Des Moines has long boasted of an extraordinary number of Italian, mostly Calabrian, restaurants. Since Bob Ray opened the state to immigrants from Southeast Asia and Mexico in the late 1970s, Des Moines has added so many excellent Vietnamese, Thai, Lao, Michoacan, Jalisco and Central American restaurants that Tony Bourdain took note when he visited. Strangely, our large populations of Irish, German and Jewish citizens has never been served by the numbers of accommodating restaurants as the Italians, Southeast Asian and Hispanic populations. Joe and Alex Tripp are trying to bridge that gap.
In early December, they bought out partner Simon Goheen and closed the restaurant for breakfast and lunch, temporarily. The partnership was a long shot. Tripp and Goheen both operate successful restaurants on their own — Harbinger and Simon’s respectively. Partnering and sharing a kitchen for two different services has been tried before in town, and it never lasted long. Goheen did breakfast and lunch and Tripp did dinner. Now, it’s Tripp doing dinner and working on a new lunch/breakfast menu that he hopes to begin in January.
In my experiences, breakfast was busier than dinner, at least on Sundays. Long term, though, dinner must win the way in a hallowed space that has hosted some of the greatest culinary innovators in Des Moines history — Ann Tancredi of Anjo’s, John Ross and Andrew Meek of Sage, David Baruthio of Baru 66, and Jacob Demars’ RI. So let it be with the Tripps.
The place has been playfully remodeled to attract more of a casual family demographic than previous incarnations. In fact, it was named after sons of both Tripp and Goheen. It also has from day one tried to be a rare Jewish restaurant in central Iowa. That means that latkes are featured. Those delightful potato pancakes are served in flights, like vodka or wine. With a severe inability to resist new potato dishes, I tried the entire latke menu. That included a “classic” with sour cream, chives, applesauce and horseradish; a Bronx with house-cured salmon, a smear of cream cheese, red onions and crisped capers; a Little Popper with cream cheese jalapeno, roasted turkey and pepper jam; a hot date with cheese curds, date brown butter, chives and caramelized onions; plus a weekly special.
Sandwiches were more familiar, with a burger, a Reuben, a turkey with avocado, a patty melt, and a buttermilk fried chicken. Tripp is personally obsessed with fried chicken perfection. His Korean version kept the doors open at Harbinger during COVID. This new version, with hot honey and celery seed cole slaw, is special. All sandwiches are served with fresh cut fries of note.
The nosh menu, which means appetizers as much as anything else, includes more familiar dishes — chicken wings; disco fries with pepper gravy, cheese curds, turkey and candied bacon; spinach and artichoke dip; onion rings with pastrami jam; and a lox platter. Soups included a daily special and matzo ball. Salads covered the Cobb, beet, Brussels sprout and house field.
Entrees screamed the word “Diner” with a fabulous meat loaf, made with grape jelly glaze and served with Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes plus a bone-in short rib pot roast. Also worth trying were a chicken pot pie in puff pastry, a hangar steak, a full pound Iowa chop with more of that date brown butter and a five cheese mac and cheese.
Each table was greeted with complimentary, homemade potato chips and a light dip. Drink specialties included a couple with Tripp’s celery seed syrup. Prices are diner-like with wines in the $28-40 range and no entrée more than $28. Happy hour brings more bargains. ♦