Road to Kentucky Derby: More than a sack lunch in Sac City

Boerewors, pap and sous

Chili served in Styrofoam bowls did not meet the standards of my wife, a former food writer. And that seemed to be the specialty of my favorite casino and hotel. We’d skipped supper there for a salad in town at a restaurant with five TVs tuned to News Max, Fox Views and other former state news stations with The Weather Channel doing their best to hold up the liberal side of political philosophy. We did not stop there for breakfast.

We drove on across Iowa until hunger forced us to turn at the first sign advertising food. That turned out to be a Subway advertisement on a signpost also directing us to the world’s largest popcorn ball. How could we resist?

The way to the world’s largest popcorn ball, located in Sac City, Iowa, was blocked by road construction (what isn’t?). So we had to park the car and walk in the direction of the world’s largest popcorn ball, hoping we would find a place to eat, Subway or otherwise. A block away, we came across a window in front of several tables laid out for a banquet. Back up to the nearest door and we saw the tiny sign: Cattlemen’s Steakhouse. In we went, and adjacent to the banquet room was a nice cafe with a counter and several tables, all filled with a luncheon crowd. A complete menu with this surprise: Boerewors, pap and sous (South African beef sausage made in Clarion, Iowa), polenta and spicy tomato stew. It was delicious as was Kathy’s chicken sandwich. The waitress told us that one of the owners was from South Africa as were the butchers in Clarion. Who cares that we never found the Subway? The restaurant displayed several historic pictures from Sac City and a very large cow head hanging over the table next to us.

After lunch, we retrieved the car and drove to the world’s largest popcorn ball, passing several large and elaborate houses. “As Sac City began to grow,” the Sac City website says, “local businesspersons erected beautiful stores and homes. The town is home to many wonderful examples of architecture. Queen Anne homes, Second Empire structures, buildings designed by noted architects, and striking public buildings continue to enrich the area. Sac City grew because of commerce, banking, and real estate investment.”

The population in the 1900 Census was 17,639. The 2020 Census counted only 2,059 and notes Sac City is currently declining at a rate of -0.15% annually and its population has decreased by -7.25% since the most recent census, which recorded a population of 2,220 in 2010.”

My research has not answered why it was so rich once that houses could be built by noted architects and why is has been in decline recently.

It could be the world’s largest popcorn ball, which was a disappointment. Enclosed in a building with windows so reflective you can’t fully see what is inside. The popcorn is encased in blue tarp and a fence with only the top part of the ball showing. This probably is not the full story of Sac City’s decline. Our research continues.