A funeral, a feud, Five Farms and fake meats8/1/2018
Gov. Bob Ray’s passing was treated with rare respect for his eclectic achievements. From our point of view, he did more than anyone to transform Iowa, and particularly Des Moines, into a more cosmopolitan food center, more than anyone even dreamed before Ray took office in 1969. By sheer force of personality, he convinced an insular, leery, mostly white population to embrace broken immigrants from Southeast Asia. The payoff of that karmic trigger was that those immigrants built restaurants and supermarkets that introduced all Iowans to a wide new world of culinary adventure. Even the late Tony Bourdain lauded the special Vietnamese restaurant scene of Des Moines. For many who lived during Ray’s five terms, he will always be the one and only Gov.
July was a crazy month for the food industry. The big chain players raced to introduce new value menus after McDonald’s reported sensational results from their most recent experiment in discounting. Conagra Brands (Hunt’s, Marie Callender’s, Reddi Whip and Slim Jim) agreed to acquire Pinnacle Foods (Birds Eye, Duncan Hines, Vlassic, Earth Balance, EVOL and Hungry-Man). Conagra said it would cost about $8.1 billion in cash and stock. IHOP’s experiment with a new identity ended in an embarrassing retreat. After a month of rebranding as IHOb, a burger place, it returned to its original identity, claiming its ground meat fling had been “a promotional stunt.”
Food Business News reported a surge in the development of meat, fish and egg alternative products with five times as many new ones introduced than eight years ago. Among them were tuna alternatives made of pulses, eggs alternatives made from mung beans, and artificial meat made from potatoes, nuts, beans, rice and lentils. In the U.S., 46 percent of the population says it’s increasing consumption of protein alternatives. The percentage is much higher in China, Mexico, the UK and Germany… Albertson’s opened its first two all-organic stores… Drought and hail damage in the wheat belt was severe with bread prices expected to soar this fall.
THE GOOD NEWS
As two new concepts reached the stretch drive of their launches in Des Moines, two others left the starting gate with a burst. BAH Brazilian Steakhouse is near opening on Ingersoll. Dumpling Darling, a most popular café in Iowa City, should be open by press time in the East Village. Carmelita Shah and her children, Hannah Elliott and Taufeek Shah, opened Lola’s Fine Kitchen in Ankeny’s Prairie Trail District. They specialize in Pakistani and Filipino dishes. Puerto Rico restaurant opened in Windsor Heights to big crowds and social media raves… ChuChu Donuts said they hope to open in August on Southwest Ninth. They will specialize in both fried and cake doughnuts… Alexander Hall announced he would be opening his second area restaurant, St. Kilda Surf and Turf in the East Village, specializing in grilled fish… McAlister’s Deli (Dallas) opened its second area store, in Urbandale… Tom Henry announced he would continue operating The Wine Experience inside the Younkers space at Jordan Creek Town Center after the department store closes in August.
THE BAD NEWS
As of press time, Hy-Vee planned to close its Long Island Deli, the best purveyor of corned beef and pastrami in Des Moines history… Home Plate Diner closed the last of its three cafés… Polito’s Pizza House, a descendent of La Pizza House, closed in Bondurant… Chalet Restaurant and Bar closed in Valley West Mall just months after opening.
Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence went to RoCA, Table 128, 801 Steak and Chop House, Splash Seafood Bar and Grill, and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar. 801 Chophouse and Fleming’s received the special designation of “Best of Award of Excellence.”
NEW STUFF WE LIKE
Five Farms Irish Cream is new to Iowa and made with 10-year-aged Irish whiskey and cream from Ireland’s most honored dairy. It’s so superior that it’s like a new spirit.
FEUD OF THE MONTH
We received this press release from Tennessee’s bureau of tourism. “Long Island Iced Tea was created in Kingsport, Tennessee, before prohibition in the 1920s but has been illegally stolen by Long Island, New York. A national battle will take place between restaurant and bar staff from Kingsport, Tennessee and Freeport, New York. The winner of the mixologist competition will set historians straight. Law enforcement officials will be on hand.” ♦
Jim Duncan has been covering the central Iowa food scene for more than two decades.