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Belly Up To...

Mad Meatball is fun and funny


Cook Wesley Wilson shows his balls in the form of a baked spaghetti dish, and bartender Pam K. offers Jasper Winery’s Iowa Marquette red wine as a good pairing.

Cook Wesley Wilson shows his balls in the form of a baked spaghetti dish, and bartender Pam K. offers Jasper Winery’s Iowa Marquette red wine as a good pairing.

It’s a toss up, like an astronomer choosing a favorite star in the night sky or — perhaps more fitting a comparison — like a parent choosing a favorite child, it’s difficult to decide which is more enjoyable: balls or wiener; wiener or balls? If wiener is your forte, Des Moines has Capital Pub and Hot Dog, which opened just south of the East Village in late 2011. But now the “I love wiener” haven has a sister establishment next door, Mad Meatball, a juicy find for any ball-lover.

“I figured out just today a new way to make the meatballs more tender,” said cook Wesley Wilson, who had admittedly spent most of his morning beating his meat in the small kitchen behind the bar. That’s the key to a tenderer meatball, he confessed.

At Mad Meatball — and Capital Pub and Hot Dog as well — it’s best to bring your sense of humor, though if it’s lacking, the staff has it in spades, which is why it’s always a good time at either establishment.

“It’s fun. I work at both places,” said a bartender named Pam. “I work the lunch shift there (Capital), and I’m here at night usually.

Prep Iowa

“Sometimes the bartenders at each place will get a friendly competition going on drink specials and things like that, but we build off each other. We promote them, and they promote us.”

She said both places co-exist harmoniously, often sharing the same clientele, which is comprised of cyclists along the bike trail in the summer months as well as the regular dwellers of downtown Des Moines and the East Village, south-siders, east-siders — all-siders, she said.

“It’s a really good location. We get a lot of people — a lot of different people,” agreed server Christina Driscoll.

Both women started within days of the establishment opening in August. Wilson joined in the kitchen not long after. Watching them work is reminiscent of siblings working together to surprise Mom with breakfast in bed. They sing and dance, one picks up where the other may be lacking and they’re genuinely friendly and obvious friends.

“We sing all day long,” Driscoll needless confessed, popping out of the kitchen where she and Wilson tag-teamed a Motley Crue song that had been playing over speakers.

“I don’t sing, ’cuz I can’t sing,” Pam laughed. “I make a much better drink than I do sing a song.”

That’s OK. People didn’t come to Mad Meatball to hear the staff sing, not that anyone seems to mind. It’s equivalent to whistling while one works or piping in with a song that’s been stuck in your head. At Mad Meatball, people are less concerned with the staff and more fixated on the balls. CV

Mad Meatball
401 S.E. Fifth St.
HOURS: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-close; Sun. 12 p.m.-close.
HAPPY HOUR: Mon.-Fri. 4-6 p.m.
KITCHEN: Sun.-Thurs. till 9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. till 10 p.m.

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