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By Jim Duncan Reviews

Town Hall Tavern meat loaf

Town Hall Tavern
1250 8th St., West Des Moines, 267-1121
Monday through Saturday 11 to 2 a.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to midnight.

Town Hall Tavern

Jeremy Morrow is back. The chef-restaurateur has done as much as anyone to create a quality restaurant scene in Des Moines with Bistro 43, 43, Star Bar, Azalea and Zen. Too many cafés made him more of supervisor than a chef and burned him out. He tried selling insurance briefly before realizing he needed to cook. He does that again at Town Hall Tavern on Eighth Street in West Des Moines.

“I moved to Des Moines to open up Toscano’s for Jimmy Lynch. That was across the street then, where Skybox is now. So this represents the closing of a cycle for me,” Morrow said.

Eighth Street has also come full cycle. Lynch and Paul Trostel, the most influential Des Moines restaurateurs of the boomer generation, also began their careers there. Trostel moved on after opening Cork & Cleaver, but Lynch became the face of the street with Jimmy’s American Café, Cabo San Lucas, Toscano, Eighth Street Seafood and Pain Pane. For most of two decades, Eighth Street remained the hottest strip in town, even as the suburban zeitgeist sprawled west. By the new millennium, Eighth Street had lost its groove. Lynch retreated downtown and other places came and went, too fast — Danielle, Garcia’s, Fratello’s, Coaches Corner, Bordo’s. Piff.

In the last six months, Eighth Street turned a new corner. Tandoor reopened, better than ever, with talented chef Sheik Naseem as owner. Skybox Lounge opened last fall with Matt Pearson running a cutting edge (see Side Dishes) kitchen. It transcends the usual sports bar with sports car road rallies and tent parties for Kentucky Derby planned. Jimmie’s American Café and the remodeled Walnut Creek Inn now anchor a genuine restaurant hot zone, with four excellent cafés within half a block.

In a building that originally housed Happy Chef, Town Hall puts Morrow back where he is happiest. He remodeled the Sticks-created atmosphere of Cabo San Lucas, which had been undisturbed through three previous restaurants. Arty Mexican décor was sanded and painted in earth tones. It takes commitment to turn two thousand dollar tables into two hundred dollar tables. Similar commitment is shown to nouvelle cuisine, which sneaks onto a menu of American comfort foods. Beef tongue hash with frisee and fried egg, fried green tomatoes with mozzarella, buttermilk biscuits with ham gravy and shrimp and cheese grits all show off Morrow’s Tennessee roots. Blackened tofu with pesto and a “steak and eggs” dish that employs homemade pastrami with panko crusted eggs, show off his culinary edge.

They share a menu with eclectic comfort (every dish costs less than $15, the average dish is priced less than $10) foods. Pecan crusted fried chicken (an 8th Street icon), perfectly seared Angus burgers, Niman Ranch steaks and smothered Eden Farms pork chops comforted me with Old Iowa familiarity. Pozole (hominy stew) and pupusas comforted me with New Iowa staples. Chicken and waffles brought South Central Los Angeles comfort food to town.

Covered with excellent bourbon pan gravy, stuffed meat loaf had a spectacular crunchy crust plus melt-in-mouth stuffing of spinach and cheese. It was plated with good garlic, mashed potatoes and crisp onion rings. Ribs were not Jethro’s class yet. Mine had not been smoked long enough to produce a ring, nor to break apart with the hands. Too many dishes came with the same sides. French fries did not travel well on “to-go” orders, but homemade potato chips did. Slaw was dominated by sharp blue cheese.

Banana pecan bread pudding and fried apple pie (fresh apples in a puff pastry) were everything one expects from a top Southern chef. Chocolate pudding was for fans of heavy chocolate. One Food Dude tip — $13 chicken and waffles included a hind quarter of deep fried chicken with half a waffle pie. A fried chicken kid’s plate included the same chicken pieces with French fries instead of waffles, for just $6.

Side Dishes
Skybox Lounge now has a popular Wednesday sushi night. Only sushi is served but it’s redefined for Iowa with braised pork, fried walleye, duck breast, goat cheeses and lots of tempura starring. 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)
Supreme Bakery (03-12-09)  

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