Not many people consider a museum cafe a true dining destination, but this unassuming eatery in the Waterloo Center for the Arts lobby holds some surprises, not the least of which is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. Energetic chef Dan Ankrum is making a name for himself and the cafe, while apprenticing other young chefs and sharing his passion for fresh, local food with anyone who will listen.
A chalkboard lists a small selection of sandwiches and daily specials highlighting grass-fed beef and homemade bacon. Barbecue pops up frequently as the staff tests recipes for professional competitions. To wit, a half-rack of tender pork ribs served with a sweet Memphis-style sauce ($6) and sandwiches stuffed with pulled pork or brisket ($7.50) are smart orders when available. On the side or on its own, the fresh sweet corn chowder is thick and delicious. The tempting aroma of fresh-baked cookies made with locally sourced eggs, flour and butter often wafts through the lobby, and on “slow food Fridays,” staff urge diners to eschew fast food in favor of a flavorful, made-from-scratch meal at a comparable price.
Cedar Valley residents have an advantage over visitors: They get the opportunity to participate in the chef’s “pop up” dinners throughout the year. The multicourse gourmet meals pair with fine wines at different locations throughout the metro area. For travelers, though, the cafe is a good lunch stop while exploring the downtown’s museums and riverfront attractions.