Siouxland Observer


Monday, May 05, 2014


On a stretch of road just outside Grand Junction, Iowa, an old gas station sits empty.  The road, U.S. Highway 30, wanders past the concrete-brick building that serviced the old Lincoln Highway.  It looks like a garage, or perhaps a small bungalow now, but back in the day it was a godsend; one of the few convenient stops between Denison, Iowa, and Ames, Iowa, where travelers could rest, buy gas and use a restroom.

And it is still stands today.

There are a lot of pit stops in this part of Iowa now, but on this stretch of the old Lincoln Highway, “in the middle of nowhere,” the landscape still looks a lot like 1913.  Back in Grand Junction there is a store where townsfolk still walk to when they want to buy something.  And in Ames there’s a traditional state university; Jefferson, Iowa, has a Sparky’s.... 

And for those who take the time, downtown Denison looks almost like Bedford Falls, the fictional town in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  The Donna Reed Festival happens there every summer (a local girl).

Packing plants, stockyards, medical facilities, farm implements—a Super Wal-Mart.  The Denison Lincoln Highway stop has a Breadeaux Pizza.  It serves up an original French crust pizza!  And Tropical Sno, can't miss that.  It served its flavored shaved ice to President Barack Obama in 2012.

"This is a finely shaved ice. Outstanding," the President said, according to Nick Hytrek, in an article for the Sioux City Journal.  One newspaper even quoted the President as saying he thought the shaved ice was as good as Hawaii's.

(Do they really sell Snow Cones in Hawaii?)

With shaved ice in Hawaii
As you leave Denison there will be a lot of trains too.  The highway boarders the tracks from Denison to Ames.  But if you like mom-and-pop, homemade food, you might consider an alternate route.

What passes for traveling food here, and across middle Iowa, somehow belies the highway’s true heritage.  Today, there is a Casey’s and a Sparky’s on the last 50 mile stretch to Ames, but overall, the  "on-the-road dining" needs love. 

During a recent visit to Sparky’s in Jefferson, for example, a reporter stopped to buy a donut.  Times haven’t changed much out here, but there is a lot more food now.  Donuts, for example.  And French fried everything.  There are mashed potatoes too, and baked ham; freshly thawed sandwiches and hot coffee. 

It is interesting.  There is a cornucopia of selections.  But something is missing.

Fried rolls go for 95 cents, and they are fresh.  But in truth, they are nothing to write home about.  It is doubtful the old gas station had much either — they most certainly did not have fresh donuts — but local traditions are gone.

Not that there isn’t any “good stuff," 1 but travelers and truckers mostly stop for gas — and the locals only to see friends and family who have to work all hours of the day and night.  Simply, there isn't much to send a postcard home about, and this area is not alone.  Oh sure, there are sights to see, but something is still missing.

Take that fried roll; it shouldn’t be too hard to make one that everyone wants to write home about.  They have a solid history in the Midwest.  Granted, no one seems to be sure where they came from, but they are still made in Iowa, and have a storied history throughout the area. The old Madison Bakery, just across the street from Cecelia Park in Sioux City, Iowa, made them.  The owner, James “Jim” Tallman, sold day-old, chocolate-covered rolls for a nickel (if you asked real nice), and he made them "famous."  They could fuel an entire afternoon of middle school.

And there are other places that sold the roll as well.  

A recent search found a memoir written by Cindy Lange-Kubick of the Lincoln Star Journal.  She knew all about the chocolate-covered fried cinnamon roll.  In her memoir: 12:32 p.m., Heading to Orchard Street and Beyond, she reminisced about the now closed "Donut Stop" just north of O Street, which was once home to “the best chocolate frosted cinnamon rolls in the world….”

“...I don’t remember that story at all, but I do remember the Donut Stop," she said in an email.  "…The frosted cinnamon rolls were HUGE, the size of a salad plate.  Perhaps more like the ones you remember although not fried, they were relatively “flat.”  When I was in high school I used to work for my dad in the summer and we would ride together from our house in south Lincoln, across town and if we were running early we’d swing by the Donut Stop for rolls and ice cold milk.  YUM.”

