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By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com Reviews

Biscuits and gravy at Florene’s, 2128 Indianola Ave., 284-0077. Breakfast is served Tuesday through Friday, 6:30 to 9 a.m. and Saturday through Sunday from 6:30 to 11 a.m. Lunch is served Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Florene’s does it Grandma’s way

Florene’s owner-baker-chef Tom Mauer might have the most impressive food resume in Iowa. In the 1980s, he worked at three different three star restaurants in France. That’s Michelin stars, not the devalued kind that the local Gannett Outlet Store throws around like Mardi Gras beads. After his French stint, Mauer worked at some of Chicago’s best restaurants before taking over the kitchens of the Austin (Minn.) Country Club for Hormel. After a decade there, he retired from the restaurant business and started selling software designed for the food and beverage industry.

“Then I started missing having my hands in dough,” Mauer explained.

He heard that an odd blue building, which had housed Mary Ann’s Pies for ages, was for lease. He also noticed that Des Moines’ south side had a sense of neighborhood that reminded him of his Chicago roots. He put his hands back in the dough and named his new business after his Scottish grandmother. After operating strictly as a bakery for two years, Mauer had a wall removed and expanded into a neighboring bay. He installed an old-fashioned lunch counter plus a brightly painted dining room and added breakfast and lunch menus that feature his baked goods.

Many of Mauer’s recipes are his grandmother’s. An Italian beef and pork sandwich tasted like Chicago, with slow roasted, pulled meats that had been thin sliced, mixed together and stacked on an herbed roll. It was topped with skin-on roasted peppers and a cup of marinara. A reuben consisted of thin sliced, home-cooked corned beef with kraut, Swiss cheese and a thick, home made 1000 Island dressing served on grilled, onion pumpernickel bread. “Grandma’s chicken hash” was a superior twist on the hot chicken sandwich with an entire grilled chicken breast sliced into bite-sized pieces and laid over a slice of bread (diner’s choice), with homemade mashed potatoes and chicken gravy.

Homemade cranberry sauce was served on the side. Excellent burgers were made with prime rib trimmings, char grilled and served on foccacia rolls. Crisp French fries retained their heat and were seasoned with paprika salt. Mauer also serves a daily soup special — one day tomato Florentine was presented in a marinara-thick broth. People were buying Mauer’s homemade Thousand Island, creamy Italian garlic and Blue Cheese dressings by the pint — explaining why one day’s menu included dressings but no salads.

Three egg breakfast plates were offered with ham, sausage patties, bacon, toast and hash browns. All meals come with a choice of country white, whole wheat, pumpernickel onion or sourdough toast — all of which can be upgraded, at a nominal charge, to bear claws, puff pastries, coffee cake, cinnamon roll, sticky roll, all butter croissants, almond croissants, Danish pastries, chocolate croissants or cheesecake. Personally, I wouldn’t dream of substituting anything for the hearty toast, especially the pumpernickel. Buttermilk pancakes and Belgian waffles also revive old-fashioned breakfast art methods — Mauer never uses any pre-mixes — “because Grandma wouldn’t think of it.” Sausage gravy with biscuits is Florene’s breakfast specialty and it included big pieces of sausage in good gravy with homemade biscuits, of course. Granola and coffee cake were both on the sweet side.

When he feels like it, Mauer bakes real lard crust pies. My fruit pies were double crusted, sugar dusted and properly baked to a deep brown. One 12-inch peach pie weighed four pounds. Every bite of the thick and flaky crust reminded me why, back in my Grandma’s day, I always preferred the crust to the filling.

Side Dishes
Taste Network has chosen five Iowa chefs to compete in Cochon 555, when that event hits Des Moines on April. 19. Tag Grandgeorge (Le Jardin), Michael Bailey (Embassy Club), Tony Lemmo (Café di Scala), Andrew Meek (Sage) and Matt Steigerwald (Lincoln Café) will face off in a whole hog competition and dinner to support the Leukemia Society. Tickets are $110 at www.amusecochon.com. 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)
Noah's Ark (01-29-09) Taste of Elegance (02-05-09)
La Mie Bakery & Café (02-12-09) El Chisme (02-19-09)

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