Some new summer treats7/10/2013
Summer, not spring, is the season of rebirth in central Iowa, especially in years like this when plantings are delayed by record-setting rainfall. I spent last week gadding about various places looking for seasonal goodies. At Waterfront’s annual Door County Fish Boil, I not only found Wisconsin whitefish served with new potatoes, onions and cherry pie but also that July brings wild halibut and salmon from Alaska plus Patagonian Toothfish from Argentina.
So many thirsty fans of home brews packed 515 Brewing Company last Friday that conversation required yelling. Like so many brewing pubs here, 515 makes really good products — a spicy brown ale, a Belgian ale with subtle bite and a hard cider from Sutliff in eastern Iowa all scored high marks. Each was served in a glass custom-shaped to bring out the particular flavors on the brew, just as with high-end wine service.
Outside 515 was Local Yocals, a notable burger-and-fries tent. Owner Jeremy Jessen is a graduate of the kitchen of The Café, probably the grand daddy of farm-to-table service in central Iowa. He is translating that concept to America’s favorite food combo, with about 90 percent of his food from local sources. Burgers were nearly perfect, with nicely seared patties of grass-fed Iowa beef, garden greens and the first tomatoes of the season that looked ripe enough to want to eat. Fries were like Proustian memories of halcyon days, when all fries were crisped on the outside without losing their golden color, and their interiors were soft. Jessen uses Iowa-rendered pig lard to finish his potatoes, a practice that has all but disappeared in America since the 1970s. Ketchup was homemade from Iowa tomatoes, and fries were offered with a choice of three dips, including fresh garlic mayonnaise.
This was not a fast food stand. My burgers and fries required 40 minutes to prepare and serve, time which was spent in the noise of a bar room that lacked any outdoor furniture. It also required two different credit cards to both open a bar tab and also to order food.
Irina’s also poured certain Russian Baltika family beers into special glasses — wine glasses in this case — to improve the tasting experience. The restaurant has added a superb creamed sweet corn dish to its summer menu. It was finished dramatically in a smoker. I also tried some pelmeni (Russian ravioli) that were stuffed with both beef and pork and served in a lovely broth of butter, chicken stock and beef stock with caramelized onions and a dab of sour cream. Irina’s is the vodka scene-setter in Iowa, and I was told that Petergof is the summer’s hot spirit. It proved to be a smooth St. Petersburg vodka dispensed from gorgeous bottles hand painted on the inside.
Crème Cupcake and Dessert Lounge’s new summer menu, by chef Hal Jasa, included six desserts and some savory plates: pizza, ratatouille, cheese and bread and butter. I stuck to desserts. A key lime pie was made with sea salt, Greek yogurt and lime zest. A marvelous “violet” paired fresh blueberry yogurt with soft chevre and a “butterfly soup” of lemon verbena, pea flour, anise, clove and orange syrup. Panna cotta was presented with “basil caviar” (seeds), toasted macadamia nuts, strawberry semifreddo and pickled white strawberries. Mixologist Blake Brown’s summer cocktail menu included an Upper West Side of fresh mint and simple syrup with vodka, lemon juice and secco bubbles, plus a Blue Moon of gin, vermouth, crème de violette and orange bitters.
Side Dishes The Mid-American Wine Institute will host “An Affair of the Heart” at Des Moines Area Community College in support of Go Red For Women and the American Heart Association pm July 14. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.