REDFIELD, Iowa — Katie Harvey-Martinez and her husband Rick Martinez faced a huge obstacle to the next chapter in their lives. Harvey-Martinez really wanted to run her own restaurant. She’s worked at the family-owned Italian restaurant Marcelleria in the Meatpacking District of New York City for 12 years as the general manager. The couple knew they could either buy their own home in Brooklyn or open their own restaurant.
“The cost of living in New York City was so high. This gave us an opportunity to own,” Martinez said.
“This” represented a combination of factors. Harvey-Martinez grew up near Redfield, Iowa, attending West Central High School in nearby Stuart. Her grandfather Gerald Harvey decided to auction off equipment from the family’s Century Farm, Sunny Crest Farm, seven miles from Redfield last October. The Dexfield Diner — a 17-year staple in the town of 876 owned by former football coach and teacher R. Joe Smith, who led Redfield to two undefeated seasons and a state championship in 1973 — was on the market.
So after 20 years, the couple traded the Big Apple for small-town Iowa to open Harvey’s Diner & Pub with its menu of upscale comfort food. The couple moved into the Sunny Crest, which her father and uncle still farm.
“This was truly my dream, but we couldn’t do it in New York,” Harvey-Martinez said. “I couldn’t do what I wanted to do under those constraints. There are so many possibilities here. This town has a true need for a restaurant.”
This town 30 minutes west of Des Moines does have a Casey’s General Store, Dairy Shoppe for soft serve ice cream needs and Off Sides Pizza & Pub around the corner. Redfield Locker sits across the street.
The Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/2dGBqUm ) reports that Harvey-Martinez wanted to offer something different, cosmopolitan yet approachable. She wanted a sleek, modern gastropub, but after looking at the Dexfield Diner, she knew this was the space.
“Even in the shape that it was in, I knew,” she said. “Everything about this place felt right, even though it had carpet on the floors. I saw Rick standing there at the bar, and I saw our future.”
The couple got rid of the carpet in favor of wood floors, but kept the state football championship trophies, plaques and photos as a memorial to that 1973 Blue Devils team. They retained the booths, each named for the black and white photos from the Dexfield that still hang above them — Bonnie and Clyde, the Championship booth and so forth. Some customers even request their favorite booth by name.
They added touches of Americana with art from local artist Ron Smith and metal stamps from Jeff Westphal. In the back sits the start of a beer garden that should be complete by next year.
So far, bicyclists on the 56-mile Raccoon River Valley Trail that connects Jefferson and Waukee have found the restaurant when they travel to Redfield on Saturdays for the American Legion’s legendary breakfasts.
“This whole town has done nothing but rally and support us. That’s why you choose a small town,” Harvey-Martinez said.
Fans from nearby Stuart and Dexter flock in, and even the Des Moines food crowds have ventured over to sample the flatbreads, smoked pork chops and American nachos made with house-baked potato crisps, pinto beans and brisket drizzled with barbecue sauce and white cheddar cheese.
Martinez-Harvey knew she wanted a great burger and breaded pork tenderloin on her menu. She found Jordan Walton to head up the kitchen with his blue ribbon, cut-with-a-fork briskets and barbecue that he’s worked on for six or seven years, mac and cheese and fried chicken. A tempura zucchini might be so light and delicate that even the kids will want an order for themselves.
Walton, a 27-year-old Hutchinson, Kansas, native, makes his own quick pickles, barbecue sauce and ketchup. Every day he commutes 70 miles from Fort Dodge to smoke his brisket for nine to 12 hours over hickory and oak. “It’s one of the few things I never get tired of,” Walton said of the brisket. “It makes me happy.
“My whole intention was to cook within the seasons and the area I’m in,” he said. “I feel like you can taste it.”
Customers even drop off a random sack of zucchini or tomatoes, rhubarb or beets that make their way into the dishes along with a host of produce from Sunny Crest Farm.
“It’s just been a dream of mine not only where they let me do what I want and are there for me but people are invested in what we put on the plate,” Walton said. “The simplicity of things is appreciated when you’re doing something right, for lack of a better term. It’s loved by our customers.”
Harvey-Martinez recruited her high school friend Tricia Foster to conjure up the desserts menu, with a German chocolate cake frosted with an inch of sweet coconut frosting, homemade pies that change with the produce in season, apple dumplings and fruit crisps. That German chocolate cake is “the kind of thing that if we ran out, people might be upset,” Foster said.
She uses some recipes like the crust for her pies and that German chocolate frosting that were handed down from relatives. Others like her apple dumplings and chocolate chip cookies she created herself.
Harvey’s even serves up a Sunday brunch with fried chicken and cornbread waffles, a smothered pork chop from Redfield Locker and a brisket Benedict. Lunch covers many of the same dishes as dinner.
Harvey-Martinez even opted to open on Mondays to give locals an option.
“We’re technically a diner,” she said just as the Thursday night crowd starts to trickle in. “We can do anything we want. This town had a love for the Dexfield Diner. We want to honor that.”
Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Des Moines Register.