Tracie Gregson loves the inherent nostalgia of cupcakes. Each bite reminds her of home. But she’s also aware of the deceptively simple dessert’s endless flavor possibilities. When a friend needed a treat to complement his gourmet barbecue, Tracie took up the challenge and grabbed some slabs of smoked bacon. After some experimentation, she emerged from her kitchen with a maple-bacon cupcake, with a vanilla-spice base crowned with brown-sugar-maple frosting, coarse sugar, and crags of smoked pork.
That cupcake memoir typifies the ongoing flavor development at Tracie Cakes. Eschewing mixes, Tracie prefers scouring online purveyors for the finest ingredients she can find. Shipments regularly arrive with gourmet dutch cocoas, velvety sour creams, and finely sifted powdered sugars that Tracie uses because they balance the sweetness—not too sweet—of her buttercream frostings without sacrificing texture. Such fine ingredients go into her more than 20 flavors of cupcakes, from her personal favorite white wedding cake to the coconut cloud, made with organic cloud flour.
West End Diner’s owners Jay and Betty Lee load an extensive menu of classic diner dishes with fresh, locally sourced ingredients and a slew of heart-healthy options. The aptly named teasers flaunt red bullfighting capes to goad teeth into charging through the spinach-artichoke dip or italian breaded cheese-sticks. Cuisine crafters douse a generous portion of ribs in house-made barbecue sauce for the barbecue loin back ribs, and entrees that include top sirloin steaks and blackened Cajun chicken flip the "no vacancy" switch on twosomes' stomachs. Free refills on soft drinks such as Coke, Sprite, and Orange Fanta fuel continuous feasting, lively conversing, and lubricated opera singing.
The Heart of Iowa Marketplace has purveyed classic Iowa-themed gifts and gourmet foodstuffs in Historic Valley Junction for more than 25 years. Alongside Hawkeye gear, Heart of Iowa’s homemade fudge sits heavily, pondering its dense inner depths and a past life as a bar of gold. Thick cream and real butter collaborate to form the smooth, rich solid that melts upon contact with eager taste buds. Perennial flavor favorites include chocolate walnut and peanut butter swirl, but nuanced palates may pair well with the Iowa Explosion or salted nut roll. Fudge may also withstand the steady heat of the sun without melting, unlike regular chocolate bars or ceiling fans made of ice.
Since 2008, the Mistry family has served up nutrition in liquid form at Fuel Juice Bar. They blend pure fruit purées into smoothies and mix Oreos, peanut butter, and other satisfying ingredients into protein-packed performance shakes. Patrons can also customize shakes with boosters such as Burn Fat Burn or sip locally grown, organic wheatgrass juice. In the warmer months, the spot also serves frozen yogurt rich with live, active cultures.