Saturday, August 20, 2022

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Food Dude

Food trucks hit the spot


Food trucks inspire as much passionate debate as politics. Supporters say they provide an entry-level opportunity to the American entrepreneurial dream. Opponents claim they poach customers from other businesses by avoiding rent, taxes and other overhead costs. I frequently read that Des Moines lags behind other Midwest towns in food truck encouragement. I also talk to restaurant owners who say food trucks are killing their businesses. Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a stunning food town with more than 300 restaurants serving 110,000 people. They have a virtual food truck park where startups pay rent and still attract plenty of visitors while competing with each other rather than with brick-and-mortar cafés. That’s a pretty solid solution to a conflict that is not going away, because food trucks provide two essential services — lower prices and convenience. Imagine turning the empty state capitol parking lots into a late-night food truck park. Worse ideas are discussed in the capitol.

Food truck culture is evolving in Des Moines. One interesting new trend involves partnerships between upscale trucks and breweries or taverns. I have found such treats as lard-cooked french fries and grass-fed burgers outside 515 and divine wood-fired pizza pies in the parking lot of El Bait Shop. The best tortas ahogadas in town are served by trucks parked at E. Ninth and University and across the street from Kelly’s Little Nipper on E. Grand.

Smoked catfish cakes a la Magnolia Kitchen.

Smoked catfish cakes a la Magnolia Kitchen.

Food trucks are going upscale. Two such trucks have been hanging out at Confluence, a microbrewery on the Raccoon River bike path, among other places. The Spot keeps its menu simple but executes exquisitely. Burgers are as good as burgers can be — beautifully seared to a crust yet juicy on fresh, grilled Amodeo’s buns, with good pickles, etc. They cost $5.50 — about 60 percent as much as the standard Court Avenue burger.

The Spot also makes breaded pork tenderloins that rival any in this tenderloin-crazed state, though those are a special rather than regular menu item. Their chicken sandwich — sage-rubbed breast, crisped prosciutto, tomato, lettuce, red onion, vinegar, Parmesano, and mayo — wins converts. So do their versions of Philly cheese steak sandwiches, which employ chicken or vegetarian ingredients in lieu of beef. Chicken pita and Kalua pork sliders, with plum sauce on Hawaiian sweet buns, complete their regular menu. A sweet penne and macaroni salad, grilled asparagus and zucchini-mushroom skewers are regular sides. Besides the tenderloin, rotating specials include top-notch versions of the meatball sandwich with fried peppers, reubens and a quarter-pound hot dog topped with pico de gallo, avocado, kraut and shaved cheese. A rotating special I have not yet found is a “pastor” takeoff that matches pork patties with grilled pineapple and citrus aioli.

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Magnolia Kitchen and Grocery is a spin-off from Flying Mango, a three-time winner and three-time runner-up as Cityview’s Best Kept Secret in the Restaurant Scene. It’s also, as far as I know, the last remaining all-wood burning barbecue in town. That alone makes its food truck special. It features catfish cakes that are smoked and fried, served with mango slaw on a bed of fresh greens with a remoulade vinaigrette. That’s Des Moines’ best kept food secret. Brisket sliders use chopped meat that has been smoked 24 hours with slaw on a Pretzel bun. Molasses and root beer-braised pork was served on cheese grits with apple salsa. A memorable vegetarian wrap featured asparagus and chick pea cakes with quinoa and yogurt.

Food trucks are mobile. The Spot is consistently at the same places week in, week out. Magnolia is maddeningly difficult to find, even at times and places proclaimed on its Facebook updates. But it’s worth it to keep looking.

Side Dishes: Sheikh Naseem, former Tandoor owner, opened Taj Mahal on 100th St… Austin and Peter DeCoster’s Quality Egg agreed to pay $6.8 million in fines for selling bad eggs. CV

Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.

The Spot
Magnolia Kitchen & Grocery

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