 State Dinners, 2012: Food Pilgrimages You Must Make This Summer” include dishes like lobster, lamb — and loose meats.
“Grub Street’s editors have once again scoured the country looking for fantastic, one-of-a-kind restaurants, no matter which part of the country you wind up in,” states the article, currently a “top story” on their page.
“I’m thrilled to death,” said owner-manager Shirlee Mc Beth of Ottumwa. “Especially if there’s only one in each state. It’s quite an honor.”
Long history of recognition
The landmark lunch spot has been on TV with KCCI in Des Moines, had a write up in “Our Iowa” magazine and been featured in numerous newspapers around the state. But this is the first time Mc Beth remembers being on a best-in-the-nation list out of a place like New York.
She didn’t contact New York magazine. Then again, the Canteen doesn’t do much bragging — or even much advertising.
Long before “word-of-mouth advertising” became a cliché, the Canteen relied on a legion of die-hard fans to spread the word. It’s the voters who have told presidential candidates, congressmen and governors that they “have to” try the Canteen.
Ottumwa’s ambassador to Hollywood, Tom Arnold, has been a frequent guest.
“Tom is very loyal and eats here when he’s in town,” said Mc Beth.
In just the past few years, they’ve served presidential hopeful Ron Paul, U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, well-known Iowa Republican Bob Vander Plaats, groups of off-duty Secret Service agents brought in by a law enforcement officer who is an employee’s son — and just about every political hopeful worth his salt, mustard, pickles and onions.
It’s not uncommon for visitors — including VIPs — to stand around, waiting for a place at the little counter to open up. Around 11:30 a.m. Thursday, nearly every seat was taken.