Independents in the western suburbs5/29/2013
Why do certain kinds of restaurants flock to different zip codes? In Des Moines, such restaurant profiling was so extreme a couple years ago that Orchestrate Management’s Paul Rottenberg suggested everyone could benefit from a moratorium — no new chain restaurants in suburbs and no more independents downtown. Things have evened out a bit since then. Chains like Panera, Jimmy John’s and Subway invaded the 50309, and a few indies tested the west. I visited a pair of them in Clive and West Des Moines last week.
Bearing the Margaritaville design of a Mexican restaurant that preceded it, E.P. True Burger Café (EPTBC) is deceptively named. It’s not a burger specialist. In fact, it advertises 11 different categories of food — from buffet and barbecue to Tex Mex and Cuban. It squeezes all those options onto a simple one-page menu, too. That requires some efficiency. Its barbecue is smoked at the owner’s other restaurant in Adel. Its Cuban menu seemed to be a single item: a Cubano sandwich made with pulled pork shoulder instead of roast loin.
On one visit, an all-you-can-eat pizza with salad bar special was touted as an $8 bargain. Pizza came in both deep dish and thin crusts. Barbecue meats (pulled pork, brisket, chicken) were available as toppings. The salad bar offered a number of homemade items — good standards like potato salad and coleslaw shared honors with some excellent salsas, one made with fresh mango. The salad bar itself was built for long-armed professional basketball players — the kind who can sit in the back seat of a car and open both front doors simultaneously. Normal-sized people have no chance of reaching the middle row of salads, because a giant sneeze guard pushes their bodies so far from the goal.
Because of the café’s name, I tried its “169” loose-meat burger, named for the highway that passes through Adel. Unlike loose meat sandwiches at popular metro spots like Paula’s, Coney Island, Chili King and Maid-Rite, these were served on well-toasted buns. Mine was so crunchy it cut the roof of my mouth. The meat itself was also more thoroughly cooked than in other loose-meat sandwich joints. Deep-fried tacos and enchiladas were better, enhanced with home-made salsa. The star attraction, though, was its breaded pork tenderloin. EPTBC’s version provided a half-pound of pork superbly hand-breaded in a peppery flour. Its white meat was three-quarters of an inch thick — more like Nick’s than Smitty’s.
Like many small towns, the eastside of Des Moines boasts a number of excellent bar-and-grill options. That genre barely exists in the western half of the metro. TR’s Sports Bar and Grille, named for the late Thom Ruan, is a delightful exception. It’s a Cheers-type neighborhood spot where regulars happily explain how things work to obvious newcomers. I was told that all kinds of baseball and college fans attend TR’s but that it’s “pretty much a Packer’s-only joint” during NFL games. Different rules apply to happy hours on different week days, on weekends and during late night. Different food specials are offered every day, too. Breakfast is only served on Saturdays and Sundays. On Mondays and Fridays, $12 buys a thick, nearly one-pound sirloin steak with garlic toast, dinner salads and freakishly large baked potatoes. Grill work was exceptional — nice sears, no chars and everyone at my table felt their steak was cooked exactly as ordered.
Side Dishes Apparently convinced that Jimmy John’s and Subway need competition, Wisconsin sub chain Erbert and Gerbert’s announced they would open five shops in Des Moines by the end of 2014. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.E.P. True Burger Café 5014 E. P. True Parkway, West Des Moines, 440-8486 Mon. – Thu. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Fri. – Sat. 11 a.m. 12 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.