Great food, bargain prices4/13/2016
Spring came in like a lion this year in the local food scene. After two-and-a-half very quiet months, several fantastic new things announced they are here. Perhaps the one that will touch the most people is the first local Fresh Thyme Farmers Market in central Iowa.
Its store in West Des Moines is Whole Foods without as much prepared food and with lower prices. One does not usually expect that from a chain that was formed from corporate mergers and takeovers.
Similarly, the latest creative effort from Bruce Gerleman and Dom Iannarelli (Splash, Jethro’s) is considerably more populist than expected. Jethroni’s Pepperoni has the kitchen trappings of a far more expensive restaurant. Other than two dishes with hand-cut filet medallions, all entrees cost less than $17, with most in the $12-14 range. In that price range, one does not expect a kitchen that prepares nearly everything from scratch. The restaurant doesn’t even have a walk-in freezer because the only thing used that is frozen are french fries, which are rarely ordered in an Italian café.
The kitchen stays busy cutting mushrooms, vegetables, calamari, onion rings, etc. and kneading fresh dough into pizza pies and fresh bread. The house table breads are small loaves and sticks of garlic bread. The recipes here are not typical of what you find in Calabrese cafés of Des Moines. The marinara tastes more of umami and is a different shade of red. The colossal meatball ($10) is a unique creation of chef Nate Applebaum of A16 in San Francisco and Tokyo. In those cities, they are only served on Mondays despite huge demand. Jethroni serves them daily. They are a wonder of texture. How does anything that large not crumble apart when cut? Also starring on the appetizer menu is a sausage and pepper dish ($11) made with Graziano’s garlic and hot sausages paired with roasted banana, hot, red and green peppers plus marinara.
Generally, I avoid entrees that employ chicken breast ($12-15). It’s almost always overcooked and dry. Iannarelli has a tool that resembles an instrument of torture in the Spanish Inquisition. It perforates the breast so that it can be cooked in just three minutes, keeping it moist and juicy. His chicken speroni was a pepperoni added take of Latin King’s spiedini with a rich garlic sauce. His chicken Parmesan used a lighter breading than is common. His chicken Marsala used pan roasted breast with criminis (no button mushrooms are ever used here), roasted onions and wine-prominent sauce. Artichoke and olive chicken used a lemon sauce that was perfect with artichokes. Chicken balsamico is unlike anything I have ever tried. Fried breasts were covered with a sauce of balsamic sundried tomatoes.
I also tried steak Sinatra ($23-30), which cooked filet medallions in veal demiglace, smothered in garlic tomato sauce and covered with Gorgonzola. Eggplant meatballs ($12) were made with chick peas and ricotta. The house specializes in Sunday sauce. That is pork and beef cooked 12 hours in a reduction of both beef and pork stocks. I tried some in risotto ($13) with mushrooms and a meatball. Diablo spaghetti ($13) was made with grilled chicken, giardiniera and cream sauce. Six-cheese manicotti ($12) was a take on Margherita pizza with tri-colored sauce on handmade pasta stuffed with six cheeses.
Margherita pizza ($14-18) employed fresh mozzarella and basil with more balsamic drizzle than usual. Supreme pizza ($15-21) included three meats, two peppers, mushrooms, olives and onions. Chocolate and hazelnut cheesecake ($6) was made with cookie crust and both white and dark chocolates.
Side Dishes: Phat Daddy’s BBQ opened in the former Salween on Douglas… Good Eatin’ is opening in the former Eastman’s Jamaican on East 14th. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.
3221 Adventureland Drive, Altoona, 244-1014
Daily 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.