Midwest great for tourists, man says
In addition to attractions, the area serves some unique dishes.
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Dan Kaercher thinks it's time Midwesterners start tooting their own horn -- and if they won't do it, he will.
"I do feel like the Midwest just doesn't get our due," he said.
As editor of Midwest Living, he spent two months last summer visiting his favorite places in the region -- nearly 60 spots in 12 states -- for the magazine's annual "Best of the Midwest" edition, out now.
Some of the sites were featured in a special on Iowa Public Television, which will air more of Kaercher's trip in at least six half-hour shows in December or January, said Duane Huey, the show's executive producer. A book about the trip, "Best of the Midwest: Rediscovering America's Heartland," (Globe Pequot Press, $19.95) is due out in May.
"It is kind of his travel journal and can also be used as a practical travel guide," said Liza Byron, publicist for the publisher. "It has maps, directions and current phone numbers."
Kaercher, 55, of Urbandale, Iowa, covered 10,605 miles on his trek.
His favorite places range from the Black Hills of South Dakota to Iowa's Great River Road, a scenic drive along the Mississippi River bluffs.
But he mentions more obscure places, too, like the Flower and Herb Barn Nursery near Bear Wallow Hill, Ind., which works on the honor system -- a sign tells customers to dig up what they want if the owners are not around and leave the money or pay later. Also included are the Missouri River Lodge, near Stanton, N.D., a bed-and-breakfast owned by a man Kaercher says is a walking encyclopedia on Lewis and Clark, and Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., where sections of the Berlin Wall are on display.
He took a step back in time on Mackinac Island, Mich., where he visited the 118-year-old Grand Hotel, with its stately verandah flanked by tall white columns.
"It's unlike anywhere else," said Ken Hayward, spokesman for the Grand Hotel. "It's on an island with no automobiles, it's family-run and when you put all those things together that's what creates a real unique experience."
To get to the island, guests must take a ferry or small plane. Then, to reach the hotel, you can walk, ride a bicycle or catch a horse-drawn carriage. The slower pace allows for tea on the verandah and five-course meals in the formal dining room.
Meals -- that's one thing Kaercher didn't miss along the way.
Fruit pies in Iowa and Minnesota, Chicago's deep dish pizza, barbecue from St. Louis and Cornish "pasties" (meat-and-vegetable pies) from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. He gained 4 pounds every two weeks he was on the road.
In St. Louis, he gorged on a local dish now popping up in neighboring states. Toasted ravioli has been served since 1947 at Charlie Gitto's restaurant in the city's Italian district known as The Hill.
It was created when a chef at the restaurant, which at the time was called Angelo's, accidentally dropped some freshly made ravioli in bread crumbs and decided to deep-fry it.
People from all over come in requesting the dish, Gitto said. "They love it," he said.
Kaercher is hoping Midwesterners will watch the TV series, read the magazine and book and take advantage of what's in their backyard.
"The old clich & eacute; is the Midwest is 'fly-over country,' but there is so much more here," Kaercher said.
On his travels, Kaercher visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland; the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, which features hundreds of classic cars, in Auburn, Ind.; and the Spam Museum, a tribute to the canned meat, in Austin, Minn.
Another hidden Midwestern treasure is the peninsula of Door County, Wis., which Kaercher calls the "Cape Cod of the Midwest." At its widest point, the peninsula is about 75 miles across, said Jon Jarosh, spokesman for Door County Chamber of Commerce.
Kaercher didn't snub the big cities. In Chicago, he visited Wrigley Field, where the Chicago Cubs play, and stopped by the Art Institute, where he saw Iowa native Grant Wood's "American Gothic," the world-famous painting of a farmer with a pitchfork standing with a woman in front of a cottage.
In suburban Minneapolis, Kaercher went to the Mall of America, a 4.2 million-square-foot shopping mall with an indoor amusement park and enough restaurants and stores to satisfy every indulgence.
"People know their own state so well but they aren't aware of the great things in the state right next to them," Kaercher said. "You don't have to go thousands of miles to see stuff."
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