Staples of the Glorious Midwest
The American Midwest does not have a cuisine, per se. It simply has food. Lots of food. Mountains of food, much of it in casserole-form, all of it taken from culinary traditions as diverse as American Indian, Scandinavian immigrant, Betty Crocker Farm Wife Americana and the Everything's-Better-With-Cheez! school of gastronomic realism.
Staples of the Glorious Midwest
When people think of Midwestern food, pictures straight out of Norman Rockwell generally spring to mind--images of tow-headed schoolboys eating weenies off the backyard grill, Betty Draper blondes in frilled aprons pulling tuna noodle casseroles from gleaming Maytag ovens and smiling, benevolent grandmothers laying out fresh pies to cool on windowsills beyond which stretch nothing but acres of corn and a million Lassie reruns. Beyond that, it is the Germanic tube-shaped meats--the brats and wieners and sausages--that fire the imagination, the krauts and slaws, Norwegian poverty casseroles, church basement pot-lucks, creamed herring, fruit pies and frozen custard.
For almost all of Foodie History, Midwestern food has been synonymous with American cuisine--the truth behind our reputation for loving meat, potatoes, ham with pineapple rings and putting cheese on top of everything. It has only been recently that American chefs have begun to break away and forge a "New American Cuisine," but those Midwestern impulses toward comfort, locality and gargantuan portion sizes? They're still very much alive. And now they're being glorified right in West Seattle with the opening of the Heartland Cafe.
A little too Levitown for Nebraska, way too Nebraska for the Windy City
Open as of last Friday in the former Admiral Benbow Inn (4210 S.W. Admiral Way), the Heartland Cafe is a restaurant made for the appreciation of the finer points of Midwestern eating. Right now, the menu is a cornucopia of plains states food tropes, offering "tried and true classic comfort food recipes" like chicken fried steak, fresh pies, brats, tots, burgers slathered in chili-with-an-i and, of course, beers because, frankly, there is no such thing as Midwestern food (or American cuisine in general) without beer to wash it down.
As a matter of fact, by way of preserving the drink-sodden history and reputation of this address, the new owners of Heartland (wisely) chose to memorialize the former Admiral Benbow Inn with their Benbow Room bar--a pirate ship-themed boozer with a separate, muraled entrance and (we all hope) at least some of the arguable, historic charm of the original.
You can check out the website for the Heartland cafe right here to get more information (or to suggest Midwestern dishes that should be added to their menu) as the new joint settles into its skin. And if you're looking for some very pretty snaps of the friends and family breakfast (or a peek at the painted entrance to the Benbow Room), there's a gallery here by L.E. Baskow, who also provided a lot of the Midwestern-themed art for the interior.
More details as they come, kids. And you can bet the farm that I'm going to be dropping by Heartland (and the Benbow Room) just as soon as I can to see what sort of culinary delights the kitchen is cooking up.
And when I do, I'll be sure to wear my fat-guy pants.