I’m a bit of a compulsive planner, so in anticipation of our road trip to southeast Iowa, I started searching for someplace we could grab a bite to eat on Saturday night. Since both my mom and I don’t do exceptionally well driving in the dark, I knew we’d have to find someplace relatively close by.
A quick Google search is all you need to see there aren’t copious dining options in the immediate vicinity of Bentonsport or Bonaparte, Iowa. But let me make things even easier for you—Bonaparte Retreat Restaurant is all you need.
Housed in a historic mill (remember, Bonaparte’s entire riverfront district is on the National Register of Historic Places), the Bonaparte Retreat is the perfect pairing to your time in the historic Villages of Van Buren. After seeing almost no one on our walk around Bonaparte, the restaurant was packed with locals enjoying a low-key dinner or celebrating a special occasion (it just so happened to be prom night).
The restaurant’s decor is another thing to be marveled at with a collection of antique accents and historic memorabilia peppering the walls. By far my favorite piece was an out-of-service 1908 cash register that sits behind the restaurant’s front desk.
I ordered the fried chicken and my mom opted for the catfish. Our food was delicious—so much so that I don’t have any photos from dinner itself. And we learned first-hand owner Rose Hendricks’ quote in Midwest Living Magazine is no exaggeration: “Doggie bags are our specialty.” With a soup, salad and main entree (which comes with your choice of potato and bread), chances are you won’t be hungry for quite awhile after your visit.
The history of the Bonaparte Retreat
The original mill was built in 1846 by William Meek, the founder of Bonaparte. However, the building burnt down five years later and it wasn’t until 1878 that the current Meek Grist Mill was built alongside the Bonaparte dam.
In 1970, Rose and Ben Hendricks opened their restaurant in the historic mill. Ben passed away in 2012, but his remaining family still operates the southeast Iowa eatery. Rose told the Cedar Rapids Gazette this February that the restaurant typically draws about 30,000 visitors each year.
For more history on the village of Bonaparte, check out this post.
Bonaparte Retreat Restaurant, 713 1st Street in Bonaparte, Iowa