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Explore the flavors of Italy with a visit to Centro


Enjoy Italian food and cocktails at Centro, a modern spot in the historic hub of downtown Des Moines.

Enjoy Italian food and cocktails at Centro, a modern spot in the historic hub of downtown Des Moines.

If you’re familiar with the popular food and drink scene of Des Moines, chances are you’ve heard the name George Formaro more than once or twice.

He’s the well-known chef and restaurateur behind a slew of prime eateries, including the Italian-inspired Centro.

The restaurant has an elegant yet relaxing feel to it. The clean white tablecloths and tableware contrast the old tiled floor, in which some pieces are missing, though the design remains beautifully vintage. It serves as a reminder of the location’s former self as the historic Masonic Temple of Des Moines, built in 1913.

It was the goal of developers Harry Bookey and Pamela Bass Bookey to restore the historic building back in 2001. They wanted to create a venue that would jumpstart the area with entertainment, fine dining and culture.


Located in the heart of downtown, Centro has indeed become a local hot spot for fine cuisine — and even finer cocktails.

Guests love the unique creations and rotating daily specials (like fried Brussels sprouts or the Italian beef sandwich), which they often post on Facebook — not to mention the delicious-looking photos uploaded with them.

You might have a lunch there without much notice if you live or work in the area, but if you’re trying to make evening plans, especially for a group, you’re better off calling for reservations in advance. Centro never seems to have a shortage of visitors, especially during its weekday happy hour from 3-6 p.m., when martinis are half price.

Formaro’s restaurants are known for their one-of-a-kind recipes using top-notch ingredients, and his talents extend all the way to the bar. The menu spans from classics such as the Appletini to specials like the Centro Cosmo. Fresh sage, house-made lemon syrup and house-made sour are just a few of the unique tastes you can experience in a stop at Centro’s bar.

One item you can be sure not to find anywhere else is Formaro’s signature drink, the house-made Limoncello. It’s an Italian drink with varying family recipes passed down for generations in Italy, where it’s a long-time staple. The citrus-based lemon liqueur is served at Centro “well-chilled as a palate cleanser or an after-dinner drink.”

As an Italian restaurant, you can be sure Centro has an extensive selection of wine, including whites, reds, ports, sparkling wines and champagne. Bottles are imported from wineries all around the world, from Napa Valley, California, to New Zealand, and range in prices from as little as $30 to as much as $300 for a cabernet sauvignon — the 2005 Opus One from Napa Valley.

The Opus One is only sold by the bottle, so you’ll probably want to save that one for a special occasion. Whatever you choose, rest assured you won’t be disappointed.

If wine and cocktails isn’t your thing, Centro offers eight beers on tap and plenty more in bottles, as well as a Bloody Mary bar, which is open during lunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. CV

1003 Locust St. • 515-248-1780
Lunch: Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Dinner: Mon.-Fri. 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-11 p.m., Sun. 4:30-9 p.m.
Happy hour: Mon.-Fri. 3-6 p.m.

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