New places for pizza, burritos and tacos11/28/2012
When my colleagues ask one another what kind of restaurant they think Des Moines needs, answers almost always reflect worldly hopefulness such as Basque, Moroccan, vegan, Brazilian, dim sum, Ethiopian and molecular. However when real world restaurateurs put their money on the line to open a new place here, they usually go with something that has already been accepted locally. Last week I heard about a “new” cupcake shop, a “new” frozen yogurt store and a “new” doughnut franchise. I actually visited a pizza joint, a burrito cafeteria and a tacqueria that were all new to Des Moines.
The original Falbo Brothers was opened 20 years ago in Madison, Wis., by college students with no restaurant experience at all. They believed that other college students would respond to hand-thrown pies with generous amounts of topping. They did well enough to expand, mostly to other college towns. Their Des Moines store is the company’s 13th. It looks like a throwback to the “Ozzie and Harriet” days of pizza parlors with wooden booths, red and white checked table coverings, pin ball (and video game) machines and a logo that sensitive Italian-Americans might find offensive today.
Hand-cut fries, hand-cut and breaded onion rings and a good “Greek vinaigrette” dressing highlighted the non-pizza part of its fare. Pizzas were offered in three forms: thin crust, Chicago style and stuffed. The latter two were both two inches thick. All came with large ratios of low-moisture mozzarella and homemade marinara. My thin pie crust did not blister or crunch. Toppings (Graziano’s sausage and banana peppers) respected old Des Moines traditions.
Fighting Burrito fills out a “Restaurant T” at 13th and Locust. It’s another college town hot spot expanding to Des Moines. Is that a trend responding to downtown’s growing young professional population? Maybe. The volume level of hard rock on my visit competed with that of the restaurant’s neighbor, loud music pace-setter Jimmy John’s, while effectively muting the soft spoken employee building my burritos. Fighting Burrito resembles Panchero’s more than other local burrito chains. There was no stated commitment to organic, locally sourced or humanely-raised foods like one finds at Chipotle. No soft shell corn tortillas either, although “wheat, garden and tomato“ versions were available. So was a good “soyrizo.” Burrito prices were about half again higher than one finds at Abelardo’s, even before a tack-on charge for guacamole. Salsas were less interesting and varied than Abelardo’s, too.
Mi Patria is the latest new eastside joint offering mostly Mexican, Latino fare. On my visit, a televised, post-game soccer show was as loud as the music at Fighting Burrito. An exceptionally helpful and cheerful waiter compensated. Weekend specials included menudo and pozole but not the kind of big seafood combos typical to this genre. Value was good. An $8 carnitas dinner included eight corn tortillas, a salad of sad tomato, chilled shredded lettuce, generous avocado slices and radishes, plus refried beans, white rice and superb, tender pork from multiple parts of a pig. A sopes dinner however included only beans, rice, shredded cheese and a choice of chicken thigh or shredded beef in puffy shells. It left me dreaming about a similar dish I’ve tried at Tacqueria Sonora that included roasted vegetables and came with hot chips and three brilliant homemade salsas.
Ruffino Moscato d’Asti and Mark West Pinot Noir were chosen the best white and red wines respectively by members of the Iowa Restaurant Association. CV