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By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com Reviews

The Maxie Burger
1311 Grand Ave., West Des Moines
223-1463
Hours are Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Monday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday, 5 to 11 p.m. and Saturday, 4:30 to 11 p.m.

Maxie’s

Each holiday season I’m asked some variation of the same question — “Now that Younker’s Tea Room is gone, where can I take the grandparents and the grandkids?” Because the holidays inspire nostalgia and respect for tradition, my answers rule out places that measure their age in years instead of decades. Des Moines has several restaurants with long term, single-family continuity — Chuck’s, Christopher’s, Noah’s, Riccelli’s, Gino’s and Trostel’s Greenbriar are among them. All serve loyal customers particularly from their immediate neighborhoods. This year I spent a good part of the season at another place that has been around for seven decades, though its location and ownership have changed.

Maxie’s is a cross between Iowa’s two great restaurant traditions — the steakhouse and the supper club. While New York City and Chicago steakhouses developed a cigar room mystique of power and testosterone, Iowa’s steakhouses represented more democratic, midwestern values. In the state’s smaller towns, where the majority of Iowans lived until the 1990s, steakhouses often became surrogate country clubs — the nicest places in entire counties, where people would go to celebrate special occasions. Supper clubs, Iowa’s original response to Prohibition, took that zeitgeist to a larger base.

Maxie’s cultivates those nostalgic traditions. One of the few places left in town with a completely separate bar (complete with caricatures of mid-20th century celebrities), Maxie’s maintains that an “old fashioned” is not a “martini.” When I visited, wedding dinners, reunions of senior citizens in Santa caps and children’s birthday parties all mingled seamlessly with other diners. All music was recorded before Ronald Reagan became president and the dining room bustled with private booths, open tables and lighting bright enough to spot friends on the other side of the restaurant. Prices were family friendly, particularly on Monday nights when kids eat for $1. Showing that Maxie’s is appropriately named, adult dinners included salads, pasta, potato, onion rings, bread and butter. Refills of water, tea, soft drinks and coffee always came quickly, sometimes from owner Andy Mayfield who continually checked on customers like an old fashioned restaurateur. Full dinner prices ranged from $11 (pot roast or chicken) to $30 (lobster with filet mignon). Pasta dinners cost $9 to $12, and most lunches came in under $9.

Maxie’s has three claims to fame. Its peppery Italian dressing is so popular it’s bottled. Cityview readers frequently vote Maxie’s onion rings the best in town. Very thinly cut, lightly breaded and heavily seasoned, they were served both hot and crisp on my four different visits. And the Maxieburgers were honored among the nation’s best in Jeff Hagen’s book “Searching for the Holy Grill.” They have been made the same way for 70 years — hand packed and hard seared. In a Younkers Tea Room tribute, they can now be ordered “rarebit” style.

Maxie’s steak de burgo was uniquely made with clarified butter, which allowed a higher temperature cooking of its fresh garlic and basil. Deep fried chicken (which several readers consider the best in town) had a crunchy batter and tender-to-the-bone style that resembles “broasting,” a small town Iowa icon. A pork fritter sandwich, breaded shrimp and bread pudding were not up to the levels of the steaks, burgers, chicken and salad dressings.

Bottom Line: Maxie’s has maintained an old fashioned spirit that transcends generations. A previous owner once told me that he worked the floor after suffering a stroke because he believed “my customers are my therapy.” On my visits, Mayfield showed a similar conviction.

Side Dishes
The “Harvest of Hope” winter farmers market (in which farmers donate a percentage of sales to a farm families emergency fund) will be Monday, Jan. 12 at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 600 6th Ave., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. CV
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