Gastro sodbusters get serious5/2/2018
Will wagyu finally sell in central Iowa?
On the western frontier of the metro, where the last strip malls push back the Nebraska sky, culinary pioneers Sean and Andrea Gleason are testing new ideas. Can a cosmopolitan food truck build a homestead in Waukee? Will wagyu finally sell in central Iowa? Can you fill nearly 80 seats with a menu that includes only three entrees?
Early indicators are encouraging. I encountered large crowds on all my visits. Wagyu, the cattle that produces the legendary Kobe beef, is getting a solid push with its own box on the menu and quite reasonable prices ($40 ribeye dinner, $39 filet, $35 sirloin and $18 half-pound burgers). This beef is raised at Lost Hills Farm in Lucas, Iowa, free of confinement. Wagyu has never caught on in Iowa dining, but not that many years ago, neither had brew pubs.
Crowds have been unmistakably happy on my visits. Gastro Grub & Pub is fully committed to the local cocktail movement. They put their own stylish touch on these with large square ice cubes, the kind that one used to see only in Las Vegas and New York. Happy Hour (2-5 p.m.) brings more glee with nine specialty cocktails for $6 each, $5 well drinks, wines and draught beers, and six small plates for $3.50-$5.50 which is about half price.
Brunch is another happy time here. The star of menu is a series of Benedict dishes. My crab cake Benedict was a divine combination of rich Hollandaise, peppadews, arugula, remoulade, poached eggs, potatoes and muffin. Salmon cake, Cubano, Italian, and a house version are also included. A young friend claims the red velvet waffle with cream cheese icing is the brunch bomb. Chicken and biscuits are served with sausage gravy. Most of the rest of the brunch menu is served at dinner and lunch.
Gastro Grub is no typical suburban restaurant. They work at stamping original aegis on dishes. Yes, they serve good $13 cheeseburgers, who doesn’t? But they put roasted tomato on them, with garlic aioli and arugula. They come with a side, including superb frites with pesto, or for a $1 add on, truffle oil. They serve bone marrow, but it’s a dish for people who don’t really like marrow. Mine was sliced lengthwise and treated with so much bacon jam I could barely taste the marrow. Pork belly tostones came with a dazzling slaw of apples and jicama. Brussels sprouts were fried and served in vinaigrette with Pecorino and lots of lardons.
Those three entrees we mentioned above were solid. With Django suspended in a transition to new space, Gastro’s steak frites is as good as that dish gets around here. Skirt steak was tender, and the peppercorn cream sauce lush. Half a wood grilled chicken delivered tender white meat, a rare thing. It was served with truffle jus, an even rarer thing. At $20, a pork chop dish was the most expensive item on the menu, not counting the wagyu. This is a great spot to try wagyu for the first time. Most places in California that have Kobe beef charge up to $50 an ounce.
The “coffee and donuts” dessert was special with hot cinnamon donut holes paired with espresso pot de crème and a hazelnut praline. Vegan items were plentiful on each menu. Service was not up to the level of the kitchen. On one occasion, entrees were served before appetizers had barely been touched and cocktails were still on the table. Our table wasn’t big enough for all the dishes. On another, I was served a chicken breast sandwich thinking I ordered a half chicken. My experience suggests service is way better if you eat at the bar.
GASTRO GRUB & PUB
1378 E. Hickman Road, Waukee, 300-2460
Tuesday – Wednesday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.;
Thursday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.;
Friday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.;
Sunday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Harbinger began a Happy Hour with big discounts on little plates, wine, beer and cocktails. 4-6 p.m. daily… Vegan fast food pioneer Dirt Burger is set to open this summer on Fourth Street downtown… Chicago Dog has a new store in Dogtown on University. ♦