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By Jim Duncan Reviews

Tedesco’s Steakhouse, 5418 Douglas Ave., 727-0560. Mon. - Thurs. 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Fri. - Sat. 7 a.m. - 11 p.m. Sun.; 7 a.m.-2 p.m.

Tedesco’s Steakhouse

In Louis Malle’s 1980 film “Atlantic City,” an aging, two-bit gangster (Burt Lancaster) woos a much younger woman (Susan Sarandon) with stories of his past. “Ah, you should have seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days,” he drones, with his back turned to that ocean. When asked why his earliest jazz recordings with Charlie Parker sound so mediocre, an aging Miles Davis shot back at his critic, “You should have heard that shit back in 1946.” Malle and Davis both suggest that greatness is distinguished only by context. But since context can be purely subjective, the question remains: Can you borrow it, or did you have to be there?

Like Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, Tedesco’s Steakhouse evokes Des Moines’ most cherished restaurant traditions: the Italian family café and the classic Iowa steakhouse. Johnny’s does so consciously, with an orchestrated marketing plan and selective trappings. Tedesco’s does it subconsciously. On each of several visits, I overheard other customers talking about restaurants of another era — Vic’s Tally Ho and Gianni’s, which were located just down the street from Tedseco’s many decades ago, and South Side legends Wimpie’s and Johnny & Kay’s. Several contexts provide legitimate links.

First, Tedesco’s cultivates Italian-American style, with its name, authentic family photos, freshly picked flowers on the table and a piano music soundtrack. Side dishes include plates of pasta with marinara and macaroni and cheeses. Salad dressings include an Italian that tasted like the old South Side version. Grinders employed Graziano’s sausage. Tedesco’s hashed browns were the shoestring variety made famous at Johnny & Kay’s, hand-shredded according to my server. The French fries were thick handcut version associated with old steakhouses.

Grinders also used old South Des Moines style marinara, but were not too full of meat. Tedesco’s sausage sandwich was far more generous with meat and cheese — a far better deal than the grinder. Pork tenderloins were of Iowa icon variety — breaded, golden fried and so large that they hung over the edges of a large bun, even after being sliced in two and stacked. Unlike most loins that wide, they were half an inch thick with pork.

Tedesco’s cultivates family and neighborhood vibes. Kids-eat- free on Wednesdays and off an inexpensive kids menu anytime. Tedesco’s opens for breakfast, seven days a week. Steakhouses that do that are usually only found in small towns. It’s a deep commitment for an independent restaurant in a city today. Breakfast featured French toasts made with homemade Italian, challah and cinnamon breads. That’s rather trendy today, but it was an invention of Kronk’s, a legendary Denison, Iowa steakhouse. Breakfast also included two versions of egg benedict and two versions of down home country cooking — chicken fried steak and eggs and corned beef hash. All breakfasts were priced under $10.

True to its name, Tedesco’s delivers old-fashioned steakhouse dinners. Their chef moved over from Joseph’s when that upscale steakhouse closed and his expertise on a grill was obvious. My “Pittsburgh rare” order was perfectly seared on both sides and still a perfect rare. That happens about once in 10 tries, even in much higher priced steakhouses. My steaks were served in a classic Béarnaise sauce, a touch borrowed from Trostel’s Greenbriar and Noah’s. Curiously, Tedesco’s DeBurgo here was not the old Italian Des Moines version of Johnny & Kay’s and Vic’s. It was the creamy style version made famous by the Greek-owned Johnny’s Vet’s Club.

Bottom line — this is brand new place that already has the feel of an heirloom.

Side dishes
Celebrity Food & Wine Expo (Nov. 21- 23 at the Iowa Events Center) has added cooking demos by local stars Sheree Clark (Living Raw), Don Hensley (Glen Oaks) and Jennifer Strauss (Carefree Patisserie). Butch Lupinetti, a Pennsylvania barbecue guy, was added to the national celebrity line-up… Des Moines University and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will host a 2008 Wine Opener on Nov. 7, all proceeds to CFF. CV

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