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Food Dude

It was a very good year


After food inflation in 2007 and the stock market bust of 2008-09, Des Moines’ café culture dug in. Chains, other than Jimmy John’s and Pizza Ranch, concentrated on dollar menus and slowed expansion, even in the booming western suburbs. Signs of a bounce back began appearing last year with new and revitalized downtown restaurants like HoQ, Exile, Proof and New World Café popping up, plus the long-awaited arrival of Whole Foods in West Des Moines. The year 2013 completed the comeback across the board. With the openings of Wasabi Tao, Table 128, Akebono 515, Trellis, Baru at the Art Center, Tacopocalypse and Luigi’s, plus stylish re-openings of Genevieve and Le Jardin, this will be remembered as a signal year for new restaurants in the metro. Their excellence was accompanied by significant changes elsewhere.

Good service, like this intricate presentation at Wasabi Tao, increased across the metro this year.

Good service, like this intricate presentation at Wasabi Tao, increased across the metro this year.

Restaurant trend of the year — Service improved notably. Waiters became better educated, particularly about wines and beers. Cheese plates were upgraded. Bartenders became more creative. Amuse bouches and complimentary cookies became more common tokens of appreciation.

Design of the year, exterior — Casey’s at First Street and Grand Avenue in West Des Moines demonstrated that neon is not just for signage while cheering up a neighborhood devastated by a long-term bridge closing, with the use of Environmental Design’s Rick Ayers on this commercial project.

Design of the year, interior — Architect Rob Smith gave Genevieve/Cityscape at the Mercy Campus Holiday Inn a breathtaking new point of view and a handsome, urban look.


Wine service of the year — The Riverwalk Hub brought a state-of-the-art wine preservation system to town.

Dedication to excellence award — Derek Edison (Centro), Scott Stroud (Mala), Johan Larsson (Django) and George Formaro completed two years of university studies and government compliance formalities so they could cure their own charcuterie for their restaurants. Their coppa will be a civic signature.

Grocery trend of the year — Supermarkets in Des Moines considerably expanded their profit-generating health food sections.

Media events of the year — Tortilla Zen master Sam Auen (“Crowding the Pan”) and raw food guru Sharee Clark (“Fork in the Road”) debuted television series while The Des Moines Register expanded food coverage.

Catering trend of the year — Weddings and parties moved to non-traditional venues. Breweries, wineries, wine stores, bakeries, theaters, warehouses, antique stores and athletic facilities all hosted more private events, without the restrictions (i.e. big fees for “non-preferred” caterers) of traditional event hosts.

Farmers markets trend of the year — Smaller markets improved the quality of vendors and products considerably. Parlo Pizza’s super hot ovens and Local Yocals’ lard fat potato fryers attracted new customers who discovered more heirloom and naturally raised foods.

“Lord we’re going to miss you” — Linda Bisignano, one of Des Moines’ last old-school Calabrese restaurateurs; Suburban Café, for 50 years the finest example of scratch cooking Iowa diner food; Russ Reel, the co-founder of eastside icon La Pizza House; Mojo’s on 86th, a pioneer of fresh and local dining; Lincoln Café, the stunning kitchen that charmed R.W. Apple, America’s greatest food writer (among several other things); Luna, a bright, short-lived East Village café.

Dessert trend of the year — Homemade ice cream became widespread and much better.

“Welcome back” — Christopher’s has resurrected its legendary pan-fried chicken, not just as an occasional special but full-time.

New food service of the year — Dishcrawl brought the big city café walking tour (and occasional motor tours) to Des Moines with events like Battledish.

“It’s more than a fad by now” award — Kale kept finding new converts and true believers years after other “new foods of the decade” became obsolete to foodies.

“This has gone too far” award — Bad cupcakes began squeezing out good cupcakes. A Web search of cupcakes in Des Moines turned up 30 cupcake makers, some with no addresses, just Facebook pages. CV

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