This Gateway Market Café is far from a horror story4/15/2015
Knowing that George Formaro’s love of horror stories inspired Zombie Burger + Drink Lab, I assumed that Gateway Market and Café were named after a bloody piece of American cultural history. The LaBianca family, murdered by Charles Manson’s followers, owned a similarly named chain of stores. After all, the store sits kiddy corner from Des Moines’ most venerable cemetery. Formaro, the creative force behind both restaurants plus four others, said he was unaware of the connection “at least on any conscious level.”
Consciously and subconsciously, Gateway fits its neighborhood well. While a second store failed in the West Glen area, inner city Des Moines has continued to embrace this unique institution. The symbiosis between grocery store and café produces considerable charms not found elsewhere. Buy a bottle of wine in the store and drink it without corkage fees in the café. At the more populist Hy-Vee Market Grill in Urbandale, I was charged $10 to do that. Buy a glass of wine in the restaurant, or an individual bottle of beer in the grocery, and drink it while you shop. Charcuterie from the cheese shop is fine in the café.
Certain aspects (pork, chicken) of the supermarket rank with Whole Foods in quality but at lesser prices. Other aspects (bakery) are totally superior. Some others (fish) not so much. Gateway’s brightest attraction though is its café. Many of its best parts are invisible. Its chickens, turkeys and pork roasts are cooked on rotisseries. The poultry is brined first. Ramen is made with bone stock or sesame soy miso in the vegetarian edition. Noodles are scratch made, too. The burgers are constructed with half-pound patties of George’s grind, an 80-20 mix that includes some brisket. That’s the same burger I use at home. Sesame seed buns are buttered and toasted, and the patties are consistently seared. I just wish one could buy a burger smaller than half a pound of meat. Hummus (red pepper), guacamole and artichoke dip are so popular that an entire market cooler is stocked with them. One version of mac and cheese is made with spinach pesto and Parmesan sauce. Fried chicken and fried fish are made with completely different but appropriate batters.
Soups also excel. The New England style clam chowder is as rich as any in town. Cups can be had for $3 and quarts for $8. Vegan friends feel just as strongly about the Tuscan white bean soup. Dinners ($7 – $11) include a choice of two side dishes. Those includes some things rarely seen in diner style cafés — roasted beets, jalapeno creamed corn, Caprese tomatoes, quinoa salad, tabouli and potatoes O’Brien. French fries are hand cut.
Breakfast at Gateway operates at various speeds, pumping power breakfasts out on weekdays but seeming more casual on weekends, when breakfast is served until 2 p.m. instead of 10:30 a.m. Waiting for a table is not so annoying when one can get his shopping done or sip a bottle of beer or wine in the interim. Biscuits are exceptional. French toast is made with challah, roasted pecans, fresh strawberries and real maple syrup.
Bottom line — Gateway offers an affordable excellence, which appeals to its neighborhood. It’s a new-style diner that’s hipper and trendier than its predecessors in the genre.
This year’s version of Des Moines Art Center’s Iowa Artists series will feature a performance of Austin Stewart’s “Second Livestock” at 6:30 p.m. on April 30. According to the DMAC, “this project engages the ethical debates of animal husbandry and humanity’s immersion into virtual worlds which offer the guise of a solution — in this case one that maintains the profitability of conventional chicken farming while allowing the chickens to be “free range.” CV
GATEWAY MARKET CAFÉ
2002 Woodland Ave., 422-2109
Daily 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.