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  1. #1
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    Schera's Restaurant & Bar, Elkader, Iowa


    Elkader, Iowa, March 23, 2008 -- Why would two East Coast city slickers move to the remote village of Elkader, tucked among the sleepy hills of northeast Iowa?

    The challenges seemed glaring.

    Frederique Boudouani, 35, had never lived in a metro area of fewer than 2 million people. Elkader's population is 1,500.

    Brian Bruening, 31, enjoys fine dining and writes poetry, but Elkader is at least three hours from the cultural offerings of a major city.

    They are also a gay couple in a rural area of a state brewing with a gay-marriage controversy.

    Then there's this: They wanted to open a fine-dining ethnic restaurant in meat-and-potato country.

    "You make the world you live in," said Bruening, just more than a year after they opened Schera's Restaurant & Bar in Elkader. "The world I live in is tolerant of other people."

    It's their secret. Tolerance goes both ways.

    Challenge 1: Big city to small town

    Boudouani, the son of a retired United Nations diplomat, has lived in numerous countries, speaks five languages and holds a doctorate in computer engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Bruening holds a master's degree in creative writing.

    The two were extremely citified, living in Boston.

    Bruening compares their joy for great restaurants to reading a good book: One travels without leaving one's seat.

    They had met in a Boston bar and navigated careers in the city while starting a catering business on the side.

    Boudouani, born in Algeria, had learned much about cooking from his mother. He had lived in the United States for more than 10 years before meeting the Iowa lad who had grown up in New Hampton and fled to the city, like so many gay men his age.

    In New Hampton, Bruening said, he practiced "don't ask, don't tell."

    But the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack triggered new ideas. They had both grown wary of city life. And Boudouani began researching Islam. He learned that the first mosque in the United States was in Cedar Rapids and that there was an Iowa town named after a famous Muslim, Emir Abd-el-Kader.

    Abd-el-Kader was also from Algeria and, although exiled, helped Christians and Jews avoid persecution in Syria during the 1800s.


    Boudouani was impressed. He imagined a tolerant town born of the open-mindedness of Elkader's founders.

    In their next visit to Bruening's parents in New Hampton, the men pulled out a map and made the 50-mile drive to Elkader.

    They saw much promise. This was a town that had neither tied itself exclusively to agriculture nor tried to manufacture a tourist destination with tacky shops and T-shirts.

    "This wasn't an artificial town, one of those fake towns where real people don't live," Boudouani said.

    Their guide on their first trips was Adam Pollock, who moved from San Francisco six years ago to open a custom lighting company called Fire Farm Inc.

    "I've been the translator for big-city people," Pollock said. "I tour them through town and tell them the trade-offs. I miss the great restaurants, but - with the good schools and the quality of life - I've gained more than I've lost."

    Others have followed, including Janet McNece, who opened the Treats Inc. store in Elkader two years ago after moving with her children and parents from Southern California.

    Boudouani and Bruening first needed to learn small-town ways.

    During the next couple of years, they showed interest in a building in town to house a restaurant. Word got out and, suddenly, they found themselves in a bidding war for the property, which they lost.

    They had recently moved to Iowa and were living with Bruening's parents.

    "We were devastated," Boudouani said.

    In large cities, when he had a problem with how people conducted business, he charged into City Hall. In Elkader, he kept his mouth shut.

    The two later bought a historic building, one of the town's oldest, which had formerly housed a restaurant. It was situated along the Turkey River, which runs through town. They opened in November 2006.

    The experience taught them a lesson: Sometimes they need to stay quiet.

    This past year, they spotted a building that would allow them to expand into the computer sales and service business.

    "People had heard someone bought the building and it just killed them to know who," Boudouani said. "There were practically round-table discussions on it. This time we didn't say a word."

    Challenge 2: Gay in a straight world

    When they first moved to town, Boudouani felt like he was in a foreign country. People here were so helpful and earnest.

    But there was no gay culture.

    "The gay community doesn't want to leave the city," Bruening said. "There are more people like them."

    In rural Iowa, fitting in can be difficult.

    "There can be a sense of not belonging and not being part of the community," said Megan Murphy, director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic at Iowa State University, whose research explores gay couple therapy. "And some conservative values may be more present in a rural area."

    The key, she said, is people showing they're not only a gay couple but also are invested in the community.

