food & drink

Food Dude

February 17th, 2011 |
By Jim Duncan

Soul Chic — Patton’s evokes bygone graces


My mother used to say that any number of new tearooms might open in greater Des Moines, but there would never be another Tea Room. Her upper case reverence was reserved for Younkers Tea Room, a downtown institution from 1889 - 2002.

Mom loved its zeitgeist more than its menu. It was a place where luncheon was always a major occasion, good manners were prerequisite, and challenges to its unofficial dress code were unthinkable. By the random laws of reincarnation, such wind-grieved ghosts sometimes come back again — just not where one might expect them.

Patton’s Restaurant opened last month in the newly completed La Plaza. It anchors that handsome new development with a stylish minimalism design that features two-story windows and an open kitchen. This soulful café would be chic in Harlem. In Des Moines, its sleek lines, glass top tables and tall ceiling stick out like a secular cathedral. On three visits, at completely different hours, Patton’s customers reminded me of The Tea Room’s. People dressed up to dine — not just elderly ladies either. In stylish toques and jackets, owner chef Pam Patton and her staff worked in a kitchen that also bustled with big city vibes. Little touches added charm. On one occasion, I was served a complimentary amuse bouche called “soul roll” that stuffed a large dumpling wrapper with red beans and rice and collard greens before deep-frying it. On another, a complimentary dessert of strawberry cake came with the bill.

Several of Patton’s southern dishes were the best I have ever sampled in Des Moines. Fried fish po boys included two large filets of Hawaiian pangasius that were breaded with just the slightest crunch of corn meal and served with sliced tomatoes and chopped lettuce on a buttered and toasted bun. A relative of both catfish and basa, pangasius delivers whitefish texture without any oily bottom feeder flavor. A friend who despises catfish loved these. Patton used the same fish in her jerk fish — two large filets grilled with mild jerk seasonings and served the same way as the po boy. Chicken wings included four large wings, double breaded and deep-fried tender to the bone.

Patton and her son Stanley smoke beef briskets, pork shoulders, chickens and turkeys in-house with hickory. Such barbecue was not as consistent as the fish and wings. Brisket and ribs both included some overly charred meat with tender meat. Both were served with very sweet tomato based sauces. A chicken picatta was similarly incomplete. It was served in a delicious white wine sauce on fettucine that had homemade flavor, topped with freshly grated Parmesan. But the chicken tasted like overcooked chunks, not freshly butterflied filets that had been tenderized for quick sautéing. Its capers lacked their distinctive flavor, too.

Side dishes were so good that my only complaint is Patton’s doesn’t offer a Southern style “veggie” plate. Red beans and rice were almost unctuous with shredded meats. Sweet potato fries were freshly cut and crisply fried — far superior to the usual processed product. Collard greens had flavor that only good stock lends. Mac and cheese was made southern style with real cheddar, not creamy style like most northern versions. Cornbread dressing contained the moistest, softest crumb possible and deep gravy flavors. Cole slaw and potato salad were both Yankee style, with mayo-type dressing. Cobblers (apple and peach) had better pastry than fruit filling, but the sweet potato pie was perfect in crust and filling with multiple subtle spice flavors.

Bottom line — Patton’s is the first great new restaurant of 2011. Its southern dishes are its strong suit.


Side Dishes

With the appointment of Peter Streit in LeMars, seven different Streit brothers now manage Hy-Vee stores… Russ Reel, 86, re-opened La Pizza House. CV


Caption: Fish Po Boy with sweet potato fries at Patton’s, 1552 E. Grand Ave., 265-2203. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 9 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 9:30 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.