Not reinventing the wheel3/9/2016
Do not mess with perfection. Why do so many cooks think that adding ingredients to legendary recipes improves them? In Des Moines, this often manifests itself in the form of cheap cheese. Whether you want it or not, cheese will be included on your hamburger, sandwich, broccoli, mashed potato, hashed browns, salad and soup.
Classic recipes do not need to be reinvented. A new café on Southwest Ninth respects that. Chicago Dog wears the name of a sacrosanct recipe. This sandwich calls for a poppy seed bun, an all-beef sausage in a natural casing, a long squirt of bright yellow mustard, Kryptonite green pickle relish, a quarter of a tomato chopped, chopped onion, two “sport” (Serrano) peppers, a 5-inch long pickle spear, a quarter of a teaspoon of celery salt, and no ketchup whatsoever. It’s a nearly perfect recipe, providing a beautiful array of colors, flavors and textures.
Chicago Dog is not trying to reinvent the wheel. It is content to respect its perfection. It serves its namesake for the most reasonable price of $3.50, less than one usually pays for a horrid chicken hot dog at sports events around town. It also offers jumbo (quarter-pound) Chicago dogs for $5.
Chicago Dog’s respect for tradition does not end with its namesake dish. Its Polish sausage is a Vienna Beef product and is also served on a poppy seed bun. The first bite can transport your spirit to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. Chicago Italian beef sandwiches are shown respect not seen in Des Moines since Fourth Street Italian Beef moved on. In fact, the restaurant is designed with respect for the sandwich — high-top table counters line two walls. This sandwich is usually eaten standing up at high tops in Chicago. It is made with sliced roast beef and giardiniera on a bun dipped in enough jus (beef stock) that it inevitably drips. Eating it sitting down at a normal table will destroy neckties. The restaurant is even stocked with the large napkins one needs between bites. The giardiniera does not include cauliflower, as too many versions do these days.
The most creative sandwich on the menu is the porker. It includes both Italian link sausage and Italian sausage grinder meat with melted cheese and a choice of peppers. Turkey reubens, corned beef brisket reubens, BLTs, grinders, Philly cheese steaks, excellent burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches are also offered. Side dishes include broccoli salad made with shredded spears of that plant, superior to the florets that, for some strange reason, are all that makes it to one’s plate at casual dining joints.
Beer, cookies, salads and a soup of the day complete the simple, respectful menu. There are two TVs and considerable Chicago memorabilia.
Also on the southside, Quijano’s has taken over the space previously known as Firehouse. Considerable remodeling has been done so much that the venue no longer qualifies as a classic dive bar of Des Moines. A bar food menu remains in place but has been aggrandized with a mid-20th century Mexican Des Moines menu. That means tacos that are made with fried flour tortillas, in the style best known as Tasty Taco. A “small” taco is huge, a large taco is gargantuan. They include shredded cheese, lettuce, tomato, salsa and loose ground beef. Side dishes include excellent homemade potato chips and breaded pickle spears. Onion rings and breaded pork tenderloins are generous and handmade.
Check out the specials on boards behind the bar. They change daily and offer sensational deals that often come close to half priced on certain beers. Quijano’s also offers hard root beer on tap.
Side Dishes: Coca-Cola announced it will expand distribution of Mexican Coke, which is sold in glass bottles and made with sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.