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By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com Reviews

Radish
721 1st St. Grimes, 986-1900 Daily 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.; Mon. - Thurs. 4 - 9 p.m.; Fri. - Sat. 4 -10 p.m.; Sunday brunch 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Radish

Grimes is growing faster than May radishes. The town’s population spurted more than 133 percent since 1990. Like most formerly rural communities on the brink of suburbia, Grimes promotes itself as the best of two worlds — still quaint as small town values yet sophisticated as urban chic. Since World War II, signature restaurants have been successful sales tools for this kind of community image. In the 1950s, Silhouette and Vic’s Tally Ho were deemed worth the drive through cornfields to what would become the new Urbandale. In the 1970s, Trostel’s Greenbriar introduced city folk to Johnston in similar fashion. While Mike and Peg McGuigan’s The Radish is hardly ahead of the population growth in Grimes, it’s still the first restaurant beyond Johnston with a lure to attract significant numbers of diners from the city, as well as farms, in the other direction.

The Radish occupies a former home with nostalgic, country inn trappings and landscaped lawn. The McGuigan’s fire the friendly “Come over to my house” ambiance by greeting customers at the door and encouraging them to use the kitchen and side entrances, where chefs and dishwashers also greet everyone like old friends. Mike has a lot of those after 35 years working at several legendary Des Moines restaurants — Johnny & Kay’s, Guido’s, 801 Steak & Chop House, Toscano, Fratello’s and more. While all those places represent tradition now, they offered something new and exciting in their day. The Radish straddles such tricky ambivalence, too. Sunday dinner revives a lost Iowa art form, one that The Silhouette represented — family style, pan-fried chicken dinners, with mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and salad. That’s the entire menu and when the chicken runs out, it’s over. It often runs out by 7 p.m.

The rest of the week, menu service features mostly traditional favorites, expertly executed, and some unique charms. From the appetizer menu, I tried: light onion rings; chicken fingers breaded in almonds and corn flakes with honey tones; and sautéed mushrooms in a good Cajun cream sauce with distinctive flavor of caraway seeds. I’d have preferred that latter dish included only mushroom caps to accommodate the sauce.

A fine Kansas City ribeye came with a generous portion of caramelized onions, peppers and mushrooms, a salad, a side of mashed potatoes and a radish garnish for $19. The menu indicated that salads and potatoes had extra charges, so it was a pleasant surprise they didn’t. Gorgonzola pork chops were less appetizing, dry with a sauce that didn’t compensate. The house specialty fully deserved its billing — cannelloni stuffed with a sausage blend of veal, beef, pork and chicken, baked with fresh herbs, cheese and a creamy marinara. Jack Daniels ribs hit the small window of perfection during which baby backs pull easily from their bones without falling off. Salads and radishes were the only items that missed high marks — I know it’s barely spring, but I’ve been buying better produce in supermarkets.

From the sandwich menu, Iowa standards were exemplary — hand breaded tenderloins, chicken fried steaks and hot beef. Lunch’s big score though was its state-of-the-art savory cheesecakes: BLT, sun-dried tomato pesto with chicken and shrimp; and salmon with wild mushrooms. Among desserts, the Italian wedding cake was sheer perfection, bread pudding disappointed with the predominant flavor of burnt cocoa. Radish has a full bar and short, moderately priced wine list with several available by the glass.

Side dishes

Ames’ Eric Ziebolt, who started his career at Aunt Maude’s, is on the final ballot (top five) for this year’s James Beard Award (JBA) as best chef in the Atlantic states, at CityZen in Washington, D.C. … Andrew Meek’s Sage is one of four nominees for the Golden Clog Award for best restaurant “not located in a food stronghold.” Created by food writers Tony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman, the Golden Clogs are an anti-establishment version of the JBAs. CV

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