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Culinary Tour savors Iowa’s farming, food heritage

By Staff | Apr 26, 2019

Alessandra Meschini, one of the hosts of Wow! Des Moines food tours, shows off an impressive breaded pork tenderloin from Smitty’s Tenderloin Shop. This southside Des Moines restaurant, which has served guests since 1952, gained national acclaim because of the attention its tenderloins received during the Iowa caucuses in 2016.




DES MOINES – There’s no denying that much of Des Moines’ dynamic, diverse culinary scene is rooted in the farming heritage that defines Iowa. New Wow! Des Moines culinary tours are offering a new way to celebrate Iowa icons, from breaded pork tenderloins to loose-meat sandwiches.

The only prerequisite to join in the fun? Bring a healthy appetite.

- Farm News photo by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby Two of Iowa’s most iconic sandwiches, including the loose-meat sandwich (known by the brand name Maid-Rite) and the breaded pork tenderloin, are featured on the Wow! Des Moines Tenderloin Tour.

“When we travel, we look for food tours so we can experience a city in a more intimate way,” said Eric Prosperi, president/co-founder of Wow! Des Moines Tours, who conducts the tours with Alessandra Meschini, owner of Cooking with Alessandra in downtown Des Moines. “We try to provide the same experience here.”

Wow! Des Moines offered its first food tour on November 18, 2018. Since then, the company has conducted about 12 tours and taken more than 250 people around Des Moines. One popular tour includes the Tenderloin Tour, which showcases the sandwich made famous by Iowa’s pork industry. There’s also a nod to Iowa’s beef industry, since loose-meat sandwiches are on the menu, too.

“Love a great pork tenderloin? Des Moines has some of the best and so much more culinary history,” said Prosperi, who enjoys sharing stories from his own research and from the book “The Culinary History of Iowa.” “This tour explores foods that were made famous here, along with the restaurants that are keeping these traditions alive.”

The April 6 Tenderloin Tour included approximately 25 guests who enjoyed group transportation to local restaurants, including Smitty’s Tenderloin Shop. This southside Des Moines restaurant, which has served guests since 1952, gained national acclaim because of the attention its tenderloins received during the Iowa caucuses in 2016.

The tour also stopped at Paula’s Cafe in Valley Junction, West Des Moines, where guests sampled breaded pork tenderloin and loose-meat sandwiches while learning tasty tidbits of Iowa food history.

“We show off the food, but also try to introduce people to various neighborhoods in the community,” Prosperi said. “Even those who are natives enjoy learning the history, hidden places and tips we talk about.”

Tours serve up plenty of food for thought, including facts and history of famous Iowa foods; stories of recipe origins, preparation methods and ingredients; plenty of photo and social media opportunities; quality time to enjoy with friends or family; the opportunity to meet and interact with restaurant owners/managers; and additional surprises along the way – like stories and samples of Jell-O, a perennially popular Iowa treat.

“What I appreciate about Iowa food is the way the restaurants take so much pride in cooking items like fried pork tenderloins and loose-meat sandwiches,” Prosperi said. “They are keeping up a tradition, and it shows.”

Guests love exploring various restaurants and appreciate the special attention the restaurants give them, he added.

“We want to encourage people to try new things. I’m so pleased that people enjoy the history as much as the food,” he said.

Prosperi and Meschini continue to create new tours to offer guests even more tastes of Iowa culture and food. Upcoming tours including a taco tour and a farmers’ market tour in Des Moines.

“There are so many fun things to explore,” he said.

George’s Maid-Rites

This recipe comes from Chef George Formaro of Des Moines.

2 pounds ground beef

1/4 cup water

1 level tablespoon beef soup base

1/2 teaspoon kitchen browning sauce

1/2 teaspoon Accent

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon cracker meal (or crushed saltine crackers)

Place beef and all other ingredients except the cracker meal in a pan, and cook on low heat until beef is tender, about 15 minutes. Add cracker meal; simmer another 10 minutes. Serve with pickle, mustard and diced onion.

Breaded pork


1 cup flour (divided)

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

Approximately 1/2 sleeve saltine crackers (crushed)

3-4 boneless pork loin chops, tenderized

Lard (or canola oil) – enough for about 1/2 to 3/4″ in bottom of pan

Set up your breading stations. One with 1/2 cup flour, one with the egg and milk mixed and the other with the crackers and other 1/2 cup of flour mixed. (You can season your breading if you like with salt or seasoning salt.)

Dip your tenderloin in the flour. Coat on both sides. Dip in egg/milk mixture. Coat with cracker/flour mixture, gently pressing into the tenderloin so it sticks. Fry in hot oil/lard approximately 3-4 minutes on each side until cooked through.

Drain on paper towels. Serve on buns with desired condiments, including mustard, mayonnaise, dill pickle chips, ketchup, sliced onion, lettuce and tomato. Tenderloins can also be cut into strips and dipped in ketchup.

Strawberry pretzel squares

2 cups crushed pretzels

3/4 cup butter, melted

3 tablespoons sugar


2 cups whipped topping

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar


2 packages (3 ounces each) strawberry gelatin

2 cups boiling water

2 packages (16 ounces each) frozen sweetened sliced strawberries, thawed

In a bowl, combine the pretzels, butter and sugar. Press into an ungreased 13-inch by 9-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

For filling, in a small bowl, beat whipped topping, cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Spread over pretzel crust. Refrigerate until chilled.

For topping, dissolve gelatin in boiling water in a large bowl. Stir in strawberries with syrup; chill until partially set. Carefully spoon over filling. Chill for 4-6 hours or until firm. Cut into squares; serve with whipped topping if desired. Yield: 12-16 servings.

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