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By Jim Duncan Reviews

The Lacona family's heirloom cannoli with vanilla whipped cream and fresh berries.

Italian-American Cultural Center, 1961 Indianola Ave., 280-3719.

Dinners are held on the fourth Sundays of most months. Advance reservations are required.

Italian-American Cultural Center

Dinner at the Italian-American Cultural Center (ICC) provides an education. In the old Supreme Bakery, where many early Italian immigrants found work, the museum reminds visitors how Italian newcomers assimilated with the larger American culture. Displays honor cobblers (The Strand Shoe Hospital), wedding etiquette, church memorabilia and the first Girl Scout troop in Iowa — an Italian-American group in 1922. A library, a genealogy database and archives from two Italian-American newspapers provide access to more personal histories.

But more than anything, food dominates the museum's story of the American dream. An outdoor forno (brick oven) now bakes Italian breads. One section of the museum is devoted to grocers and candy makers (Des Moines' first commercial Italian food business was a candy store on Mulberry, which opened 103 years ago). Another section is devoted to local restaurateurs with 70 years of menus, photos and stories from Italian-owned places Ñ from The Garden of Italy to Jethro's. Early Italian-American pasta machinery is displayed including a rolling pin designed just to cut ravioli, a machine just for pasta chittara, and another just for cavatelli. Winemakers and historic cookbooks are featured, too. ICC also supports adult cooking classes and children's summer camp.

Monthly themed dinners help support all ICC activities. Volunteers assist chefs from top local restaurants, a large percentage of which just happen to be owned by Italian-Americans. Lucca, La Mie, Tumea's, Sam & Gabe's, Mezzodi, Mosaix, Baratta's and Christiani's Catering have hosted so far. Some of them became pretty elaborate. Tumea's dinner last summer featured sopa pastina, home-grown tomato salad, shrimp scampi, chicken di avolo, beef cutlets and tiramisu. Mosaix's included live jazz, with the Luca Donini Quartet, a tri-colored crostini, penne with three cheeses, chicken Milanese and fresh peaches in Moscato. Mezzodi's included the Giudecessi family's famous pear and walnut salad, with chicken a la Caruso and a chocolate cake dolce

Tony Lemmo (Café di Scla, Frank's Pizza) prepared the most recent dinner, themed for Mardi Gras week. Lemmo represents two restaurant families — Lemmo's on his father's side, Lacona's (Noah's) on his mom's. He stayed close to his roots with the entire dinner.

His antipasto was "sopa paisano (peasant soup)," a humble way to refer to a French onion soup made with chicken stock, myriad fresh herbs and ciabatta croutons. Two different patrons barged into Lemmo's kitchen to ask for leftovers, one offered to lick the soup pot. The chef's "primo" was a citrus and Parmiganno-Reggiano risotto. His "secondo" was a braccioli of pork tenderloin Ñ stuffed, rolled and sliced. Lemmo's mom's heirloom cannoli was the "dolce," stuffed with vanilla whipped cream and plated with fresh raspberries.

Side Dishes

Mardi Gras week paraded opportunities for Des Moines chefs to show off: 1.) DM Metro Opera's biennial Food & Wine Showcase featured 52 chefs and 500 guests. Dom Iannarelli (Splash, JethroÔs) was king of that krewe with a six-item seafood buffet featuring hebi, caviar and yellowfin (He said he spent $650 on disposable spoons). Cyd Mull (Cyd's Catering) gave Niman Ranch pork a Hawaiian treatment with hand-massaged kalua pig served with haupia (gelled coconut milk reduction) and five other items; 2.) Blue Ribbon Bacon Fest (BF) laid a solid foundation for what could become a branding event in Des Moines tourism. BF sold out faster than bacon can fry, attracted media from both coasts and particularly appealed to a youthful demographic. Tony LemmoÔs "bacon caramel corn" and Burnt Finger BBQ's (Kansas City) "global thermal nuclear bacon explosion" (a smoked, layered meat loaf) provided originality. Eden Farms uncured bacon distinguished itself from saltier flavors; 3.) Centro hosted an Acorn Edition pork dinner that also drew fans from far and wide, as well as 4.) a rillettes and meat ball reception for "Righteous Pork Chop" author Nicole Hawn-Niman; 5.) Dos Rios' new chef Julio Gamboa kept that restaurant's buzz alive with a six-course dinner that featured chipotle smoked duck breast and exotic tequila pairings. 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) Fourth Street T (03-05-09)

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