Four Stars: Iowa has another Woodfire Grille

The Woodfire Grille at Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque, Iowa, is a twin of the casino restaurant in Northwood, Iowa, just south of Albert Lea.

One of the best dining rooms in the Rochester area is on the Iowa side of the line, at the Diamond Jo Casino in Northwood. The Woodfire Grille has won more than its share of Four Stars awards over the years, for Alaskan king crab legs , for one thing, and for elegance and atmosphere, only Pescarain Rochester compares.

But you may not know there's more than one Diamond Jo Casino — and more than one Woodfire Grille. The other pairing is in Dubuque, and it's owned and operated by the same state-licensed company, Boyd Gaming .

My wife and I were on our way home from that trip to Springfield, Ill., that I wrote about a few weeks ago, and we looped through Dubuque to see how their Woodfire Grille compares with "ours." The Dubuque casino is larger and grander. It's just across the road from the impressively redeveloped Mississippi riverfront, and needless to say, it has more visitors than the Northwood version. You might expect the dining room to be a little grander as well.

It is. As good as the Northwood restaurant is, the Dubuque version is ahead by a nose. The room is flashier, with art glass and decorative gas jets firing up along the windows. Though the menu is similar, it's deeper, and there are a few appetizing twists, such as the grilled romaine salad ($8) with heads of baby romaine lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, asparagus and mushrooms, and the Berkshire chop ($29). For dessert, you can never go wrong with molten chocolate, and their petite cake presentation with homemade vanilla ice cream and fresh berries is a work of art. (The Northwood casino has more desserts on the menu, FYI.)

Also, in all my years of dining, I've never been at a restaurant that uses a transverse table knife — a knife with the handle turned 90 degrees, so the blade is at rest upright. Why aren't all table knives designed this way?


Dubuque is only half the size of Rochester, but it has more glorious historic architecture in just a few blocks than Rochester has in the whole town. If you've never been there, it's worth at least a day trip, with a stop at Woodfire Grille.

Harbor View adds Thursdays

Across the river and down about 30 miles from Red Wing, the Harbor View Cafe in Pepin, Wis., is now open on Thursdays, and they'll add Mondays in late May, when they'll be in full swing for the summer.

This is the Harbor View's 35th year, so it's a good year to celebrate. I always tell friends, don't rush the experience when you get there. Enjoy a glass of wine out front while you wait for a table, and when you get through the door, sit back and soak it in. It's one of summer's pleasures on the big river.

Hot Brown is hot stuff in Louisville

I mentioned the Hot Brown sandwich in last week's column and said it's a Cincinnati favorite, but Four Stars reader Amanda G.notes the Hot Brown "actually hails from Louisville, Ky. It's named after the beautiful and historic Brown Hotel ." Amanda refers to the open-faced turkey sandwich as a "glutinous delight, for sure, and often enjoyed at this special Derby time of year."

I asked Amanda what the secret is to a good Hot Brown, and she said by email, "A great Hot Brown consists of a lot of fat, but it's oh so good!"

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