Monday, May 16, 2022

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Food Dude

Change and tradition at two Italian legends


Analyzing the menus at Sam & Gabe’s and Tumea & Sons

IMG_4305When is a comma worth $10 million? When a government dictates “manual of style” etiquette to lawmakers. In Maine, an Oxford comma (one used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more things, before “and” or “or”) was referenced when Judge David Barron ordered Oakhurst Dairy to pay drivers $10 million in overtime back pay.

According to Maine law, workers are not entitled to overtime pay for the following activities: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.” Without a comma after “shipment,” the “packing for shipment or distribution” was deemed a single activity. Truck drivers do not pack food, either for shipment or for distribution. Therefore, these exemptions did not apply to drivers. Maine’s manual of style instructs those writing legal statute to not use the Oxford comma. That could change soon.

About half of the English-speaking world uses Oxford commas. It’s the same thing for titles that employ the ampersand (&). Sometimes common sense should trump dictated style. For instance, how confusing would the phrase “lunch and dinner at B&B Grocery, Meat & Deli, Sam & Gabe’s, and Tumea & Sons” be without ampersands and an Oxford comma?

Sam & Gabe’s opened a spectacular new dining room in The Lyon building last year. Its views rank with those at Cityscapes in The Mercy Campus Holiday Inn as the most panoramic in town (among public cafés). Their menu is not as universally popular. A long-time favorite in Urbandale, the restaurant has drastically changed its fare at both the downtown and suburban venues. “Why try to reinvent perfection?” is how several fans put it. The new menu, with original Django chef Chris Place in charge, is less Italian and more complicated. Gone are dishes like saltimbocca and chicken Sophia that had maintained fans for decades. The steak de Burgo remained, but the menu mentioned cream in its description and that would be a new twist at the place that had the strongest claim to the original recipe. Their cucumber dressing, another icon, tasted like its recipe had been drastically changed, too.

IMG_4293There’s much to like here — lamb meatballs, duck pastrami, lobster beignets (with mango-fennel-mint salad and harissa aioli), Korean chicken with waffles (with blackberry butter), and homemade pasta. Among the latter were tortellini en brodo, the most labor intensive pasta dish. Alas, on a later visit, that dish was gone. Lasagna, the richest I ever tasted, was made with two cheeses, Bechemel sauce, gremolata, pesto, chicken and mushrooms. Calamari were hand cut, fried and served with orange Romesco, arugula pesto, lime salt, and preserved lemon zest. Excellent 10-inch pizza were rather new additions to the menu, too.

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Tumea & Sons is far more consistent with old-time values. Packed parking lots, particularly for lunch, attest to a bond of loyalty between the café and its customers. It also might have something to do with bargain prices that mostly stay less than $10 for lunch. The closest thing to a view here is the bocce court, and you have to sit outdoors to see it.

Saltimbocca and other veal dishes are still made to classic Italian recipes. Boiled ravioli are still as good as any in town. The lasagna is classic style with cheese, tomato sauce, and meat or vegetables. Pastachen is still made with a hard boiled egg. Brashioli is still stuffed with bacon and celery and braised in red sauce. The iconic creamy Parmesan dressing is an original recipe. They still serve cannoli and cream-filled peaches for dessert. ♦

Tumea & Son’s

1501 S.E. First St., 515-282-7964

Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.;

Monday-Thursday, 4:30-9:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 4:30-10 p.m.

Sam & Gabe’s

8631 Hickman Ave., Urbandale


Tuesday-Friday, 4 p.m. – close;

Saturday, 5 p.m. – close;

Sunday, 10:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.

600 E. Fifth St., 421-933

Monday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.;

Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.;

Friday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.;

Saturday, 5-11 p.m.


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