Dungeons and dragons7/30/2014
Is the Downtown Farmers Market even a market anymore? Are farmers still its main feature? Are its administrators a clan of overpaid bullies? These questions are being asked since Lee Rood of the Des Moines Register broke a story about how certain vendors had been singled out for punishments. Among the highlights of the scandal: Glenn Lyons, who runs the nonprofit Downtown Community Alliance, which runs the market, is paid $165,030 annually plus $19,674 in additional compensation; the farmers market generated $342,468 for the Alliance in 2012; for “safety concerns,” two vendors were given two-month bans (since reduced after public outcry) — one for selling products to queued up customers after a temporary weather closing was texted by Alliance officials, the other (who suffers from stage 4 cancer) for complaining about the closing. Other vendors admitted selling during the closing but were not punished. One vendor said he was kicked out of the market because he sold asparagus for $1 a pound less than the fixed prices he knew nothing about. Fixed prices? Markets by definition are places where prices are established by supply and demand. Not by bureaucrats who enjoy wielding power. Has the Soviet Commissariat been reborn in Des Moines?
Des Moines’ restaurant scene is one giant market with many smaller markets competing within it. Last week I asked some friends who work on East Euclid if they eat lunch at Dragon House, a Chinese café I have visited several times. Not very often, they said, because Hy-Vee is next door and much faster. Hy-Vee is Des Moines’ most popular Chinese restaurant. Cityview readers elect it the city’s best nearly every year. They keep steam tables of similar dishes most of the day and offer low prices and rotate some 27 dishes. It’s got to be tough competition for a little mom and pop café next door.
Dragon House compensates with ambiance. The two-room café is an immaculate collection of booths and tables. Linen napkins and heavy flatware are featured. Dishes are made when ordered. Prices are right in line with Hy-Vee’s, too. Every day there are two or three lunch specials for $5. They include crab Rangoon, egg roll, soup, an entrée and fried rice. Regular lunch prices are in the $6-$9 range, with dinner prices a couple dollars more. Family dinners (around $12 per person) include five flaming appetizers, served with a personal hibachi. Catering orders offer six dishes for less than $8 per person.
Dragon House’s menu looks quite a bit like several others around the metro. Crispy scallops, shrimp toast, pot stickers and satay beef are among the appetizer stars. Chow meins, sweet & sours, kung baos, egg foo yungs, lo meins and fried rices are popular dishes. Crispy duck, lemon chicken, three flavor scallops, Cantonese and Szechaun style lobster are chef’s specials.
Most dishes I have tried are quite sweet. Dragon House has far fewer bean curd and vegetable options than Chinese cafés in the western metro. Food was consistently served hot from the kitchen. To go orders were ready for pick-up at the right time.
Bottom line — Dragon House offers freshly prepared Chinese American dishes at excellent prices.
Side Dishes: Relish’s summer edition is out featuring America’s favorite food — the burger. In industrial burger news, Hardee’s has launched an “All Star campaign for its new sandwich.” Their idea of new sounds a lot like an old favorite at Jethro’s. It’s called the Texas BBQ Thickburger and features beef brisket and a quarter- to half-pound burger patty with cheese, crispy fried jalapenos, onion rings and mesquite sauce… Elsewhere, IHOP is promoting its “New World scrambles,” which include a dish from Tuscany in what used to be the Old World. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.Dragon House 2470 Euclid Ave., 262-0722 ($2 delivery for more than $20, $3 charge for less than $20.) Sun. – Thurs. 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., Fri. – Sat. 10 a.m. – 11 p.m.