The good, the bad and the ugly of 201512/16/2015
The second decade of the third millennium passed its midpoint in middling fashion. It was not a bad year, nor a great year by recent standards. It closed, however, with a flurry of new openings that might eventually revise its reputation upward. Here are some of our ideas about the highs and lows that characterized the year.
Serious disappointments. Internationally, lower energy prices didn’t lead to deflated food prices. In fact, quite the opposite happened despite 100 of years of historical precedent that suggested otherwise. Nationally, kale remained an inexplicably popular food. Locally, a number of trendsetters shut things down this year: Kwong Tung will close New Year’s Eve after 52 years, leaving Rice Bowl as the revered elder of Chinese joints in town and Wong’s Chopsticks as the best weekend spot for dim sum. Raccoon River Brewing Company closed after a new landlord took over. That left Court Avenue Brewing Company as the unchallenged revered elder of the brewpub industry. Mr. Filet also retired rather than relocate. It was a last Greek steakhouse of its kind. Cafe di Scala will close on New Year’s after 10 years of serving the most elegant Calabrese-American cuisine in Iowa. It will transition into becoming an events center with the same staff, though.
Also withdrawing from the local food scene this year were La Rosa and Raul’s restaurants, plus food writers Jennifer Mitchell Miller, who led brave anti-kale crusades, and Datebook Diner Carlos Acevedo
Expansions and contractions. David Baruthio (Baru 66, Blue Tomato, Baru at the Art Center) opened Prime in the former Raul’s and planned to place as many as three new restaurants in a new building going up in Winsor Heights within a year. Bruce Gerleman (Splash, Jethro’s) planned to open his first Italian restaurant, Jetheroni, by year’s end in Altoona. Gusto, Jimmy John’s and Louie’s Wine Dive added new venues, and Gusto owners debuted Juniper Moon wine bar. The Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival expanded into Las Vegas. The Des Moines Social Club opened a cooking school. Food trucks expanded all over town, as did whiskey dinners, beer dinners and historic recipe dinners. Fresh Market & Cafe moved into larger quarters. On the downside, Cozy Cafe shed some stores.
New chains brighten scene. New chains brought something more than $12 burgers and $50 steaks to town this year, and Fuzzy’s Tacos gave us a fresh Baja take on Mexican food. Firebirds Wood Fired Grill offered serious competition to Outback at similar prices. Firehouse Subs provided a world-class array of hot sauces to sample.
Cookbooks return to earth. The best new food and cookbooks this year had nothing to do with recent trends like Paleo diets, gluten-free cooking, hundreds of ways to use kale, raw diets or urban foraging. “The Broad Fork” by Hugh Acheson (Clarkson Potter, $35) is a very southern homage to vegetables that are not strictly vegetarian. It’s organized by season as well as by vegetable and features such inspirations as poached eggs over sunchoke hash.
“What Katie Ate on the Weekend” by Katie Quinn Davies (Viking Studio, $40) brings a brilliant food photographer and blogger back with her first book since “What Katie Ate” (our choice as best food book of 2012). Like that book, it features obscenely sensual photographs of treats the Australian found on her worldly travels
“Olympia Provisions” by Elias Cairo (Ten Speed Press, $40) is the first book by this Oregon salumeria-charcuterie genius, restaurant owner and Internet food tycoon. This is an ode to carnivorous desires and can be whimsical enough to provide a section on creative ways to dress a hot dog. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.