Jethro’s smokehouse work
is as good as anyone’s,
and their side dishes rank
with those places charging
three times as much.
2008 in review: the best
While tight credit and volatile
markets stalled other economic
sectors, Des Moines’ food scene
birthed more excellent restaurants,
world-class products and novel
ideas than in any previous year.
That made as much sense as fine
dining in sports bars, a restaurant
built around fries and French
cuisine in the Corn Belt. We did
all that, too. After consulting
my panel of food experts, here’s
Food Dude’s 14th annual list of
the best things to hit Des Moines
in this wild and crazy year.
Best New Restaurant:
George Formaro’s café headlines
a marvelous list that also includes
Le Jardin, Proof, Alba, Skybox,
Sbrocco, Maverick and Jethro’s
— all of which drew at least one
“top new café” vote from
my consultants. Django wins for
its greater ambition — with long
hours and multiple services. It
deserves kudos for: introducing
French classics (duck confit casoulet)
that don’t condescend to American
tastes; reviving historical French-American
classics (Sazerac); and providing
a distinctive urban ambiance.
Best New Pub: Skybox
Skybox edges out Jethro’s and
GoodSons with extra touches —
tablecloth dining, private rooms,
a superb full entrée menu
and personal service that recalls
the hey days of Italian Des Moines.
It’s so popular on big game days
that customers pay $50 just to
Best New BBQ: Jethro’s
Jethro’s smokehouse work is as
good as anyones while its side
dishes rank with those of restaurants
charging triple the price. This
place set new standards for sports
bar food, and it kept improving
as the year moved along.
Best New Fast Food Joint:
Ocean Beach Fries
For 40 years the fast food industry
downgraded the quality of French
fries in favor of reduced labor
costs. Ocean Beach Fries’ hand-peeled,
triple fried potatoes became so
popular that the store moved up
from a food court stall to a double-bay
store in Valley West Mall — all
in just one year.
Best New Restaurant Bar:
Graze wins with freshly squeezed
juices, scratch-made mixes and
syrups, ostentatious design and
a contemporary disregard for traditional
Best New Wine Bar: Sbrocco
Sommelier Tim Grimes has no peer
for discovering quality wines
in all price categories. Chef
Darin Sturgill is a risk taker
who finds new applications for
creative wine pairings.
Business Plan of the
Year: La Mie & Le Jardin
Some restaurants only open for
dinner, others only for breakfast
and lunch. Rent never sleeps.
So Joe Logsdon of La Mie offered
to share his space with Tag Grandgeorge
of Le Jardin. Two of the city’s
best cafés now have a better
chance of turning a profit.
Best New Product: La
Quercia’s “Acorn Edition”
The Norwalk company introduced
acorn-fed Guanciale, Pancetta,
Lonza, Lardo, Spallacia and Prosciutto.
This slow food method of raising
pigs had disappeared even in its
Duchy of Parma homeland.
Best New Service: Old
By reviving Chat Noir menu items
and by building a rotisserie capable
of handling three whole sheep
at the same time, Old Castle edged
out Florene’s new breakfast service,
by a lamb’s tail.
Best New Idea: Jesus
Equipment is expensive so El Chisme
owner-chef Jesus Ojeda encouraged
his tortilla machine to multi-task.
First he developed recipes for
thin pizza crust and calzones.
Then he introduced scratch pasta
— making his Mexican café
the second place in town (after
Café di Scala) to exclusively
serve homemade pasta.
Best New Food Writer:
This “new media” Iowa journalist
wrote old fashioned rings around
other young food reporters in
traditional media — by practicing
self examination without self
indulgence and by teaching readers
about his subjects.
Best New Food Photographer:
This Grinnell College student
and Phoenix Café line chef
created a well-researched, photographically
splendid Iowa food journal.
Next week — Des Moines’ best restaurants
and best chefs, plus the year’s
worst ideas, trends and service.
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