Friday, December 1, 2023

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Food Dude

St. Kilda Collective


Baked brie with pistachio sauce, Calabrian honey and homemade lavash

St. Kilda is an old town south of Melbourne, Australia, that is quite famous for its restaurant scene, beach and sunsets. The new restaurant named for it in Valley Junction represents a gorgeous restoration of an old historic building in Valley Junction that was most recently a dance studio and most famously a car dealership. Marvelous and comfortable modern furnishings complement the old brick walls of another century. An open kitchen and a semi-open bakery reveal things that many places want to keep hidden. Little touches, like purse holding hooks by every bar stool, are still a pleasant surprise to find. With two bars, St. Kilda’s welcomes single diners.

Breakfast is a big deal here. The bakery turns out a rotating selection of pastries, both sweet and savory, every day. They do a brisk business for these on carryout, with a separate station. The selection is small compared to La Mie but similar to what one might find at a Starbucks or Caribou. Plus, they are all fresh made on the premises. Coffee is special, too. The espresso machine, a Marzocco (from Seattle), is as fine a looking barista companion as you could find. One feature of the house is Australian coffee, which is made with ice cream, fresh cream and espresso. Smoothies get serious attention here with fresh squeezed juice. Steak and eggs are excellent with a most interesting smoked fennel slaw, freshly made green garlic hashed browns, poached eggs and compound butter. The steak, like all steaks here, is a hanger, which is a most flavorful but small cut between the belly and the diaphragm.

There are more interesting ways to go for breakfast. I tried a chili scramble that mixed eggs with goat cheese and Chinese style chili oil on sourdough with pickled vegetables. Cauliflower waffles with smashed avocados included marinated peppers, tomatoes, chutney and Feta. Smoked salmon toasties included a vinaigrette of shishito peppers and garbanzos, fennel aioli, fennel fronds, edamame and chives. My favorite breakfast, though, is the bananas foster pain perdu. Dark miso banana bread is served in rum sauce and candied walnuts. Grilled halloumi with lentils were served with spring peas, crispy garbanzos, radishes and vinaigrette of fresh herbs. Breakfast is served till 3 p.m. daily.

Roasted beet salad was another surprise, with avocado, orange vinaigrette, pistachios, passion fruit marshmallows, chevre and bread crumbs. My cheeseburger was too much for me. Two large patties were overwhelmed by super sharp Vermont cheddar, caramelized onions, bacon, pickles and a large bun. A vegan scallion pancake was more doable with homemade ginger and lime seitan (wheat gluten), Chinese style fermented black bean sauce with pickled vegetables and homemade chips.

Ahogadas (drunken) are getting harder to find in Des Moines. Here they are made with lamb instead of pork, black bean puree, crema and grilled pineapple salsa. The hanger steak I tried for breakfast was served with snow pea tendrils (a divine vegetable rarely found outside of good Chinese cafés), snap peas, braised cippolinis, country ham, sofrito sauce and sherry sauce. Fried chicken was served with Korean flair, spicy fermented gochujang chili paste with pickles and cauliflower on the side. One of the few misses for me was spring risotto. The idea was solid with asparagus, peas, mushrooms, lemon, fennel and egg. But the execution left it disappointingly undercooked and mushy. Tempura street shrimp were not up to Des Moines sushi house levels.

Service, like every place new, is inconsistent. It can be fabulous, so if you find a favorite server, ask for their station. I have been encouraged to send stuff back if not pleased. ♦

Jim Duncan is a food writer who has been covering the central Iowa scene for more than two decades.

333 Fifth St., West Des Moines
Open daily at 8 a.m., till 10 p.m. Monday – Saturday and till 5 p.m. Sunday.


  1. Dennis Rhodes says:

    Calamari sandwich is really good!

  2. Mike Keller says:

    I would love it if the reviews included info that let us know what COVID precautions are in place. Are all staff AND CUSTOMERS getting a temp check upon entry, in addition to requiring face masks not just for staff but also for customers except when they are actually seated? Is outdoor seating available and is social distancing taking place? So far the only place that I can find going all in, including the customer temp checks, is Exile Brewing Company. They’ve also got socially distanced seating outside which checks all my boses. But it would be great to have other options. I personally don’t see how a place can expect its staff to remain COVID free if real steps aren’t being taken to screen customers. And it is so easy peasy. No magic bullet of course. But one more guard against the virus.

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