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By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com Reviews

Ambiance abounds at the Lagniappe’s Roof Garden.

State of the art of outdoor dining

Despite all the rain, I’ve received a surge of inquiries about places to dine outdoors. Lots of new outdoor areas have opened in the last year, so I spent a week eating every meal outside. This is the state of the art.

Best All Around (Food & Design) — Dos Rios (316 Court Ave., 282-2995) and Jethro’s BBQ and Sports Bar (3102 Forest Ave., 279-3300). The best new restaurant of 2007, Dos Rios combines fresh and local products with meticulously researched Jaliscan recipes and a world-class tequila selection. In the first building on Court Avenue that was actually designed to accommodate outdoor dining, it has the only sidewalk service area that is wider than a single row.

Jethro’s is the best new restaurant we’ve reviewed so far this year. With wonderful scratch side dishes, Drake’s neighborhood sports bar outperforms all barbecue and sports bar chain restaurants as dramatically as Drake’s athletic teams outperformed their big budget rivals in Ames and Iowa City last year. Last week, Jethro’s added an excellent large patio, completely shaded from the sun and rain.

Best Design — Baratta’s at the State of Iowa Historical Building (600 East Locust, 281-3294) and Lagniappe Roof Garden (112 5th St., West Des Moines, 277-0047). Both places won architectural accolades and government awards. The terraced patio adjoining Baratta’s has the best urban view in all Iowa with perfect sight lines to both Capitol Hill and the downtown skyline. Their menu included pastries, full lunch service and catered desserts. Lagniappe’s terraced roof garden rewrites the book of ambiance for coffee drinking and wine sipping. Ironically, they have no kitchen despite occupying a venue that housed one of the trend setting cafes in metro history — 112. They do plan to offer catered accompaniments for both their coffee bar and excellent wine list.

Best Restaurant with Outdoor Tables — Bistro Montage ( 2724 Ingersoll Ave., 557-1924). Because they are unafraid to rewrite their menu and introduce new dishes, I could easily argue this is now the best restaurant in Iowa. Their new un-shaded, outdoor seating area lacks the charm of the indoor space, but one comes for the food.

Most Versatile — B & B (2712 Beaver Ave., 255-8521). Two new outdoor spaces complete B & B impressive expansion. Once a lunch counter, this is now a charming restaurant with multiple personalities: A beach bar roof garden served a limited menu. A shaded, street level patio provided full steakhouse-barbecue service, in environmentally happy style.

Most Interactive — Trophy’s Sports Bar (2701 Douglas Ave., 255-1112). I had driven by Plaza Bowling Lanes for years but I had no idea how cool this place is, probably because I don’t play beach tennis, volleyball, baggo or sand football. Trophy’s shaded, all wood outdoor dining area observes a grassy terrace and multiple sand game courts. Bike Night and karaoke broke out while I sampled a surprisingly good $11 ribeye dinner special and a grinder that impersonated a Sloppy Joe. I returned for a good breakfast (weekends only).

Most Political — Parrot Head Burger Barge (Franklin at Second Ave., 875-5226). This seasonal grill convinced much of Des Moines that exotic burgers should only be eaten only in warm weather months. It’s now a political potato hotter than its poker chip French fries. Because Parrot Head is considered an institution docked in a bait shop parking spot, fans hope it will be “grand fathered” into Des Moines’ new mobile vendor ordinances. Since those laws are criticized for discriminating against Hispanics, it’s going to be hard for authorities to allow the Parrot to keep his perch.

Side dishes
Ames’ Eric Ziebold, who began his career at Aunt Maude’s, became Central Iowa’s first “James Beard Award” winner last week when he was named “Best Chef Mid-Atlantic” for his work at CityZen in Washington, D.C. Former Iowan Fritz Maytag was later given the Beard Society’s “Lifetime Achievement Award”. … Baskin Robbins returned to the Des Moines city limits after years away, opening on Fleur Drive. CV

Food Dude Reviews 2008 2007 Reviews
Splash Raw Oyster Bar (1-3-08) Flavors of India(1-10-08)
Uncle Wendell's (1-17-08) Jesse's Embers (1-24-08)
Taste of Elegance (1-31-08) Old Country Buffet (2-7-08)
Baker’s Food & Fuel (2-14-08) Coffee (2-21-08)
Cool Basil (2-28-08) Sports Bars (3-06-08)
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)
Radish (4-17-08) Alba (4-24-08)
Billy Mack's (5-01-08) Jethro’s BBQ & Sports Bar (5-15-08)
Viva los Forasteros (5-22-08) Torocco! (5-29-08)
The King and I (6-05-08) Chipotle Mexican Grill (6-12-08)

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