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  • Writer's pictureReid Stevens

Rating the Food from the Trail

One of the great things about political events in Iowa is that events are frequently held in restaurant spaces or have provided food, giving a candidates’ supporters or the politically curious Iowan a chance to try new local fare or just get a free meal while candidates for the top job give you and your neighbors their pitch. Here are my rankings of all the food I ate at political events in Iowa this caucus season, so next time, you know which candidates or locations to head to for sometimes free but always delicious food. 


  1. Fox & Friends with Vivek Ramaswamy - Machine Shed

Machine Shed is an Iowa classic. The homage to the American farmer is apparent from the wall decor to the menu to the expansive gift shop. The location in Urbandale was also where the Westside Conservative Club hosted Fox News for their morning show “Fox & Friends” on a very early Friday morning in early September, featuring Vivek Ramaswamy. If Machine Shed is known for anything, it’s their MASSIVE cinnamon and caramel rolls. They’re delicious, but I and two other college buddies couldn’t take one down. Ramaswamy sampled both on-air at the event, giving his stamp of approval. But here’s the secret behind them: they will put you in a food coma unlike anything you’ve experienced before. I was lucky to have the rest of that day open because I went home, slept for nearly 7 hours, and woke up late. You need to pace yourself at the Machine Shed, but if you do, it will be an incredible dining experience—8/10 for Machine Shed. Note we did pay for our meals at this event.


  1. Vivek Ramaswamy’s Vektoberfest

Ramaswamy made a big splash in early October with a Thursday night fall event in West Des Moines fit for the whole family. The FREE event included four local food trucks and a FREE beer tent for attendees. Come for the food, stay for the politics, am I right? I tried the edible cookie dough outlet Dough Crazy and Kaaswagen Food Truck, serving various kinds of Mac & Cheese. I was familiar with Dough Crazy from previous events in the area; the monster cookie dough is always a classic treat. At Kaaswagen, I had some incredible Mac & Cheese with some barbeque pork on top, plus some soft pretzel sticks with cheese dip, one of my favorite foods. The trucks had long lines throughout the evening until Vivek took the stage; people took advantage of tasty food on the candidates’ dime, as I believe they should. The food surprised me; it was delicious. The only negative aspect was the long wait. 9/10 for Vektoberfest.


  1. Pizza Ranch with Vivek Ramaswamy

This list goes chronologically; I promise this is the last time Vivek appears on this list. I headed to Altoona to an Iowa Caucuses Tradition to see candidates at Pizza Ranch. If you’re interested in learning more about the legacy of Pizza Ranch in Iowa Politics, click here for a great breakdown from Iowa Caucus Project’s Stephanie Kiel. I arrived at the event pretty late; the event was just about to start, so I grabbed a few slices of Cheesy “Ranch Sticks,” their name for sauce-less pizza dippers, and a pepperoni slice and headed into the packed room where Vivek was about to speak. Then, I honestly forgot about my food as I listened to Vivek’s speech, looked for new additions or subtractions, and got people’s reactions. By the time I got to the pizza, it was a little cold, but I take the blame for that. Overall, it was a solid pizza. However, after the event’s conclusion, they were all out of cactus bread (their dessert pizza), which was a bummer—5/10 for Pizza Ranch. 


  1. Iowa Democrats Liberty & Justice Dinner

Back in Altoona, but on the other side of the aisle. I covered this event in more detail in a previous post, which you can read here. The event had a bar in the back of the room, and we were given tickets for either one alcoholic beverage or two non-alcoholic ones. I’m not over 21 yet, so I immersed myself in some Shirley Temples, my drink of choice (Sprite with cherry grenadine, for those who aren’t in the know). I also received an extra drink ticket from a man I interviewed who was part of the event organizing team, which was a pleasant surprise. As I walked in nearly an hour before the event began, a large charcuterie table was set up; I almost felt bad taking from it because it was a work of art with no grape, cheese slice, or cracker out of place. It was time for dinner after catching up with familiar faces and meeting new people. The meal started with a bread basket, so points for that. The meal was basic, with some chicken, potatoes, and roasted vegetables. Nothing incredible in terms of flavor or taste, but I didn’t mind it at all. It was classy and worked for almost everyone, which seemed to be the goal. Then dessert came, with options for lemon, vanilla, or strawberry cake. I tried all three because why not? Strawberry was the best, but the frosting did not taste good for all of them. It tasted very mass-produced and artificial. But I appreciated the gesture of having dessert. Overall, 6/10. 


  1. Asa Hutchinson Town Hall at Drake University

As a Drake Student, when Drake’s food service provider– Sodexo, is catering an event on campus, I expect the food to be edible and inoffensive but not anything special. This event did not fit those guidelines. Governor Hutchinson of Arkansas visited Drake for a town hall just before the holiday season, and the catering team at Sodexo was apparently in a festive mood. They served some holiday-themed chocolate truffle cookies with hot chocolate and lemonade as the beverage options. Those cookies, which I had never seen at a Sodexo-catered event, were good but dangerously addictive. I might have had one too many. But overall, it was festive for the season and positively added to the event. 7.5/10.

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