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The Scarlet & Black

Cure mid-sems blues with P.H.A.T. Daddy’s comfort food

As you pass Dari Barn on your way out of town on Sixth Avenue, the right lane recedes, allowing the scene you doubtless imagine at every mention of the word “Iowa” to unfold on either side of you. And envelop you. On a sunny Sunday morning, rows and rows of cornstalks yield only to two-story farmhouses or barns, stretching as far as the eye can see against the alluring backdrop of the rolling hills of America’s Breadbasket. If the very idea of a Sunday drive through bucolic Poweshiek and Iowa counties, through the idyllic bliss of rural America, does not move you, at least a little, stop reading here. But, if you fancy yourself adventurous, with four wheels and a little gas money, allow me to recommend Marengo, Iowa’s worst-kept secret and most delicious Sunday brunch, P.H.A.T. Daddy’s.

Sixth Avenue, or US-6 as it is known outside the city limits, traverses the town of Brooklyn, right past Skydive Iowa, and through village-like Ladora before you turn on Western Ave into Marengo’s city limits. Don’t let the downtown construction thwart you, for your destination is close. At the corner of Court and Main, across from Marengo City Park with its gorgeous fountain for hot summer days, stands the one and only P.H.A.T. Daddy’s. Don’t think too hard about the exterior. Don’t dwell on the goofy name. Just proceed inside, and if you were too adventurous to make a reservation, well, you might find yourself with time to explore that park, after all. But once you are seated, and have had your choice of juices, milk, coffee, or tea, your brunch awaits.

Where the gracious wait staff seats you very likely determines your course of action that morning and afternoon. Should you find yourself where I was on the day of my visit, your first move will be to the varied “brunch” bar in your section of the restaurant. With nearly all of the major breakfast options, along with a wide set of lunch choices as well, a novice would be wise to exercise extreme caution and judiciously select only a few favorites here. P.H.A.T. Daddy’s take on the breakfast staple are simultaneously elegant and down-home. Personally, I wholeheartedly recommend the biscuits and gravy. The biscuits, made from scratch, will be the fanciest biscuits you’ve ever had in a biscuit and gravy breakfast—but the gravy brings you back to earth. Rich with peppery flavor, loaded with the perfect amount of sausage and served at the perfect temperature and texture, you’ll surely want seconds. Also, be on the lookout for the iced cinnamon bread. One scrumptious bite and you’ll be in heaven.

If you’ve exhausted the offerings of the primary table, make your way toward the omelet and waffle bar, being sure to check out the dessert cart first. If you see a dessert that looks right, you would be wise not to let fate take your dessert back to its table, because there is a good chance that they’ll be snatched up within minutes. Once you’ve secured your dessert, it’s time for waffles and omelets. The cooking station inside the window of the auxiliary dining room has emerged as my favorite station of the brunch triumvirate. There, you will find freshly made waffles, cut in manageable pieces with all the appropriate additions. Obviously, I am talking about strawberries and whipped cream. At the other end of the table, if you’ve timed your brunch right, slices of tender prime rib or juicy, flavor-packed ham await you as well, carved in front of you with a smile. But it is the action in the middle that has drawn you hither, and it does not disappoint. Once you decide what you’d like in your omelet, stick around and watch Jeremy—the resident youngster in his preteens, presumably a relative of the restaurant’s owner—make it for you. You won’t be lying when you tell him he did a good job, and you’ll just feel like you should since he does it better than any elementary school kid you’ve ever met before.

Hopefully your dessert is patiently awaiting you at your table already, and a slice of delicious cheesecake will put the finishing touches on the Zen garden of plates you’ve built at your table. I also hope you don’t walk out of P.H.A.T. Daddy’s feeling hungry. Either way though, do yourself a favor. Go across the street and play on the playground for awhile. Savor the moment. Life moves pretty fast, and sometimes you have to stop and eat an omelet to appreciate it.

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    Carol B WilhelmOct 25, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Wonderful review! Great writing! You’ve inspired our whole family to schedule our first visit to P.H.A.T. Daddy’s A.S.A.P. Thanks for sharing your special experience in the heart of Iowa.