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Food Dude

September 20, 2012
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New Jimmy’s draws huge crowds

By Jim Duncan

A $10 prime rib dinner at Jimmy’s Big Ten Restaurant and Bar, 1238 Eighth St., West Des Moines, 457-2953. Kitchen hours 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.

In a 1980s comic strip from Jeff MacNelly’s “Shoe,” newspaper columnist Cosmo Fishhawk explained an existential injustice to his nephew.
“Life is like sports, Skyler.”
“How’s that, Uncle Cosmo?”

“No beer sales after the seventh inning.”

Recent visits to Jimmy’s Big Ten Restaurant and Bar suggest that things have changed. Sports bars now provide the same opportunity that stadiums do for true fans to collectively share the agonies and ecstasies that follow each odd bounce of a ball. However, there are two main differences. Sports bars have no cover charges nor any time limits on alcohol sales. Because of the latter, both agonies and ecstasies tend to become considerably exaggerated. I’ve seen enough weeping and heard enough high volume chanting to wonder why no photojournalist has yet published a coffee table book about sports bars in America.

In Des Moines, the sports bar genus has been around long enough to have subdivided into different species. The “Big Ten” part of Jimmy’s name indicates that Iowa games are preferred to Iowa State games on most of the joint’s 32 high-def televisions. In oxymoronic sports logic, that’s because Iowa is part of the 12-team Big Ten, whereas Iowa State is in the 10-team Big 12. Jimmy’s specializes. It doesn’t even bother with satellite baseball programming or EPL soccer, even though the restaurant promotes a breakfast buffet (free with purchase of an endless Bloody Mary) during hours when it’s the only live sport being broadcast. On occasions when no Big Ten game is on TV, loud disco dominates.

Jiimmy’s is pulling crowds back to Eighth Street that resemble those the legendary Jimmy’s American Café drew in its heyday. On a recent Saturday, its large parking lot was filled, as were those of a paint store to its south, doctors’ offices to its north and an unoccupied restaurant north of that. A small “Help Wanted” sign looked desperate and frightened. Every part of each room, patio and porch was elbow to elbow SRO.

The men behind this booming success are unlikely restaurateurs. Jimmy is octogenarian Jim “The Shoe Man” Flynn, a novice to this business. Partner Clay Cook is owner of The Front Row where $9 steak nights, party buses to games and free breakfasts have attracted Hawkeye fans for years. After a brief stint as owner of Foxboro Grill (predecessor to Mojo’s), he swore he’d never run a restaurant again.

Fans of food and sport are glad he changed his mind. Considering the crowds, service was very good on my visits. Mistakes were made (overcooked tuna) but were quickly corrected and compensated. Some things were very good by any standards — thin crust pizza with good Mozzarella, ceviche made with mahi mahi, Vegas-style jumbo shrimp cocktails, perfectly cooked prime rib dinners with steamed cabbage, peas and carrots plus real au jus and horseradish sauce. A $5 burger and an $8 open-faced ribeye sandwich, served with fresh, sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions stood out among sandwiches. Owners and waiters checked on tables and fixed problems like old pros. Flynn even bussed tables.

Hawks fans didn’t seem too agonized by a recent loss to Iowa State. That’s either because of good food or diminished expectations for their team. I’d like to think it’s the former. CV

Side Dishes

Architect/bar owner Kirk Blunck is expanding the brand of his historic Locust Tap. This spring Locust Tap Too will open in the Stuart Hotel in Stuart. Other Locust Taps will debut later in the Tall Corn Hotel in Marshalltown and the Hotel Charitone in Chariton. Blunck is restoring all three hotels… Top chefs are on the move. Tyrone Collier is switching from Kirkwood Lounge to Baru66, Taoufik Essiadi has returned to Lucca after seven years in Montreal and Mike Holman is no longer with Tartine. CV

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