Cindy could well have taken the Lincoln Highway to the Donut Stop; and just like her special place, Tallman’s chocolate-covered "fried" cinnamon rolls were of similar size.  The question is: Where did the idea come from?  The roll many love, but can't find?  In some parts of the county there have even been campaigns to bring it back.

According to the Bangor Daily News, for example, this is what happened in Camden, Maine, after a fried roll bakery closed in 1981. The article, published June 20, 2011, tells the tale of students who still longed for what they called “Persian Buns,” a flat-like cinnamon roll coved with chocolate frosting.  After 30 years they found a baker to make them for a class reunion.

“’I remember being super bummed when the Camden bakery closed,’” Alleson Bixler of Lincolnville said in the article.  “She, Morong and Young — all members of the Camden-Rockport High School class of 1981 — had gathered at Weaver’s Bakery on Main Street in Belfast to dish about the buns.

“Several members of their class spent the spring trying to persuade local bakers to bring back the buns before their 30th high school reunion.  A still-anonymous fan even started a Facebook page called “Friends of the Persian Bun,” with the motto ‘We will not stop until the first bun is frosted.’”

Was this Persian “fried?” (The rolls can be fried up in a pan—according to the website listed below.)

See recipe at

When Jim Tallman was asked about his recipe in Sioux City, he said “’I don’t use a recipe,’” according to his son, in an interview November 30, 2012.  Tallman’s Bakery was known for rolls fried like donuts.  This reporter, and his boyhood friends often stopped by, usually late at night on “runabouts.”  His storefront was always open, and he would come out from his bakery in the back to wait on us.  We boys were a motley crew from the Greenville-Stockyard’s Area, but he always had time for us, even though the purchase would be just one or two leftover rolls, chocolate-fried, of course.

The Persian at Sparky’s was baked, and would probably not have much of a following.  Like many variations, it had maple frosting instead of chocolate.  It wasn't “doughy” though (as some baked Persians are), and the coffee was strong and black.  Interestingly, in the Toronto Star, an article published September 16, 2002, reported a “Persian” slathered with pink icing as unique to the city of Thunder Bay in Canada.

According to the Star, “’Thunder Bay is the only place in the world where they're made, and they're even in the dictionary,’ boasts Joe Nucci, whose family bought Bennett's Bakery in 1964 and launched a spinoff business, the Persian Man, in 1992.”

“Bennett's Bakery invented Persians in the 1930s,” according to the Toronto Star, “and named them in honor of Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, one of America's most famous army officers of World War I.”  There is a citation about this in Wikipedia.

Another baker, “Pap” Young, deep-fried his in a fryer at Young’s Bakery in Lehighton, Pennsylvania. "Pap" Young is credited with inventing the Persian donut locally at Young's Bakery in Lehighton, according to Times News Online.

Back in Thunder Bay, of course, they would never called their Persian a "donut."  '"It's not made from doughnut dough.'" according to Nucci. '"It's made from a sweet dough."'

Still, no one seems to truly know where the original idea came from (although a good bet is the bun maska).  The bun maska is an Iranian (Persian) bun slathered with butter and dipped in chai tea—strong and brewed in boiling milk. Both tea and bread are served fresh (the bread being freshly baked several times a day), according to the Irani Café, which explores something called the Zoroastrian Heritage.

The Zoroastrian, according to the website, were proud, and kept their traditions alive (like local traditions along the byways and highways here); where food was found along the way, or taken with—a tradition of caring and even sharing.

Kind of like those chocolate covered Fried Rolls — or, as seen below, a whipped, vanilla cream roll.  Both, hearty food for travel.  Wrap one up and take it along with, and the recipe....  Otherwise, it will be lost forever.

(Click on the screen below to open the video, and then again to play it.)

1 Carroll, Iowa has a nice Winery; Jefferson has a good Bar that serves homemade food.