Doors close, others open2/24/2016
Many places in town think lunch is not worth the effort or cost. When Alba owner Jason Simon opened Eatery A, he said the main lesson he learned at his first restaurant was about being open for lunch. “Once you do it, you are stuck. Your customers depend on it. Staff doesn’t like it, and it’s hard to make any profit.” Eatery A never opened for lunch (they did add a weekend brunch later). Instead, it has always opened at 4 p.m. with a bargain-priced happy hour.
Enosh Kelley of Bistro Montage is the latest restaurateur to give up lunch service, beginning March 1.
“It’s just become too difficult to find help, particularly kitchen staff,” he explained. That’s a national trend that has found its way to Des Moines. Most industry analysts link it to the slower pace of immigration. Latin Americans particularly have been essential to Des Moines restaurant growth.”
Mindful of that sad news, I tried out a couple new lunch options. Thinking about Bistro Montage’s delicate crepes, I ventured to Gaston. This is the 2.0 version of Baru at the Art Center, David Baruthio’s partnership with the Art Center. I found an unchanged physical presence. It might be against the law to change anything about this amazing collaboration of multiple, world famous architects. The small kitchen still serves close to 50, indoors and outdoors.
The menu is more like French comfort food now. Flourless quiche Provencal, Nicoise salad or pasta (olives, tuna, egg and tomato), chicken blanchette (in wine and herbed cream sauce), Croque Monsieur (hot ham and cheese sandwich), éclairs, Napoleon’s and crème brulee star in that regard. There are many other salads and sandwiches, including pulled pork. Potato leek is the house soup.
My ham and cheese crepe ($14) included a side of salad with excellent citrus vinaigrette. It was nearly burrito-sized and did not stop me from missing Bistro Montage’s crepes. Oddly, an Art Center event the same week was catered by Taste! To Go, instead of usual caterer Gaston.
Being the beginning of the two weeks of wrestling mania, I also found my way to Iowa Beef Steak House (IBSH). Every year, out-of-town friends who come to Des Moines for the state high school wrestling championships want to meet at IBSH; it’s been like that since the early 1980s. No one is interested in anything newer.
I understand. IBSH comes as close to a mid-20th century supper club as anything in the city. Three large dining rooms sport large, antique-style wooden chairs. A bar room has both low-top and high-top tables. It’s easy for a dozen people to sit at the same table. Walls, shelves, ceilings and nooks are filled with rural antiques. In a statement of political incorrectness, mounted trophies include one of horned cow, complete with a cowbell. Nothing goes to waste on the farm, even old Bessie. A fireplace complements the open pit, charcoal-fired grill.
Brothers Joe and Will Kellogg grew up in the neighborhood of IBSH. Joe tended bar there. A year ago they bought the place from original owner Henry Schneider. The only change I detected was lunch service. The same huge steaks with a popular salad bar still go for the bargain prices of $20-$29. Lunch adds sandwiches ($8-$9) and burgers ($10). Schneider, a native of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, left behind his fabulous recipes for clam chowder ($4-$6) and lobster bisque ($3-$5).
Last week, Alba became the first Iowa restaurant to win James Beard Awards semifinalist (top 20) recognition for two different chefs. In his first year of eligibility, Joe Tripp emulated owner Jason Simon’s previous honor. (Tripp was also Food Dude’s Chef of the Year in 2014.) The award was Iowa’s only nod, a disappointment to the local scene. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.
Iowa Beef Steakhouse
1201 E. Euclid Ave., 262-1138
Monday – Friday, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., and daily 5-10 p.m.
4700 Grand Ave., 277-4405
Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.