    Bruening joined the Chamber of Commerce. Boudouani became active in the county's historical society.

    They helped revive a sister city program with an Algerian city and are planning a summer celebration with authors and dignitaries from the North African country. They helped launch a September 11 day of peace in Elkader.

    "They are very comfortable with themselves, and that helps others here who may have identity issues," said Shannon Durbin, co-editor of the Clayton County Register newspaper.

    The couple said they have faced little outward conflict.

    "There might be people that don't eat here because of it, but that's fine," Boudouani said. "It's better than a broken window.

    "Here, I've found it's live and let live."

    They are not silent on gay issues, saying that at minimum the opportunity for a civil union is a civil rights issue. But they aren't emphatic.

    "I'm not saying Elkader should be a gay resort," Boudouani said. "But gay people can be integrated into society."



    Challenge 3: Gourmet cuisine in goulash country

    As if their philosophy isn't evident by now, here it is: "You don't come into a community and throw it at them," Boudouani said.

    You don't shove your big-city opinions, lifestyle and food down their throats.

    "But we're not sitting in town hoping nothing happens," Bruening said. "We came here to make a life. I didn't move 2,000 miles to serve hash browns."

    They kept the same menu as prior owners for six months to help with the adjustment, offering meat, potatoes and fried foods.

    "In the smaller towns, it's usually more casual in nature and the preference is on hearty and sustainable foods," said Catherine Strohbehn, of the Iowa State University Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management. "If it's just fancy cookin' you aren't going to make money."

    Connecting to the local culture is important, Strohbehn said.

    Boudouani and Bruening slowly integrated cuisine from Algeria, adding a few ethnic items at a time to the appetizer menu.

    Cade is chickpea flour mixed with eggs and spices, served on bread with harissa, a sweet and spicy sauce. They also added boureks and Algerian soups.

    Last May, they completely changed the menu, decorated the dining room with Algerian art, much of it procured from Boudouani's sister Scheherazade, the restaurant's namesake.

    At the same time, they've connected to local culture with historical photographs and a 105-year-old wooden bar. The bar originated in a nearby tavern and holds many town tales.

    Beef and pastas stayed on the menu, but with added fresh ingredients and little twists - a rib-eye with mushroom-red wine reduction and beef skewers served over fresh vegetables and couscous.

    The prices are not high by city standards, but a $19 entree was shocking to some local folks.

    "We want to give higher value," Boudouani said. "If people don't like that, fine."

    Bruening said he feels a social responsibility to serve healthful foods.

    At the same time, they serve barbecued meat in the summer on the patio.

    "We're shuttling between two worlds," Boudouani said. "We've still got to be a part of small-town Iowa.

    "I'm not going to force my ways on you. I'm going to live in your community."

  2. #2
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    Schera's Restaurant & Bar, Elkader, Iowa

    Location: 107 S. Main St., Elkader, IA 52043

    Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday

    Information: To have a question answered or to make a reservation, call (563) 245-1992.

    Menus can be viewed online at Schera's.

    Some menu selections with Algerian influence:

    Appetizers

    * Cade: Chickpea flour mixed with spices, egg and water,
    baked to custard consistency and served with bread and harissa, a Tunisian hot sauce.

    * Samosas: Triangles of dough filled with chicken or vegetables and fried.

    * Bourek: Seasoned ground beef rolled in phyllo dough and fried.

    * Za'atar: A mixture of thyme and sumac mixed with olive oil, spread on pita bread, topped with feta cheese and baked.

    Salad

    * North African Tapas Salad: Skewers of chicken seasoned with turmeric and cumin,
    two tiger shrimp on a bed of spring greens, tomatoes and onions
    and served with house-made lemon vinaigrette.

    Signature dish

    * Couscous Royale: Vegetables and sauce served over couscous with two chicken or beef skewers.


  3. #3
    Bent_Bladi is offline Registered User
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    wow, that's really interesting....

    maybe one of these days i'll drive up there and see what it's like

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    ELKADER, Iowa, July 1, 2008 -- The president of the north African country Algeria has presented a $150,000 donation to a north eastern Iowa city to aid in its flood relief efforts.

    Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika presented Elkader with a gift of $150,000.

