This article is published in Explore Magazine’s fall & winter 2018 issue, featuring Iowa’s scenic byways. This week, The Gazette will publish articles featuring one byway each day online. You can pick up a hard copy of the magazine at area businesses, convenience stores and grocery stores. You also can pick up a copy at The Gazette.
Memphis meets New Orleans in Bellevue’s historic Potter’s Mill.
It’s where Southern comfort and ragin’ Cajun cuisine team up with the blues and a jolt of jazz in this Mississippi River town.
Situated where the Grant Wood Scenic Byway intersects with Iowa’s Great River Road, it beckons hungry travelers for Sunday brunch and daily lunch and dinner.
Just don’t expect run-of-the-mill fare there.
Blackened catfish, shrimp po’boys, brisket, jambalaya, shrimp and cheesy grits. Take your pick — they’re all good. Even the french fries are seasoned and smoked. Other sides include cornbread, red beans and rice, greens and the popular, exotic-sounding corn maque choux. Even more popular is the burnt ends appetizer, said Mark Herman, 59, who with his wife, Rachel, bought the mill in August 2014 as a retirement venture.
“I’ve never worked harder,” he said with a laugh.
He’s been smoking meat for about 15 years, and the dinner menu features even more offerings from the barbecue pit, as well as the Southern charm of shrimp and chicken etouffee, New Orleans bouillabaisse, Bourbon Street ribeye steak and Southern fried chicken.
Sunday brunch isn’t an all-you-can-eat buffet, but the dishes my friends and I ordered were all we could eat. Some items are lunch-sized versions of dinner-menu entrees, including jambalaya, chicken and seafood dishes. Even the more typical breakfast items ring a Southern bell, including chicken and waffles, fried green tomato eggs Benedict, peaches and cream pancakes, pecan-crusted French toast and smoked brisket hash. You will not go away hungry, guaranteed.
All of this is served up with a heaping helping of historic ambience, from the huge wooden beams crisscrossing the rooms to vestiges of the building’s past life as a flour mill, built in 1843 by Capt. Elbridge Gerry Potter.
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And nearly every Saturday night — and occasional weeknights — blues or jazz ring through the rafters.
It’s all a reflection of the family’s love of travel and music, as well as the restaurant’s name: Flatted Fifth Blues & BBQ at Potter’s Mill.
“Our oldest daughter, Adele, actually came up with the name,” Herman said. “We were looking for a name that represented something unique and a bit unexpected. It also emphasizes our commitment to live blues and jazz.”
Regional musicians and those traveling the national blues circuit have filled the hall with music, including multiple Grammy-nominated Blues Hall of Fame guitarist Bobby Messano, and Brandon Santini, whom Herman described as “one of the greatest harp (harmonica) players you’re going to find.”
The restaurant also caters and hosts banquets, and the third floor, which had operated as an inn, is finding new life as a coffee shop, art gallery and gift shop showcasing local and regional artists.
The Hermans were looking for a dining niche to fill, and it’s working. Social media, public radio and word-of-mouth have helped bring in guests from the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City Corridor, as well as Dubuque, the Quad Cities, Madison, Wis., and the western suburbs of Chicago.
“Since we’re a regional destination, we needed to have food that was unusual that you couldn’t find locally — that people would be willing to travel some distance to try something unique,” Herman said.
If you go
WHAT: Flatted Fifth Blues + BBQ at Potter’s Mill
WHERE: 300 Potter Dr., Bellevue
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
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FEATURES: Southern food and barbecue specialties every day, plus blues and jazz every weekend; third floor art gallery and coffee shop in the works
DETAILS: www.pottersmill.net/#potters-mill or (563) 872-3838
l Comments: (319) 368-8508; email@example.com