Iowa’s oldest, continually-running restaurant is in the tiny Dubuque County hamlet of Balltown and it’s known for serving up history along with hearty meals and homemade pie. Mike Breitbach is the owner of Breitbach’s Country Dining, which first opened in 1852. He’s the sixth generation Breitbach to run the eatery, a former stage coach stop.
It’s said to be the only restaurant in the world visited by both outlaw Jesse James and actress Brooke Shields. Breitbach says: "We can probably have that distinction because we have a blanket here left by the James boys in 1876, (and we have) a picture of them when my great-great-grandfather was here. And Brooke Shields was doing a picture shoot in southern Iowa, heard about our place, drove up, loved it, sent us two signed pictures. We took a picture of her and her mother in here. They loved it."
Breitbach says the menu features traditional Iowa fare — from fried chicken to pork chops. "We have unusual items, " he says, "we have a German buffet on Thursday nights. What we’re noted for is our homemade pie and our homemade soup. There’s none finer in the Midwest. We’re open six days a week and in the summertime, we’re open seven days a week. Come as you are — hungry."
The walls and shelves are lined with antiques and memorabilia from the restaurant’s 155 years in business. Breitbach is 57-years-old and is starting to think about retiring, but he wants to be sure another Breitbach can take the restaurant’s reigns — to make it a seventh-generation family operation.
He says: "We hope so. My wife and I have seven children, five boys and two girls. One never knows. If you’re from rural Iowa, you know small towns are kind of dying. No barber shops, no gas stations, no feed stores. But hopefully, one of them will take over." By the way, he says five of his kids are in college this year and he reminds, with a laugh, he has to sell a lot of pork chops to pay all of those tuition bills.