Time warp treats6/17/2015
Gino’s closing last week left the city with one less place to enjoy the old art of pan-fried chicken. Before the mid-1960s, this dish was a luxury dinner in Des Moines. A review of old yellow page advertisements and antique menus reveals that it was often the most expensive dish a café served. Then along came a faux colonel from Kentucky with methods that cut the cooking time by two-thirds. Broasting, pressure-cooking, deep fat frying and shake and bake replaced pan-frying. Zealous feedlot operator Bo Pilgrim quickened the pace of chicken processing, and suddenly birds became cheap, fast food. Today, the only places left, as far as I know, that still serve pan-fried chickens are Christopher’s, The Radish and the Park Avenue Pub.
Yes, the humble Park Avenue Pub features pan-fried chickens as a weekly special, usually on Wednesdays. The pub rests in a time warp two blocks west of Southwest Ninth. Most of the large parking lot is still dirt and gravel, an honest and old-fashioned method of “going green.” Inside, the walls hold mementos of football glory from Little America leagues and Lincoln High School, from the days before facemasks were attached to helmets. One newspaper headline exclaims that Lincoln had five players on its roster who weighed 200 pounds. There is no craft beer on tap, just Bud, Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors Light. The place seems to be so much a part of another era that I was halfway through lunch one day when a dining companion suddenly realized, “Oh my God. This is where I came after my wedding. I was on that pool table in my bridal gown.” Des Moines Register columnist Lee Rood says this pub makes her want to play cards all day on a beer barrel table.
The chicken dinners are word-of-mouth legends. They have sold out as early as noon. It took me three attempts to finally taste this special, and it was worth the wait. Pan-fried in electric skillets and finished in an oven, my dark meat literally fell off the bone without losing any juiciness. My $7 special also included mashed potatoes, chicken gravy, toast and tender green beans. On my earlier failed missions to the pub, I enjoyed Italian sausage sandwiches, with roasted Italian and Mexican peppers and Mozzarella ($6); a superbly seared burger on a buttered, toasted bun; a fried shrimp dinner ($7); and a breaded pork tenderloin ($6) that was thicker than most south side versions. Unexceptional fries or onion rings could be added to any sandwich or dinner for $1.
Side Dishes: Also in a time warp, this year’s Greek Food Festival expanded to three days and four orthodox cuisines without losing any charm. Still in its original home at St. George Orthodox Church, it now fills its parking lot and a block of Cottage Grove with stages and food tents, resisting the temptation to move downtown like so many other ethnic food events.
Not too many years ago, the Greek festival provided one dinner for all. This year there were 10 stations with more than 40 options. I saw loukinikos for the first time in Des Moines — Greek sausages made with orange zest and fennel and seared on an open grill. Three rotisseries revealed the metamorphoses of gyros, so ugly raw and so beautiful cut off the spit. Ten different pastries included some I had never heard of before. Serbian sarmas featured cabbage leaves wrapped around meat and rice cooked with ribs. Ethiopian samplers included kai yemiser wot, a marvelous lentil curry, a meat dish and injera,a spongy teff flour bread that can become addictive. Eritrean dishes included alicha tikel gomen — a carrot, cabbage and potato stew — plus tibse, a beef and tomato curry. CV
PARK AVENUE PUB
1101 Park Ave., 243-8328
Weekdays: 7 a.m. – 2 a.m.; weekends
noon – 2 a.m.
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.