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By Jim Duncan Reviews

Ephraim Malag of Tournament Club of Iowa in Polk City made this whole hog (smoked with maple and mesquite and served with lily suttong relish).


The second SWINE festival, held lakeside at Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC), was a smash hit. Attendance doubled from the previous year to more than 1,500. At $35 a ticket, that’s stunning in a year of inflation-ravaged budgets. Top area restaurants offered specialties to showcase the pairing of Iowa wines with pork dishes and to benefit DMACC’s new viticulture and enology program. Most restaurants were represented by their owners and top chefs, so SWINE also served an opportunity to assess the state of Iowa culinary business in this most difficult of years.

Shad Kirton of Absolute Flavors and Smokey D’s brought his bourbon-glazed rib tips and triple pork hash, the same menu that landed him a spot in the Taste of Elegance national finals (top eight from more than a thousand professional entries) in San Diego this spring. Kirton and restaurant partner Darren Warth are Iowa’s top competitive chefs. Together, they won reserve grand champion honors at the Great American cook-off this year, just .006 of a point from the $50,000 top prize. Kirton smoked his rib tips, instead of braising them, for the outdoor event at SWINE. His hash was made with a confit of pork shoulder, homemade sausage and slab bacon, three potatoes, chives and tart cherries. An accompanying relish was made with Granny Smith apples, lightly toasted walnuts, blue cheese, cider vinegar and sugar. He said this dish is available by special order at the restaurant and that their new skywalk café is “outperforming our own expectations.”

Ephraim Malag of Tournament Club of Iowa made the most dramatic presentation at SWINE. His whole hog (smoked with maple and mesquite and served with lily suttong relish) dazzled visually. Malag even accommodated specific anatomical orders. There are only two counties in the entire continental USA where diners can still order pork middlins, jowls, trotters, skin, etc., at a barbecue, so I took full advantage. Malag said his restaurant is actually serving more meals than it was a year ago. but that he has lowered prices considerably to encourage diners to make the drive to Polk City this year. “All entrees are under $18 now.”

Troy Trostel of Greenbriar, Dish and Chip’s, brought firecracker egg rolls and mango salsa. He said that business is up at Chip’s and down at Greenbriar and Dish this year, noting that it’s probably no coincidence that Chip’s menu has the lowest price points of the three.

Cyd Mull of Cyd’s Catering brought a prize-winning recipe of fennel-brined tenderloin with pear and brandy sauce, paired with pear and fennel salad. She said that catering has become speculative this year because more people are booking earlier and locking-in prices because of anticipated inflation. “I buy all fresh foods for events. There’s no way of knowing what things will cost six or nine months down the road,” she explained.

The Iowa Culinary Institute served another prize winning recipe — “braciollatini” (stuffed loin rolled in prosciutto, braised and served in reduction of chicken stock and red wine). Dean Richardson of Phat Chef’s (grilled loin in Mongolian au jus) and Scot Stroud of Dos Rios (whole suckling pig tacos) brought superb dishes and said business was steady at their restaurants. Steven Britton of Iowa Machine Shed served the sweetest dish (bourbon sauced tenderloin) and said that business was raging. “We have over 400 seats and there’s almost always a wait list at prime time. We are pretty sure we’re now the biggest restaurant in Iowa.”

Among Iowa vintners, Sutliff starred with their champagne style hard cider, made from their apple orchards on the raging Cedar River. Two Le Crescents, from Jasper and Park Farm wineries, won the most kudos from wine experts I interviewed. Names of Iowa wines still confound me. This local industry wants badly to be taken seriously, yet seems to be targeting an immature demographic with titles like Barn Dance, A Real Sweetie, Outback Zak, Paint the Town Red, Front Porch, Sweet Willey, Ditchweed, etc. …

Side dishes
The King & I served free meals this Tuesday, asking diners to contribute something to Iowa flood victim relief instead of paying. … Plans are being made to merge the menu of flood victim Buzzard Billy’s into Hessen Haus, creating “Iowa’s first Cajun Creole German restaurant.” 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)
Django (6-26-08)  

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