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Food Dude

August 9, 2012
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New dining bargains

By Jim Duncan

The $10 steak de Burgo dinner included a salad, a choice starch and garlic bread at Olive Branch, 3811 Douglas Ave., 802-1856. Hours are Monday through Friday, 11a.m. to 2 p.m. and Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m.

In the last few years, a little café at 38th and Douglas Avenue transformed from a gyros joint into a soul food café, then into the city’s first Burmese café. All were quite good, but none lasted long. New banners recently announced the opening of an Italian place. No sign identified it, but its menu called it Olive Branch. My visits revealed one big improvement — the air conditioning kept pace with even 100-degree temperatures; in earlier incarnations, it could not. Faux stained glass had been resourcefully employed over lighting fixtures and in windows to bend and soften light waves that have seemed all too harsh this summer.

Prices were also rather comforting. Five-dollar sandwiches included several half-pound burgers, meatballs, Italian sausage, pork tenderloins, mesquite grilled chicken breast, eggplant and fried cod. All were served on Kaiser rolls or hoagie buns, and most included cheese. Of dinner options, only lamb chops ($17), sirloin ($11) and a 10-ounce steak de Burgo ($14) topped $10. A seven-ounce de Burgo ($10) delivered a decent version of Des Moines’ classic dish. Tenderloin of beef, seared and cooked rare, sat atop a garlic, butter and olive oil pool with herbs next to three florets of broccoli. That dinner also included garlic bread, a salad of nicely chilled greens, fresh tomato, onions and radishes in an excellent homemade vinaigrette, plus a side of starch. I chose baby red potatoes, which turned out to be a whole sliced Russet served in what appeared to be de Burgo sauce minus the herbs. Appetizers included grilled shrimp, saganaki and excellent homemade onion rings. Children’s meals also cost just $5, and desserts just $3.

Dahl’s recently bought a Southern Pride smoker for each of its area stores. These state of the art units have temperature controls, self-lighting and rotisseries to free employees from paying close attention. They use gas- and fireplace-sized logs that produce a decent approximation of pure wood pits. I tried chicken twice recently during introductory sales when they averaged a $1 per piece for whole birds. One time the chicken was excellent; the second time even dark meat was terribly dry and over cooked.

I suspected that the latter batch had been sitting too long in the deli steam table where the chicken was sold. Employees told me that they start taking birds out of their smokers at 11 a.m., and that the last batch comes out around 4 p.m. Until they figure a better way to preserve their product between the smoker and sales, I plan on only buying it early.

Carly Groben is back, sort of anyway. The talented, young, chef/owner of Proof and Flour sold both those places and did some traveling this year. Now she’s serving lunch at Jasper Winery on Saturdays. (She has a “no compete agreement” with Proof making other days off limits.) I visited on her inaugural day. A bridal shower overwhelmed the main dining room, so the winery set up tables in a room with fermentation tanks and bottling machines like many California wineries do. Tables were covered with black linen, and freshly picked zinnias graced their tops.

I enjoyed two of the best sandwiches and salads of the summer. Meatloaf was served on a homemade dill bun with two strips of excellent bacon, roasted garlic, a sun dried tomato pâte and fresh herbs. Spicy tuna salad included craisins, celery and chilies on a homemade brioche. A quinoa salad combined that ancient grain with toasted sunflower seeds, Swiss chard, sweet basil, carrots, peppers, red cabbage, red onions and zucchinis — all from the winery garden. A garden salad included curried almonds, Parmesano and cinnamon bread croutons. Whole sandwiches with salads and delightful ambiance cost just $8.

Bottom line — with food becoming more expensive, bargains like these are dear.

Side Dishes

Carly Groben defeated scores of national challengers to win the Best Bites Challenge and will open a sweetly subsidized restaurant in downtown Grinnell… New state fair concessions include crab fritters, deep fried pickles wrapped in pastrami and ham with cream cheese, carrot funnel cake and double bacon corn dogs. CV

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