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By Jim Duncan Reviews

Fong's Pizza
223 Fourth St., 323-3333
Sunday through Wednesday 11 to 2 a.m. and Thursday through Saturday 11 to 3 a.m.

The new and the old on Court Avenue - Fourth Street T

Each year, along with several thousand high school wrestling fans, I spend the third week of February eating on the Court Avenue - Fourth Street T. My psychologist suggests it's just a perverse reaction to watching wrestlers spitting and starving themselves, but I think it's a great way to discover what foods are hot with Middle America.

Either way, Spaghetti Works was still the main attraction for this crowd, though its lines were not nearly as long as they were last decade. One fan told me he has made wrestling week pilgrimages to Spaghetti Works for 20 straight years, but he now moves to Legends after three plates of pasta - "for the beer and sports." Another family told me they almost didn't come this year because they no longer knew any wrestlers, "but we needed a Hessen Haus fix."

I was more interested in new stuff like Fong's Pizza, Des Moines' first Tiki bar in four decades. An owner evoked the sacred Tiki name of "Psycho Suzi's" (Minneapolis) when talking about inspirations. Fong's stirs its Tiki with pre-Communist Chinese pop. Some marvelous vintage posters were imported from Shanghai, and exotic drinks were served in Trader Vic's-quality Tiki mugs ($15 deposit required). A 96-ounce Funky Monkey cost $20. A kamikaze was served with a Japanese fighter pilot's cap. Fong's appetizer menu maintained the theme of strange partnerships. Cheese sticks in egg roll wrappers, Polynesian (Canadian bacon, pineapple and Asiago), Happy Family and Thai chicken pizza were offered with more the traditional handmade egg rolls and crab rangoon.

In the old Trattoria space, Chianti also keeps the cross-cultural theme going. Chianti's atmosphere is small town, as in friendly and gracious. The Robles' family operated Three Nations cafˇ in Dallas County before buying this place, to which little has been changed. Three cozy dining rooms compensate for an underground location with warm colors and soft light. Chef Izequiel Robles, who cooked at Trattoria for seven years, added Mexican and Iowa diner fare to an Italian menu. My food was inconsistent. The pork tenderloin delivered a sorry, processed patty. Homemade spinach fettuccini and ravioli tasted as fresh as any in town. Enchiladas and a burrito were all right but not memorable.

On a wrestling posse's insistence, I tried my first ever Royal Mile "Ingelhoffer." Unique to that pub, the sandwich combined a house-recipe banger (sausage) with ham and white cheddar, all grilled and served on a hoagie. It earned Royal Mile a place alongside Django and Hessen Haus' in Des Moines' hot dog hall of fame. After sampling every homemade brew downtown, another posse declared Court Avenue Brewing Company's (CABCO) Bourbon Barrel Brown Stout "awesome." I never disagree with wrestlers about beer, but I was more excited to discover CABCO using Vande Rose (Oskaloosa) beef and pork. I tried their flat iron steak on soba noodles in miso. I think the idea was to compensate for the chewier texture of that cut of beef with the broth, but next time I will order my steak on the side.

Sbrocco had some interesting new cheese and olive plates, all with ranges of texture and bite. They also have added several dinner entrees to their lunch menu, all priced under $10 - shepherd's pie topped with mashed potatoes; lamb-stuffed grape leaves with a mash of three root vegetables and, best of all, shrimp macque choux (Cajun creamed corn) with salt pork and andouille sausage. Sbrocco's version had too much cream and not enough creamed corn for my taste, but this dish should become a Corn State icon - and not just on wrestling week.
Side Dishes
I asked six wrestling fans to test six pizza pies from Court Avenue and Fourth Street restaurants. Four picked CABCO's "sausage and pepperoni" as the best, and two preferred Azalea's "duck confit with caramelized onions." All six ranked Fong's "popper" pizza as second best. 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)
Florene’s (02-26-09)  

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