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Food Dude

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By Jim Duncan Reviews

Cecil & Rosie’s
2926 Merle Hay Road, 274-1714
Mon. - Thurs. 6 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Fri. - Sat. 6 a.m. - 8 p.m.

3029 Merle Hay Road, 278-4587
Daily kitchen hours 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. - 11 p.m.

The Waveland Cafe
4708 University Ave., 279-4341
Mon. - Tues. 6 a.m. - 8 p.m.; Wed.- Fri. 6 a.m. - 9 p.m., Sat. 6 a.m. - 2 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Comfort food

To deep Darwinians, all history is a conjugation of the verb “to eat:” Wars are waged because one monkey wants to steal another monkey’s bananas; commerce was invented so that monkeys could trade bananas; and art (especially pole dancing) was developed to persuade other monkeys to share their bananas. This theory gains converts during times of economic stress. History’s most enduring images of hard times are photos of food deprivation — Depression Era bread lines, emaciated refugees, crops blowing in the Dust Bowl wind. Food imagery also chronicled the history of comfort from the storms of stress. From Jesus Christ’s last supper to Norman Rockwell’s “Thanksgiving Dinner,” nothing triggers happy memories like the foods that grandma made.

As the world’s credit system teetered recently, I began looking for comfort at The Waveland Cafe, which is now Des Moines’ oldest diner. I had stopped going there years ago to avoid the secondhand smoke, but I figured enough time had elapsed since this July’s smoking ban to clear the air. I discovered that The Waveland actually went “smoke-free” several months before the law forced restaurants to do so. Business appeared to be unaffected, and waiters told me that it’s actually “better than ever. People who said they would never come back only boycotted for a week or two. Plus, we got lots of new customers.”

I tried a hot-beef sandwich with dark, bouillon-flavored gravy, super hot mashed potatoes and tender roast beef. A pork tenderloin overlapped its bun but delivered a thin serving of pork. I later checked Iowa’s ultimate tenderloin authority (, where The Waveland’s loin rated 2 on a scale of 1 to 10 and was listed as a “confirmed frozen product.” Breakfast, with mounds of hashed browns, was the most comforting reason to return.

I moved on to Cecil & Rosie’s (C&R), a more modern (free wireless) diner in the old Bosnian Grill venue on Merle Hay Road. Bryan and Kathy Sanford, who formerly owned the Flamingo Cantina in East Village, offer old fashioned, hand-patty burgers. Mine was excellent, irregularly shaped, seared to a perfect crust and cooked medium, as ordered. It sounds so simple, but just try getting a burger that way anywhere else.

Even better, if diner food can exceed a really good burger, were C&R’s signature stuffed sandwiches. These were variations on the theme of a calzone — scratch made dough was stuffed before being baked, or deep-fried. I tried a stuffed Cubano that included generous portions of smoked pork shoulder, ham, salami, pickle spear, Swiss cheese and a good, house made citrus mustard. This is a great new addition to the sandwiches of Des Moines. Other stuffed sandwiches included tomato sauce that detracted from the bread’s freshness. All sandwiches came with a choice of onion rings or fries, neither of which were as distinguished as the sandwiches themselves. A pork tenderloin was significantly meatier than the one I had at The Waveland Cafe and came with fries or rings for less than $6. Gyros were nicely crisped, and generous grinders used Graziano sausage. Breakfast at C&R’s delivered old fashioned, short order grill work — eggs were fried in butter. However, hash browns, bacon and chicken fried steak were not up to the standards of The Waveland’s breakfasts.

I also found comfort food with an ethnic slant at Estrada’s, which reopened last week as an East European bar and grill with a marvelous wooden deck patio. Hearty blue-plate specials included stuffed cabbage, stuffed peppers and goulash. All were priced comfortingly, under $6. An espresso bar delivered arty drinks, with real cream designs, at bargain prices, too.

Side dishes
Darren Warth of Des Moines (Smokey D’s) took first place in both ribs and brisket at the American Royal in Kansas City, one of America’s grand slam BBQ competitions. … Taste of Equality’s professional dessert competition was won by Sweet Binney’s (for a seven piece, spun sugar sculpture) and Catering by Cyd (for fried truffles). 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)
Transmigration of the soul (food) (10-02-08) Boilin' Crawfish 4 (10-09-08)

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