As every Iowan knows, sometimes the best places to visit — and dine — in the state are those worth traveling a few extra miles for the experience.
Drive down a curvy blacktop northwest of Anamosa, through the one-building downtown of Amber and past rolling fields and pastures with grazing cows, and you’ll discover a restored dairy barn that’s one of the most unique restaurant destinations in eastern Iowa.
Teddy’s Barn & Grill, now in its third year of business, sits in the middle of Iowa farm country. Yet the family-owned restaurant welcomes guests from across the Midwest and around the world.
Visitors can climb the steps into the barn’s hay loft, now the main dining room. They can order an Iowa pork tenderloin or a ribeye steak and admire the barn’s original wood rafters and arched roof, which give the space a quiet, country church-like atmosphere.
“We really wanted it to feel like you are dining in a barn,” says Deb Behrends, a Farm Bureau member who owns and operates the restaurant with her husband, Scott. ”That is the premise of this whole place, but we try to build our reputation on our food.”
The Behrends bought the farm near Anamosa over five years ago after the previous long-time owners, Ted and Bernice Freese, passed away.
Scott had rented the farm from the Freeses’ since he was in high school. Today, Scott travels across the country for his work in environmental consulting, but he still farms and grows corn and soybeans in Jones County.
Deb says her husband is also an excellent cook and always talked about starting his own restaurant, even when they were first dating as college students at the University of Iowa.
However, when the Behrends bought the farm, they weren't planning to open a restaurant there. Deb says they didn’t realize the farm’s potential until her brother came to check out the old dairy barn on site.
“We climbed up the ladder (to the hay loft), and the three of us stood here and thought this would make a pretty cool restaurant. And that’s how it all started.”
The Behrends named their restaurant “Teddy’s” after the original owner, because whenever Scott would head out to work on the farm, he would tell Deb that he was “going to Teddy’s.”
Remarkably, despite its age, the barn was in excellent shape and didn’t need major work, other than a good power-washing of the interior (for obvious, manure-related reasons) and removal of the heavy hay bales stacked in the loft.
“We wanted to leave the original floor, because it was made to hold tons of hay. You can’t get a more solid surface than that,” Deb says with a laugh. “So we just put an extra layer of subflooring for the carpet and to cut down on the noise downstairs.”
From the hay loft, visitors can climb the steps to a third level that opens up to an outdoor patio on the roof of the barn.
The patio is enclosed by glass panels so guests can get a full, unobstructed view of the gorgeous rolling hills of Jones County, the inspiration for famed Iowa artist Grant Wood.
Also in the dining area, there’s a spiral staircase that floats up to the “love nest,” a secluded dining space tucked under the barn’s roof with only enough space for two. Couples can reserve the love nest, with a private window for admiring the country scenery, for romantic dinners.
Deb says guests get a kick out of watching the servers climb up the narrow spiral staircase, plates balanced in their hands, to deliver meals to couples in the love nest.
The restaurant also offers group seating on the ground floor for guests who have trouble climbing the stairs or for private parties.
The ground floor once housed the milking parlor, where the Freese family milked 20 cows. The Behrends remodeled the space into a cozy, family room-like spot, with long tables, couches and a fireplace.
However, they also kept many original features, like the license-plate numbers on the rafters that the Freeses’ used to identify each parlor stall back in the day.
Deb describes the menu at Teddy’s as “typical Midwestern that’s kicked up a notch,” with the family’s own spin on a favorite dish.
Favorites include the Iowa pork tenderloins (or Ted-derloins, as they’re named on the menu), ribeye and flat iron steaks, pasta, seafood, salads and the “Barnbuster burger” topped with bacon, aged white cheddar, barbecue sauce and homemade onion straws. “Everything we cook is made fresh here,” Deb says.
Near the front entrance of the barn, there’s an aerial photo of the original farm from the 1960s, which shows the farm house that was later destroyed by a tornado and the barn where it still stands today.
“We do have a lot of people who linger at that photo. There are a lot of things that are in the picture that speak of times gone by,” Deb says.
“The Iowa Barn Foundation once told me that Iowa is losing 1,000 barns per year to destruction. It’s nice to know that this barn will stand for a really long time,” she adds.