Big plates at BW’s Burgers6/3/2015
E.P. True Parkway projects a strange magnetic attraction for small town cafés wanting to test the market of suburban Des Moines. First came EP True Burger Café, an expansion of Route 169 Burger Café. Next was Patty Pat’s, which tried bringing the taverns (loose meat sandwiches) of LeMars to West Des Moines. Neither of those places lasted long. The latest Parkway player is BW’s Burgers, which is owned by the same folks who own the successful Rusty Duck in Dexter. BW’s is smaller (50 seats) with a pared-down menu minus the prime rib or some steaks one finds at The Rusty Duck.
This place has a hook that the previous two cafés lacked. It was judged the “best burger in Iowa” by the state’s cattlemen association. Like the pork producers’ “best tenderloin,” it’s an annual distinction that no previous winner has ever won again. It’s sort of the restaurant equivalence of having multiple valedictorians. Still, The Rusty Duck’s burgers are word of mouth memes that have encouraged a lot of road trips, so I tried out the new place soon after its opening this spring.
I was not the only one. The place was packed on my first visit, which took nearly an hour and a half. These are not fast food burgers. A full bar and a few chairs outside helped with the delay. On my second visit, I went late at lunch — too late it seems. I had read that the café would be open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. That had changed, but a friendly chef said he had not shut down his grill and would be happy to cook for me. That’s the kind of special service that endears some small-town cafés to me. A sign had been added to the entrance asking customers to be patient while the café went through growing pains. That kind of warning might have scared me off.
The menu fits easily on a single page. That’s always a good sign: The more things a place attempts to make, the fewer they do really well. It’s why In & Out Burger and Chipotle have been eating up market share from McDonald’s. Appetizers ranged from extraordinarily good (onion rings) to above average (shrimp cocktails) to run of the mill (calamari, cheese curds). The rest of the menu had five sections — steak sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, pork sandwiches, burgers and salads. Only one out of eight salads ($4-$18) was strictly vegetarian. The others included steak, chicken and sea foods. Rather sweet dressings (ranch, thousand island, French, blue cheese and Italian) were homemade and bottled for take-out.
The breaded pork tenderloin was large, both in diameter and thickness. Usually one settles for one or the other. Large is a theme here. Our small order of onion rings ($7) was bigger than many large orders elsewhere. A steak sandwich ($15) delivered 14 ounces of top sirloin, with probably another 14 ounces of thick-cut, skin-on fries, which come in four types — cheesy, regular, honey and seasoned. They are quite good, crispy and hot on the outside, tender and smooth inside. Unfortunately, all side dishes offered were fried foods that make lousy leftovers.
The place isn’t named for salads, chicken, breaded pork tenderloins or steak sandwiches. Burgers were humongous — half a pound at lunch ($8) and 14 ounces at dinner ($11). Buns were well toasted and dressed as requested. The sear — or lack of hard sear — suggested that the burger was a lean mix. Condiments, pickles, etc. were ordinary.
Bottom line — If you visit during busy times, come with patience and a large appetite.
Side Dishes: The Big City Burger & Greens gang is working on a new European-style bar in Capitol Square. The place will feature coffee drinks as well as top shelf booze and specialty cocktails. It will serve gelato and pastries and will be called Sidebar. CV
3701 E.P. True Parkway, 262-8571
Daily: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 5–10 p.m.
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.