In the food world, perceptions are formed by rumors as often as by experience. I still hear that French places are haughty and expensive years after Bistro Montage, Django, Baru 66 and Le Jardin should have laid such notions down to die. Similarly, people cling to the idea that all eggs are created equal, even in the face of 5 million factory-laying hens succumbing to bird flu.
In this vein, Whole Foods is often called “whole paycheck.” My experiences with West Des Moines’ version of the store show that good bargains can be found there. Organic fair trade coffee there has cost me less than inferior coffee beans at stores like Price Chopper. Sales and coupons also provide some great deals. Last week, the store hosted its first Midwest Craft Beer Tour. That event turned out to be one of the best deals I have found in years. In fact, that $5 dinner compared with beer dinners in local restaurants that cost 10 times more.
It began with a Hopvale from Summit of the Twin Cities. That was matched with an apricot goat cheese spread, crackers and a red Dutch Gouda. Then a Cornucopia, made by Knoxville’s Peace Tree with mash from last summer’s sweet corn, was featured along with a buffet of fried chicken that had been battered with the same beer. Bent River Jalapeno Ale, from Moline, was served with macaroni and cheese made with Saint Andre Triple Crème Brie, a French cheese that pairs marvelously with any beer. That same cheese was then served with Cane & Ebel, a red rye ale made with Thai palm sugar in Warrenville, Illinois.
St. Louis’ Schlafly then supplied an ESB (some say this stands for English Style Bitters, others say “extra special bitters”) with white cheddar. Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout, made with brewers’ licorice, was next paired with ice cream from Picket Fences of Woodward. Dessert time continued with Boulevard of Kansas City’s Saison Bret Smokestack Series, a delicious sour beer, paired with Feta and red grapes. Minneapolis’ Surly finished the dinner with a Coffee Bender, served with raspberry Satori cheese and scones. Did I mention all that cost just $5?
Des Moines’ newest S.E. Asian café also kicks some common perceptions around. Instead of the usual encyclopedia-sized menu, the entire fare was listed on one side of one piece of paper. The more things a restaurant tries to do, the fewer things it usually does well. Also, service was extraordinarily friendly and enthusiastic. Pho Shop did a nice remodeling job on a place that has been several other Asian cafés. Most notably, the dining room stairs that have tripped me in the past are gone. The place is a delightful hodgepodge of redness — bright red paint, curtains, picture frames (around Chinese watercolors as well as Georgia O’Keefe), a red home jersey of Joe Montana and artificial red roses on the tables. A full bar with three high-definition TVs suggest a sports bar theme that plays no favorites. Besides the 49ers, the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Vikings are honored on the walls. Wide-open spaces and loud commercial radio suggest dancing is possible.
The short menu covers a lot of culinary geography with five appetizers, three Lao dishes, 11 Chinese American favorites, seven Thai plates and six forms of pho. The pho was a light beef stock with my request for “rare beef served on the side” perfectly executed. Spring rolls, laap and green papaya salad (mild to super hot options) suggest that Pho Shop will rank with some of the better pan Asian cafés in town.
Side Dishes: Students in Wendy’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio, threatened a boycott of the chain on behalf of Coalition of Immokalee Workers… Dairy Queen announced it will drop soft drinks from Kid’s Menus. A protest march of angry preschoolers was threatened.CV
1512 Second Ave., 330-1686
Tues. – Thurs. & Sat. 11 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.,
Fri. 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Sun, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.