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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Great Pie just a stone’s throw from Grinnell

20 miles southwest of Grinnell and 30 minutes away by car, Sully is a town of a little under a thousand with a small downtown dwarfed by the massive grain elevators of the Sully Co-op Exchange that rise to the south. The Coffee Cup Café, however, has earned a reputation that outgrows this town’s small size and relative anonymity, in no small part because of its pie.

Ed Levine ’73, a Grinnell alum and founder of, lists the Coffee Cup as one of 10 great places in the United States to eat pie in a recent article in USA Today (he discovered the Coffee Cup while attending Grinnell). When RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) passed through here in 2006, Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was at the Coffee Cup eating a piece of pie, as the many photographs and newspaper clippings on the bulletin board at the restaurant can attest.

The Coffee Cup’s local and national reputation is built on more than just pie though—as their menu says, they take “extreme pride” in all their “made-from-scratch cooking.” The café is ranked by the Des Moines Register as one of 100 places to eat before you die and named one of 500 best places to eat before its too late in the book Road Food.

Tucked into a short row of businesses on one of Sully’s main streets, the Coffee Cup is a small place, a few booths and tables squeezed into the main dining room, well-lit by a wide front window. In the sort of industrial furnishing that you might be familiar with from The A&M Café, indicative of the building’s relatively recent past (the Coffee Cup was founded in 1970), the ceiling and the front of the bar are made of sheets of gray corrugated metal.

There is further homage to history in the walls filled with framed black-and-white photos of turn-of-the century Sully. The café was full of the local, lunch-time crowd when we arrived. Vegetarians should take notice: this is a meat-centric restaurant. We discovered that even the seemingly meat-free Dutch Lettuce (one of 100 foods to eat before you die, according to the Des Moines Register) had bacon in its homemade dutch dressing.

Other highlights on the menu include a Garbage Salad, ground beef and carrots over lettuce, and the 3 lb Cowboy Burger served on Texas toast for $7. In fact everything on the menu was $7 or less, and all the appetizers were $4 or less.

After our main dishes, we got straight to the pie. We tried healthy slices of banana cream (purportedly their best kind), German chocolate and rhubarb, $2.25 each, hoping to get a good sampling of their pie variety. The banana cream was a slight disappointment for its lofty reputation, but the German chocolate, and especially the rhubarb, were fantastic.
I think the Coffee Cup is worth visiting multiple times just to see what pie they’re offering. The cheap menu, great pie and comfortable, local feel make this an excellent place for an out-of-Grinnell excursion, for breakfast, lunch or dinner (make sure you check their hours and remember to bring cash). Plan on going there soon, if not before you graduate, than at least before its too late.

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