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By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com Reviews

Des Moines' Original Pizza
Noah's Ark, 2400 Ingersoll, 288-2246 _
Mon. - Thurs. 11 a.m. - midnight, Fri. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 1 a.m.

Noah's Ark

With more than 60 years of continuous operation in Des Moines, Noah's Ark is a civic heirloom. Like Chuck's, Riccelli's, The Latin King, Christopher's and Gino's, it's been in the same place for five decades and developed the old fashioned way - in personally financed stages. In the 1950s and '60s, banks didn't loan money to build restaurants, so the great Italian restaurateurs of Des Moines expanded one wall at a time - from a tiny kitchen to a two storied, multi-roomed food palace in Noah's case. Noah Lacona opened a sandwich shop in the railroad depot in 1946 and moved to his present site on Ingersoll a few years later, bringing Calabrese cuisine to the Westside. The restaurant took off after Noah designed a gas oven that simulated the wood-burning ovens of his native Calabria and a pie-making machine that duplicated the Neapolitan crusts that American soldiers learned to love in World War II. Pizza success generated the next stages of Noah's personal genius for design.

These days, it's not uncommon in Des Moines for teams of architects to work with millions of borrowed dollars to design brand new restaurants. Yet nothing else in town matches the perfection of Noah's haphazard feng shui - a piecemeal layout that comforts guests even before they enter. In winter, Iowa restaurants drastically need an enclosed vestibule between the outer door and the restaurant, or revolving doors. Noah's has both, eliminating cold drafts even at the table closest to the entrance on sub zero evenings. There's also an enclosed passageway to another entrance adjoining an upper level parking lot. Noah's dining rooms are further insulated because the restaurant's pizza and bread ovens face the lobby releasing the comforting aromas of extreme heat, yeast conversion while creating a better first impression than that of all the suburbs' chain restaurant, theme park dˇcors combined.

All of Noah's original recipes are those of his mother Teresa who managed his kitchen in its early years (When a brother later opened "Mama Lacona's" restaurant, the name implied confrontation as well as excellence). None have changed in six decades, though the menu has added many new dishes as it expanded four times and survived two fires. To capitalize on the yeasty first impression, Noah recently added a new touch. Complimentary "love knots" (twisted rolls splashed with garlic butter) were served with ice water. Those were in addition to a complimentary basket of large yeast rolls that came with dinners and lunches. Homemade mozzarella, on some cold antipasto plates, was another recent innovation.

Pizza has always been Noah's focus. My thin, crisp crusted pies included more mozzarella and less tomato than typical. All sausage and meatballs were homemade. Lasagna was made "Calabrese style," with rigatoni instead of flat pasta. Fettuccini, cavatelli, ravioli and gnocchi are made from scratch with a combination of hard and soft flours. The ravioli were baked in a casserole and also simmered with a sweet sauce of Teresa Lacona's signature marinara (Noah's also makes a no-gluten pasta, for those with medical needs, from brown rice and rice bran flours). From non-Italian parts of the menu, I tried a dry-aged New York strip with Colbert sauce and roast beef with fettuccini, pan drip gravy and mashed potatoes that were made the old fashioned Iowa way - with cream and butter, not garlic infused oils. Desserts are ordered from a San Francisco bakery.

Service was inspired - single diners were seated with other single diners and handholding couples in semi-private alcoves. Twice my "to-go" orders were removed from the oven and boxed exactly when promised. _

Side Dishes
Iowa historian John Zeller reported that the approaching 60th anniversary of pizza in Iowa probably dates from July 1949 at Mitch's Club 30 in Linn County. Zeller said newspapers refer to a Highland Park Tea & Pizza cafˇ in Des Moines that predate Noah's first pizza in the early 1950s, but he's been unable to find anyone who remembers the Highland Park place. CV

Food Dude Reviews 2009 2008 Reviews ~ 2007 Reviews
Best & Worst of 2008 (01-01-09) Maxie’s (01-08-09)
Fawn's (01-15-09) Kwong Tung welcomes the Ox (01-22-09)

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