    Elkader is named after Emir Abdelkader an Algerian leader in the 1800s, whose love for freedom inspired the Founding Fathers of Elkader to give his name to their community.

    Bouteflika says his country has deep sympathies for Elkader as they recover from June's flooding.


    ELKADER, Iowa, July 1, 2008 -- Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has presented the city of Elkader with a gift of $150,000. The donation from the country of Algeria to the Clayton County Disaster Relief Committee is to assist exclusively in the recovery of the citizens of Elkader as they put their community back together.

    President Bouteflika also sent a message to the people of Elkader, the first time Elkader has received a message directly from a Head of State.

    "We grieve with all the families of Elkader who have suddenly become homeless or have lost their livelihoods and express our deep sympathy as well as our admiration for the way that it is facing adversity with the pioneer spirit of dedicated volunteers and of community solidarity," Bouteflika wrote in his message.

    Emir Abdelkader was the chivalrous leader of Algeria (1832-47) whose love for freedom inspired the Founding Fathers of Elkader to give his name to their community.

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    July 2, 2008 -- Algerians historically haven't been lucky. Ottoman Turks lorded over the country for three centuries (1516-1830), and when Turks were done, the French took over. But from 1832 to 1847, the Algerian population gave the French a Meghrebi taste of la résistance. It was led by the great Sufi scholar and military leader Amir Abd al-Qadir, who controlled most of the country until the French captured him in 1847. They'd pledged that he could retire to Alexandria in Egypt. They lied. They exiled him to various fortresses in France, where he was held prisoner until the advent of Napoleon III - who freed him, gave him a pension of 100,000, and let him move to Istanbul, then Damascus. He was more famous and celebrated by the French in his retirement than he'd been reviled by them as their principal enemy in Algeria. His fame circled the globe. He died in 1879

    Move the scene a few time zones west. It's 1836. Elisha Boardman and Horace Bronson settle on the banks of the Turkey River in what would become Iowa 10 years latter. The Turkey River is a tributary of the mighty Mississippi, which flowed south some 15 miles east of where Elisha and Horace set up their first farm and established the first schoolhouse. The village grew.

    So what on earth has the story of an Algerian hero got to do with Midwestern homesteaders? This: when the homesteaders decided to name their village in 1846, they gave it the name of Elkader, in honor of the Algerian hero then busily fighting the French. (The Elkader town fathers and mothers must have been forerunners of that now-too common American disease: Francophobia.) Maybe the town's history helped make it more skeptical of George W. Bush's various wars in regions once dear to Abd al-Qadir: Clayton County, where Elkader is located, voted for John Kerrry over Bush in the 2004 election (52%-47%).

    The point of this whole story isn't to highlight a bit of cross-cultural trivia that links the Middle East to the Middle West (although there is that, especially in a state that tends to favor Arabic tongues). Rather, it's to relate that when Elkader, a town of less than 1,500, was recently slammed by the floodwaters of the Mississippi, which ruined some 40 houses, it received a relief check worth $150,000 - not from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency better known in the last few years for losing checks than delivering them to the right address, but from the government of Algeria.

    The donation to the Clayton County Disaster Relief Committee "is to assist exclusively in the recovery of the citizens of Elkader as they put their community back together," the Telegraph Herald of Dubuque, Iowa, reported.

    Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, an autocrat not quite in the mold of Abd al-Qadir, nevertheless had a touching message for the people of Elkader, apparently the first time that Elisha and Horace's descendants have ever received a message from a head of state: "We grieve with all the families of Elkader who have suddenly become homeless or have lost their livelihoods and express our deep sympathy as well as our admiration for the way that it is facing adversity with the pioneer spirit of dedicated volunteers and of community solidarity."

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    Lundi 7 juillet 2008 -- L’ambassadeur d’Algérie aux Etats-Unis d’Amérique, M. Amine Kherbi a participé les 4 et 5 juillet dans la ville américaine d’Elkader (Etat de l’Iowa) aux cérémonies de la célébration conjointe des fêtes nationales algérienne et américaine et du bicentenaire de la naissance de l’Emir Abdelkader. M. Kherbi a, par ailleurs, assisté à la réouverture du Parc Mascara après sa restauration. La ville d’Elkader a été baptisée en 1846 du nom du fondateur de l’Etat moderne algérien. Elle est depuis 1984 jumelée à sa ville natale Mascara.

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