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By Jim Duncan

Gateway Market Café

Civilization began with the simultaneous discovery of chemistry and bread. Similarly, the story of Sherman Hill’s hottest new business began a decade ago when George Formaro first baked slow rising Sicilian bread in his hand-built brick oven on Des Moines’ South Union Street. Mike LaValle, a partner of Formaro’s then, recalled that humble beginning.

“When George started the first bakery, we ran a teenager telephone line out the window of our house, because we couldn’t even afford a separate phone line,” explains LaValle, who like Formaro, is part-owner of Gateway Market & Café which includes a new state-of-the-art, 4,000-square-foot South Union Bakery.

Formaro’s breads were so popular they quickly led to a café on Grand Avenue, then a larger deli and destination restaurant, Centro — both in the Temple for the Performing Arts. That led to a second Centro in Davenport.

“Then one day (Centro partner) Paul Rottenburg tells us that we’re going to open a market and café in Sherman Hill,” recalls Formaro, admitting he was doubtful at the time.

Any worries about the market’s success disappeared faster than yeast raises dough. From the moment doors opened last month the café’s biggest problem has been keeping up with customer demand. Formaro was forced to temporarily downsize his menu, removing all entrees until his staff can be more thoroughly trained.

Breakfast here is as good as it gets in Des Moines. My basic “eggs any style” included eggs with no rubbery whites (signage for freshness); fresh cut hash browns with peppers and onions; a choice of top quality (Niman Ranch) bacon, sausage or ham; and a choice of South Union toasts, all for $5. Only jams could have used upgrading. Chilaquiles came with scrambled eggs and an aromatic homemade chipotle salsa, plus fresh avocado. Decadent French toast was made with challah, and served with pecans and maple syrup. Buckwheat crepes were perfectly hot, crisp and thin, with Niman ham. Less ambitious morning birds can find a full array of fresh baked La Mie pastries.

Lunch and dinner shared the same salad and sandwich menu, plus Gateway’s piece de resistance — ramen. Formaro worked for eight months on its three recipes, translated and auditioned from Japanese texts. His basic stock is exquisite, made with whole chickens and pork breastbones plus numerous vegetables. His noodles are homemade with buckwheat flour. House ramen adds a spicy miso (fermented soybean paste), chicken ramen adds a less spicy miso and Tokyo ramen adds tamari (a soy sauce derived from miso). Diners can choose myriad meats, shrimp, tofu and vegetables to augment each.

Cheeseburgers, the most popular dish, delivered a classic treatment with well-seared beef, Postville cheddar and a challah bun. I preferred a Carolina pork shoulder sandwich, served “eastern style” with unsweetened vinegar sauce and coleslaw. It was also better than its smoke house sibling — burnt end brisket, which was too dry even for its Kansas City style sweet sauce. Formaro sticks to tradition with most sandwiches: turkey BLT; shrimp Po’ Boy; Cuban and corned beef brisket Reuben on rye. He shoots for something unique on two others: market roast beef with muenster cheese and Thousand Island dressing; and grilled portabello with romescu sauce and mozzarella.

Side dishes were superb: French fries were fresh cut and correctly cooked twice, at vastly different temperatures; sesame noodles were delightfully spiced with ginger and coriander; cucumber salad should be enshrined for sweet/sour balance. The best salads offered Asian accents (crispy noodles) and promise to get better, using only fresh local greens as soon as they are available. There was a thoughtful selection of $4 per glass wines.

Side dishes
Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse will host a five-course wine dinner Thursday... Casa di Vino hosts a summer instructional wine tasting Tuesday... 801 Steak & Chop House began Sunday service, with a bargain fixed-price menu. CV

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)
Two Crop Palace(3-29-07) Mo Q x 2 (4-5-07)
What's In A Name?(4-12-07) Lemongrass (4-19-07)
Chef Joe's Place (5-3-07) Suburban Restaurant (5-10-07)

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