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Food Dude

August 2, 2012
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Something old, something new

By Jim Duncan

George’s chili recipe is unchanged for nearly 100 years. George the Chili King, 5722 Hickman Rd., 277-9433. Hours are Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Whole Foods, 42nd and University Ave., West Des Moines, 343-2600. Hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., daily.

A significant anniversary and a long-awaited opening hit the metro in late July. Age before beauty. George the Chili King (GCK) celebrated 60 years on Hickman Road with 1950s costumes, hula-hoops, vintage cars, the Split Second Band and car hop service. GCK is a genuine throwback likely having undergone as little remodeling as any place its age. George Karaidos’ employees tend to hang around for decades. The restaurant only counts its age from the day the Hickman store opened. Count the predecessors that Karaidos’ father founded, and the business will turn 100 in eight years. That’s when George, 79, says he will finally retire.

What’s in the name? George’s dad won a “best chili” contest instigated by reporters from various downtown newspapers back when Des Moines had multiple daily papers and chili joints. He then changed the name of his business from Coney Island Lunch. That chili recipe has remained unchanged for nearly 100 years even as most American chilies began adding tomatoes and beans. I tried chili in a bowl, on a coney island and even on a hamburger. Just like 1952.

Whole Foods opened its first area store, in West Des Moines, with two marching bands and considerable hoopla. I received a press release 20 hours before the opening that said people were lining up outside, camping and tailgating. If so, they were invisible until the next morning. That should not detract at all from the grandiosity of the occasion. The place was mobbed for days after opening. Folks flocked to its 30,000 square feet stocked without a single artificial flavoring, preservative or trans fat. Some waited more than half an hour in checkout lines to purchase eight different kinds of sprouted cereals, three different kinds of “grind your own” nut butters and $30-a-pound Bomba Valencia rice.

The store brings some things to town — mainly volume of choice, that one can’t find at Gateway Market, New City Market or Campbell’s. Its seafood section was stocked with the freshest looking fish I’ve seen in town — bream and snapper had clear eyes while tuna, swordfish and wild salmon glistened. Oddly, the fish at the sushi bar did not look nearly as fresh. Strauss Veal, a Wisconsin product we have touted for years, was available, as was Strauss Lamb, something new to our ken. Grass-fed beef came from S&C Ranch in Fort Atkinson, Iowa, and popcorn is from an 18th century seed grown in Shellsburg that is “dense sterile,” meaning it can’t be cross pollinated by genetically modified plants.

Cheese selections weren’t as impressively local. Whole Foods stocked two kinds of Italian robiolas but none of Dairy Aire’s, the award-winning Iowa robiola one finds at Cheese Shop of Des Moines. The olive bar had 20 choices but no lucques, the king of olives, which are often sold at Gateway. No one was stirring pans on the hot buffet as film skimmed on the tops. The salad bar selection was much better, including multiple kinds of quinoas, edamames and roasted peppers. Pizzas were quite good and were sold by the slice. Pepperoni was the size of hockey pucks. Giant cupcakes appeared to be on organic steroids.

The city’s lone remaining daily paper headlined an editorial page column “Opening of Whole Foods shows D.M. has arrived.” If so, then we’ve arrived in “Portlandia” (a TV comedy about an Oregon subculture in which everyone flocks to the same trendy place convinced it makes them unique).

Side Dishes

The Triangle in Waukee has begun selling fried pies on Wednesdays, 4 - 7 p.m., fresh fruit pies as well as savory ones like Philly cheese steak. CV

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