Jethro’s still growing1/29/2014
Earlier this month the City of West Des Moines erected a sign just west of Jethro’s Jambalaya and BBQ: “Welcome to West Des Moines.” The city felt a need to clarify that Jethro’s occupied West Des Moines real estate, because that restaurant bills itself as “Waukee’s Sports Bar.” Waukee is actually across the street or a few doors west. West Des Moines had reasons to be irked about the geographic confusion. The town has a track record of chasing barbecues out of town. The Q, Bandana’s and BBQ2Die4 all came and left quickly around the turn of the decade. One barbecue owner told Cityview that West Des Moines diners just don’t like eating with their fingers.
If the metro’s largest suburb wants to dispel any stereotypes about being prissy elitists, then bellying-up to Jethro’s is a good start. Named for an oversized character on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” Jethro’s is a broad-shouldered cultural phenomenon. The store near the West Des Moines/Waukee border uses 900-pound smokers and spends $4,000 to change the cooking oil in its six fryers. It occupies 8,000 square feet, seats 500 and employs 15 different satellite receivers. It served 10,000 meals its first week in business. That would represent five out of every seven people in Waukee.
Jethro’s has garnered considerable national attention since opening its first store in 2008 near Drake Stadium. Its Adam Emmenecker finished runner-up in an ESPN search for the nation’s most interesting sports-related sandwich. When Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food” host Adam Richman failed to finish one, the Emmenecker gained notoriety among competitive eaters. Better Homes and Gardens magazine chose another Jethro’s creation as its favorite barbecue sandwich. Men’s Health magazine named Jethro’s “The Manliest Restaurant in the Midwest.” The Travel Channel returned to film an episode for its “Food Paradises” series. Discovery Channel included Jethro’s in both its “United States of Food” and “United States of Bacon.” Cityview readers named Jethro’s the metro’s best barbecue, best wings, best sports bar, best nachos, best onion rings, best American food, best family restaurant, best wait staff and best restaurant.
To add to the hype, Jethro’s Pork Chop, the company’s fifth area store, opened just before Christmas in Johnston. It maintains the same woody look of a national park lodge as its predecessors. As with the fourth store in Ankeny, the Johnston venue intentionally mismatched construction materials to suggest that the place, which was built from scratch, has expanded awkwardly. Such hillbilly charm also includes metal plates intended to suggest cattle drive campfire service.
The Johnston store, smaller than West Des Moines’ location, maintains the popular barbecue and fried-food menus of previous Jethro’s restaurants, including several extraordinary side dishes. Four regional barbecue sauces are part of generous condiment sets on each table. Each Jethro’s has added a specialty not found elsewhere, i.e. pork chops in the Johnston store. I visited recently to try its “campfire grilled” chops and “shake ‘n’ bake” chops. The former were cooked on a chain-turned grill over lump charcoal. Two chops, perfectly cooked on the bone, were served with sliced baked apples, jalapeno creamed corn and corn muffins for $17. Two large, fried tenderloin chops ($16 with two sides) delivered a crunchy batter that absorbed too much oil.
Bottom line — Jethro’s is still growing, probably because of the size of the servings.
Side Dishes Luna New Year, the world’s busiest restaurant night, will be celebrated Friday, Jan. 31. In the metro, Prairie Meadows will offer a New Year’s crab leg buffet ($25) all weekend with a free musical show from Laos and Thailand on Sunday, Feb. 2. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.Jethro’s Pork Chop 5950 86th St., Johnston, 421-4848 Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 9:30 a.m.-11 p.m. and Sun. 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m.