Politics and Pie Shakes: Iowa City's Hamburg Inn


If may sound a little crazy to drive an hour or more to eat at a greasy spoon. Until you consider that numerous politicians have stopped at Hamburg Inn No. 2 on the road to the White House.

Former and sitting presidents have eaten at the Iowa City hot spot too, including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

An hour's drive from the Quad-Cities on Interstate 80, about halfway to Des Moines, the food at Hamburg Inn No. 2 in Iowa City is nothing less than divine. I'm David Heitz, and I approve this message.

Dessert first? Pie shakes in a silver shaker
Hamburg Inn No. 2 may be most famous for its pie shakes. As in, real pie crumbled into a hand-scooped, whipped-cream-topped, ice cream shake.

I order the cherry pie shake. Can you even imagine? Fresh cherries from a fresh cherry pie, atop the tastiest crust you ever have had, melting in your mouth alongside homemade ice cream and whipped topping, in a shake.

It should be illegal.

You can also get it in blueberry, pineapple, apple, peach, rhubarb...you name it. Don't like pie? They can make you a donut shake – with fresh donuts. Not. Kidding.

Sandwiches unlike any you ever had
Pulled pork sandwiches are as common as pigs in Iowa, but there is nothing like the pulled pork sandwich I had during my trip to Hamburg Inn No. 2. This pulled pork sandwich was dressed with cilantro mayo, grilled onions, and pepper jack cheese. And it's served on a jalapeno bun.

Genius. And you get two sides. I chose fries and macaroni and cheese, which was so good it was ridiculous.

All of the sandwiches are insanely clever twists on old standbys, whether it's the prime rib dip, grilled cheese, The Cuban or any of the others. There are burger choices aplenty and a famous tenderloin, too. They also serve breakfast and dinner.

The atmosphere will make you smile
Expect the place to be packed with college students, as it's literally right in the middle of all things University of Iowa. But also expect to see everything from senior citizens to world-class doctors from all over the globe who work at nearby University Hospitals. Tourists from just about everywhere stop in as they are passing through on Interstate 80, one of the nation's most traveled coast-to-coast arteries. Hamburg Inn No. 2 is just a short drive once you exit the interstate at mile marker 244, at 214 N. Linn St.

The walls are covered with signed photos from all the politicians who have stopped there while stumping in Iowa, often a swing state and always important with its first-in-the-nation caucus status.

Pay toilets and parking meters
Be advised of the "pay toilets" in the basement, which has a super-low ceiling. You also will find a CNN poster signed by one of its famed anchors and the restaurant's lost-and-found box down there.

Oh, and while they may let you slide on the nickel pay toilets, the parking meters cost $1 and have an hour time limit. Iowa City shows no mercy with its meters.

Be prepared with exact change or be smarter than I am and be able to figure out how to swipe your card on the meters. The directions say you can, but I couldn't figure it out.

All totaled, I had the beautiful meal pictured with this story, plus tip and parking, for $22. It was worth every cent.

David Heitz has been a journalist for three decades and has scoured every inch of the Quad-Cities. He says he knows too much so he mostly writes about health these days, but still enjoys pointing out what's right about the Quad-Cities.