Every state in America’s Heartland has its own signature dishes or culinary experiences that are a must-try for group visitors, from creations made with fresh ingredients to regional wines and famous fare such as deep-dish pizza or Chicago-style hot dogs. Here are five Heartland locations that are happy to give groups a taste of popular local foods and farm-fresh favorites.
Wallace Centers of Iowa
Wallace Centers features two locations: a historic house in the Sherman Hill Neighborhood of Des Moines and the Farm, a 40-acre property near the small town of Orient. The farm is part of the Wallace family’s original 160-acre spread and is the birthplace of Henry A. Wallace, who served as U.S. secretary of agriculture; vice president of the United States from 1941-1945; and secretary of commerce under Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The Farm grows a wide variety of organic fruits, vegetables and herbs, which it uses for locally sourced meals. Its Friday night Pizza on the Prairie event features four different pizzas every week. The toppings are sourced from the garden, which farm visitors can tour to see where their food comes from. Additional food staples are sourced from local farmers within a 100-mile radius, giving visitors an idea of what’s possible in Iowa.
Group visitors can pair a farm-to-table meal with a walk along a one-mile path that wends its way through the prairie, passing five sculptures and a crowd-sourced art installation that involves painted plywood boards in a specific theme. Groups can take a guided tour of the farm’s gardens, outbuildings and a section of the farm’s original plot of corn. Or, they can have a speaker from the farm come and talk about the history of the property and the Wallace family and different agricultural topics that are still important today.
Bobby’s Bike Hike Chicago
Bobby’s Bike Hike Chicago offers walking and bicycle tours that bring group visitors on a working-class culinary adventure through Chicago. The Chicago Favorites Walking and Food Tour takes about three hours and brings guests to local restaurants to sample some of the city’s most famous cuisine, including deep-dish pizza, Italian beef and Chicago-style hot dogs. Groups can add on a VIP Craft Beer package to any ticket and sample three of the city’s favorite local craft beers.
On their tour, groups will visit Cloud Gate, also known as the Bean, in Millennium Park; the Pritzker Pavilion, a band shell located in Grant Park that was designed by famous architect Frank Gehry; the Loop, Chicago’s bustling business district; State Street historic district; Chicago Riverwalk; Michigan Avenue; and the Wrigley Building.
The Bikes, Bites and Brews Tour lets groups sample Chicago’s favorite food groups: pizza, hot dogs, brownies and beer. Participants will learn the history behind the foods that made Chicago famous and get a feel for some of Chicago’s most popular neighborhoods as they bike through Streeterville, the Gold Coast, Lakeview, Wrigleyville and Lincoln Park. Nighttime tours take groups along the Gold Coast, Chicago River Walk, Millennium Park, the Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain, the Lakefront and Navy Pier. The tour visits a European-inspired bakery that offers a tribute to Chicago’s original brownie, which was served as a portable dessert during the 1893 World’s Fair.
Finley Farms in Ozark, Missouri, is owned by Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops. The property, which overlooks the Finley River, features a restored water mill that was turned into two restaurants. The Ozark Mill Restaurant is on the upper floor of the mill and offers lunch and dinner overlooking the Finley River, while The Garrison, located downstairs, offers a fine dining experience. Both restaurants source their food and vegetables from a farm on the property.
Groups that visit the property can host a bridge dinner where tables are set up in the middle of a bridge covered in lights, or they can reserve a private room in the mill. There is a self-guided tour that takes visitors through the history of the property and how it sources all of its fruits and vegetables. The tour is more appropriate for smaller groups, so larger groups visiting the mill will want to split up to learn about the property. The farm itself is built on what used to be a street. The Morris family hired farmers from out of state to come in and build the farm from the ground up.
The mill also offers small group workshops that include the property’s farmers taking them through the property and giving gardening tips and tricks. Those last about two hours. Visitors can also participate in cocktail classes, where they can create their own drinks with tequila and syrups.
Traverse City, Michigan
Chateau Chantal is a 75-acre vineyard, winery and 12-room bed-and-breakfast located on the Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City, Michigan, that offers group wine dinners, tastings, tours and cooking classes. The winery, which was started by a former priest and a nun from Detroit, first began planting grapes in 1986 but didn’t open to the public until 1993. Now, the winery offers about 25 handcrafted wines, ciders, spirits and blends that can please any palate.
The facility’s cooking classes and wine dinners both feature Chateau Chantal’s wines. The wine dinners also source a certain percentage of ingredients from local Michigan farms. The winery changes the menus seasonally to give visitors an excuse to visit again.
Because it uses local ingredients and pairs them with its own wines, many of the dishes served are cooked with wine. Private wine dinners work well for groups of 36, while the facility’s cooking classes are best for smaller groups of about 12 people. The cooking classes are very hands-on. Guests will show up in the afternoon and stay for five or six hours. The chef tells participants what they are preparing, such as homemade pasta, and then splits them up into groups to do their part in contributing to the meal. At the end of the day, they eat the meal they prepared paired with Chateau Chantal’s wines.
Spark’s Burger Co.
Genevieve McGregor founded Spark’s Burger Co. in Manhattan, Kansas, in early 2023 as a way to “go back to our roots and support what is important to all of us, taking care of our community,” she said.
McGregor was upset with how most fast-food burger joints source their food and the toll industrial agriculture takes on communities and the environment.
As a vegetarian, McGregor believes if a person is going to eat meat, they should do it as humanely as possible. She partners with local ranchers who practice regenerative agriculture, which means they grow crops and raise animals in a way that works with nature, not against it. All of the restaurant’s meat, cheese and eggs are sourced from meat and dairy farms within a 100-mile radius of the establishment.
The restaurant welcomes group travelers, but it doesn’t have a set group menu. Instead, everyone in the group can choose from its menu of classic hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, fried pickle chips, sweet potato waffle fries, malts, floats and sodas. As an appetizer, many groups like to begin with large orders of fries with their choice of dipping sauces — which include Spark Sauce, Spark’s Creamy BBQ Sauce, Wildfire Sauce, ranch, chipotle ranch, sriracha honey ketchup and hickory honey mustard — before they dig into their main courses.