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Food Dude

March 15, 2012
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Restaurant bars and the madness of March

By Jim Duncan

The prime rib is so popular it's often sold out by 6 p.m. at Christopher’s, 2816 Beaver Ave., 274.3694. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 5 to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10:30 p.m. (lounge opens at 3 p.m.)

The NCAA basketball tournament begins Thursday. If recent patterns hold, its initial two days will be the busiest Thursday and Friday of the year for sports books in Las Vegas, where it’s called “Bromance Week,” while workplace absenteeism soars nationally. Iowa State is participating, and St. Patrick’s Day falls on the tournament’s opening Saturday, so local sports bars expect a wild four-day weekend. In recent years we heard from folks who like going out to watch games but find sports bars too rowdy. So we spent much of the past season looking for alternatives — good restaurants with detached bars where diners can eat well while watching games on quality TV. These are our six favorites.

Christopher’s is a Beaverdale institution with a legendary bar dating to the legalization of liquor by the drink. It’s rectangular so people face each other instead of walls. Comfortable booths and tables surround it with good sightlines to five HDTVs. Christopher’s famous pan-fried chicken is only prepared now on Tuesdays, but its full Calabrese American menu is served in the bar. Pizza and petite-sized dinners have been added to that menu in recent years. Marinara, made with San Marzano tomatoes, provides the flavor of the old south side. Two-course dinners start at just $8.25. Prime rib is so popular it often sells out by 6 p.m.

Fleming’s projects hyper masculinity with leather, brass and polished wood. The aroma of seared flesh plays that same theme. It’s hardly a men’s club though. One recent Sunday, a few watched a Hawkeye game on one HDTV while many more cheered for Oscar’s red carpet ceremony on another. More people were seated in the bar then than in the restaurant’s two large dining rooms combined. That might well have been due to Fleming’s “5-6-7 menu,” a super-sized Happy Hour that presents deeply-discounted appetizers, burgers, cocktails and wines until 7 p.m. It’s served exclusively in the bar where full service dining is also available, meaning USDA prime beef and an excellent wine list preserved by vacuum sealing and separate cellars for reds and whites.

Irina’s keeps numerous HDTVs in its bar, which was more popular than its dining room on my recent visits. This restaurant carries many exotic vodkas, some exclusive, and 12 Baltika beers. Pair them with Black Sea specialties like clams, mussels, shrimp, pastas and skewered meats. Wine samples were generously offered to assure diners get what they want.

Those first three places serve dinner only. Three others open at 11 a.m. when early games tip off. Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse is designed with the same testosterone-seeking trappings as Fleming’s. Two large HDTVs sandwich a polished bar. Artwork and background music are dominated by the Rat Pack. There is no Happy Hour, but lunch menu specials were bargain priced — around $10 — and crab cakes were exceptional.

Smokey D’s seats nearly as many in its bar, where multiple HDTVs are offered, as in its dining room. Ribs, brisket and pulled pork sell so quickly here that everything is eaten within minutes after being pulled from three giant smokers. No meat is ever reheated. Comfort food specials (die-for apple dumplings) were also offered. Extraordinary halved chickens are smoked on Thursdays only.

The Palm’s bar room is so large and comfortable they don’t even open the main dining room for lunch. Centered with another rectangular bar, it includes five TVs, all HD. Additional TVs operate on a patio with tented pool tables. Happy Hour, from 3 to 6 p.m., brings $2.50 domestic beers and well drinks, plus complimentary appetizers on Thursdays and Fridays. The menu is Calabrese-American, with pasta, pizza, steaks and seafood starring.

Side Dishes

Wini Moranville resigned as the Des Moines Register Datebook Diner… Carly Groben closed Flour Pizza… Carlos O’Kelley’s closed their store on East 14th Street. CV

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