Canteen Lunch in Ottumwa, IA

I visited Ottumwa, IA the other day and asked about a recommendation for lunch. Without a hesitation, I was directed to Canteen Lunch which I may have been the only person that had never heard of it. Dating back to the 1930s, Canteen Lunch in Ottawa, IA is an institution.

Canteen Lunch in Ottumwa, IA
The signage tells the story. Larry Shapiro photo

I didn’t quite understand at first what they were telling me … they said go down to the Ottawa Hotel, and go into the parking garage and the alley across the street.

Canteen Lunch in Ottawa IA
I ask you … is this the inviting entrance to a restaurant … it is for Canteen Lunch. Larry Shapiro photo

It’s a parking garage for goodness’ sake!

After going into the parking garage, the alley in the rear reveals the restaurant. … I guess if the city wants to build a parking garage and the restaurant won’t budge … this is what you get!

Canteen Lunch in Ottumwa IA
The parking garage was literally built on top of and around the restaurant. Larry Shapiro photo

Although the menu lists several items, basically you can have whatever you want, as long as it’s a Canteen … a chopped sirloin sandwich on a plain bun with your choice of everything (ketchup, mustard, onions, and pickles) wrapped in white paper.

Canteen Lunch in Ottumwa, IA
The menu lists a small selection of items … though the Canteen is the staple. Larry Shapiro photo

Service is provided by a group of women who offer a Canteen ready-to-eat in less than a minute from the time you order.

Canteen Lunch in Ottumwa, IA
The chef supervised the slow cooking of the ground beef, mixing it with a trowel. Larry Shapiro photo
Canteen Lunch in Ottumwa, IA
The first stage of the Canteen involves adding the fix’ns to the bun. Larry Shapiro photo
Canteen Lunch in Ottumwa, IA
Using the same trowel, she smothers the bun with meat. Larry Shapiro photo
Canteen Lunch in Ottumwa, IA
It seems as though the women have a non-stop source of conversation to pass the time as customers sit around the vintage u-shaped counter while sitting on stools. Larry Shapiro photo

It’s well worth the visit, but be warned. As the regular patron sitting next to me advised … one Canteen is not always sufficient!

Thanks ladies for a wonderful lunch, and experience!