MAQUOKETA, Iowa — Tucked away in rural Jackson County, a quaint cottage sits between two ponds.
People flock to the site in droves every weekend for fish.
The cottage goes by the name Bluff Lake Catfish Farm, a restaurant almost solely accessed through a road that cuts through Maquoketa Caves State Park.
Getting there can be quite the adventure. But for its many regulars, it’s worth it.
“People come here because they know that they are getting a good meal,” said owner Linda Wells. “It’s not fancy or anything. It’s just a nice place with great food.”
Bluff Lake Catfish Farm was started in 1971 by Clayton Kuhlman, Wells’ father. What started as a camper out of which Kuhlman used to sell catfish quickly turned into a full-fledged restaurant.
Through time, the restaurant became famous for its fish dinners, with people coming all the way from Wisconsin to get a taste of the fish at Bluff Lake.
Wells bought the restaurant in 1989, and always has attempted to maintain the operation’s simple aesthetic.
“We’ve had city people who thought they were supposed to dress up,” Wells said. “They don’t know what they’re getting into when they come here. It’s about as casual as it gets.”
Despite its rustic look, Wells prides herself in providing the most high-quality food in the area. If it’s served at Bluff Lake, the catfish must be raised in the United States, and the haddock must come from Iceland.
“These are homemade meals,” Wells said. “We always tell everyone that they better be ready to wait when they come here. It takes time to cook a meal, so just relax and enjoy the scenery.”
It’s the restaurant’s quality that Wells believes will keep people coming back, even if it will be a little more challenging to get there this year.
On April 2, Maquoketa Caves State Park is scheduled to close so the park’s deteriorating roads can be repaved. While Wells acknowledged the road is in need of attention, it closes off the primary route to Bluff Lake.
The restaurant is accessible, but getting there now requires about a four-mile back road detour, the Telegraph Herald reported .
Wells said she has known about the construction for more than a year. She and her staff have been working to make sure the restaurant’s regulars have no problems finding the place.
“We’re trying to bend over backward to make sure everyone knows how to get here,” Wells said. “We’re putting up our own signs and posting directions online. We’re getting through it.”
Kory Kuhlman, general manager of Bluff Lake and Wells’ son, said he believes only a portion of the restaurant’s regular customers will be affected by the closing.
“A lot of people already come in through the back way,” Kuhlman said. “I’m honestly not that worried about it.”
The park road could be closed until late August, according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials. But Wells said she isn’t worried about her business.
The restaurant has always been an out-of-the-way trip for many of its fans. What’s a few miles more?
“I’m not afraid,” Wells said. “People really love this place. We get more people from Wisconsin than we do from Maquoketa, so I don’t think they’ll mind too much.”
Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Telegraph Herald.