food & drink

Food Dude

April 21, 2011 |

By Jim Duncan


What’s in a name?


For better and worse, language isn’t as rigid as it used to be. Nouns can pass for verbs (to effect, to sex) and verbs can impersonate nouns (a hire, a feel).

Food definitions have loosened, too. Ethnic cuisines are no longer bounded by their ethnicities: Taco pizza has been around for decades now, and Cityview readers voted Hy-Vee the best “Chinese” restaurant in Des Moines this year.

What’s in a name is often up to the user. Some places require all “farmers market” vendors to be personally involved in raising the foods they sell. A new farmers market coming to 13th Street this summer anticipates that only 45 percent of its vendors will be farmers and local food producers who sell wine, cheese, salsa, jams and baked goods. Many of the rest will be mobile lunch stands that will compete with the six brick and mortar restaurants within a block of the market.

Lawyers are the only ones still bothered when words add up to less than half of what they claim to be. An Alabama law firm sued Taco Bell this winter for calling their beef “beef” even though it allegedly contains 65 percent filler. That made me curious about meatless meat tacos, so I headed out to Cumming where Sam Auen (Zen Sushi, Café di Scala) has been promoting taco events on Tuesdays. Auen sells tacos made with TVP (textured vegetable protein) plus others made of pork bellies and shoulders at Cumming Tap. All rocked. Auen made his own tortillas from scratch and they held his homemade salsas and pickled relishes without turning soggy. I could not tell the TVP from the pork either, but I am not a class action lawyer.

If Auen can reinvent pork, can someone also reinvent hamburger? George Formaro is making a stab at that. Because he’s opening Zombie Burger in East Village this summer, Formaro has experimented making burgers out of brains and other body parts preferred by zombies. His partners were not enthusiastic though. So wanting something new and different, he came up with “perfect burger.” That’s a combo of brisket and shoulder that is coarse ground in a single direction, rolled together in parallel strands and sliced into patties. That minimal processing and light packing delivered a distinct texture at Gateway Market, the only place selling “perfect burgers” until Zombie opens.

What is a deli these days? Des Moines’ biggest restaurant void remains for a true urban delicatessen — a place that bakes its own breads, corns its own briskets, smokes its own pastrami, pickles its own cucumbers, knows kosher laws and caters delicacies like matzo, blintzes, pâtés and cold, smoked fish.

After thriving in college towns, Quinton’s Bar & Deli became the latest new deli in Des Moines. Filled with ping-pong and electronic games, the place bustled on my visits, perhaps too much. One time three different sources of music competed, making conversation difficult. One of them consisted solely of bass reverberations that moved the silverware on my table. Missing a deli counter, Quinton’s looked far more like a bar than a deli. A Reuben, smoked turkey sandwich and a Philly steak sandwich all disappointed. Costing just shy of $10 with potato chips, they delivered meager and overcooked meats. Corned beef had been made of rounds not briskets, an infamy in a true deli. Potato bacon soup, served in a carved loaf of bread, was much better.

I returned after hearing Sarah Hill rave about Quinton’s burgers. She owns the marvelous restaurant Baru, so I take her raves seriously. Burgers were much better than deli sandwiches — perfectly seared patties on superb buns. I also checked out numerous drink specials, including $2 pints of beer and $2 well drinks. One special, for half price bottles of wine, actually undercut prices at two local liquor stores by several dollars. That’s the true definition of popularity, even outside college towns.


Side Dish

Syngenta introduced a handful of GMO sweet corn seeds this year. Watch what you eat. CV


Caption: Pork and TVP tacos at Cumming Tap, 117 Station St., Cumming.
Quinton’s Bar & Deli, 506 E. Grand Ave, 244-6624. Hours are 7 to 2 a.m., daily.