B & B Grocery Meat & Deli8/27/2014
Sevastopol (“venerable city” in Russian) is not just the Crimean jewel of Vladimir Putin’s ambition; it’s also an old, local neighborhood where an independent town had existed into the 20th century. Laid out south of the Des Moines River during the Civil War, it was centered around S.E. Sixth and Hartford. The Sevastopol Athletic Club’s baseball team won the city championship three years in a row during the 1920s. A team photo and club sweater are framed on the wall of B & B Grocery Meat & Deli, Des Moines’ oldest food establishment.
History is spread over the walls like mustard on corned beef sandwiches. Old newspapers are framed throughout the seating area, reminding of things like Lindbergh’s flight to Paris, the Nazi invasion of Poland and the end of the war to end all wars. They share space with sports pennants and math problems like “Seven days without beef makes one week.”
Founded in 1922, B & B is an old fashioned reminder how a neighborhood store can become a community center and political hangout. A fourth generation of Brooks brothers and sisters are working here now. It’s difficult on occasions to tell the owners from the customers as so many people move behind the counters as if they worked there. It’s one of the friendliest places in town — complete strangers are treated as cordially as regulars. Customers bring bottles of alcohol as gifts to the store each Christmas Eve. The store offers shots of that alcohol to customers, just before and after the lunch rush during the year.
B&B’s food service escaped from another era, too. They still buy whole carcasses and butcher to order. Customers can buy halves and quarters. Requests for things like heads, kidneys, sweetbreads and hearts don’t puzzle these guys like they do the supermarket employees who have replaced butchers elsewhere. Head cheeses and sulzas (souses) are always stocked in the deli. B & B is a reliable source of hamburger that has been ground fresh from a single carcass, an increasingly important distinction in the industrial age of E. coli and mad cow disease.
The place always bustles. Special occasions can be maddeningly busy. They sold 139 standing rib roasts last Christmas Eve. After they won the Cityview Ultimate Sandwich Challenge four years ago, they were swamped at lunch for weeks. A superb deep frying station separates this place from other deli counters in town. Its specialties include breaded tenderloins of chorizo, turkey, chicken and beef, as well as pork. For those who like the heat of chilies, the deli marinates whole ghost peppers in a large jar. A drop does the trick. Once I ordered a beef tenderloin and someone walked into a cooler and came out with a whole tenderloin of beef to cut, tenderize, dip, bread and fry. Their brisket and bacon are smoked at Webster City’s superb Bell Mill.
The popular “killer” menu includes 32 deli sandwiches at $5. These are big bargains: Polish sausage or bratwurst are doubles. Third pound burgers cost $3.49. Add french fries plus a side of cole slaw, macaroni salad or potato salad for $2.50. More exotic side dishes include breaded oysters (75 cents each), chicken livers ($3 a half pound), and deviled eggs (3 for $1.50). Ribeye steak sandwiches cost just $6.49. Lots happened in Sevastopol since 1922. Supermarkets and cafés came and went, so did a Little League park across the street from B & B. Now things are coming full circle as East Village development moves south. Sevastopol is again venerable and B & B is still its heart and soul.
Side Dish Aldi announced its Urbandale store would be expanded to accommodate new items and more fresh produce… Scott Stroud left his executive chef position at Malo for an opportunity in Australia. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.B & B Grocery Meat & Deli 2001 S.E. 6th St., 243-7607 Mon. – Fri. 8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. Sat. 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.