Iowa’s Best Burger is at The Cider House in Fairfield

Written by Theresa Rose on May 4, 2015

AMES, IOWA – When we say this year’s winner of Iowa’s Best Burger award is using all beef in their 6-1/2-oz. hamburger patties, it’s not an oversimplification. The Cider House in Fairfield buys locally grown cattle, and uses all the meat cuts from them in the grind for their hamburger. So, where others might see chuck, rib, sirloin and round cuts from the beef animal, the owners of The Cider House see a very tasty hamburger.

The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association and the Iowa Beef Industry Council announced the winner on Monday, May 4, during a live broadcast in Fairfield. The two organizations have teamed up to sponsor Iowa’s Best Burger contest six times. This year, Iowans submitted more than 4,000 votes nominating 286 restaurants in February and March. Those votes were used to select the Top Ten restaurants. The Top Ten were then independently visited and judged based on the hamburger’s taste, appearance, and proper serving temperature (160 degrees).

The judges found the beefy flavor at The Cider House to be the best. In fact, its hamburger is so good that it inspired one of the owners who was formerly a vegetarian to give meat another try.

The four owners of The Cider House – Clint Stephenson, Hopi James, Cole Fishback and Annalisa Thompson – first thought about their pub-styled restaurant as a way to showcase the hard apple cider they were producing. Many of those discussions occurred while grilling hamburgers at one of their homes.

It was Stephenson, the one-time vegetarian, who declared in 2013 that the group should open “a burger shack to showcase our cider!” By October 2014, they had completely gutted and renovated a former barbershop to make their dream come true.

Stephenson’s return to eating beef came when he returned to Fairfield and re-connected with his friend – and farmer – Tony Adrian. The two had known each other since fourth grade. Adrian convinced his friend to give the beef from his farm a try. “And it was really great,” Stephenson said.

The Cider House exclusively features the beef from Adrian Family Farms. The cattle are raised like so many others in Iowa: pasture-grazed and corn-finished, and cared for with compassion and treated humanely. The Adrians tell their beef story with 4×6-inch cards placed at the tables around the cozy restaurant which seats about 48 inside, and includes an outside patio.

“Tony pays attention to the whole growth cycle and you can tell that in the way the meat tastes,” Fischback said. Fishback has the main responsibility of grilling at the restaurant, with help from Skylar Messer. They use a flat top grill to quickly sear in the juices “because that’s where the flavor is.” The hamburgers they serve are designed to showcase the beefy flavor, so the toppings are simple and very Iowan.

They serve five different burgers, each for $12, and all come with a choice of home-made potato salad or triple cooked fries, and refrigerator pickles.

Stephenson notes that all four owners have traveled extensively, and those experiences make them especially grateful for the food resources they have in Iowa. “We’ve all traveled around the world, but it’s in Iowa you’ll find the best foods,” Stephenson said. “It’s an amazing state.”

Other restaurants that made the Top Ten with The Cider House are (alphabetically): Ankeny Diner, Ankeny; Big City Burgers & Greens, Des Moines; Down Right Delicious, Clarinda; Elm’s Club, Creston; First Street Grille, Keosauqua; Rides Bar & Grill, Fort Dodge; Saucy Focaccia, Cedar Rapids; The Ritz, Arnold’s Park; and Zombie Burger, Des Moines.

Previous winners in the contest are: 2014 – Brick City Grill, Ames; 2013—61 Chop House Grille in Mediapolis; 2012—Coon Bowl III in Coon Rapids; 2011—Rusty Duck in Dexter; and 2010—Sac County Cattle Company of Sac City.