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Food Dude

Nov 8, 2011
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The hood fits the Garden Grill

By Jim Duncan

Servings were super-sized at The Garden Grill, 8385 Birchwood Court, Johnston, 278-5227. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

All four barbecues in the West Des Moines-Clive area (The Q, BBQ2Die4, Shane’s, Bandera’s) closed since summer. Obviously such a meat-intensive genre has been hit hard by rising meat prices, but something else is happening. During the same time frame: Uncle Wendell’s, Jethro’s and Woody’s all continued to thrive in the Ingersoll-Drake area; Jethro’s much larger second Q stayed busy in Altoona as did Claxon’s; Findlay’s Smokehouse remained popular on the southside where Boss Hawg’s parking lot filled up in its first summer; and Smokey D’s expanded their Saylor township barbecue, adding a 1,200-square-foot party room, 2,000 extra square feet to their kitchen, an additional smoker capable of handling 250 racks of ribs and 100 new parking spaces.

So, what is it about barbecue that doesn’t work in West Des Moines? “Speaking just for us, the problems were location, location and location. There are some places where people just don’t like getting their hands dirty,” explained The Q owner Bob Conley.

I’ve heard that before. The owner of San Francisco’s best Vietnamese restaurants told me she nearly closed soon after expanding to Beverley Hills. Then someone suggested that her two signature dishes — whole drunken crab and garlic noodles — were too messy for 90210 types. She cut crabmeat and noodles up into bite-sized pieces, and customers responded.

Is greater Des Moines becoming a confederation of food ghettoes where people all pretty much stick to the same menus? Johnston’s Birchwood Crossing Business Park gives that impression. I visited recently to try out The Garden Grill (GG), which opened in October. That place is surrounded by several restaurants that have remarkably similar menus. It’s virtually next door to both Okoboji Grill and Legends. Within a couple blocks are Ruby Tuesday’s, Maid-Rite, Village Inn, Texas Roadhouse, Culver’s and a couple sports bars. It seems like it would be a niche for something new or different.

GG definitely raises the seafood bar on 86th Street. I found crab cakes, crab stuffed appetizers, handmade lobster ravioli, scallop and shrimp pasta, oatmeal breaded walleye (expertly paired with red apple slaw), crab stuffed mahi mahi in rich lobster butter, good tilapia tacos and a variety of grilled fish offered as daily specials. Fresh baked bread, served with cinnamon butter, stood out, and salad dressings were all homemade.

Other than that, the menu was remarkably similar to those at the aforementioned neighborhood places — buffalo wings, nachos, onion rings, artichoke dip, grilled steaks and chops, burgers, a dozen pasta choices and half a dozen chicken choices. Everything I tried was super sized, well prepared and served with enthusiasm. Grillwork was professional — meats and fish had good sears and were not overcooked. Prices were in line with the hood, too. Lunches ranged from $6 - $15, sandwiches all cost $8 or $9, and dinners ranged from $9 - $22. The bar specialized in margaritas. The import beer list was rich with Mexican brands. Two daily Happy Hours brought half-priced appetizers, $2.50 imports and $3.49 margaritas.

Can this part of Johnston support yet another like-minded restaurant? Early returns suggest so. In a neighborhood where two distinctly original restaurants — Torocco and Old Castle — failed rather quickly, I counted 34 cars in GG’s parking lot at an hour when there were also 35 at Okoboji, 34 at Legends, 40 at Ruby Tuesday’s and 31 at Village Inn.

Bottom line — Some places, it’s better to fit in than to stick out.

Side Dishes

Jim Beam Inc sent a team of top executives to town last month to launch Iowa sales of Canadian Club’s Classic 12, their deluxe new whisky which is aged 12 years. In blind tasting tests at Embassy Club West, it destroyed its main whisky competitors. CV

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