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Cover Story

Cover Story: Flavors Of The Relays


April 28, 2005

Street food is the most ephemeral of dining fixes. More importantly, a food renaissance befitting Des Moines’ place in the middle of the richest agricultural land on earth is centered, like Drake, in the heart of the city. Only a food fool would leave the Drake area to eat in the corporate chain gang restaurants of the distant suburbs. The following locally owned and operated restaurants all carry The Food Dude stamp of approval.

Drake – Ingersoll Neighborhood

25th St. Café
1229 25th St., 255-0535

CIA-trained chef Jon Benedict bakes all the breads, smokes meats and uses a solid lineup of fresh and local, free-ranged and organic products. Chili-rubbed beef tenderloin and skate wings are signature dishes. Pizzas are made with a ciabatta dough. The dessert menu features his take on S’mores, with homemade marshmallows and chocolate ganache.

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La Mie
841 42nd St., 255-1625

La Mie is a pure butter and cream bakery in the morning, a French café at night and tea-room for lunch. No place between here and San Francisco provides better carry-out pastries and coffee for those cold morning sessions of the Relays.

Bistro Montage
2724 Ingersoll Ave., 557-1924

Owner-chef Enosh Kelley’s cozy bistro leans toward classic French traditions. He is also his own pastry chef and no one does dessert better. This is where international foodies dine when they are in town and it also has a loyal audience of neighborhood fans, many coming for “early bird” fixed price specials, three courses around $21.

The Drake Diner
1111 25th St., 277-1111

This is the neighborhood’s combo porch and living room. The short order work sets new standards. Specials took their inspiration from Fog City Diner in San Francisco.

Taste! To Go
2806 University Ave., 277-8646

Emily Gross and Andrea Williams run a gourmet catering company that also serves lunch and dinner during the Relays. Here, scratch cooking still means that French fries are hand cut when ordered.

La Rosa
2312 Forest Ave., 255-9520
Don Juan Martinez’s tamales have been selling out for years in a tienda parking lot on East Grand. His daughter Rosa Martinez Ruiz makes everything from scratch daily here. The tamales are filled with pulled pork shoulder and served in red sauce made with guajillo and pasilla chilies.

Chocolaterie Stam
2418 Ingersoll Ave., 282-9575

The best chocolaterie in Iowa now has the best homemade gelato. In both cases, Stam uses fresher ingredients and more pure cocoa butter than other candy makers in America. Everything is made and sold the same day.

Metro Market
MLK & Woodland

Metro Market is a Des Moines-sized version of the great public markets of Baltimore and Philadelphia, a magnet attracting vendors and customers with an all star lineup of the best farmer-produced foods in Iowa. Lunch and dinner vendors also provide the city’s best food court offering superb Greek, BBQ, Caribbean, Italian and bakery goods.

2615 Ingersoll Ave., 243-6312

Enzo’s upgrades the big sandwich genre, with prime rib roast beef, which can be ordered rare, a rare thing here. Dressings are high deli while soups and side dishes also raise the bar. Open till the wee hours.

Jesse’s Embers
3301 Ingersoll Ave., 255-6011

Jesse’s is a steakhouse museum for 1960’s macho chic. They prepare real men’s steaks (London broil, prime sirloin, New York cut) and girlie steaks (filet mignon), but don’t look for fashionable cuts like skirt, flank, or even ribeye. The half-pound burgers are deservedly famous. The bar is an urban legend.

Wellman’s Pub
2920 Ingersoll Ave., 245-9737

Plump clams in a rich New England (cream) broth makes Wellman’s chowder the most magnificent melting pot any mollusk ever dreamed of swimming in. Best of all, it comes free with superb sandwiches and fresh packed burgers. Great outdoor patio, too.

Tacos Marianna’s
2225 1/2 University Ave., 288-1499

Some of the best Mexican grilled foods (carnitas, carne asada and pastor) and, on weekends, seafood and menudo, make this little corner spot one of the best taco stops in town.

Beggars’ Banquet
2306 University Ave., 255-5388

Since the 1960’s, this deli has maintained a wholesome hippy attitude about good sandwiches and locally brewed beer to chase it down.

1205 25th St., 309-9167

Gyros, pita and panini sandwiches, falafel and hummus and Greek salads make this local favorite an good lunch stop for fans with a taste for Mediterranean foods.

Happy Wok
2414 University Ave., 279-6457

Chinese and Vietnamese delights at student friendly prices.


2816 Beaver Ave., 274-3694

Half of Des Moines grew up listening to Jim Zabel proclaim Christopher’s pan fried chicken a legend, so, of course, “we love it, we love it, we love it!” The restaurant is an old Italian Des Moines tradition, with everything made from bone-stock scratch. Besides making sauces and soups the slow, old-fashioned way, they also grind their own burger and make their own sausage and pasta.

India Star
3620 Beaver Ave., 279-2118

Baba Singh’s tandoori is the real deal, an imported clay oven that serves as focal point for the cuisine. India Star makes their own cheese and cheese curds. It’s one of the best places in Iowa for lamb and the vegetarian menu is extensive. The lunch buffet is a great bargain.

