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Two Crop Palace

In the last two years, Greater Des Moines’ restaurant scene has exploded with trendy newcomers. First Jordan Creek/West Glen inspired a run of corporate franchise restaurants on the western front. Then, seemingly every restaurateur in Central Iowa decided to open a new barbecue at the same time. An upcoming round of like-mindedness will bring five new sushi joints to town in three months. Even suppliers are trend-obsessed. A recent survey of the entire skywalk system revealed that more than two-dozen places sell muffins and Danish pastries, and more than a dozen sell bagels, but not one place offers a doughnut! (Friends at Morgan Stanley say this observation is behind the curve, that Krispy Kreme stock has been rising now for six months after bottoming out in 2006’s trans fat paranoia.)

Now, I am old fashioned, but I have never noticed large numbers of people agreeing on what they want to eat for dinner. There’s even research now showing that each person’s taste buds are as unique as fingerprints. So, why do so many food businesses cater so exclusively to the same limited taste options? Isn’t it still a good idea to have the ONLY supply of something people want, rather than being one of dozens?

Maybe not on the skywalk, but one Cumming restaurant thinks so. Two Crop Palace is the first place in America with an entire menu composed of either soybean or corn derivatives. The ubiquity of corn is well known. Clear back in the 1980s, writer Betty Fussell was hard pressed to find a supermarket product that did not contain corn, either in its food chain or its industrial processing. Soy’s convertibility is less established, but at least as interesting from a culinary point of view.

Not that that’s a good thing. In fact, the best part of the menu at Two Crop Palace is found in the bar. If you exclude the (all rice) Budweiser, the beer menu is pretty similar to that of any tavern. Whiskey is a different story. Only Heaven Hill, the only distiller of American Straight Corn Whiskey, is represented. Fortunately they offer four decent products: Georgia Moon, Mellow Corn, Dixie Dew and J.W. Corn. None were as mellow as a high grade Bourbon, but all packed enough kick to stimulate both the appetite and the atmosphere of the restaurant. The latter makes even Machine Shed seem urban and sophisticated, with real rust on a tractor that houses a forgettable salad bar, plus soy candles scented with “corn aromas” that included one aptly named “barnyard.”

Fortified with Georgia Moon and fabulous all-corn vodka (Organic Rain), I plunged into appetizers. The best was a “California roll” made with tempeh (fermented tofu) “sticky rice,” “tofuna” and “cornavocado.” Even “nori” was made from a corn stalk that grows under water. Other appetizers were more familiar — many featured “soy wings” which resembled chicken more in looks than taste. I tried a “tofurkey” entrée, which I hope is self-descriptive, and “tofu burger,” which was as good as any tofu burger I ever tasted, anywhere.

Corn shortcakes, with fruit preserves, were the best dessert while the worst were frightful. Suffice to say that chocolate is too complex for laboratory simulation, even without the restriction of soy or corn derivation. While I applaud Two Crop Palace for trying to find a unique niche, I seriously doubt this business plan would have found any financing were it not for incentives written into the last Farm Bill by Sens. Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley. Both attended the grand opening, but left without eating.

Side dishes

According to a new U.S. Food and Drug Administration report, Central Iowa has the following rankings (out of the 200 largest metro areas) for per capita representation of ethnic restaurants: Afghani (1); Bosnian (23); South Indian (44); Mexican (63); West African (75); Salvadoran (88); Vietnamese (99); Lao (107); Thai (110); North Indian (112); Chinese (130); Kosher (145). We also tied for last place in 19 different categories, without any representation. CV

April Fool's

By Jim Duncan
Past Food Dude Reviews
Amici Espresso (1-4-07) Bandana's (1-11-07)
Perry hotel (1-18-07) Beyond frozen (1-25-07)
Centro (2-1-07) KC BBQ (2-8-07)
Planet Sub (2-15-07) Trostel’s Greenbriar (2-22-07)
Acapulco (3-1-07) Aryana (3-8-07)
AJ's (3-15-07) Ban Thai (3-22-07)

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