Picnic At Big Creek With Cafe Fixings

The chicken sandwich and Asian wrap at Main Street Cafe and Bakery are ideal for lunch on a warm summer day.

Writer: Wini Moranville 

As part of my ongoing goal of enjoying great locally made food in the great outdoors, I ventured out to Big Creek State Park, and a discovered some terrific picnic food along the way.

Getting There: If your GPS sends you to Big Creek via Iowa Highway 141, heads up: The construction of the flyover ramp from 80/35 to 141 is causing all kinds of delays. For the time being, a more seamless route is to go via Ankeny. Fortuitously, this gives you a chance to swing by the excellent Main Street Cafe and Bakery to pick up superior picnic fixings. Then you’re about 20 minutes away from Big Creek (via Iowa 415 and Northwest 144th Street – set your GPS). 

Big Creek: This state park, surrounding an 814-acre lake, offers the largest beach within the Iowa State Park system, as well as hiking and biking trails, boat rentals, fishing and disc golf. It’s also a picnicker’s paradise: Dozens of picnic shelters and tables dot the park’s 3,550 acres. Numerous cabanas (one-table shelters) near the marina and beach make it possible to people-watch (a rare pleasure these days) while also social distancing. Although the cabanas and other shelters can be reserved, on the weekday of our visit, plenty were available (without cost). Want more seclusion? Picnic tables and shelters in more remote spots throughout the park help you get away from it all. 

Main Street Cafe and Bakery: What a gem! Choose from dozens of salads, hot and cold sandwiches, burgers, wraps, rice bowls, pastas and mac-and-cheese combos, many kicked up a notch with fun twists – e.g., cilantro pesto, sugared pecans, sun-dried aioli. On a hot day, we opted for the cold side of the menu and scored a great sweet apple chicken salad sandwich (made all that much better with cranberry mustard) and an Asian chicken wrap. Flavor highlights of this refreshingly crunchy feast included fresh sweet peppers, wonton strips, peanut sauce and sesame seeds. 

Whatever you do, don’t pass up the bar cookies. While the lemon bar was fine in the way you’d expect, the Carmalita Bar is worth a detour to Ankeny: Ooey-gooey in the best possible way, it’s chocolatey and caramely and brown sugary and crumbly and all at once. Bring an icy cooler and zip-close bags so you can pick extras up to tote home.

Main Street Cafe and Bakery is at 2510 White Birch Drive, Ankeny; 515-964-7141.

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