MEDIAPOLIS – A new restaurant serves American cuisine and specialty Long Island iced teas in Mediapolis.
D&E Grille, located at 626 Main Street, is named after its owners, Diana Wells and Earl Carter, and offers an eclectic menu of wraps, sandwiches, salads, burgers, steaks and seafood, giving credit to the motto of the restaurant, “Grille food for your mood.”
Running their own restaurant has been a longtime dream for Carter and Wells, who met while working at Martini’s Grille in Burlington.
“We talked about it for years,” Wells said. “It’s one of those scary things to get into.”
Wells, who moved to Burlington from Wisconsin in 2004 to teach the orchestra for the Burlington School District, had taken a summer job there while working up front.
Carter got his start as a dishwasher after moving to Burlington from Mississippi in 2008 and worked his way up to the position of kitchen manager.
“She was a sassy little thing,” Carter said with a smile of her first impression of Wells. The two now share an equally sassy son and daughter.
Carter worked as a chef at Martini’s for six or seven years before moving to the kitchen at Bent River Brewing Co. in downtown Burlington.
Over time, Wells encouraged Carter to enroll in the Culinary Arts program at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. Carter spent two and a half years driving from Burlington, where he had become the executive chef of the Burlington Golf Club, in Cedar Rapids. The culinary program culminated with a class trip to Cuba.
There, Carter visited each of the country’s culinary schools before heading to Havana, where he and his classmates cooked for a group of skilled chefs.
“We learned their cooking styles and we met in Havana and cooked for all the chefs there,” Carter said.
Among these chefs was Ivan Justo, Fidel Castro’s personal chef for over 30 years.
“No Fidel Castro, just the boss,” he added. “I learned a lot there, like how to rate a kitchen, because they ran hotels with one stove. Everyone was around the stove waiting to use it.”
Carter took what he learned back to southeast Iowa, where Coconuts Cabana, one of two restaurants in downtown Mediapolis, would close in January 2020.
Wells and Carter liked the space and location of the old restaurant, but feared starting a business during a pandemic. Last December, as the first COVID-19 vaccines were distributed to states, the couple approached the owner of the building to rent the space.
They moved in in February.
Wells’ brother Eric is a graphic designer and helped design the menu, logo and signage. Other family members spent hours helping prepare the space, which had been vacant for over a year. They coated the Caribbean-style paint with a softer color palette and got to work securing and organizing the equipment and furnishings to create a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere centered around a well-stocked bar.
They were able to recruit around fifteen employees and opened their doors at the end of April. The couple had originally planned to serve only take-out, but the timing spared them the headache of having to enforce masks and social distancing as Gov. Kim Reynolds lifted those warrants in February.
Since opening their doors, they have seen a constant stream of customers looking for the perfect meal and the perfect drink.
Don’t call me shirley
Just as martinis are at Martini’s, Long Islands are at D&E Grille.
“Martini’s has martinis, and a lot of places do different mules, and I just thought it would be something different,” said Wells, whose first restaurant job was at a Wisconsin microbrewery.
The drink menu features 11 types of Long Island iced teas, and Wells always has ideas for more.
Each type consists of the Long Island base – rum, gin, triple sec, and vodka – but with different ingredients to create different flavors and colors.
There’s The Long Beach, which replaces cranberry juice with Pepsi, the Tidal Wave, made with Blue Curacao and Sprite, and Don’t Call Me Shirley, which tastes like a Shirley Temple.
“This one will have you,” Wells said.
Wells has a special recipe in mind for D&E’s Long Island of October. This is the one that turns black when all the ingredients are mixed.
Wells recommends switching to another drink after two Long Islands, and there’s plenty to choose from. The menu also offers various mixed drinks, dessert drinks, wines and beers.
“We try to make a lot of local beer,” Carter said.
The couple plan to swap their beers on tap periodically and based on customer feedback, but some, like Busch Light’s Ruthie lager, Easy Eddie and Exile Brewing Co., will remain stable deals.
They also offer Lindon wines, which are sourced from a Burlington vineyard.
Don’t ask for the vintage Jim Beam whiskey bottles that line the large shelf behind the bar. They were a gift from Wells’ great aunt after she retired from her post as executive secretary at Jim Beam in downtown Chicago.
“They expired in the ’70s so they’re a little cloudy,” Wells said.
On the menu
Special meals and drinks are offered every Friday and Saturday. Carter said he usually bases special dishes on what will go well with Wells’ drink special.
Beyond the specials, the dinner menu, which starts at 4:30 p.m., features Portobello mushroom sandwiches, Cajun shrimp burgers, apple feta salad, steaks, pork chops, fried shrimp. , Parmesan-crusted salmon and wild mushroom pasta, as well as desserts and appetizers.
There’s also the Cuban sandwich, but it’s about the only item that recalls Carter’s time in the Republic of Cuba.
“I know customers would love a Cuban, but I don’t know how they would have felt about the goat and all that other stuff, so I just kept him American,” Carter said.
Seafood dishes are among Carter’s favorite dishes to cook, and the couple plan to swap menu items every few months to keep the offerings fresh.
D&E Grille is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday.
To view special offers, visit The D&E Grille Facebook page.