Downtown & NODO
(North of Downtown)

Le’s Chinese Bar-B-Que
1600 Second St., 244-6111

Need an entire roasted pig’s head, chopped and pulled from the skull for its most interesting meat? Or just a few barbecued ducks? Le’s prepares ducks, chickens and whole hogs regularly. On occasion, the friendly chefs roast quail and game. They have one of the most specialized menus in town, selling the best $2 sandwiches in town, on large, fresh rolls.

The Royal Mile
210 Fourth St., 280-3771

Besides having the best menu of English beers, stouts and ales, The Royal Mile is as eclectic as post colonial London, with Indian curries, Turkish kebabs, Thai peanut sauces and American sandwiches mixing it up with the traditional favorites.

Raccoon River Brewing Company
10th & Mulberry, 362-5245

With the best food in an Iowa brew pub, RRBC is a charter member of the “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” initiative and keeps the faith with Niman Ranch free ranged pork tenderloins, and pulled pork shoulders, plus cowboy steaks and tamales that remind us that this is the corn state. The poolroom is the best in town too.

Hotel Fort Des Moines
10th and Walnut, 362-5224

Forget the cliché that says hotel restaurants suck. Jeremy Morrow is the patron of California-style bistro cuisine and no one works harder looking for new, fresh local products. Plus, he has the best small plates menu in town, making 43 a great place to eat while you are unwinding, which is what a lot of us want to do after a long day at the track.

Centro and South Union
1011 Locust St., 248-1780

In The Temple of the Performing Arts, these are two of the best restaurants in the Midwest. South Union is a deli and Centro a New York style Italian café, with the best sidewalk cafŽ and a fishbowl bar. The coal oven pizza are the essence of Sicily and New York, and the homemade artisan breads are so good competitors buy them.

Gong Fu Tea
414 E Sixth St., 288-3388

This East Village teashop flies against the fad winds – it’s for connoisseurs, not tapioca bubble blowers. The owners will help you discover why one sen cha is worth 20 times more than another, and why a gyokuru is even better. GFT also carries the best Asian teas, ginseng, maté and a few herbals.

Romance Café
1452 Second Ave., 288-3936

Did you think the days of strolling restaurant photographers and single roses were gone with the 1970s? Not here. Do you need some karaoke entertainment with your noodles?

Third and Locust, 244-5686

Splash’s looks like a concept begun by Gianni Versace and finished by Ralph Lauren. Gay island colors cover murals and aquaria, but the furniture and fixtures are elegant as gentlemen’s club. The menu also fishes from both ends of its pole – fish and seafood are delivered daily and fresh, to share top billing with the very best Iowa raised foods.

When not watching the Relays

Much more than a spectator sport, the Drake Relays is an interactive weekend showing off the Drake and downtown neighborhoods to a cosmopolitan audience of over 8000 athletes and 25,000 fans, from at least 49 states and 30 foreign countries. There’s a whole lot more than the track meet going on.

Official Community Events

First and foremost, Peggy’s is to the Relays as the Bud tent is to the Iowa State Fair. If you’re asking yourself: “Where’s Peggy’s?” following the sound of people having fun. Open for operation pretty much from dawn to, well, really, really late.

Throughout the Relays, “Camp DU,” by the Alumni Tent at 28th and Forest, provides free entertainment for kids to age 12, open to the public. Included are inflatable games, sumo wrestling suits, trampolines, rockslides, wall climbing.


Mascot Relays on Nollen Plaza pits Spike of Drake against Subway’s Big Sandwich and the Oscar Meyer Weiner, among the favorites, in non-traditional races. As of press time, Burger King’s new gay, black Porter Waggoner mascot had not confirmed his participation.

“The Relays Begins at The End.” Breakfast at the West End Lounge is as traditional as running counter clockwise.

The “Athlete Reception” takes place at the Downtown Marriott, by invitation.

Court Avenue provides free musical entertainment, sponsored by Drake, indoors and outdoors, with bands covering all styles of music.

The Half Marathon provides a free breakfast for fans, 8-10:30 a.m., at 28th and Forest.

Campus tours of Drake are offered for high school fans and athletes from 11:30 a.m. beginning at 28th and Forest.

The Coalition of Black Students hosts the annual Step Show, in Parents Hall of the Olmsted Center, 8 p.m. – 2 a.m. Comedians, singers, musicians, dancers, dramatic readings highlight an annual event with a great reputation.

The Alumni Cluster Reception takes place at the Waveland Golf Course Club House. 6-9.

Fraternities and sororities host parties – times dependant on how late Friday’s parties went.

The “Drake Relays Athlete Party” is described as “an inconspicuously chaperoned event.”

Unofficial Relays Specials

The Drake Neighborhood provides unique shopping and service opportunities. Most businesses are self-descriptive.

Yankee Doodle Dandy Tattoos, 2312 University

Skateboards, 2310 University

Day Dreams, 2304 University

Hip Hop Heaven, 2302 University

Platinum Cuts Barber Shop, 2301 University, where some serious styling goes on for athletes and others.

Crazy Horse Guitars, 2331 University Ave.

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