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By Jim Duncan Reviews

Jethro’s BBQ & Sports Bar
3100 Forest Ave., 279-3300
Daily 11 a.m. – close

Jethro’s BBQ & Sports Bar

For years, Des Moines has been mysteriously lacking three things: 1.) Family restaurants with good, scratch-made side dishes. 2.) A comprehensive sports bar with an original kitchen. 3.) Any sports bar for Drake fans. Gateway Market Café helped with the first problem and Drake’s miracle basketball season temporarily assuaged the third one. Now Jethro’s BBQ & Sports Bar emphatically fills all three voids while becoming the year’s happiest story on this reporter’s beat. That judgment comes despite the growing pains of a brand new place that rushed its opening to accommodate Drake Relays fans.

Since Jethro wears many hats, we’ll break this down by genre. As a barbecue, Jethro’s is making some mistakes, but its smokehouse (hickory and oak) meats are still as good as anyone’s in town. The most reliable smoked meat has been the pulled pork — moist and juicy, crunchy and smoky at the same time. Smokemaster Dominic Iannarelli said he has been using pork butts up until now, but by the end of May he will be smoking whole hogs, or at least whole suckling pigs, for Saturday and Sunday brunches. That’s a rare and wonderful practice that is disappearing from most of continental America. Jethro’s ribs came with perfect color (deep pink), a nice sweet bourbon glaze and a decent texture, but a bit short of perfect tenderness. Brisket was a bit disappointing on two occasions. It could not be sliced when ordered and pre-sliced pieces had dried out. Iannarelli promised that issue would be corrected in the future. Turkeys and chickens were both correctly smoked whole, on the bone. However, sandwiches of each were too dry when they reached my plate. I’d advise sticking to the whole and half chickens. Sausage (andouille from Graziano’s) was superb. Sauces covered the spectrum from sweet Texan, to vinegary Carolina style, sweet and hot Bahamian and even Bob Gibson’s famous white sauce recipe (cider vinegar and mayonnaise based) from Alabama.

As a sports bar, Jethro’s is a dream come true. An old Pizza Hut/police station was redecorated with stylish touches, like a copper covered bar and polished wood ceiling trusses. High-definition televisions were everywhere, and waiters even remembered my esoteric programming requests from previous visits. Jethro’s carries every satellite sports package, even rugby and European soccer.

The non-smokehouse foods separate this place from other barbecues and other sports bars. Onion rings were superb, buttermilk washed, lightly fried and expertly seasoned. Chicken wings were smoked and fried yet remained moist. Jethro’s fried cheese (aged white cheddar) was the first version I have ever liked. Even nachos had a unique option with waffle fries substituting for chips and your choice of smoked meats for topping. Chips, still hot from the fryer, and dip soared with a blue cheese-artichoke-spinach sauce. The macaroni and cheese was simply divine, with shell pasta and aged white cheddar. Sweet potato fries and mashed potatoes with gravy were marvelous, scratch-made dishes. Gumbo provided an original take on the seafood and okra classic: this Cajun soup used sassafras and chicken stock with smoked chicken and sausage. Baked beans were home-soaked kidney beans in barbecue sauce. Cole slaw came in hot German and cold Midwestern versions. Salads even offered a pair of good original dressings — cranberry vinaigrette and double chipotle.

Half-pound burgers, plate wide pork tenderloins and thick catfish filets are all capable of distracting barbecue fans. The Jethro sandwich could become a competitive eating legend. It includes a fried pork tenderloin, pulled pork, bacon and smoked ham. Strawberry shortcake came with home made biscuits and fresh whipped cream. A peach pie came with caramelized pecans and bourbon sauce for toppings.

Bottom line — Jethro’s rushed its opening and still came out blazing with originality across the board. Smart money is betting that things will only get better.

Side dishes

Sammie Jack’s closed their Cottage Grove barbecue but still caters… Nay and Southine Baccam opened Teriyaki Experience on University in Clive… The south side La Hacienda moved to a larger venue at 900 Army Post Road. CV


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Daddy O’s Bodacious Foods (3-13-08) Maverick Grill (3-20-08)
Phat Chef’s (4-03-08) Shotz & Grill Cordoba (4-10-08)
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