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By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com

Firkin & Fox

A restaurant map of Greater Des Moines looks like a political map of the United States. Our far western suburbs are blue, dominated by corporate franchise restaurants; the downtown heartland is red, controlled by locally owned independents. A key purple battleground state is the 22nd Street/86th Street strip that runs through West Des Moines, Clive and Urbandale. Despite heavy competition from chains, some of our best local restaurants are within a block of that strip — Sam & Gabe’s, Cool Basil, King & I, Taki, Cosi Cucina, Sweet Binney’s and Urban Grill to name a few. The newest restaurant on this strip is Firkin & Fox (F&F), a franchise concept from Canada that claims to be the fastest growing chain in the U.S. with eight pubs open, 135 in development and more than 1,000 predicted in a few years.

That means F&F in West Des Moines is either a preview of America’s future or the next strange idea from Canada that crashed down south. Hockey or caribou burgers? Either way, it‘s worth a visit. This local outlet recently professed to be a “family-friendly” pub, a sensible business tactic since the Hooters outlet across the street has bagged the testosterone-guided missile market. Having read that F&F had the NFL ticket, I headed there with football fans whose team was blacked out on local TV. After verifying the NFL ticket access, we were promised our game would be tuned in immediately. We asked twice again before finally being told that the NFL ticket was “actually something we intend to have in the future, but not yet.” No one ever apologized for the deception.

The family-friendly atmosphere was compromised, too. A smoking area is situated in the middle of the one-room restaurant with no wall, nor extra space, protecting non-smokers. Wait staff overworked the pun value of the word “firkin,” an old English noun meaning a small cask. Used as an adjective it might be cute the first time but not afterwards.

F&F has a pub-theme with famous Brit and Irish brews (Smithwicks, Guinness, Strongbow, Newcastle) on tap, lots of games, red velvet banquettes, Victorian pattern carpeting and pub food from both sides of the Atlantic. Crab cakes came recommended and had both crunch and flavor but were of the minced rather than lump variety. A chipotle mayonnaise was a good accompaniment. A Firkin steak sandwich came with nicely grilled onions and mushrooms on disappointing ciabatta with a side of the same chipotle mayo. It didn’t work as well this time. Fish and chips delivered flaky, meaty fish in a good batter with fries that tasted more processed than scratch-made. Guinness steak and mushroom pie came in a pastry shell of good texture with a deep earthy flavor. A club sandwich included thick sliced bacon and thin sliced lunch meats. A burger was cooked perfectly, a rare thing, but placed on a soggy bun. Mashed potatoes were served too cold to melt, or even soften, butter.

A limited menu was available until 1 a.m. and included coconut shrimp, mozzarella sticks, artichoke dip, nachos, onion rings, sweet potato fries, fish & chips, club sandwiches and chicken wings. A weekend brunch was served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. offering omelets, quiche, traditional breakfasts, eggs benedict and bangers with beans and eggs. Wi-Fi access is intended but was not a reality at the time of our visits. Prices seemed a bit high ($8 bacon, eggs and hashed browns) and portions a bit small (salads aren’t included with entrees) to lure regulars from Granite City or Rock Bottom, two successful chains chasing a similar market.

Side dishes
Burger King is marketing Halloween “King with Bling” masks and costumes that seem destined for the kitsch collector’s hall of fame… The National Minority Franchising Initiative named Taco John’s the nation’s best restaurant for minorities… Applebee’s settled a union lawsuit that should allow the struggling giant to be sold to IHOP. CV


Firkin & Fox
1451 22nd St., West Des Moines
225-1175
Daily 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

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)
Gateway Market Café (5-17-07) Irina’s Restaurant Bar (5-24-07)
Trailer Tripe (5-31-07) Azalea (6-07-07)
Pho All Seasons (6-14-07) Farmers Market (6-21-07)
El Sabor Latino (6-28-07) Crouse Café (7-5-07)
Bistro Montage (7-12-07) Jaliscolita rebounds (7-19-07)
New Saigon (7-26-07) Smokey D's BBQ (8-2-07)
Gourmet Burgers (8-9-07) Iowa State Fair (8-16-07)
Rolling Wok (8-23-07) Sports Bars (8-30-07)
Dragon House West (9-6-07) Carr’s Soul Food Cafe (9-13-07)
The Sushi Surge(9-20-07) B & B Grocery Meat & Deli (9-27-07)
Redefining Pizza (10-4-07) Café Su (10-11-07)
Providence Café (10-18-07)  

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