A New York strip dinner is just $15 at Cooper’s
on Fifth, 227 Fifth St., West Des Moines, 255-9895.
Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 10
p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to close.
Small restaurants indicate the future. It’s
always been that way in Europe and Japan. The
New York Times recently reported that the hottest
restaurant in Paris this year has just 16 seats.
Jim Lark, owner of Michigan’s most famous restaurant,
explained why he draws the line at 50 guests.
“Once you have more than 50, bad things happen,
not the least of which is that the actual cooking
is no longer done by the real talent — your
chef and sous chef.”
Des Moines’ restaurant scene was transformed
by small, chef-driven cafés (Under 50’s) in
the late ’90s and early ’00s. Butch’s Hollywood
Bistro, Bistro 43, Corner Café, South Union
Bread Café and Basil Prosperi taught the city
to appreciate California and European style
fare in tiny stores. Café di Scala began as
a stall at Metro Market. Taste of Thailand,
Soul Africa and original versions of La Tapatia
and A Dong revolutionized the way ethnic foods
were presented here in similarly small cafés.
The last decade conspired against Under 50’s
here. Zealous regulations and inflation raised
the fixed costs of overhead (grease traps, equipment,
permits, licenses, inspection compliance, insurance,
energy, etc.) so much that it became much easier
for larger places to get approved for loans.
The mortality rate for Under 50’s rose faster
than that of large places, too. Today it takes
brave souls to open a small café.
Ryan and Kara Cooper and Randy Hagen did that
last November in one of the best Under 50 venues
in town. Best known as Simo’s Cafisto and most
recently known as Accordion, their charming
44-seat café in Valley Junction never looked
better. It’s been given a superb makeover by
Cooper’s uncle Bob. That’s Bob Cooper, whose
woodworking style distinguishes the new World
Food Prize building, the Hotel Pattee and several
handsome Des Moines restaurants such as Mezzodi’s,
801 Steak & Chop House, Embassy Club and
Trostel’s Greenbriar. Bob built a new bar here
with his trademark inlays. It is the focus of
the single room.
Cooper’s kitchen produces comfort food. I’d
call it diner food except that implies breakfast
and Cooper’s is only open evenings and Sunday
afternoons with an abbreviated menu. Among its
comforting aspects were prices that ranged $11
- $18 for entrees (including salads and fresh
vegetables), $9 - $10 for sandwiches (with sides),
$4 - $10 for soups and salads, and $7 - $9 for
appetizers. In that latter category, pulled
pork nachos delivered delightfully puffy, freshly
fried flour tortillas, with three cheeses, black
bean relish and wasabi cream. Pulled pork egg
rolls may not rock the world like those that
Smokey D’s introduced recently, but they delivered
more wasabi cream, black bean relish and pulled
pork with a different starch. Panko breaded
zucchini strips were the least complicated and
most appreciated appetizer.
Chicken tortilla soup was a hit with multiple
flavors and plenty of heat. A Cuban sandwich
was faithfully grilled on Cuban bread and served
with more pulled pork plus ham, pickles, grainy
mustard and melted Swiss. Half pound burgers
had good sears — the menu even offers “Pittsburgh
style,” the ultimate in searing. Can’t remember
when I last enjoyed a New York strip dinner
that cost just $15. Cooper’s version had good
sear and was paired well with grilled onion
rings, roasted peppers and buttered baby potatoes.
Cajun meatloaf was my favorite dish with crisp
edge, tender center and expert spicing. Short
ribs, mac and cheese, Swiss steak Marsala and
a seafood ravioli dish were also featured on
a sensible 20-item menu.
Chicago style Italian kitchens are in the works
at both Gas Lamp and The Library, with Chicago
Italian beef, Chicago dogs, sausage and meatball
sandwiches… DMKoreacopia’s next Korean feast
will be Jan. 22, $20, 327-9191 or Facebook for