Eatery A — new place of the year12/10/2014
Good new ideas enriched the local food scene this year. The Drake Law School premiered Second Course. Students learning about hunger, waste and food insecurity partnered with Sodexo and Eat Greater Des Moines to develop a network that redistributes food that would otherwise go to waste. At press time, they had delivered 800 pounds of food to four local nonprofit organizations. The program is now a chapter of the national Food Recovery Network and is fully integrated in the university’s curriculum.
The success of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival inspired several imitations by corn growers, soy organizations and popcorn boards. Local beers continued to steal market share from mega breweries — Exile debuted its bottled products and made a presence in the Bud Tent at the Iowa State Fair. National food media found its way to town. Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives” shot film at half a dozen local places in October, and already Patton’s, Mi Patria and Smokey D’s have been shown in episodes. The New York Times confounded Iowans by declaring “pecan date cookies” to be the state’s traditional Thanksgiving dish, then claimed the recipe most Googled by Iowa holiday cooks is for Snickers salad.
It was a very good year for new restaurants. Though technically a 2013 baby, Trellis, at the Des Moines Botanical, opened its spectacular river view terrace this year. Malo brought Latin verve to the Des Moines Social Club’s new pad. Blue Tomato debuted a fresh version of Italian cuisine. La Mie absorbed Sweet Binney’s and also opened a new café across Locust from the sculpture park. Pho All Seasons opened a new café after five years away. H Pho brought clay pots and Vietnamese dishes to Waukee. Louie’s Wine Dive expanded to that same suburb. RoCA moved into the former Sbrocco with stylish cocktails and small plates. Cosi Cucina closed and then reopened a few days later, this time under its original ownership. Taste of New York delivered a fabulous example of New York City pizza to Jordan Creek. La Rosa re-opened last week after being closed most the last year-and-a-half. Hy-Vee upgraded most of its cafés with full bars and late night service. Jethro’s latest store debuted with a breakfast theme in a repurposed Hooter’s venue.
The most exciting new restaurant of the year also made stunning changes to its venue — a former Blockbuster that had also served as local Obama headquarters. Jason Simon’s Eatery A opened with a distinct and appealing business plan. Instead of opening for lunch, they opened at 3 p.m. with a happy hour that includes half-price pizza, draught beers and wine. I have seen as many as a dozen people waiting for the doors to open. (They later opened for brunch on weekends.) All pizza are wood-fired, all pasta are made fresh from scratch and all other dishes are small plates with prices to match.
Nic Gonwa, our choice as young chef (under 30) of the year, keeps his menu Mediterranean. Lamb is served with grilled eggplant salad, harissa, tahini and lemon vinaigrette, or as sliders with harissa and fatoush, or as pizza sausage. Brussels sprouts are dressed with pomegranate molasses. Crab is stuffed in piquillo peppers. The pizza oven is not for “build your own” fanatics. Combinations are carefully chosen to introduce new flavors — mortadella, watercress and pistachio pesto; figs, prosciutto and micro greens; Valderon cheese, dates and sherry gastrique.
The top price on the menu is $15, and pasta dishes start at $5. Gonwa deserves kudos for keeping the menu fresh, too. I have tried his pappadelle in three different recipes, once with Bolognese sauce, once in a chicken confit and most recently with parsnips, arugula and guanciale.
Side Dishes: Wobbly Boots Roadhouse opened the barbecue chain’s first local restaurant, on N.W. 114th Street. in Clive. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.Eatery A 2932 Ingersoll Ave., 282-8085 Tues. – Thurs. 3-11 p.m., Fri. – Sat. 10 a.m. – midnight, Sun. 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.