Dining Out

Get outside and enjoy a meal under the open sky

During Fridays at the Farm at the Middlebrook Agrihood in Cumming, residents and visitors gather to enjoy food trucks, live music and fresh produce from Middlebrook Farm. Photo: Claire Zellmer

Writer: Hailey Evans

Early summer in Iowa means longer, brighter days — ample time for happy-hour bites at patios all around the city. But if you’re really looking to soak in the great outdoors over an evening meal, you may want to head out to the country. Luckily, you won’t have to go far.

Photo: Claire Zellmer

Photo: Claire Zellmer

Middlebrook Farm, Cumming

The concept for Fridays at the Farm began in the summer of 2020, right in the thick of the initial COVID-19 outbreak. Restaurant closures and various lockdowns meant people cooped up inside were longing for activities outside their own four walls. The Middlebrook Farm and nearby Agrihood development was in a unique position to host concerts outside, where folks could spread out in the vast, open-air expanse of the property.

The events have evolved, and this year’s series is set for every Friday from May 24 through Sept. 27. If you go, you’ll find local food trucks, a wine wagon, a farmers market with 15-20 vendors and fresh produce grown on-site, and a gaga ball pit for the kiddos. As of press time, the team from Wilson’s Orchard over by Iowa City was planning to open an additional orchard here, with a bar and restaurant — all up and running in time for Fridays at the Farm. Admission is free.

Four summers in, the weekly gatherings have caught on, especially among city slickers looking for an easy escape to the country. Some nights attract up to 600 visitors, spread out on blankets and lawn chairs. “It’s a fun way to get out and do something unique,” said Tiffany Lynch, the farm’s marketing and events manager.

Photo: PepperHarrow Flower Farm

PepperHarrow Farm, Winterset

Adam and Jenn O’Neal have cultivated a bucolic paradise over their 20-acre flower farm in Madison County. Meadows of lavender, dahlias, roses, sunflowers and more rise around the main farmhouse. The couple also grows herbs like fennel, chives and oregano. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect setting for a special meal.

This summer they’re offering two multi-course, prix fixe al fresco dinners from the team at Tangerine Food Co. Diners can choose either date or both: June 21 among two acres of fragrant lavender or Sept. 13 among 12,000 dahlias in full bloom. You’ll have a table to yourself surrounded by the flora of your choice.

For something more laid-back, the farm is hosting a picnic on June 22, when parties of two can enjoy charcuterie and watch the sun set over the lavender fields. The reservation comes with a PepperHarrow picnic basket stocked with a large blanket, plates, cups, cutlery and a charcuterie box that includes dessert. Sip on iced tea, lemonade, water or a selection of wine and beer, or bring your own favorite beverage from home.

Photo: Wallace Centers of Iowa

Wallace Centers of Iowa, Orient

When chef Katie Porter started hosting Thursday dinners at the Wallace House in Des Moines about 10 years ago, the resurgence of farm-to-table meals was still relatively new, said Ann Taylor, vice president of marketing and development for Wallace Centers of Iowa. But the public was quick to embrace the idea, and farm-to-table concepts filled restaurant menus over the next decade. That’s exactly what the centers set out to do: “to connect Iowa’s food, land and people.”

Pizza on the Prairie started in much the same way at the Wallace Farm in Orient, where Vice President Henry A. Wallace was born. In 2019, a “pizza farm” sprung up with a brick oven to bake pies topped with ingredients grown right on the farm. Whatever isn’t grown on site is typically sourced from other Iowa producers like Milton Creamery and Graziano Brothers. House-made sides and desserts are also crafted from farm produce. This year’s series runs Fridays from May 31 through Sept. 27. Reservations for the first few dates open in mid-May, with more dates opening as the season progresses.

“It’s really a whole property experience,” Taylor said of the farm’s 9 acres of restored prairie. During the pizza nights on Fridays, guests can walk the prairie paths to see Iowa-made artwork and get a sense of where their pizza came from. Signs explain the site’s history, the Wallace family’s legacy and their worldwide impact on agriculture. As Taylor put it, “It’s deeper than just coming out for pizza.”

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