My favorite restaurants in Dubuque, Iowa

Thanks to Midwest Travel Network and Travel Dubuque, I spent several days touring locations in Dubuque County, Iowa.   One of the biggest surprises for me personally –  the food scene in Dubuque is beyond what I had envisioned. 

If you’re heading to Dubuque to check out the food scene, don’t forget to check out their building art murals. I know there are several other Iowa towns that are focusing on building murals – but Dubuque is unique,  the murals are very detailed, very intricate, they will suck you in.

Brazen Open Kitchen

Interesting fact:  Brazen Open Kitchen has NO FREEZERS.   So when they say they value “fresh”, they mean it.  It’s American cuisine that uses local produce as it’s available.  The atmosphere is warm and inviting and it’s nestled into the renovated Millwork District. 

“People are drawn to things that are authentic and genuine, the things that are made in small batches.  Everyone wants that thing.  And behind that thing is a person, not a machine, and it is warm and inviting and we support that.”   –   Kevin Scharpf,  Chef & Owner

Brazen Open Kitchen

Other facts on Chef Kevin Scharpf

  • Born and Raised in Galena, Illinois
  • Attended the Le Cordon Bleu of Culinary Arts in Minneapolis, MN
  • First Place at the Taste of Elegance competition and competed in the National Pork Summit in Napa Valley in 2014.
  • One of FSR magazines “40 under 40” Risings Stars in 2016
  • Competed in season 16 of Bravo’s ‘Top Chef’

Address: 955 Washington St. Suite 101, Dubuque, IA 52001


Our group of Midwest Travel Network bloggers visiting Brazen Open Kitchen, with thanks to Travel Dubuque. 

To start with, I ordered a Chapman, which is made with Cruzan Black Strap rum, Appleton Estate rum, Czipars apple cider, lime, cinnamon, walnut bitters

Octopus:  6oz octopus, hummus, Calabrian chili, fired garbanzo bean, olive, radicchio.

Duck Tacos:  duck confit, yellow corn tortillas, tomato ceviche, cilantro

On their main menu, one of the categories available is:   FLOUR  + WATER.    This is what I ordered:  CRUST + SAUSAGE, which is tomato sauce, sausage, mushroom, caramelized onions,and mozzarella. 

SEAFOOD PAPPARDELLE   bay scallops, shrimp, cherry tomato, pan sauce, herbs, pecorino

FRIED CHICKEN: 4 pieces of fried chicken with a cheddar jalapeño corn muffin

BEEF RIBEYE: 20oz, Iowa premium beef, potato mash, roasted carrots, red wine gastrique.  The folks who ordered this monster slab of meat were not disappointed. In fact, multiple people raved that it was the best steak they had ever been served. 

Bottom left: Cheesecake

Top left: Custard

Top right: Creme Brulee

Bottom right: Chocolate cake

I sampled all of the desserts – and they were all fantastic, but in the end, I finished off the custard.  It’s smooth and not overwhelming at all and served in an adorable mason jar. (see photo below)

L. May Eatery

It’s a more intimate dining experience compared to Brazen, as in a romantic candlelit atmosphere with your sweetheart.  According to TripAdvisor, it has the most and the best reviews of any restaurant in Dubuque.   

It’s located at 1072 Main Street in Dubuque.  

I started off with the Main Street Manhattan made with Iowa legendary rye, cocchi sweet vermouth, a dash of bitters, and a cherry served-up. 

Our lineup of appetizers included:  Crab Cakes, Cheese Plate, and Tomato Bruschetta.

Crab cakes:  3 lump crab cakes with cranberry mustard sauce and carrot apple slaw.   The crab cakes were great, but the real surprise for me was the carrot apple slaw.  Wowza!  It blends perfectly with the cakes, although I probably could have just eaten a bowl of it straight. 

Cheese Plate with two locally sourced rotational artisanal cheeses with maple dijon mustard, house smoked salmon, and olives. 

Tomato Bruschetta: house focaccia toast, pesto ricotta spread, diced tomato & red onion, balsamic reduction, parmesan, and fresh basil.

For the entree, I ordered the Filet Mignon,  a 6 oz choice Iowa black angus filet, aged cheddar mashed potatoes, fresh veges, with garlic herb compound butter.   Rather than describe all the gory details of how the garlic butter seeped its way through the juicy filet –  I’ll just share the before and after picture.  It’s pretty clear that this was perhaps my favorite meal while in Dubuque.

Had I not been seated at a table with a bunch of bloggers that I barely knew, I might have licked the plate clean like a dog.  Of course, thinking about this statement some more, I should have done that in front of the bloggers, as I’m not sure they would have cared.   My wife, on the other hand – well, I don’t know exactly what reaction I would have gotten, but I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to get dessert. 

When your waitress brings out a platter and showcases all of the available desserts…. well, that’s my moment of personal weakness.  That trick works every freakin’ time and I’m defenseless.  

Starting at the top, working down:  Vegan Dark Chocolate Mousse, Peanut Butter Cheesecake, Creme Brulee, then Carrot Cake

I fell for the Peanut Butter Cheesecake –   and I didn’t share it and it fell victim just like the filet. 

Pepper Sprout

Another intimate dining experience in downtown Dubuque is Pepper Sprout, located at 378 Main Street in the Old Main District.  

I started off with an Apple Old Fashion

For appetizers, we picked the local mushroom bruschetta and the spinach caramelized onion roasted corn dip.

local mushroom bruschetta: Local mushrooms, red onions, and bleu cheese bruschetta. Served warm on toast points and finished with balsamic vinegar reduction.  I’m not a huge mushroom fan, but the rest of  the group enjoyed this pick.

Spinach Caramelized Onion Roasted Corn Dip

Spinach, caramelized onion, roasted corn in a smoked gouda three cheese blend. Finished with parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Served warm with pretzels.   This one snuck up on me –   it was one of my favorite appetizers in Dubuque. 

New Zealand Lamb Shank:  Slow roasted New Zealand lamb shank with root vegetables. Served over roasted garlic sour cream parmesan mashed potatoes

The Lamb Shank was excellent,  a little short on veges, which isn’t normally an issue for meat and potatoes boy like me.  

Desserts at Pepper Sprout are made fresh daily – so you’ll need to ask what’s available.  We tested out the chocolate cake as well as some cheesecake, both were delicious. 

An example of how they wrap up your leftovers at Pepper Sprout.

Chef Kim Wolff came out to our table to answer questions and check on our group.  The one question I had to ask was about the name Pepper Sprout.  As our group had imagined, it was related to the Johnny Cash song with Jane Carter titled “Jackson” and the lyrics go…

“We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout”  

Wolff talked about hanging out with friends, listening to this song, and dreaming about opening a restaurant with the name Pepper Sprout.  

All photos and video by Brian Abeling / Iowa Road Trip

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