3301 Ingersoll Ave., 255-6011
Mon. - Thurs. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.;
Fri. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.; Sat. 5
- 11 p.m.
Des Moines is running low on
legacy restaurants — places that
have become part of the community
fabric over three or more generations.
The café business has become
brutally competitive, and sometimes
a legacy’s loyal customer base
prevents owners from innovating.
Ron Giudecessi told me that part
of the reason his family opened
Mezzodi’s was that customers at
Christopher’s wouldn’t tolerate
any changes. Marty Scarpino knew
all this when he bought Jesse’s
Embers late last year with partners
Deena Edelstein and Thom Ruan.
He also knew some changes had
to be made. Still, allowing the
light of day into this cozy steakhouse
was a radical notion to any loyal
Embers patron — even Scarpino.
“The windows were Deena’s idea.
I fought her over it, but it’s
good she won. Old customers are
coming in for lunch just to see
what it looks like with light.
Then they remember how much they
like the place and come back for
dinner,” he confessed about the
frosted glass block windows.
Scarpino grew up working in
his family’s famous restaurant
in Windsor Heights and was the
Embers’ bartender for more than
half of its 45 years. So he knew
not to change much. He did some
brick work, thoroughly cleaned
the wood and leather trappings,
installed a new lighting system
which allows one to see all the
way across the room and added
a few menu items. He also made
the dining room non-smoking, though
cigarettes are permitted in the
adjoining bar. Scarpino said the
bar has undergone the most drastic
change over the years.
“Customers here used to only
order two wines — red or white.
Now we have to stock a full wine
list,” he said of a menu that
offers mostly between $24 and
$40 with a few splurge items.
Don’t worry though, the original
1963 menu of ice cream cocktails
remains for those who must pair
a pink squirrel with steak.
On my visits, the place still
had a fabled neighborhood feel.
One cold night, an elderly couple
entered to find a surprisingly
long wait for a table. When they
expressed wariness about standing
at the bar, two different customers
offered to exchange places on
the wait list so the couple could
be seated immediately.
The open flame grill still dominates
the place, providing that primal
scent of seared beef that encouraged
our human progenitors to walk
on two legs, carry clubs and invent
fire. The beef, from Rube’s, is
aged Black Angus, USDA choice
and prime. The prime cuts are
the house specialty sirloin. London
broil and (New York) “Yankee”
cuts are among the most popular
and come from opposite ends of
the $15 to $30 price range, which
includes salads and side dishes.
My ribeye was cut thick from the
center of the muscle — try finding
that in a supermarket. When I
ordered it “Pittsburgh,” I got
what I asked for — a hard sear
with a cold red center. Try finding
that at Applebee’s.
The old school appetizers included
Cajun shrimp made in butter and
beer, shrimp cocktails prepared
exactly as they were in 1963,
sautéed mushrooms in white
wine and garlic sauce and thin,
homemade onion rings. Asparagus
with hollandaise sauce and spinach
are still offered as side dishes.
Ember’s now offers weeklong pasta
specials, some of which come from
the Scarpino family playbook.
I tried an $11 manicotti dinner
that smacked of tomato and pork
The famous Emburger and London
broil still starred at lunch despite
serious competition from daily
specials such as a state-of-the-art
hot beef sandwich, with pan-dripping
gravy. Non-steak items included
pork ribs, beer battered lobster
tails and four fish.
A second Tequila University seminar
will be held Feb. 7, 7 to 9 p.m.
at Dos Rios. The first event sold
out last month. Cost is $60. Call
282-2995 for reservations. … I
incorrectly identified the couple
that coaxed Miyabi 9 owner/chef
Miyabi Yamamoto to Des Moines.
It was Dr. David Chew and Ai Bee
Lim. … Rob Beasley has left Mojo’s
on 86th. One of the metro’s best,
and best known, chefs, Beasley
said, “The other two partners
are taking the restaurant in a
new direction, and I will not
be involved.” CV
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