Restaurants with vibes5/5/2021
A friend who was back in town recently wanted to meet “someplace with a distinctive vibe, like Rusty Scupper and Lloyd’s London Grill back in their day.” I suggested Fresko, a new Gateway restaurant that swept many CITYVIEW “Best Of Des Moines” awards this year including for best new restaurant, best gluten-free menu, best wine selection, and best whiskey menu. It also won numerous silver and bronze medals.
Fresko has a bar room separated from its dining room. On my visits, the bar room was considerably more popular. I suspect that is by design because the music is made more for pounding shots than sipping wine with dinner. Throbbing bass rhythms overwhelm any lyrics, melodies or memories of Sinatra. The award for whiskey is well deserved. They stock things here rarely seen in Iowa, including the legendary Pappy van Winkle, 18-year-old Glenmorangie and Jefferson Ocean Aged at Sea. There is an unpublished whiskey list of spirits so hard to find they are left off the regular menu. So that is rather like a super surprise.
The wine list is special for Iowa, too, with rarely seen Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, Orin Swift “8 Years in the Desert” Zin, Kosta Browne Pinot Noir, Joseph Phelps Insignia Cabernet Sauvignon and Opus One. There is also a good list of bottles in the $40-$60 range and glasses in the $9-$20 spectrum.
Happy Hour (4-6 p.m., Monday – Friday) is a big draw here with $5-$6 cocktail specials and $2 off draft beers, plus big discounts on flatbreads and wings. Daily specials are also priced to move and feature sushi, flatbreads, oysters, tacos, wine, mules and sake on different weeknights.
909 Locust St., 515-630-7009
Monday – Thursday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Friday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.Hummus
2650 University Ave., 515-985-2234 (also downtown and Jordan Creek)
Monday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Those wings are intoxicating. They are dry rubbed, flame grilled and served with a cold cucumber sauce and crumbled Peco. Flatbreads were above average, and sushi played in a league rarely seen in non-Asian restaurants here abouts. Short rib and shrimp tacos stood out. The “killer” was a joyous sushi roll with blue crab, eel, fried shrimp, tobiko, avocado and spicy mayo. Wild mushroom was my favorite flatbread.
The dinner menu features fire-grilled steaks, salmon, skewers and half chickens. My chicken had the usual half bird problem of dry breast. A prime filet presented an interesting take on de Burgo, with Dijon cream sauce, kale, potato hash, criminis and roasted garlic. It was a bargain at $30, too.
In other vibe news, the restaurant scene in Dogtown is about to change considerably. Gazali’s will be moving soon to the former Pita Pit building on Hickman. That is Drake’s loss and Clive’s gain. Gazali’s has a rare vibe, with movies, donkey art, super friendly service and special nights. They also serve the best shwarma in town plus superb hummus, baba ganoush and falafel. Owner M.J. has represented Drake well for a long time and promises lots of entertaining options in Clive.
To fill the void Gazali’s will leave, the chain Hummus Mediterranean Grill has moved into a new building they share with Fernando’s across University from Old Main. Both places incorporate the Subway/Chipotle model that seems to be conquering the fast food world. Build your own burritos work better, in my mind, than build your own pita sandwiches. Pita Pit did not fare well with this concept in Des Moines.
I tried a “lamb/beef shwarma” because I was curious why anyone would stack sliced beef with sliced lamb on
a rotisserie. I am not sure what I got. It was cooked on a flat top stove rather than sliced off a conically stacked rotisserie. It was OK, but it was not shwarma. Bowls of Romaine and of rice, brown rice or quinoa were also offered. The fresh homemade pita was excellent. There is ample seating, but this seemed like food to go. ♦
Jim Duncan is a food writer who has been covering the central Iowa scene for more than five decades.