Fort Dodge is a small community. Its history dates to 1850, when the first Fort was built. The town saw much of its growth in the early part of the twentieth century. Today, it boasts multiple manufacturing companies, which brings plenty of jobs, and new construction usually means growth for a town.
The town surprised me with many ‘things to do.’ From history at Fort Dodge Museum to glass making at Studio Fusion and lively breweries like River Hops. Our small group only tipped the iceberg during our short visit, but as one of our travelers happily said, “I could live here.” Livable and plenty to do the two things that make Fort Dodge, dodging the ordinary.
Living your best life in small-town Iowa
Heather Applegate of Studio Fusion put it best that she is ‘doing what makes her heart happy.” The former dental hygienist brought the studio in 2015 and sees it as her calling. It’s a small art studio in downtown Ft. Dodge, but it is a special place for regulars who frequent the shop and create many art forms, from glass to painting and pottery.
We were offered a glass project to create, and my first question was ‘what do I make?” It was a small piece of glass to adorn but still, “with what?” We were given cutting tools, plenty of glass pieces, and frit (crushed glass) for our small projects. I love glass, especially blown glass, and am always amazed by what artists create. While I am no artist, I made something simple, which will always remind me to ‘make my heart happy.”
Apples a plenty
The scent of apples greets you as you enter the Community Orchards store. This family-run orchard for the last 40 years was recently purchased by Emily and Denny Stucky, locals who were not in the farming business before their purchase. ‘My mom told me to buy it.” Denny said. We know we should always do what our mothers tell us. They haven’t missed a step, preserving the best of what the previous owners perfected.
The apples are sorted and stored just as they have been for 40 years. The handmade apple pies are piled high with freshly picked apples. The bakery turns out mouth-watering food. It was the best caramel apple pie I have ever tasted. The Cinnamon Ice Cream is also notable. New owners will bring new ideas, but new owners who invest in a community treasure are special. Make sure and call for reservations. It’s a popular lunch spot.
Investing in Iowa
I never expected to find award-winning wine in Iowa, but Solider Creek Winery won the People’s Choice at the 2022 Iowa State Fair for its Blanc de Blancs. Iowa wine…
The Secor family made a long-term investment in Iowa wine. They planted vines in 2004 and had their first vintage in 2014. Initially, they farmed corn and soybeans, but after a barn fire, they saw an opportunity and have not looked back. Bill and Rob tend the vines, Anne produces the wines, and Amanda and Megan handle marketing, events, and sales. Our evening wine tasting let us sample all the recent vintages and even one that is yet to be named. They have already earned several awards. I found several of the offerings quite enjoyable. Solider Creek is worth a stop and a taste.
Fort Museum and Frontier Village Tim Morris led our group on a tour of the old Fort and the frontier village. His knowledge of the Fort, the era, and the town was extraordinary. The buildings were transported from a 50-mile radius of Fort Dodge, which gives them authenticity. Tim’s enthusiasm was infectious as he told us stories about each building, from the schoolhouse to the blacksmith.
The Webster County Courthouse
I love old courthouses. The center marble staircase and stained-glass ceiling spoke to a different era.
Eat like a local
You will find all the national chains in Ft. Dodge but eat where the locals eat, and you will rarely be disappointed. We started our day with breakfast at Zakeers and the Ja-Mar Drive-In. The food was simple and hardy, just as it should be. You know when the wait staff knows their customers that you are in good hands. The service was pleasant and quick. How could you ask for more?
Korean food in Iowa? Gaga and Hoo Korean Restaurant may not be the only Korean restaurant in Iowa, but certainly the only one in Fort Dodge. Chef Byeong-Whan Won prepares the dishes and then serenades his customers while they enjoy his food. The food was fresh and delicious. Don’t let the location fool you, and you don’t need to play a round of golf to eat there. The Bulgogi was delicious.
Dinner at the popular local Mineral City Bar and Grill after a long day of learning was quick. The service was prompt, and the food was tasty. The restaurant is named for the mining industry, a large part of the Ft. Dodge economy. The pictures throughout the venue pay tribute to the miners. Located on the main thoroughfare of Ft. Dodge, which makes it easy to find.
Tea Thyme This is a Fort Dodge treasure. The bustling restaurant was filled with customers when we arrived, including the group of The Red Hat ladies who were already sharing stories. As lunch was served, I understood the appeal of Tea Thyme. First, the food was marvelous, and second, the service was exceptional. Do not miss the coconut crème pie. You will not regret it. Make sure to call for reservations.
We also sampled treats from several other businesses in Fort Dodge: Yummy Crumb Bakery provided us with Macaroons, oh so good; Ardy Mae’s Coffee and Dessert provided charcuterie boards, which were a tasty afternoon treat, and Bloomers on Central cinnamon rolls were sinfully scrumptious.
Time for a beer
Ron and Diane Grebner created a retirement hobby in River Hops Brewing. Ron had been brewing beer at home but wanted to take it to a larger scale. The remodel was undoubtedly expensive. Ron’s a master of finding and repurposing wood, windows, and doors, surely saving them some dollars along with his sweat equity. Ron’s selection of beers was eclectic and showed his ability to tailor his brews for a specific crowd, including many of the bands that play at the brewery.
They opened on a usual night off for the twosome. They recently created a game night to host their customers, so Yahtzee was available for all to play. What a treat!
The Blanden Art Museum, founded in 1932, is the first permanent art museum in the state. It celebrated its 90th birthday. Located at the edge of the historic district, the museum is surrounded by gilded-age mansions. The museum collection is eclectic and varied. The small Matisse is one highlight of the collection.
The Fort Dodge Grain Silo Mural is a masterpiece of art. This 125-foot silo is a unique work of art. Australian Artist Guido van Helten thought painting in Iowa would be no different than anywhere else. Painting in December certainly posed its challenges, like keeping his paints from freezing. Each figure holds a piece of clay which has played an integral part in the history of Ft. Dodge. Van Helten’s series of grain silo murals, Monuments can also be seen in Tennessee, Minnesota, and South Dakota. The silo needs to be seen to be believed.
The Brookstone Inn and Suites is not a fancy hotel, but it provides all the amenities guests need, comfortable rooms, breakfast, an exercise room, and a heated pool. Their customer service is superior. The staff did a great job in accommodating our every request. James, their van driver, did a great job ferrying our group throughout the city.
Fort Dodge is worthy of your time to visit. The people are friendly, there’s plenty to see and do, and the food choices are abundant and delicious. For family fun or a girl’s weekend, Fort Dodge should be on your visit. One taste of caramel apple pie at Community Orchards, and you might decide that dodging the ordinary is just what you need to do.
Many thanks to the team at Fort Dodge CVB for sponsoring our three-day workshop. It could not have been better. Just take I-35 north from Kansas City, and hang a right at U.S. 20. You can’t miss it.