Once upon a time there was an old beloved cafe in the central Iowa town of Winterset called the Northside. A charming place with high ceilings, a stamped tin ceiling, a long wooden counter with swivel seats, booths with softened vinyl, old photos, and an old-fashioned sign above the counter that flipped every few seconds to advertise another local business (“Lenny’s auto: instant financing”). The food was nothing to write home about but I took out-of-towners there to soak up the scene. (Did I mention the Northside was the setting for a scene starring a love-struck Clint Eastwood in the film “Bridges of Madison County?”).
There was also, about 10 years ago in Des Moines a beloved cafe called Chat Noir,which served creative fare inspired by New Orleans, France and other Euro spots in a funky old house in the historic Sherman Hill neighborhood. After a strong run, it closed and we still miss it. But now it is back…sort of. The new owners of the Northside are the former owners of Chat Noir. During a Saturday lunch at the Northside earlier this month, we recognized familiar faces ( one of the twin sisters who are the cafe’s co-owners) and several favorite dishes (the muffuletta, the crab and shrimp bisque) but many new things. And the vibe is familiar – welcoming and hip but not too. Plus a new small town coziness. It’s like a mash up of theNorthside and Chat. We loved it and we will be back. When you go try the pulled pork sandwich (not goopy with sauce but instead dry smoked pork), the bisque, sweet potato fries, cold-pressed ice coffee, fresh apple pie. Yum.