Trostel’s Greenbriar – culinary gunslinger7/3/2019
This place is on my list of top five restaurants in Iowa.
July is America’s month of reckoning with all that is true and constant in our makeup. We celebrate traditions with a bombast of fireworks and pride, returning home to pay respect to roots, friendships and blood. The other 11 months are filled with the slings and arrows of ephemerality. Top 10 lists are updated daily, and fascination is focused on the next new thing. July is the last stronghold in time for the unfashionable graces of life — the things that remain true and constant in our tribal condition. July is for Trostel’s Greenbriar.
When Colorado cowboy Paul Trostel rode into Des Moines in the early 1970s, the city thought appetizers meant a choice of shrimp cocktail, tomato juice or fruit cocktail, that wine choices were simply “red, white or rose,” and that French dressings were all orange and sweet. He changed our restaurant culture by sheer force of personality and imagination at Colorado Feed & Grain and Rosie’s Cantina on Ingersoll and then shocked Des Moines by pulling up stakes and moving cowboy style to the northwest frontier of the metro, the outside edge of Johnston, where he built The Greenbriar, an outlaw appropriation of the name of what is perhaps America’s most famous and patriotically associated 18th century resort — The Greenbrier in West Virginia.
Now known as Trostel’s Greenbriar, this American classic has staked a claim to Johnston’s middle ground. It is a steakhouse that refuses that restrictive label, a place where people come to celebrate the important occasions of their lives — marriages, graduations, birthdays, office parties, funerals and reunions. The restaurant is now three distinctive places: a white tablecloth and linen napkin dining room, a mahogany bar and a shaded patio. In Iowa fashion, there are no dress codes and people feel comfortable no matter what they wear or where they came from.
Paul passed away eight years ago after a full life of hosting, rodeo, car racing, demolition derbies, family, friends, gambling and rugby. His portrait, titled “Culinary Gunslinger,” faces the south side of the bar as if the master host is still looking after his guests. When Paul was mentoring the city on the subject of appetizers, he introduced a dish that has become a Des Moines icon — Boursin mushrooms au jus. It remains a star on the appetizer menu that also heralds Havarti shrimp in lemon garlic butter, escargot with puff pastry and, of course, shrimp cocktails.
Paul’s son Troy runs the kitchen and has put his own signature on several things. He was offering an optional addition of all classic European sauces long before the big chain steakhouses thought to do so. His gunpowder rub has become so admired that it’s now sold “to go,” as are his rotisserie roasted whole chickens and thin crusted pizza. In fact, everything is available for carryout and is consistently well packed. Troy’s is the first name I think of when asked about lamb, elk and bison. All are sourced from Iowa producers and are usually available as lunch sandwiches and dinner entrees.
This is my first-choice place for slow-roasted prime rib, which is available with gunpowder or Cajun rubbed crusts, as well as without. It’s almost always generously cut and cooked as ordered. If you like a cut with the “spinalis dorsi” intact, Troy knows what you mean. Recently I also tried a daily special filet dish that rivaled any de Burgo in town. A daily special appetizer delivered delectable shrimp with a superb mango salsa. When we raved about it to Troy, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s just shrimp and salsa.”
When you have been doing something so well for so long, you don’t know how good you are. This place is on my list of top five restaurants in Iowa.
There is weekly free music on the patio each Friday and monthly wine events all summer. ♦
Jim Duncan has been covering the central Iowa food scene for more than two decades.
5810 Merle Hay Road, Johnston, 253-0124
Monday – Friday, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and
Monday – Thursday, 5-9 p.m.,
Friday – Saturday, 5-10 p.m.