1264 E. 14th St., 266-7511
Daily 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.
1246 E. 14th St., 243-0758
Mon. 11 a.m. - 3 p.m., Tues.
- Thurs. 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.,
Fri. 11 a.m. - 8 p.m., Sat.
3 - 8 p.m.
Transmigration of the
Even as soul food restaurants
disappear nationally, that genre
is regenerating in Des Moines.
After Top Value Foods closed some
four years ago, the city had no
soul food café. KFC even
deemed Des Moines unworthy of
the chain’s new soul menu. Things
changed slowly. Mr. Bibb’s two
stores sold to different owners,
and the outlet on Martin Luther
King Jr. Parkway began serving
more soul dishes — but that store
was troubled by neighborhood problems.
Something Good opened last year
providing three square meals a
day, plus a River Bend anchor.
Pit Stop debuted soon afterwards
with good catfish, greens and
barbecue. Swamped by the June
flood, they reopened in late summer,
but were closed again last week.
Soul food’s renaissance became
official with the recent transformation
of J&J, from a pizza joint
to a soul food club that shares
a parking lot with Mr. Bibb’s,
which relocated earlier from MLK.
J&J’s places soul food in
a broad context. On a recent Monday
night, both gospel and country
western karaoke stars competed
for attention with “Monday Night
Football.” A friendly host told
us that jazz and blues take the
stage on other nights. Dartboards
and pool tables also occupied
niches, but the spotlight was
focused on the kitchen. Fried
chicken wings were superb, with
the kind of crispy crunch that
usually indicates a little cornmeal,
or corn flakes, in the flour —
not here though. This all-flour
coating was crisped in super high
heat that only expensive cooking
oil can attain. That is the essence
of true “Southern fried” cooking.
Whole catfish was crunchy and
tender to the bone. Brisket was
sliced, not chopped, displayed
a perfect smoke ring (pink coloring)
and delivered lots of juicy flavor.
Ribs had a lovely smoke ring but
were a bit tough to chew. I will
give them a second try though
because smokers take some trial
and error to perfect.
All dinners were priced under
$13 and included two side dishes.
Sandwiches were also available,
with one side, for about half
the price of dinners. Macaroni
and cheese was state-of-the-art
scratch cooking — creamy cheese
with bite and multiple textures.
Red beans & rice delivered
long grain rice that had not been
overcooked — a rare achievement.
Mustard greens carried lots of
vinegary kick with chunks of onion
and mushroom. Coleslaw came Southern
style, with more bite than mellowness.
Bibb’s (formerly Mr. Bibb’s and
separated from another store of
the same name) shares the same
shopping center with J&J’s
and provides the final touches
on an all soul dining experience.
Truly “homemade” desserts included
sweet potato pie and peach cobbler.
Outside of slightly burnt edges
on the piecrust, the former was
divine, with flavorful filling
and perfect bottom crust. The
cobbler delivered multi-textured
sweetness. Bibb’s menu is more
extensive than J&J’s, with
chicken gizzards and livers, homemade
pork tenderloins and several kinds
of fish, one of which is a charter
member of soul food’s hall of
fame: If you are willing to get
your hands messy picking between
the bones, the succulent flesh
of the Big Bone Buffalo Fish is
more than worth the effort! It’s
been called “poor man’s tuna cheeks”
for good reason. Bibb’s service
wasn’t up to the level of its
food. I can’t remember when I
was made to feel more unwelcome
in a restaurant. The buffalo fish
was worth it though, so I’ll order
it “to go” next time.
Bottom line — J&J’s is a friendly,
soulful delight. Bibb’s has marvelous
Big Bone Buffalo Fish and homemade
French heritage breed poultry
(chickens, poussin and pintade
guineas) debuted recently in Des
Moines at Gateway Market, Dos
Rios, Django, Azalea and Sage…
The Storchen restaurant in Switzerland
began preparing their sauces with
human mother’s milk, paying more
than $6 a pound for breast milk.
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