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Food Dude

July 5, 2012
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Tracking some readers’ tips

By Jim Duncan

Wings and samosas star at the BP station at 727 SE 14th St., 243-8100. Hours are 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., daily.
Krueger’s BP, Highway 141 at S.E. 37th St., Grimes, 986-3017. Open 24-7.
Chester’s - University Groceries II, 1621 University Ave., 288-8800. Hours are 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., daily.
Club 2000, 422 Indianola Ave., 245-9769. Hours are 6 to 2 a.m., daily.

Readers’ enthusiasm for four off-beat joints persuaded us to check them out. We began with Chester’s Chicken, a quick service food concept founded in Alabama some 60 years ago by an inventor of industrial deep fryers. His grandson began expanding the chicken end of the business through franchising in 2004. Named after a character on “Gunsmoke,” Chester’s is an odd bird. It has no stand-alone outlets, mostly partnerships with supermarkets and convenience stores. Its franchises sell for an average of only $10,000.

In Des Moines, two very different Chester’s outlets offer addictive fried chicken and other southern dishes. At University Groceries II, opposite Goode Park, “liquor, wine and beer” get second billing to the chicken in an old convenience store. People objected to my using a camera until I assured them that I would not photograph humans. A hot case was stocked with prepared chicken that ranged from old (and deeply discounted) to just out of the fryer. Foolishly I tried both. Eaten hot, Chester’s was divinely juicy and crisp. The extra spicy option came as advertised. Chester’s corporate web site professed these “secrets” — a patented breading recipe, unique fryers, double breading and using only marinated chickens. Tenders, gizzards and catfish were also superb. Okra and half cobs of corn were breaded and deep-fried. Mashed potatoes offered disappointing brown gravy. Potato salad featured larger than usual pieces of potato in a creamy sauce with chopped peppers.

Des Moines’s second Chester’s option was a slick modern convenience store/BP station on S.E. 14th Street that also specializes in liquor. I’ve been told it’s a reliable source of Templeton Rye when other stores are sold out. Fresh bait is sold 24/7 in a vending machine. Catfish, ribs and extra spicy chicken were not available on my visits. I was also told there wouldn’t be any fresh-from-the-fryer chicken “for awhile.” Excellent meaty samosas (Indian fried ravioli) and a full line of Mexican soft drinks compensated.

Reader tip No. 2 took me to Club 2000 (“C2K” in southside lingo), a typical neighborhood bar with an atypical bar kitchen. This place, in the same family for three generations, had a very friendly vibe and seemed particularly lively on a Thursday night when patrons play beer pong for a $25 bar tab, and on Tuesdays when large tacos and $3 margaritas starred. C2K’s Facebook page announces other specials, with $1 domestic draws being popular. Daily lunch specials included grilled tenderloins on Tuesdays, excellent homemade cavatelli on Wednesdays, Sicilian subs (capacola, roast beef and fried peppers) on Thursdays and French dip on Fridays. The latter was served with generous beef, a good jus and excellent onion rings. Other $7.50 specials were served with fries and only between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. A large menu of mostly sandwiches was offered most of the day and night.

Tip No. 3 took me to Grimes where another BP station has been impressing readers with their pizza. I found pies being made in a short oven that included a conveyor belt, a model I hadn’t seen since the 1980s. My pizza maker told me his oven could get up to 1,000 degrees. It delivered a perfect example of tavern style pizza — meaning that super-thin crusts were crisp enough to hold a fully loaded piece of pie at a right angle without sagging. Toppings included old southside specialties like capacola, banana peppers and Graziano’s sausage. The store’s burrito grill did not impress me as much as its pizza. Oatmeal was offered, too, and was advertised as free on Mondays.

Side Dishes

Jimmie Lynch (801 Steak & Chop) announced plans to open an upscale seafood restaurant in the western suburbs and also a farm to fork restaurant called Pig & Finch. CV

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