Eatery-A, the new star on Ingersoll4/23/2014
When I began writing about the Des Moines’ food scene in the 1980s, Ingersoll was dominated, west of Noah’s, by fast-food franchises and dive bars. A comeback began with the opening of Corner Café and accelerated with Zanzibar’s, Art House, Stam’s, Bistro Montage, Star Bar and Gusto. This week’s debut of Eatery/A comes at a time when the old avenue is officially hot real estate again. It’s a fortunate coincidence.
For months Alba owner Jason Simon has been converting a former Blockbuster store, and the Obama 2012 headquarters, into a casual 220-seat café featuring wood-fired pizza and handmade pasta. At one time, he predicted a 2013 opening. Things never run as smoothly as hoped when opening a restaurant. Simon is a small-town Iowa guy who graduated from the Aplington Parkersburg High School football factory to become an offensive lineman at for the Hawkeyes during the Tim Dwight years. Working without an architect, Simon designed his new place to look Iowan. The walls and ceilings are covered with wood salvaged from Iowa barns — the types of which are vast and similarly finished to look seamless. Marvelous peg tables were designed and built by West Des Moines’ Sticks. String chandeliers appear antique or modern depending on your point of view.
Other design elements are very urban. A beautifully finished bar, an open kitchen and pizza oven lend intimacy to such a large restaurant. The dining area is distinctly divided into a large dining room, a bar area, one of the best looking patios in town, a private party room and a nook with one large booth and one table. The only Blockbuster feature that remains is a wall of ceiling-high windows. More such windows were added.
Eatery-A’s menu represents the greater Mediterranean. Sambusak (stuffed, fried pastries) were served with cucumber raita. Dates were stuffed with sausage. Hummus came with pickled vegetables; kibbeh (meat croquettes made with bulgur) with a caper vinaigrette and raw marinated beef. Moroccan carrots were treated with honey and harissa. The only soup on the opening menu was one of almonds and roast garlic. Cucumbers were served with pomegranate, feta and fresh mint; squash with tahini yogurt and Brussels sprouts, plus preserved lemon and feta.
Lamb dominated the list of five “farm” entrees: Lamb sliders were served with crispy shallots, harissa aioli and fattoush (a pita salad); merguez sausage with white bean ragu and polenta; and roast lamb with date and pistachio farotta (a take on risotto that used farro in place of rice). “Ocean” entrees included: octopus with beet salsa and a fennel puree; scallops with cous cous and eggplant puree; and shrimp with tabbouleh, yogurt and chermoula (a sauce of herbs, oil and lemon).
Divine thin-crusted pizza and handmade pasta star here. Fourteen pies included the following ingredients respectively: mortadella, pistachio pesto and fresh watercress; prosciutto, guanciale (jowls bacon) and lardo; lamb gyros fixings; and anchovies, Brussels sprouts and gremolata (a chopped herbs-and-garlic mixture usually served with osso buco). Five pasta included a pappardelle with one of the best-tasting Bolognese sauces anywhere, plus some grana padano cheese and guanciale. Lasagna was sauced with the same Bolognese and served with gruyere and kale. Gnudi were dressed in carrot buerre blanc, asparagus and ricotta.
Desserts included: homemade gelatos, of which the orange excelled; polenta cake; roasted date cake; and zeppole (Italian doughnuts). Nothing on the menu cost more than $15. Twelve-inch pizza were all $13. Pasta dishes went for $5-$14. A daily happy hour (3-6 p.m.) will offer half-priced pizza, wines (bottles or glasses) and draft beers, plus a special cocktail list.
Side Dishes Wallace Center’s food centric summer camp for high school students will be held July 6-11 at Country Life Center in Orient, contact www.wallace.org. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.