Someone who Cindy works with had told her about a supper club/steakhouse in Muscatine that has been open for over 55 years by the name of the Elms. I had never heard of the place, nor had I ever known there was any other place of fine dining other than the recently shuttered Button Factory in Muscatine. Cindy had a doctor's appointment in Muscatine late one afternoon and she talked me into taking her down there and then going out to eat at the Elms directly afterward.
Since we don't get down to Muscatine all that much, I was sort of intrigued by the fact that a place like The Elms had been in business since 1958. Muscatine County Sheriff Charles Anson and his wife, Anna, were the original owners of the Elms. Anson stepped down as sheriff in 1960 to concentrate on running the business. (He did run for sheriff again in 1964, but lost the election.)
Charles Anson suffered a fatal heart attack at the Elms in early 1965 and a year later one of the 10 Anson children, Gary, came in to take over the business for his family. Gary Anson ran the Elms for 30 years before retiring and selling the business to Jeanne Staats, a family friend of the Anson's. Staats eventually sold the business to two workers at the Elms - chef Justin Arp and manager Amanda Hart - in June of 2010. Arp and Hart continue to run the business today.
The Elms is located on Grandview Ave. in southwest Muscatine (see map). Before the Highway 61 by-pass around Muscatine was opened in 1984, Grandview Ave. was the main route in and out of Muscatine on the south side of the city. It was pretty early - after 5 p.m. - when we pulled into the spacious parking lot at the Elms. We joked that we were like an old married couple having dinner that early. I jokingly wondered if they had tapioca pudding at the Elms.
There is a main dining room off to the right as you come in, along with a small room for overflow or private functions. But the dining room lights were off and I turned to my left to go into the lounge area of the Elms. A lady - I presume it was Amanda Hart - greeted us. I said, "Are you guys open for dinner?"
She replied, "Oh, sure. We just don't open the dining room until the weekends." She grabbed a couple menus for us and asked if we wanted to sit in the lounge or in a room behind the lounge. We spied a booth in the other room and planted ourselves in there. She took our drink order and said that another girl would be waiting on us.
The room we were in was sort of an interesting mix of kitsch and cheesy decor. There were some interesting pictures, posters and art work on the wall, including the venerable "Dogs Playing Poker". The picture on the wall at our booth was the famous portrait of "Kramer" from the Jerry Seinfeld Show. It was barely the holiday season and a number of Christmas lights were strung throughout the room. I wondered if they possibly had the lights up year round. On the far end of the room was an old leather couch with a coffee table in front. There appeared to be a number of games on top of and underneath the coffee table. In the corner near the couch, there were some musical instruments that looked like they were sort of haphazardly put away after a jam session. The room made me smile.
A few moments after we ordered drinks, a young lady - Brittany - showed up with our drinks and wondered if we had any questions on the menu. Cindy wanted to know if they had any specials that evening. "No, generally not through the week," Brittany said. "We usually have prime rib on the weekends, but not through the week." She gave us a few minutes to look over the menu.
I was looking at getting a steak and they had a filet, a ribeye and a strip steak on the menu. I decided on getting the strip steak - medium rare (I figured this was the type of place that probably couldn't do a rare steak correctly). With it, I got steak fries and the vegetable of the day came with the steak which were green beans. Cindy ordered a ribeye - medium - with rice and the green beans.
Cindy also ordered a salad and I wanted to try a cup of their beef barley soup. She wanted garlic, but they didn't have garlic. She ended up with, if I remember right, a creamy blue cheese dressing. Brittany brought out the salad and the cup of soup not long after we ordered our food. The beef barley soup had a nice deep brown base to it with chunks of steak embedded within. But the first bite - whoa! I use little to no salt in my diet and the beef barley soup was VERY salty. Almost too salty to eat. What ever type of bouillon they were using, it was too salty. I offered Cindy a bite and she, too, said, "Boy, that's salty!" If she says it's too salty, it's too salty.
We were the only ones in the restaurant getting food and it still took a little time for the food to come out. Good food requires good preparation I've always said, so we weren't unhappy that it took a little bit of time to come out.
When Brittany did bring the steaks out, we were ready to eat. From first glance, I could tell the meat was not the finest cuts we've had, but they were still serviceable. Cindy's ribeye looked like one of the most lean cuts of a ribeye steak I'd ever seen. It was almost void of any marbling. In fact, I had to take a closer look at it to make sure it really was a ribeye. I did dig the large steak-cut fries they had at the Elms.
My medium-rare strip steak was more medium than medium-rare. I guess I should have ordered it rare to make sure it wasn't overcooked. The thickness of the steak was more thin than what I'm accustomed to at other steakhouse/supper clubs. And while the meat had some good flavor to it, it was just a little too much overcooked for my taste.
As I said, Cindy's ribeye had little to no marbling. Her steak was actually more medium-rare than my steak was. I wondered if possibly they may have gotten ours mixed up in the kitchen as to the final temperature. She said her steak was just "OK". I had to agree. My steak was just "OK" and really nothing that got me excited in the least.
Because the steaks weren't all that thick, we could easily finish both of them. I hardly touched my green beans and had about half of the steak fries, which were very good. Cindy did like what she had of both her rice and green beans. Overall, it was a pretty average meal.
That's not to say that our meal at the Elms was bad. It was all right, but not outstanding. The staff was very friendly toward us and Brittany did a good job in taking care of us. The steaks were all right, but it was not the best - and certainly not the worst - we've ever had. For an old-style Midwestern supper club, the Elms is pretty average. If I'm in the area again and hungry, I may go back. But I probably won't make a round trip from Davenport just to go all the way there for a steak. (Picture courtesy the Elms Facebook page.)
(Update - December 2014 - We were down in Muscatine and happened to go by The Elms, or what remained of it. It was definitely closed and looked to have been closed for quite sometime.)