Ingersoll scene still evolving1/1/2020
Bartender’s Handshake and Lucky Lotus add personality to Des Moines’ most eccentric street.
No other restaurant neighborhood in Des Moines has changed more, and more often, than Ingersoll Boulevard. It was home to the first franchise food joint in town — Henry’s. Many others followed including Burger King, Hardee’s, Howard Johnson’s, Baskin Robbins, Dairy Queen, Taco John’s and Subway. Only the latter two survived. The Soll evolved slowly into a fine dining oasis. Fifty years ago, Noah’s and Jesse’s Embers shared that scene with Imperial House, Sherry’s, and Colorado Feed and Grain. Then came Garbo’s, Rosie’s Cantina, Bistro Montage, Corner Café and Rocky’s on Ingersoll. Today, Jesse’s and Noah’s compete with Eatery A, Harbinger, Star Bar, Waverley, Teddy Maroons, BAH, Panka, and Cheese Bar for discriminating diners.
Ingersoll has also seen an everchanging series of new hot spots. Colorado Feed and Grain started that scene. Garbo’s, Wellman’s Pub, Star Bar, Eatery A, and Juniper Moon all had their moments when they were the place to go. Bartender’s Handshake is the latest in this category.
Named for trendy shots of usually sweet liqueurs, especially Fernet Branca, served by bartenders to other hospitality industry insiders, BH has quickly become packed. Bernie Sanders was there the last time I visited. Drinks are definitely trendy. Try finding a Sinaloan Milk Snake anywhere else. That’s milk-washed Del Maguey Vida mezcal, St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur, Yellow Chartreuse and lemon. Though they serve a traditional Old Fashioned, they also have another version made with George Dickel rye, toasted-coconut-infused Old Forrester bourbon, Smith & Cross rum, raw sugar syrup, All Spice dram, and Dale’s Bellhop tiki bitters. Even Bartender’s Handshakes are made with more than one ingredient here.
Though the place is tiny, it has an excellent kitchen run by Zach Gutweiler of Reed’s Hollow and Gaslamp fame. With the exception of the egg salad “sando,” which is made with kewpie mayo from Japan, the menu is vegetarian. Of course, the city’s first vegetarian bar food would be on Ingersoll. I had a cold noodle bowl that was as flavorful as any noodle dish I ever tried. It featured mint pesto, ground mushrooms and chili crisps. A parker roll was stuffed with squash and mushroom fondue, homemade pickles and chili mustard. Crudite was made with fluctuating seasonal vegetables, red miso, tofu and tahini. Salads included avocado and pistachios.
Also new to Ingersoll is Lucky Lotus. In the spirit of the new Ingersoll, this southeast Asian café is distinctly different from others in town. Its décor gives that away with a hodgepodge of old Asian movie posters, Asian food art and photography, a ceiling hung with upside down Asian parasols, and old Des Moines signage. Sharp looking new furniture is also a feature.
Unlike any local southeast Asian café in my ken, this place is self-service. Nobody asked us if we had a favorite degree of hot spice, nor if we had peanut allergies. (Servings were anything but spicy hot.) The menu is unique to these parts, too. Pho can be made with chicken or vegetable stock, as well as beef. There is no brisket, no rare roast beef, no tendon available. Just steak and meatball. Better was mee khati, a red curry noodle soup with minced pork and the usual vegetables.
Egg and spring rolls came in five versions. My favorite appetizers, though, were heavenly beef (crisped jerky and sticky rice) and lucky tofu, which was crisped and served with a citrus vinaigrette. Curries and stir fry dishes seemed to all be made with the same vegetables. Not Asian vegetables, other than bamboo shoots, but broccoli, bell pepper, peas, potatoes, onions and carrots. Many dishes include eggs. Bun (noodle salads) did not include braised pork, usually a bun staple, just nem nuong, a Lao sausage that is an acquired taste.
Bottom line — these two places add a lot of personality to the town’s most eccentric street. ♦
3615 Ingersoll Blvd., 630-3008
Daily 2 p.m. – 2 a.m.LUCKY LOTUS
2721 Ingersoll Blvd., 262-8488
Monday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m.
Jim Duncan is a food writer who has been covering the central Iowa scene for more than two decades.