“Eat Like a Local”- Dubuque Mealtime Favorites

Sometimes our family’s favorite meals are as diverse as our family members themselves, but there are some mealtime favorites that you can be sure are winners among residents of Dubuque County.  Like turkey and dressing sandwiches for instance, if you’ve heard of them, then you probably grew up here.

This week I have researched and met with some of the area’s finest Iowa ‘foodies’, including Jeff Cremer of Cremer’s Grocery, Frank (the 5th) Fincel of Fincel’s sweet corn, and Darcy Maulsby [www.darcymaulsby.com], an Iowa storyteller, historian and author of “A Culinary History of Iowa.” Come along as we explore some simple family favorites that are near and dear to the folks in Dubuque County.

Turkey and Dressing Sandwiches

Thanksgiving is coming, but there is no need to wait until November for this Dubuque County favorite.  In fact, it’s better if you don’t wait, as the most famous turkey and dressing sandwiches from Cremer’s Grocery, 731 Rhomberg Ave, are only available on a first come, first serve basis from November 1 to January 1.

Turkey and dressing is not simply a hot turkey sandwich, nor does it refer to the individual components, turkey and dressing, served together. A ‘proper’ turkey and dressing sandwich takes cooked turkey, mixes it with stuffing and gravy to give you a thick meaty mixture served on a bun.  The ratios of turkey to stuffing and gravy vary depending on the person preparing it.  Some prefer more turkey, some prefer more starch, but according the Jeff Cremer, of Cremer’s Grocery, the secret is in the stuffing.  “A good stuffing will give you a good turkey and dressing sandwich.”

The turkey and dressing phenomenon has been a part of Dubuque families’ mealtime traditions for years, but it really became iconic as the dish served at the Sacred Heart (now Holy Spirit parish) fall festival.  Cremer’s Grocery started making the sandwich for the festival 45 years ago, and to that point, it had never sold it in their store.  Now, it has become a company staple.  While they don’t claim to have invented the sandwich, they certainly have perfected it, and made it a highly sought after item for Dubuquers.

Fincel’s Sweet Corn

Sweet corn is summertime standard among Iowans, but Fincel’s has been a name for sweet corn in the Dubuque community for over 130 years.

The business was actually started by Mary Fincel back in 1886, and began as a roadside stand selling sweet corn in Dubuque.  Fincel’s was also one of the first vendors to participate at the Dubuque Farmers Market and are one of the only ones to have stuck around so long.  They are always testing out new varieties and sampling them among their family to grow their customers some of the best sweet corn you’ll find in the Midwest.  Fincel’s sweet corn is usually available starting around the 4th of July and continuing well into the fall.  Many families will freeze the corn to keep for use in their holiday meals, making Fincel’s a holiday standby as well.

The farm has been family operated for the last 6 generations, and also sells other items like watermelon, cucumbers, and potatoes, but they will always be known for their sweet corn.  “I never get tired of the sweet corn,” says Frank (the 5th) Fincel.  “We start picking it by hand in the morning as soon as we can see.  Its hard work, but I love it.”


The maid-rite sandwich originated in 1926 near Muscatine, Iowa.   According to the company website, the story starts with local butcher Fred Angell experimenting with different types of ground beef and combinations of spices.  One day he asked a friend to try out his latest creation.  Reportedly, his friend said, “Fred, that sandwich was made right!”  The phrase stuck and the maid rite sandwich took off from there!

A maid-rite is a simple seasoned lose meat, ground beef sandwich.  It’s not a hamburger and it’s not a sloppy joe, although many use the terms interchangeably.  According to Darcy Maulsby, hamburgers compress the ground meat into a patty, whereas maid-rites are just the loose meat. The sloppy joe takes ground beef and includes ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, brown sugar, or another sauce used the bind the sandwich together.  The maid-rite sandwich is still a family favorite in Iowa, but the restaurant has brought the concept to Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio with 11 locations outside the state.

Pork Tenderloin

Iowa is the top producer of pork in the nation, so it stands to reason that we know how to make a pork tenderloin better than anyone else.  While a bit confusing, the pork tenderloin sandwich is not actually made from the cut of pork called the tenderloin.  Tenderloin sandwiches are actually thinly pounded pieces of center cut pork, breaded and fried to perfection.  It is a variation of German Schnitzel, so it definitely took off among those with German heritage in Dubuque.

The breaded pork tenderloin traces its roots back to Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington, Indiana.  Indiana and Iowa still have a fierce competition for the claim to the ‘best pork tenderloin sandwich.’  Everyone does it differently, and everyone has their favorite one.  Each year the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) crowns a statewide pick for Iowa’s Best Pork Tenderloin during October Pork Month.  They also sponsor the Iowa Pork Tenderloin Trail, where trail-goers can enjoy some of Iowa’s finest tenderloin sandwiches and get their tenderloin passport stamped at 14 different locations throughout the state.  It’s a great way to explore some of Iowa’s most unique restaurants… and you can start right here in Dubuque County at Brietbach’s Country Dining in Sherrill.

We hope you have enjoyed your journey through some traditional Dubuque and Iowa iconic foods.  Join us next week to uncover some of more hidden gems and unique foods found in our region. What’s your family’s favorite dish?  Let us know in the comments!

Happy eating everyone!

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