Tamales Industry trending up6/18/2014
As surely as the first strawberries follow asparagus and morels, every spring the food media declares the latest trends. If several such recent stories are correct, then kale and bacon are still somehow rising in popularity. I’d rather note less obvious trends. This week’s column continues three happy themes we have been reporting lately: female led kitchens, the reinvention of mall food courts, and restaurants finding success in new venues.
Des Moines’ restaurant scene is blessed with an unusually high number of excellent restaurants and catering companies run by lady owner-chefs. Trellis, Pho All Seasons, La Rosa, Tacos Marianna’s, King & I, Crème, International African Restaurant, Vietnam Café, Country Club Market, Patton’s, Rollin Wok, Taste to Go, Catering by Cyd, Tangerine, Ritual Café, Cindy’s Corner, Café Su, Red China Bistro, Fresh Café, Carefree Patisserie, Café Lily, and Chuck’s all fit that bill.
So does Angelica Tejeda’s Tamales Industry which moved this year from its long-time home at Sixth and New York to the food court of Merle Hay Mall. Tejeda moved into a space formerly occupied by Brenda Tran’s marvelous Vietnam Café, which moved next door. That gives this food court an entire corner of top-notch ethnic food. Other recent additions to the court include locally owned restaurants Firehouse Wings, Coylie’s and Grillin’ Guys from Iowa. Together they have turned the food court into a destination dining spot, not just some place to eat while shopping.
I have been a fan of Tamales Industry for years. I like just about everything about the place. They even have one of the best logos in Iowa food business — a colorful take on the great seal of the United States of America featuring an eye-topped pyramid surrounded by a corn stalk and the company name. Family members tell me the move to Merle Hay has been all positive. Business was excellent on my recent visits.
Concessions have been made to the new venue. As in all food courts, it’s a self-service operation now, with plastic utensils, paper plates and no condiments on the tables. Salsa must be dispensed from little plastic ramekins. Also, it seems like the menu is smaller now. I saw no menudo, pork skins, rajas, turkey, or corundas on my visits, all items I have enjoyed at their previous location. Hopefully they will turn up again as specials. The rajas were particularly missed by a vegetarian friend.
What’s left is marvelous. All the meats served — carnitas, spicy braised beef, cow tongue and chicken were tender and juicy.
The various delivery systems for those meats, and for Mexican cheese, consisted of burritos, two-tortilla tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, taquitos and tostadas. The taquitos were crunchy little rolls of delight, unique to my local experience.
But the place is not named for any of those things. Chef Angelica is an Uruapan-style tamale wiz who makes each tamale by grinding hard white corn into a masa that is both coarser and flakier than others in town. Her tamales were steamed upright in cornhusks and served unwrapped. I tried savory ones with both red and green salsa, stuffed with braised beef and pork, plus dessert tamales in pineapple and strawberry flavors. Those are among my favorite desserts, of any kind, with fresh fruit juices absorbed in the masa.
Bottom line: Tamales Industry has found a good new home and Merle Hay Mall’s food court is the most interesting in Iowa.
Side Dishes Vagabond chefs Jessica Dunn and Ian Robertson are expecting their first child… Madhouse Brewing Company has opened its tasting room at 501 Scott Ave. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.
Merle Hay Mall, Food Court, 3800 Merle Hay Rd. 288-1135
Mon. 9 a.m. – 8 p.m., Tues. – Fri. 9 a.m. – 8 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m. – 8 p.m., Sun. 12 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.