G. Mig’s short order bliss6/4/2014
I recently participated in a “restaurant nomenclature” project for a food association. Among the distinctions discussed was that between a “bar and grill” and similar things such as a pub, gastropub or microbrewery. We argued about history, geography and beers but decided that a bar and grill needs to be a literal description. The term should only be applied to a place where the bar is prominent and a “grill” (usually a flat top stove where foods are fried, not grilled) serves as a kitchen. Places with full, detached kitchens are something else, even if alcohol is a large part of their business.
The history of Iowa is intermingled with that of the bar and grill. Most of the state’s counties peaked in population more than 120 years ago. As populations shifted from rural to urban and suburban areas, small-town restaurants went belly up. Long before convenience stores got into prepared foods, taverns added short order grills and became the last dining options in the disintegrating parts of Iowa. In industrial neighborhoods of cities, bar and grills opened early to serve night shift workers a few drinks with breakfast. That’s how the east side of Des Moines became so rich with bar and grills like Gerri’s, Kelly’s Little Nipper, Highland Park Country Club and East 14th Street Tavern.
No pure bar and grill though managed to simulate the new age dining experiences of gastropubs until after G. Mig’s (which calls itself a pub) took over Emrick-Williams Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 8879 two years ago. The names of VFW members are enshrined on a mural outside the building, and the club still meets here monthly. Otherwise, much has changed including a new oak bar and floors, remodeled bathrooms, upgraded high def TVs and satellite sports packages. The menu represents the biggest transformation. Burgers are still the main attraction, but today’s patties are ground fresh from prime rib and served on a bun developed by La Mie with a blend of grilled mushrooms. There’s even a blackened option with Cajun seasoning and chipotle aioli. Monday night burger specials do not use prime rib grind.
Two bar and grill superstars from New York are featured. Buffalo’s legendary beef on weck delivered thinly sliced sirloin, grilled and served with good au jus on a kummelweck roll (a rye roll with kosher salt and caraway seeds). Manhattan style pastrami brisket was served with caramelized onions and Monterey cheese on a buttered and grilled ciabatta roll with a cup of Dijon sauce. Sides included two kinds of slaw — one creamy and one made with rice vinegar and multiple peppers — plus kettle chips and a good pasta salad.
The appetizer menu included some of the best crab cakes in town, made with blue lump meat and served with chipotle aioli and slaw. Wings were boneless. Shrimp tacos were served with a marvelous shoe peg corn salsa, and breakfasts were American short order bliss — from potatoes and eggs to an Andouille and avocado breakfast burritos. G. Mig’s Friday night specials take bar and grill food to a place rarely seen by the genre. Last month, fresh walleye was served with risotto, fresh Iowa asparagus and fresh Iowa morel mushrooms for $22. Other recent specials have featured: various fish cooked “en paupiette” (steamed in sealed rice paper); crab stuffed sole with snow peas in lobster sauce; blackened grouper; and fresh Maine scallops in champagne sauce.
Bottom line. This is a bar with disposable plates, plastic utensils and occasional drunks. It also produces some of the best bar food anywhere.
Side Dishes June 7 is now Over Indulgence Day in Des Moines. The 38th annual Greek Food Fair will be June 7-8. As previously reported here, Wine Fest Des Moines culminates on June 7, the same day as SwineFest. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.G. Mig’s 128 Fifth St. West Des Moines 255-4550 Mon. 3-11 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.-midnight, Fri. 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.-11 p.m.