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By Jim Duncan Reviews

1264 E. 14th St., 266-7511
Daily 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.

Mr. Bibb’s
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 soul (food)

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 desserts.

Side dishes
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. 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) Swine (7-03-08)
Sbrocco (7-17-08) Zuzap (8-14-08)
Le Jardin (8-21-08) Samurai Sushi & Hibachi (8-28-08)
Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano (9-4-08) Old Castle (9-11-08)
Old Mexic, New Mexico (9-18-08) Bistro at ICI (9-25-08)

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