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Food Dude

June 7, 2012
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A comeback for specialization

By Jim Duncan

Nostalgia soda rack at Candy Clubhouse. Candy Clubhouse and Twisted Joe’s are both located at Valley West Mall. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Cheese Shop of Des Moines, 833 42nd St. Hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to close.

After half century of losing ground to supermarkets and franchise restaurants with 32-page menus, specialization is coming back in the food sector. Three new local businesses are riding this bandwagon.

Candy Clubhouse appeals as much to senior citizens as to kids. They feature nostalgia lines of candies and soft drinks, including brands I had not seen in decades: Twin Bings, Bit-o-Honeys, Clark bars, Abba-zabbas, Neccos, Red Hots, Bonomo Turkish Taffy and PEZ with numerous dispensers, etc. They also carry a number of European and regional candies from Vosges, Cote d’or Dolfin, Chocolove, Wai Lana, Drost Roland, Hachey, New Tree (quince flax chocolate is definitely from a new tree), etc. Caramel apples were made fresh in 11 flavors.

Soft drinks were replicated in museum-quality bottles. Most used nostalgic recipes, meaning cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, which replaced sugar industry-wide in the early 1980s. Many were regional specialties like North Carolina’s Cheerwine, Seattle’s Pig Iron Cola, Milwaukee’s Sprecher, central Texas’ Big Red and Kiss, Connecticut’s Avery’s, Maryland’s Frostie, England’s Calypso, the Cascade Mountain range’s Huckleberry, Colorado’s Tommy Knocker, Australia’s Bundaberg and name sake sodas from Death Valley, Sioux City and Fargo.

Other sodas were from new companies trying to create 21st century flavors with old fashioned methods — Reed’s Flying Cauldron Butterscotch and Eat Me Now’s Jack Black Blue Cream for instance. Jelly Belly was represented with a long line of such sodas, plus a large section of candies. Fluids and Rocket Fizz sodas were produced by Rocket Fizz, a franchise candy store very similar to Candy Clubhouse. Bulldog sodas advertised high-end ingredients like pure vanilla. Lester Fixins’ odd flavors included peanut butter and jelly, pumpkin pie, bacon and sweet corn. Cucumber soda tasted like half of a gin-seeking summer cocktail invention.

Some sodas came with interesting back-stories. Nesbitt’s Orange soda was the most popular orange drink in America till the late 1960s. Its 1940s ads featured an unknown spokeswoman named Marilyn Monroe. Jolt has been called the prototype of Red Bull. Leninade sodas are Russian-made spoofs of Communist era propaganda – “If it’s in a tomb, you must exhume.” Los Angeles’ Rat Bastard Root Beer could have been concocted in a Chinatown herbal store, employing jasmine, dong quai, three kinds of ginseng, mad dog weed, skullcap, yohimbe, ginko bilboa, gotu kola, golden seal, echinacea, capsicum, reishi, plus shitaki and cordyceps mushrooms.

Elsewhere in Valley West Mall, Twisted Joe’s opened in the food court, a solitary unique store amidst a number of franchises. It offered good burgers and Johnsonville brats, with excellent hand-cut fries. My half-pound burger was well seared and served on a toasted buttered bun.

In the Shops at Roosevelt, The Cheese Shop of Des Moines has begun serving hot lunches, all cheese of course. A toasted cheese sandwich epitomized the best of that genre. It was made with high fat butter, La Mie bread and a combination of three Iowa cheeses — Frisian Farms gouda, Milton Creamery’s Quark and Prairie Breeze. One can add prosciutto, salami, pepper jam or homemade arugula pesto. Cast iron skillet mac and cheese was made with Frisian Farms gouda. Side salads featured lemon vinaigrettes, olives, Jack cheese and almonds. Gus Soda, a New York brand I did not see at Candy Clubhouse, was featured in three flavors, along with Peace Tree root beer and the usual wines and beers that are sold at bargain, retail prices all day.

Side Dishes

Taste of Thailand founder Prasong “Pak” Nurack is currently serving his second term in Thailand’s Senate. His former Internet service provider disabled his old email address book and he wants to reconnect with his friends in Iowa. Contact him at CV

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