I'm not quite certain how I found out about the Redwood Steakhouse in the small west central Iowa town of Anita. It has been on my "restaurants to visit" list for quite sometime. On a trip to Omaha recently, I took the exit off Interstate 80 and made my way into Anita and the Redwood Steakhouse.
Since 1947, the Redwood Steakhouse has been in business, a favorite spot for special dinners, receptions and banquets. In the early 70's, the original owners were looking to sell the business and a young local - Leo Peoppe - was interested. Leo went home on March 13, 1972 - a Friday the 13th, at that - to announce to his wife, Jo Ann, that he had just purchased the Redwood. The Peoppe's officially took over the business on April 1, 1972 - yep, April Fools Day. Through all the superstitions and bad omens that accompanied their purchase, they continue to run the Redwood today.
Local lore has it that the Redwood Steakhouse got its name from the red wood siding that was originally on the building. When the Peoppe's took over, they decided to keep the name the same.
Redwood Steakhouse is located on White Pole Road - which is also Iowa Highway 83 (and formerly U.S. Highway 6) - on the west end of Anita, across from the Crestwood Hills Golf Course and very near Lake Anita State Park. (see map) Heading west on Highway 83, the road takes you to Wiota which is the home of another popular local steakhouse - the Wiota Steak House (which, unfortunately, was damaged by a kitchen fire in late October of last year). Going further west on Highway 83, you run into Atlantic which is the home of The Pines Steakhouse and the Feedlot Steakhouse. Just by driving along the highway between Atlantic and Anita, there's some pretty good steakhouses to try.
It was around 7 p.m. on a rainy evening when I made it into the Redwood Steakhouse. Not many diners were in the place that evening. I didn't know the drill and I didn't know if I needed to be seated by someone or what. No wait staff were in sight as I stood there for a moment before I finally decided to grab a booth along the wall of the restaurant. A waitress finally did appear and see me. She came over to greet me and dropped off a menu. I saw that they had Sierra Nevada pale ale available and I ordered one of those. The server asked me if I wanted a glass with ice with the beer. I sort of looked at her funny and I said, "Is that how they do things in Anita?" She looked at me sort of funny and I quizzically said, "A glass of ice with the beer?"
She sort of rolled her eyes, shook her head and gave a little laugh. "Not a glass of ice," she said in a somewhat embarrassed fashion. "A frosted ice glass with your beer." She had the downhome Iowa appeal to her.
The dining room at the Redwood Steakhouse was nice, but it was like walking back into the 70's. It featured subdued lighting, but bright enough to be able to easily read the menu. Booths with high back olive green naugahyde vinyl coverings were placed along the dark-paneled walls, while tables with matching olive green naugahyde chair backs were placed throughout the middle part of the room. A small bar was near the kitchen. Leo Peoppe was running double duty that night as both the bartender and the grill man.
I got up to use the restroom and on my way I found an old 70's-style Rock-ola juke box. It looked lke it was still in use - it had a number of contemporary and classic country songs on the menu. It was actually pretty cool to see. The Redwood Steakhouse had a great retro feel to it.
Looking through the menu, the main focus is on steak. But they had a surprisingly long list of seafood and fresh water fish on the menu, as well. Pork chops, grilled and fried chicken, burgers and sandwiches also populated the menu. They also had a long list of appetizers including what they called the Number 1 onion rings in the state of Iowa. OK, I've got to try the onion rings if they say they're that good.
The onion rings had a nice flaky beer batter on the outside. This was a small order - for $4.95 - and it was probably more than enough for 2 or 3 people. The only problem was that they were pretty greasy and that I felt the oil they cooked them in needed to be changed. There was just kind of that "well-used oil" taste on the onion rings probably from too many other deep fried items other than onion rings being dropped into the deep oil fryer. Although they were light and flaky, I was disappointed in their taste.
I wanted a steak that evening. The Redwood features USDA Choice steaks and the first steak they have on their menu is called the Redwood Special - a 12 to 14 oz. ribeye. It was either the Redwood Special or the filet. I ordered the Redwood Special, medium rare. A choice of herbed rice, a baked potato, French fries or hash browns came with the meal. I asked my waitress if I could get some cheese and onions on the hash browns. She said, "Oh, you bet. But you know what else I like on my hash browns? Sour cream." She talked me into it.
With the meal I got a salad. I ordered it with the housemade French dressing. I had asked if the dressing was a "Russian or Western-style French", but it confused my server as to what I was really asking for. It turned out it was just a basic French dressing that came on the salad.
And, of course, with any type of throwback steak house worth its salt, a relish tray came with the salad. It featured a wide array of vegetables including pickled beets, sweet dill pickle slices, and celery; cheese cubes, and surprisingly good pickled herring. A relish tray is always a great touch at an old-time steak house.
The steak made it out to the table and between the onion rings, salad and relish tray, I was getting stuffed. The slab of ribeye looked to be more toward the 14 ounce size and the opposite side of the plate was filled with crisp hash browns topped with copious amounts of chopped grill onions and finished with some cheddar cheese. The sour cream came on the side in a small paper container.
The steaks at the Redwood Steakhouse are flat-grilled, not chargrilled or broiled. The flat-grill they have probably has years and years of that grilled meat build up on it that does nothing but enhance the flavor of the meat. The first taste of the steak showed that it had great flavor, not only from the grill, but from the great cut of meat. I usually order my steaks rare or rare-plus, but ribeyes - being that they usually have more marbling - usually need to be at least a medium-rare for me. Surprisingly, the ribeye that they called the Redwood Special was very lean. It had little marbling and most of what fat was on the steak had been cooked out on the flat grill. I could have easily ordered my steak rare, but medium-rare was fine as it was.
The Redwood Steakhouse is a little over 3 miles off Interstate 80. If you're driving between Des Moines and Omaha - or if you're just looking to do a road trip for a great little place for steaks, it's going to be tough to beat the Redwood Steakhouse. I thoroughly enjoyed nearly every aspect of the place - the steak was excellent, the salad was good, the relish tray - always a treat, and the service and ambiance was very good. About the only complaint I would have is the onion rings which were far from being Number 1 in Iowa that evening. This is a place that has been open for over 65 years and under the same ownership for over 40 years. If you're looking for a great retro-style steakhouse, I sincerely recommend the Redwood Steakhouse.