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Food Dude

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By Jim Duncan Reviews

Uncle Wendell’s

Uncle Wendell’s
2716 Ingersoll Ave., 779-6066.
Mon. - Fri. 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. Thurs. - Sat. 3:30 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Ingersoll is Des Moines’ corridor of democracy. One block north of Grand, it draws equally from a well-heeled establishment to the south, a free-thinking college fringe to the north and many inexpensive rental properties in its center. No other commercial boulevard in town has so consistently rejected national franchise food brands. Howard Johnson couldn’t make it here. Burger King, Hinky Dinky, Bishop’s, Hardee’s all came and went while locally owned family joints continued to outnumber chains by an exponential factor. Ingersoll’s customer base has been an arbiter of high quality making the boulevard an incubator for local standards of excellence. Dahl’s built its first supermarket here. Cownie Furs, Silver Fox, Moberg Gallery, Noah’s, Bistro Montage, Star Bar, Jesse’s Embers and Big Tomato are just a few of the local stores that are distinguished within their genre. Uncle Wendell’s fits right in.

Wendell Garretson is a dues paying member of old school regional cuisine. He learned Cajun craft at Simo’s Cafisto, competed on the competitive barbecue circuit and toiled at the baker‘s craft. After opening a small bakery, he built a base by working the farmer’s market circuit and added pure wood barbecue to his trade. Late last year, when he expanded his Sherman Hill operation into the former Pats Corner on Ingersoll, his business became more of a BBQ than a bakery. The new café has been remodeled appropriately with flames painted on the wall and a pig starring in a large neon sign.

“You just can’t have a real barbecue without neon pig art,” Garretson explained.

Uncle Wendell’s does the basics of superior Q quite well. My brisket was perfectly crusted with a smoke ring and tender meat. Best of all, it is sliced when you order it, from whatever end or direction you like — even at rush hour. That’s essential Q service, and it’s becoming extremely hard to find in Des Moines where most barbecues have fallen for the false line that a brisket loses nothing when it’s cooled for slicing and then reheated when ordered. That method is blasphemy in the citadels of traditional barbecue (Texas) and it horrifies Garretson. I liked his pulled pork as much as his brisket. Pig butts had been smoked with hickory and pulled off the bone and mixed. My sandwich included plenty of crunchy skin plus tender meat from near the bone. Chicken was smoked and also used to make superb chicken salad.

Sandwiches were served on thick slices of home made challah. I asked if my bread could be sliced to half its thickness, and that was no problem. Try asking for that at a chain. Uncle Wendell’s distinguishes itself from other barbecues with Garretson’s explorations beyond the basics. I tried a jambalaya that was sautéed when ordered with chopped tomatoes, onions, herbs and garlic plus several kinds of smoked meat, including some cheeks from a whole cow’s head that Garretson had smoked. A little stock from smoked turkey bones was added. All of Uncle Wendell’s superb soups are made only with bone scratch stocks that have experienced the smokehouse.

Uncle Wendell’s also introduces a hot new southern specialty to Des Moines — Kool-Aid pickles. Dill pickles were marinated in different flavors of that soft drink, becoming a colorful, sweet & sour accompaniment to a sandwich, particularly appropriate for anyone who likes barbecue without sauce. Wendell supports the Buy Fresh, Buy Local program with Iowa Farm Families’ pork among other local products. There was an all-star lineup of Iowa-made BBQ sauces too with Russ and Franks of West Des Moines serving as house sauce. It was not as cloyingly sweet as Cookie’s. Vinegar based sauces are also available.

Uncle Wendell’s bakery supplies lots of goodies here: cookies, sweet rolls, raspberry pecan cream cake, pumpkin bread, etc.. The soft drink selection featured Millstream’s line of cane sugar beverages.

Side dishes
Casa di Vino in Johnston is offering a tasting of the eclectic range of wines from the Sicily, a viticulture region that is very much in vogue now: Jan. 29, 5-7 p.m. CV

Food Dude Reviews 2008 2007 Reviews
Splash Raw Oyster Bar (1-3-08) Flavors of India(1-10-08)

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