Newell Cafe serving up home-cooking

Thursday, June 30, 2016
Angilia Durham-Simmons, owner of the Newell Cafe. / Photo by Mick Polich

When Miss Christina says you all better come in for supper, you better do it -- if not, you will be missing out on a little funky slice of down home at the Newell Cafe, in Newell, Iowa. Angilia Durham--Simmons, aka Christina, is owner/operator/chef at what is becoming a wide open best kept secret for almost a year and a half, as far as a small town restaurant. Prime rib, crab legs, fresh cooked vegetables. "No cans," says Christina, "I won't cook any vegetable out of a can." Maid rite soup, and quite possibly the summer hit single, homemade potato salad, reside on a food counter from the Storm Lake High cafeteria kitchen after it was renovated, along with assorted donated serving tables. "See all my plates? All donated. I was amazed at how many people helped with setting things up," says Christina.

Hearing her story, it seems like a path that could only be thought up in one of those breezy summer romance novels where the heroine leaves an old life behind, runs into misfortune, only to land in a small town she didn't expect to turn up in, and start a new life in love and food. And oh yes, she's recently married, too -- that would be the 'love' part. "I got married five months ago -- ooh wee, a lot has happened!" says Christina.

By now, her back story has been well documented in a few news articles. Seattle, Washington native, with stints in Georgia and Alaska as well, lands in Omaha on Easter Sunday of last year, on crutches after foot surgery. After being helped with her luggage by a so-called 'good samaritan', only to find out she was relieved of $375. Bummed because she has no money for bus fare, this time a real angel of a person offers her a ride to Storm Lake, which continues to Newell. Christina gets hooked up with a realtor quickly, who finds her a great deal on buying the current restaurant, plus the laundromat, and her current residence, the apartment upstairs. There's more to the story, but Christina can tell it to you personally when you head to the cafe for the delicious chicken drumsticks, slow cooked in cinnamon and other spices, where the meat falls off the bone, literally.

A ball of energy with ten conversations going on that she conducts like a symphony, Christina channels her fuel into running the cafe, and soaking up life in Newell. She looks and radiates a much younger vibe than her 51 years, and she has to in order to keep up with all of her ideas for her food creations.

"I just thought of the potato salad this summer, and it takes some time to do it right," says Christina.

And the woman is open to cooking any type of food any time of day. "I mean, if you wanted a hamburger at 7:30 p.m., no problem, I'll cook one up for you, and it will be good. I also cook breakfast all day, plus I can cook gluten free," says Christina.

Old school crockpots, all donated, line one side of the serving tables, one of which sends up a whiff of spicy Italian sausage -- the "Maidrite" soup. "You know what's special about the Maidrite soup? I don't use hamburger, I use Italian sausage because it works better. I add ketchup, and other spices for the flavor," says Christina. Cooking wasn't always her forte', in fact, the first dish she tried making for her first husband while living in Alaska, didn't turn out as planned." It was crunchy, crunchy mac and cheese," says Christina with a big, husky laugh," What did I know? I was in my early twenties. But I learned." And learn she did, as the Newell Cafe menu boasts everything from a salmon omelet, to 'monster burgers your way', biscuits and gravy, and pork chops with hash browns.

Speaking of pork chops, Christina's assistant, Doug Miller, shows off some fresh chops from the lunch time buffet. "Doug is great, a hard worker. He came in one day looking for a job, I talked to him a little bit, and offered him one right on the spot," says Christina. Doug helps with the cooking, serving, and clean up daily. There's the second annual Newell Cafe car show, and Doug is eager to run down the list of great rides that show up on display. "We get a huge variety of cars, it's pretty cool," says Doug.

As you look around the cafe walls, the décor is as fun, and funky, as the food. Found art hangs out with pictures of food, cars, Marilyn Monroe, and scribbles of signatures of customers past and present are splashed all over the walls. Quotes, profound witticisms, political candidate posters, also have a home on there, as well as cookbooks lined up like soldiers along the top of the food counter. Christina points out another important aspect -- you can see into the kitchen area. "The guy who was here before, he had that area blocked off so you couldn't see in to watch him prepare the meal. I know one thing, I like to watch my food being cooked" Christina says with a touch of seriousness.

Locals have embraced the cafe like something Christina has never seen. Donated kitchen items, crowds filtering in before sporting events, plus she has been opening up her back room to the cafe for civic and church group meetings. There's a big family feel at the cafe, and it shows. The Newell Cafe seems to be an eatery that's catching on by word of mouth, and for sure, there will be more than one food serving that Christina will cook up to make your mouth water, not to mention touch your heart and soul.