The more things change…9/18/2013
A hundred years ago, our civic leaders were debating a ban on food cart vendors in Des Moines. Arguments sounded much like those against food trucks today: They were eyesores and had an unfair advantage over property tax-paying businesses with which they competed. A century later, I sympathize with restaurant owners who tell me how much their businesses have suffered after food trucks began parking nearby, but I’ve also seen food carts and trucks act as entry level positions to entrepreneurship. Woody Wasson sold his barbecue out of a truck before opening Woody’s Smoke Shack. Tony Lemmo started in a temporary stall at Metro Market before he launched Café di Scala, Hot Shots and Gusto. Years before opening La Rosa, Rosa Martinez sold her tamales in the parking lot of the original La Tapatia and her fried chicken in industrial parking lots. I could go on and on.
The latest jumper from temporary to permanent food business is Sam Auen. Over the last three years, he developed his Tacopocalypse from a farmers market stall into a Tuesday night tavern service, a regular bar service and finally a stand-alone restaurant in the Northland Building. That location has seen a number of good restaurants come and go during the last five years. Long lines at this self-service joint suggest the right fit might finally have been found.
The opening menu was considerably upscale from what a temporary vendor could offer. I had some excellent shrimp ceviche, bacon parfait and deep-fried jalapenos with cream. Tacos, quesadillas and burritos were offered with eclectic choices of protein: bulgolgi, Korean chicken, lemongrass pork, wasabi brisket, bacon chorizo, braised shoulder, vegan chorizo and poblano potato. The same proteins were available on sandwiches, banh mis rather than tortas. Brisket, bulgolgi and lemongrass pork tended to be dry when I tried them but the poblano potato and vegan chorizo were both superb. Also starring were soups — a spicy tomato and a not so spicy red pozole full of hominy, pork, cilantro and the flavors of mildly roasted chilies. Three excellent salsas were offered on a condiment table. A variety of fresh slaws topped all tacos.
Another kind of transformation has been shaping Des Moines’ food scene, too. Remember Don Hensley’s Danielle? Cityview readers voted it the best new restaurant in 2000, a year which also brought us Sage. We visited Hensley last week at his latest venture, New Horizon, where he is culinary director of marketing. Like La Quercia, this company is mass producing some of the best European classic foods made in America. Giant forklifts raised veal bones into 2,500-gallon tanks in which they are cooked for at least 12 hours before being strained and reduced into glace de veau or cooked into demi glace. Like all superior glaces de veau, there is no salt or flour in this product. Even New Horizon’s concentrated demiglaces were much less salty than considerably more expensive versions I have found at places like Williams and Sonoma. The company also makes glace and demiglace of beef, pork, chicken and viand (a mix of beef and veal). All are gluten-free and certified natural. I also played with the concentrated vegetable, carrot and red pepper extracts. All were reduced to less than 0.6 percent water activity, which gives them three months of shelf life and one month after being opened. I used them in gazpacho, hot soups and sauces with sensational results. Several of the best restaurants in town are buying New Horizon products now. Whole Foods is in line for them, too.
Side Dishes Trostel’s Dish will host a Cline wine dinner on Sept. 23, $60… The Dine Iowa Grand Tasting Gala will be held at Prairie Meadows Event Center on Sept. 22 from 6 to 8 p.m., $50, which includes food, wine, beer and spirits tastings, dessert and live music. Reservations, 276-1454… Old Chicago Taproom’s Oktoberfest runs through Sept. 29, with an expanded selection of German beers. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.