Experience History and Culture through Regional Foods

Some of the best memories are made on roads less traveled. What I enjoy most about my job as marketing director for Latham Hi-Tech Seeds is the ability to travel the rural countryside, meet some of the world’s nicest people, experience new things and enjoy regional foods.

Each region is known for something unique. If you’re enjoying “hot dish,” you’re most likely in North Dakota. Runza is distinctly Nebraska. Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, is known for fresh catch of the day and Wild Rice Soup.Chef.Jason.Culbertson Hotel Julien

So how would you describe traditional Iowa fare? “Meat and potatoes” best describes the food scene in Iowa, but Executive Chef Jason Culbertson at the Hotel Julien Dubuque says a food revolution is underway.

“Our culinary roots are heavily influenced cuisine that our ancestors brought from Canada and European countries,” says Chef Culbertson, a Dubuque native and a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Minneapolis.

“Our menus are influenced by what’s grown locally and what’s readily available,” adds Chef Culbertson. “Iowans certainly produce quality meat, but we’re definitely doing meat and potatoes in a more sophisticated, contemporary way. We’re emphasizing plating and presentation more than ever with a focus on making our dishes as aesthetically pleasing as they are delicious.”

Blueberry Banana Fresh Toast

During a recent stay at the Hotel Julien Dubuque, I was treated to a stay in a luxurious Executive Room and breakfast in Caroline’s Restaurant. This trip was part of the research author Darcy Maulsby is doing for the book she’s writing on Iowa’s culinary history. Like Darcy, I enjoy learning about history and indulging in fabulous foods. That’s why I found these facts so fun:

  1. Since 1839, a hotel or inn has occupied the corner of Second and Main.
  2. The Julien has hosted famous guests such as Abraham Lincoln, “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Mark Twain and Al Capone.
  3. After a $30 million restoration in 2009, the Hotel Julien Dubuque has been restored its original grandeur. This stunning boutique hotel marries modern amenities with historic charm. It features “richly appointed suites, a stunning Grande Ballroom, exquisite meeting spaces, and a sunlit pool and fitness center.” (Yes, I took this verbatim from a news release because I couldn’t say it better myself!)
  4. Around 1900, the City of Dubuque was equal to Chicago in size. Dubuque was an important center for trade and commerce, and the Julien was the focal point of this bustling economy. It gained recognition as a gathering place for the city’s rich and famous.
  5. Al Capone may have owned an interest in the Julien. For certain, he was a frequent guest. When things got hot in Chicago, Capone would allegedly take over the entire eighth floor for its vantage point. Capone’s guards watched for Feds or rival gangs crossing the Mississippi from Illinois.

Shannon Latham Hotel Julien Dubuque

The Hotel Julien Dubuque is steeped in history. One of the most interesting characters in its past (IMO) is Caroline Fischer for whom Caroline’s Restaurant is named. Caroline is the great-great-grandmother to the three cousins who today manage the Fischer Companies and the Hotel Julien Dubuque. Caroline’s husband, Louis, was a partner in the Fischer ice business.

When Louis died in 1875, Caroline took over his ice business. Widowed at age 31 years with five young children to raise, this determined woman became one of Iowa’s first female entrepreneurs. Caroline is said to have followed her deliverymen around because taverns to which they delivered ice would provide free drinks to entice the deliverymen to leave a little extra ice. If an employee was passed out in his ice wagon, Caroline drove home his team of horses and wagon with her own horse and buggy in tow!

Caroline eventually bought out her partners in the ice business. She invested in downtown and riverfront property, and brought her family into the business that still exists today. What’s not to love about this type of persistence and spunk? Caroline reminds me of the many women who have blazed trails in Iowa agriculture.

In honor of the tenacity of Iowa’s pioneers, today we’re sharing with you a recipe that puts a twist on a meat and potatoes meal. I love this original recipe for twice baked potatoes from Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman. (You could substitute a favorite of your own.) The twist comes with spooning the twice baked potatoes into a martini glass and garnishing with green onion, shredded cheddar cheese and a cherry tomato on top. Toast the new year with a fun twist on Iowa’s favorite- Meat and Potatoes! This hearty meal is sure to hit the spot on a cold winter’s day or night.

Click here for more recipes from Dubuque.

P.S. You might find it interesting to note the Hotel Julien Dubuque was the featured on the 19th season finale of ABC’s The Bachelor, featuring Iowa farmer Chris Soules.


Mashed Potato Martinis


1/2 pound thin bacon
8 russet potatoes
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 sticks (1/2 pound) salted butter, plus more for buttering baking dish
1 cup sour cream
1 cup grated Cheddar or Jack (or a mix of both), plus more for topping
1 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons seasoned salt
3 green onions, sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cherry tomatoes (as a garnish)


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cook the bacon in a saute pan until crispy; let cool and then crumble.

Scrub the potatoes, then place them on baking sheets. Rub the potatoes with the canola oil and bake until tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the potatoes and lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

Slice the butter into pats and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the bacon and sour cream. With a sharp knife, cut each potato in half lengthwise and scrape out the insides into the mixing bowl. Tear up 3 of the skins and throw them in. Smash the potatoes with a potato masher. Add the cheese, milk, seasoned salt, green onions and some salt and pepper and mix together well.

Butter a baking dish, and then spoon the mixture into the dish, top with more grated cheese and bake until warmed through, 25 to 30 minutes.

Spoon the potatoes into a martini glass and garnish with a few green onions, shredded cheese and a cherry tomato.

To make the best dang mashed potatoes, Cristen of Food & Swine fame says:

  1. Russet potatoes are fluffy and starchy, so they’re perfect for mashed potatoes Peel potatoes and chop them into even-sized pieces. Boil potatoes until tender.
  2. After you’ve boiled and drained potato pieces, mash them BEFORE you add any liquid. (Milk products bind with the starch, which Cristen says messes with the texture of your potatoes and can make them “gluey.”
  3. Once milk products are added, use a light hand and only stir to incorporate.


I love this recipe for twice baked potatoes from Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman. You could substitute a favorite of your own. The twist comes with spooning the twice baked potatoes into a martini glass and garnishing with green onion, shredded cheddar cheese and a cherry tomato on top. Toast the new year with a fun twist on Iowa's favorite- Meat and Potatoes!