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Zeitgeist of 2012 — new is old


Overflow crowds like this one at Jimmy’s Big Ten Inn, returned to revitalized food scene on Eighth Street in West Des Moines this year.

The year 2012 brought the water dragon. For Iowa that meant far more dragon breath than water. The hottest, driest summer in decades resulted in a 4 percent drop in major agricultural production. Iowa wine growers, though, reported bumper crops. Restaurant news was similarly ambivalent. Many of the best new places were old places reborn. Proof’s new owners blazed new directions without changing its primary focus or its name. Jimmy’s Big Ten Inn became the third restaurant named “Jimmy’s” on Eighth Street in West Des Moines. Buzzard Billy’s bounced back from two floods and a long hiatus by finding higher ground. Bambinos moved to West Des Moines with old Lacona family recipes. Tacqueria Jalisco changed its name to The Taco King without changing much else. Both Shorty’s Somewhat Fancy Bar and The Library upgraded the food of previous, similarly-named joints without changing too much else.              

Redundancy dominated innovation in the chain restaurant genre. Local media fixated on Twin Peaks, a Texas-sized reproduction of the Hooters figuration. Dunkin’ Donuts returned after a few decades of absence from the metro. Jimmy John’s and Subway led local expansion for the fourth straight year. College town pizza icons (The Other Place and Falbo Brothers) entered the Des Moines market after making reputations in Cedar Falls and Iowa City. Nick’s opened recreating the pork tenderloins of the Town House in Wellsburg. Asian chains Taste of Oriental, Shogun International Buffet and Eastern Hibachi and Sushi Buffet all opened, and closed in less than a year. Bad dragon.


Some other distinguishing food features of the water dragon’s reign include:            

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Story of the Year — Regeneration of Eighth Street. After years of slipping, Eighth Street in West Des Moines bounced back behind new restaurant hits Raul’s, Lemongrass, Jimmy John’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Jimmy’s Big Ten Inn.             

High Culture vs. Low Culture Event of the Year — Subway opened a state of Subway art store in the western Gateway. Elitists were outraged.             

Genre of the Year — Led by dazzling Exile and water dragon Confluence, stylish new breweries popped up all over the metro.             

Political Influence of the Year — After years of lobbying, Iowa legislators passed a bill allowing restaurants and bars to create and store infused liquors and cocktails.              

Media Influence of the Year — ABC TV network turned “pink slime,” a footnote in a single Department of Agriculture scientist’s report, into an anti-meat crusade that slaughtered thousands of cattle and numerous jobs in its aftermath.             

Marketing Event of the Year — Whole Foods opened its first area store with an army of media covering “tailgate parties” that didn’t exist.             

Service of the Year — Saints, Beaver Tap, Maverick’s and Tonic opened the area’s first free weekend shuttle service to and from their bars.              

Ideas of the Year — 1) Crème Cupcakes hired Jess Dunn from Baru66 and initiated a desserts-only cocktail lounge, and 2) Simon Cotran figured out that the old Top Value venue on University Avenue could support an international market.            

Worst Trend of the Year — A growing number of non-profit food events persuaded top chefs and restaurateurs to vacate their restaurants on busy Fridays and Saturdays when customers expected them to be there.              

Cool New Stuff — Dry farmed wines became ecological darlings; high pressurized processing (HPP) apple juices brought the safety of pasteurization without destroying the volatile compounds that give apples their distinctive flavor; phytoestrogens in soybeans were found to alleviate hot flashes; and frozen yogurt shops opened around Des Moines faster than frozen yogurt melts.             

Hot New Stuff — The Iowa State Fair introduced crab fritters, deep fried pickles wrapped in pastrami and ham with cream cheese, carrot funnel cakes and double-bacon corn dogs.              

Thanks for the Memories — Noe Ruiz (La Rosa), Tom Renda (Classic Frozen Custard), Alex Rhodes (All Spice), Mojo’s on 86th, Simply Asian, Lucky Dragon, Azteca, Paradise Pizza and La Casa del Pollos Rostizados. CV

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