Woody’s — The Ultimate Place for Barbecue10/22/2014
Each of the last five years, Cityview has asked readers’ what they consider to be the ultimate place to go for a certain type of food. Four years ago, you chose B&B Grocery, Meat & Deli as the ultimate destination for sandwiches. The following year Gusto was your selection for pizza, then Chicago Speakeasy was elected the place to go for steak. Last year Noodle Zoo Ankeny was selected as the ultimate place for noodles. This year we asked for your best ideas about going out for barbecue.
It was about time. Des Moines has become famous for its barbecue. That all happened out of nowhere after Mike Wedeking opened Flying Mango in 2003. That place developed such a far-flung reputation that some extraordinary singer-songwriters (Carrie Rodriguez, Lipbone Redding) regularly played there, often at a discounted fee. Shad Kirton and Darren Warth became superstars on the national competitive barbecue circuit and together opened Smokey D’s, which now has three local outlets. Woody and Cheryl Wasson opened Woody’s Smoke Shack, with a wall full of competition trophies and a reputation built on catering. Their place was named a top national barbecue by “Good Morning America.”
The late Ike Seymour of Big Daddy’s made it onto both “Peter Jennings’ World News Tonight” and “The Early Show with Bryant Gumbel.” Bruce Gerleman’s Jethro’s became a national destination: with features on TV shows “Man vs. Food” and “Food Paradise;” by finishing runner-up out of 100 sandwiches in ESPN’s “National Fanwich” contest; by being named Men’s Health magazine’s “Manliest Sandwich in the Midwest,” and also as Better Homes and Gardens’ favorite sandwich. Jethro’s now has six area stores, all with slightly different themes.
Because the word barbecue means different things to different people, we opened up the field to just about everything. Readers responded by nominating cheese shops, soul food joints, tandoori restaurants, caterers, plus Chinese, Korean, Hawaiian and Japanese “barbecues.” We started with the top 64 nominations and whittled the field in half each week for six weeks.
You selected Cityscape, Big Daddy’s, Paradise Biryani Pointe, Uncle Wendell’s, Smoky D’s, Jethro’s, Claxon’s and Woody’s as the top eight ultimate places to go for barbecue. Those latter four places made your final four. Then Woody’s and Claxon’s faced off in the final. Claxon’s is probably the most versatile barbecue in the metro. Besides their smokehouse favorites and southern side dishes that most people think of as traditional barbecue, they’re also a steakhouse with a marvelous wood-burning grill. They’re so particular that sirloins, filets and flank steaks are cooked over white oak, but rib-eyes are grilled with hickory.
When all election votes were tabulated, Woody’s prevailed. Housed in an old brick, stand-alone building near Drake, it probably resembles a classic southern barbecue more than any other place in town. Ironically, that building was once a locally famous antique store named Dottie Dumpling’s Dowry. It would move to Madison, Wisconsin, and evolve into one of the most famous hamburger joints in America. Woody and Cheryl have now made it the ultimate place for barbecue in central Iowa.
Woody’s fare is traditional — ribs, brisket, burnt ends, pulled pork, chickens, hams, southern style pies, apple crisp, candied yams, jambalaya, grits and cornbread. We could go on and on with side dishes. A popular $56 family platter includes a whole smoked chicken, a full rack of ribs, a half pound of brisket, or pulled pork, two pints of any homemade side dishes and cornbread. A shaded patio and live music provide the ultimate setting to enjoy barbecue in warm weather.
Side Dishes: Jethro’s opened its newest store, Jethro’s Bacon Bacon. Breakfast and barbecue are featured all day, with Jethro’s own smokehouse bacon… Jason Kapela sold his stake in Louie’s Wine Dive and plans today to open ROCA on Court Avenue, a tapas, wine and craft cocktail place. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.Woody’s Smoke Shack 2511 Cottage Grove Ave., 277-0005 Mon. – Fri. 11 a.m. – 8 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.