Lunch on The Patio7/17/2013
Some canons are only temporary. June is no longer the biggest month for weddings in Iowa. Wedding planners, caterers and cake makers all tell me that October and September are much busier now. Similarly, local gawkers learned last week that Hooters franchises are no longer proven gold mines. An Omaha-based company managed to bankrupt four Midwestern Hooters, including one in West Des Moines. Those franchises were resold to Hooters’ national company who, if logic exists in the “breastaurant” genre (a real industry term), will build a store on the east side near the statehouse.
Because of the new wedding drought, I felt a shortage of things both old and new. El Patio dates its local history to 1941 and has been operating out of the same building since 1952. Its patrons include some illustrious locals. Jules Kirchenbaum made a painting of the building. One dish is named after Bill Reichardt. I spotted Alba owner/chef Jason Simon there recently cheerfully enduring a 45-minute wait for a table.
In Des Moines, there are patios and there’s El Patio. This time of year, the latter completely surrounds guests with trellises of floral magnificence, reminiscent of New Mexico from where the restaurant borrows several inspirations. It pioneers blue corn masa, flautas and black bean dishes in town.
What’s new here is lunch service with a menu of slightly lighter entrees and reduced prices. On a recent afternoon, the place was nearly packed even after 1 p.m. Folks are encouraged to linger with margaritas sold by the glass, the carafe or the pitcher. A menu of 15 lunch specials ($7.50-$9) included some unusual combos with several familiar ones. Servings were generous. My combo of a blue corn, braised pork enchilada and a black bean-and-cheese flauta was served with a pile of rice, a salad, guacamole and homemade gazpacho. It’s hard to think of a more pleasant place to lunch on a lovely afternoon.
Wood-fired pizza are at least 2,000 years old. Until recently in Iowa, Cosi Cucina was the only place using that expensive fuel, though. Lately Red Rossa (Clive), Lincoln Café Wine Bar (Mount Vernon), Bomb Fire (Sabula) and Stone Wall (Wellman) joined the ranks to rave reviews. This summer wood-fired ovens became portable. Parlo Pizza’s Joe Turner uses a 3,000-pound model to replicate Italian-style pies at the Beaverdale Farmers Market.
His oven is maintained at about 800 degrees and can cook a pie in a couple minutes. Those can not be loaded with combustible ingredients. Margherita (tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil) and marinara (tomato sauce, garlic, olive oil) styles were offered in my visits with a few additional toppings available, including a homemade spicy sausage from a recipe of the wind-grieved Muto Market.
My pies differed between one lovely day and another that was hot and humid. Crust became doughier and less bubbly in the nastier weather. I’d order either one again, though. Blistered crusts, excellent toppings and restrained, post-minimalist combinations rocked.
Dinners served in farm fields have been around central Iowa for a few years now, but pioneer “Outstanding in the Field” has forsaken our area. To compensate Ryan Binney (Sweet Binney’s), Jed Hoffman (Dish) and Andrew Meek (Gramercy Tap) are combining their skills with their favorite local farmers’ foods on Aug. 11 at Berry Patch Farm in Nevada. A five-course, family-friendly dinner will include tours of the farm for $30. This will fill up quickly.
For reservations, call 270-9128… Corn is probably the oldest non-indigenous food in Iowa, but it has not been celebrated with a festival since the early 1900s. Cornstalk DSM attempts to do that this weekend. Events include a ball ($150), a lunch ($40), a “feed ($10) and a “bags tournament’ ($60 per team). Details are at www.cornstalk.dsm.com. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.
611 37th St., 274-2303
Lunch Tues. – Fri. 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., dinner Tues. -Sat from 5 p.m.