Tailgating pregame at The Grove Cafe


Nicole Hasek

The Grove Cafe on Main Street

“Just like home, you don’t always get what you want,” reads the wall in The Grove Cafe, a local diner in Downtown Ames. Here, students and community members can meet up for a homemade breakfast, especially during football season.

With their doors opening at 6 a.m. Saturdays, football fans can grab fluffy pancakes as big as their plates before tailgating, no matter what time the game starts. Whether visitors are looking for a light snack or a heavy breakfast, The Grove has options for everyone looking to eat before a day of playing yard games, watching the game and having a few drinks.

“On weekends with football games, I’d say 9 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. we’ll start getting busy,” said owner Larry Goodale. “It wouldn’t shock me that the first hour, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., somewhere around there, if we’re really busy.”

For tailgaters not watching or attending earlier games, the diner is open until 12 p.m. Saturdays with daily lunch specials.

“We get a lot of college students on weekends, sometimes a little later in the day,” Goodale said. “Most of the time then it is after they’ve been out partying, that’s not uncommon.”

In 2018, Food Network magazine named The Grove’s pancakes the best breakfast in Iowa, the second time the magazine gave them this title; the other occurred in 2011. Local Eats also titled them as one of the top 20 breakfast restaurants in America in 2012.

“The vegetables come out of a can, but the biscuits and gravy I make on Saturdays,” Goodale said. “We have a raspberry rhubarb pancake, usually with raspberry rhubarb sauce on top of it, that I make. Nothing is microwaved.”

Along with their well-known massive pancakes, they also serve omelets, french toast, sandwiches and a variety of sides and desserts. Every meal is made from scratch, as the cafe does not even own a microwave. Since buying the diner in 1977, Goodale has been in nearly every day to cook for every customer, with the continuous help of his nephew and nine other staff members.

There are many regulars, typically Ames residents, that Goodale sees multiple times a week or even every day. On weekends or weekdays before class, it is common to see students and family members who are visiting. The number of students in a day varies based on school activities or sporting events happening in town.

Even with their low staff, Goodale has no intentions of closing the business anytime soon. He plans to keep it the way it has been since 1948, the year it originally opened, until he finds someone he wants to sell to.