Papa Lacona has quirky take on tradition8/14/2013
No family has contributed more to the central Iowa food scene than Teresa Lacona’s. Her sons founded Noah’s Ark and Mama Lacona’s. The next generation added Bambino’s. Lucca, Gusto and Hot Shots are gifts from the fourth generation. Papa Lacona’s, which opened last month, is the latest, and the quirkiest, contribution to the family legacy.
Chuck Lacona is a personable fellow whose younger brother runs Mama Lacona’s and whose sister owns Bambino’s. This is his first effort at operating a restaurant in central Iowa after a successful career in construction. It’s housed in a building built for a Bruegger’s, with a drive-through lane and set on a busy rush hour corridor that appears to be a sensible convenience for commuters wanting to pick up a pizza for dinner or a slice for lunch. Nothing is quite as it seems at this place, though. Lacona said his landlord won’t let him use the drive-through and that he’s also forbidden to erect a sign on the building. On my last visit, curbside delivery was offered to people who call ahead and a construction truck was parked out front with a hand-painted sign in its trailer.
Quirks continued inside. One enters facing a wall built into a bookcase/office. Hosts greeted guests at the door and immediately handed them menus, a la lunch rush at a self serve. The women’s bathroom included a changing table that doubled as a giant table saw, complete with a large generator. Linen tablecloths were complemented by thin paper napkin dispensers with advertising on their sides. A row of booths was separated from a row of banquettes by a huge empty space. A large rack of chips sat in front of an open kitchen which revealed no pizza dough being tossed. The menu boasted “open for breakfast, lunch and dinner” but also stated that 11 a.m. was the earliest it ever opens.
At any hour, breakfast offerings were brief. The main item was called “the holy one” and consisted of sausage, egg and American cheese melted on a glazed doughnut. A sausage, egg and cheese muffin, plus Danish, doughnuts and cinnamon rolls completed that menu. A Sunday buffet menu adds scrambled eggs, fruit, banana bread and lemon bread.
The dinner/lunch menu was a light version of other Lacona family restaurants. From just three appetizers, we chose a tomato salad for two ($8). Our waiter delivered a bowl of 20 cherry tomatoes in a pool of balsamic vinaigrette with dried basil sprinkled on top. He asked if we expected something different and added, “me too,” after we responded affirmatively. He gave us each a fork but nothing else. We were scolded for picking up a couple steak knives from a condiment table and told that butter knives were good enough to cut the tomatoes. Maybe, but not without making an even larger mess of spilled balsamic than we did. (Note, splashing balsamic stains pants through thin paper napkins.)
Entrées were basic. Pizza ($10-$27) crusts lacked the freshness of those at other Lacona family places. Lots of mozzarella and chosen toppings compensated. Pasta ($7.50-$13) were not homemade. The same thick, dark red marinara was used in three different pasta dishes and two different pizza, as was copious mozzarella. On a “pizza spaghetti” dish, which included no bread or crust, the mozzarella rendered my fork pointless, literally. Not even the forbidden steak knives could scrape the coagulated cheese off it. It was served without promised meatballs then returned a moment later with meatballs having ice cold centers. Manicotti and lasagna delivered well balanced dishes of cheese and sauce with Graziano sausage.
Side Dishes The next Culture Kin Breakfast is on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at Beth El Jacob Synagogue featuring cuisine and culture of Israel and Palestine. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.