For the last few days I’ve been wandering around the South Dakota and Iowa countryside geocaching with my buddies to bid farewell to a good friend of the last 7+ years before he departs to San Diego as part of Eagan’s loss of Lockheed Martin. During these trips we do our best to avoid the national chains as best we can and eat in as many local establishments as possible.
On Sunday, while geocaching through George, IA we attempted to stop for breakfast only to find that not one single restaurant existed which was open for breakfast. While there was your typical small town bar and a Pizza Ranch (which seemed even more prolific on this trip than I had ever noticed before–but perhaps that’s due to their new location opening soon in Lakeville), there were no cafes or coffee shops as we have experienced so many other times in small town America. After verifying with the woman working the local Casey’s gas station that our eyes were not deceiving us and that there really were no places to eat breakfast in town, she suggested we try Sibley a couple miles away as we’d probably have better luck there. We eventually made it to Sibley and found the town also seemingly devoid of any restaurants aside from another famed Pizza Ranch. After meeting up with two local geocachers and asking them for restaurant recommendations for breakfast we made our way down the block to The Beach House Drive-In for some grub.
The Beach House Drive-In (Facebook only) wasn’t much to see from the road. Aside from the dim lights glowing within, there were no real signs of life Sunday morning. The drive-in area looked as if it hadn’t been used in at least two decades and was missing its signs. The parking lot was totally empty save for one pickup truck apparently used by the owners. However, as we neared the front door the owners greeted us warmly and offered their services to us.
A little piece of a small beach shack on the Florida coast, The Beach House Drive-in is a little restaurant on the inside with a variety of booths, counter ordering, and cute Florida/beach related kitsch on the walls bringing the sunshine of the South to this small rural Iowa town. A simple menu, written on several white boards above the kitchen window, included your usual breakfast foods such as omelets, pancakes and homemade biscuits and gravy as well as lunch/dinner fare such as burgers and burritos. They also served both hard and soft-serve ice cream as well as many other items which I cannot remember. The prices were all incredibly inexpensive and were definitely meant to attract as many of Sibley’s 2700 residents as possible.
According to one of the owners, Shay, working the counter that morning while her husband worked the kitchen behind her, The Beach House is a dream come true and one that they would never have been able to realize if they had not picked up and moved from Florida, her home for the 19 previous years, to the Midwest. She noted her and her husband were able to buy a house, a new truck, and a restaurant in town for less than they sold their home in Florida and open a very popular and successful restaurant with a focus on keeping local residents fed. Case in point, the owners were at The Beach House at 3:30 AM to feed a mob of more than 30 hungry prom-goers who walked in their doors at 4:15 AM after a night of dancing and after-prom activities.
I ordered their Cheeseburger in Paradise omelet which came with cheese, burger meat, lettuce, tomato, onions, and who knows what else. Wrapped in a perfectly cooked omelet and doused with copious amounts of their available hot sauce (later admitted to be Frank’s, something they use in a lot of their menu items including their chili) the omelet was passable and definitely better than the alternatives I was likely to find at nearby gas stations–our only other options in town. While I was warned that some people do not appreciate the lettuce and tomatoes and I told them to add them anyway, I expected the lettuce and tomato to be added much like a burger’s would be–after the fact and cold. Instead it was cooked along inside the omelet with everything else. Wilted lettuce is not exactly my favorite thing in the world and thus the “passable” rating. The rest of the plate were home fries and dry toast, neither of which were anything to write home about but did the job for the price.
One of my buddies ordered their homemade biscuits and gravy which came in a good sized portion with plenty of sausage. When I asked him if it had a kick he noted it did but being that he cannot handle any sort of spice at all I am guessing his opinion may be a bit on the weak side. Another ordered their pancakes with strawberry topping and a third ordered another omelet which looked similar to mine.
I paid for me Cheeseburger in Paradise omelet with hash browns and toast as well as the pancakes with strawberry topping and my bill came out to a whopping $8.34 before tip. I double checked with the owner to make sure that was everything and she proudly stated it was. Wow, what a deal–no wonder they do such great business.
While I won’t suggest that you drive the four hours to Sibley, IA just for a taste of The Beach House’s food, I do think that they are proving a great service to their tiny little town–something which I think each and every one of us can appreciate and support. So if you’re ever driving in an area which appears to only have gas station fare, try driving a few more miles into town to find that one place which houses two hard-working transplants from Florida looking to live out the American dream.
What stories can you share from your experiences traveling the countryside and eating at tiny little restaurants in the middle of nowhere? Are you willing to overlook quality knowing that you’re supporting the only non-chain restaurant in town? Is it surprising to you that someone would give up their life in Florida, sell their home, and move to rural Iowa to open a restaurant in an economy like the one we have? Whatever you have to say about The Beach House Drive-In or any small town America restaurant go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear what you have to say.
The Beach House Drive-In
625 2nd Ave
Sibley, IA 51249
Tuesday – Sunday: 7:00 AM – 9:00 PM
See all the pictures from The Beach House Drive-in on Flickr here.