Hamburg Inn No. 2, Iowa City, Iowa
If you want to be president of the United States, you pretty much have to visit the Hamburg Inn. No, I’m not kidding. Iowa’s status as the first caucuses in the nation for presidential elections means virtually every hopeful for the Oval Office has to do some campaigning in Iowa, and the Hamburg Inn is basically a required stop for those folks. The restaurant features a presidential table and runs a coffee bean caucus (which means absolutely nothing) where patrons vote for their candidate of choice.
The list of those who have been is long and includes Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and several others. There will be no opportunity to test the theory that you must visit the Hamburg Inn to be elected, as Mitt Romney is also on the list of politicians who have made the trip to the Iowa City diner.
Politics aside, the restaurant’s name is slightly unusual because there are no other Hamburg Inns, at least, not anymore. At one point, there was both a Hamburg Inn No. 1 and a Hamburg Inn No. 3, located in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids respectively. Both those locations are gone now, and they chose not to remove the number, leaving the No. 2 in as a reminder of what used to be, I guess.
Reminder or not, the one remaining location is famous for three things: omelets, burgers and milkshakes. Specifically, it’s famous for pie and cake milkshakes, which are exactly what they sound like. You choose from one of the Hamburg Inn’s pies or cakes, and the staff will take a piece and blend it into the milkshake. Options include fruit pies, cream pies, their special chocolate bourbon pecan pie and red velvet cake. All can be blended into a large milkshake, served in a big tin topped with whipped cream.
Luckily, this was a restaurant where I had my wonderful girlfriend Amy McFann with me, which meant I got to enjoy a little of two shakes (Don’t worry, she did too). She chose the red velvet cake shake (top), while I opted for the apple pie. Both are simply wonderful. The cake or pie dominates the taste of the shake, with the blending stopped before it gets completely ground into the shake. This means it’s likely you might find a piece of apple or part of the crust or something while you’re drinking your shake, which is a pretty nice touch.
Besides the shakes, the Hamburg Inn is also famous for its omelets and breakfasts. The Hamburg features 15 omelets available, with options ranging from the Iowa (ham, hash browns, American) to the Cheesesteak (yes, it’s basically a Philly cheesesteak as an omelet) to the Garden Florentine (a veggie lover’s in hollandaise sauce). I decided to go with the Garden omelet, which basically excludes only spinach and the hollandaise sauce from the Florentine. It’s pretty awesome. The American cheese complements the vegetables well, and anything with mushrooms and tomatoes is usually a big plus.
Amy opted for their corn dogs, which aren’t well-known, but according to her, they were high-quality. She was a little bit annoyed by the presence of their “Cuban”, and the quotes definitely belong. That’s one of the few flaws about the Hamburg, their Cuban is anything but. Neither of us tried it, but we didn’t need to in order to know it’s not Aguila’s. Being from Tampa, Amy knows what is on a proper Cuban, and what is not. A Cuban is never made with sourdough bread, except here. I’m not sure what they were thinking on that one, but not a smart decision there.
But with a strong menu and great shakes elsewhere, you don’t really need everything to be perfect. This place is pretty historic, and as long as you stay away from the Cuban, it’s worth the hype. After a long search, I’ve finally found a high-quality restaurant in eastern Iowa.
Time to go: The Hamburg is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., and I believe breakfast is served all day.
Wait during my visit: Not long. The restaurant is small, but Iowa City isn’t all that big either.
Location: The Hamburg Inn can be found at 214 North Linn Street in Iowa City, Iowa.
Cost: Plan on about $15 for entree and shake, and you need to order at least one shake, even if you split it.
Parking: There is a small lot, although it is hard to see. Off to the side is where you find it. On another note, who decided to call it a parking lot, given that you could be saying there is a lot of parking available? People, think before you make words.
Seating arrangement: Booths, chairs and stools. The restaurant is cramped, and it might not be easy on bigger customers.
Website: It was down when I wrote this, but it’s The Hamburg Inn No. 2
Signature items: Pie shakes, omelets, burgers