Monday, March 27, 2023

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Food Dude

Sprockets – not attached to a chain


Chicken waffle sandwich Belgian style

Hospitality management colleges, like the highly rated one at Iowa State, teach that names are a first essential step toward restaurant or resort success. A name should appeal to a public sense of comfort (Cozy’s, Fireside), pride in history (Iowa Machine Shed, Proudfoot & Bird), romance (Open Sesame, Zanzibar), clever deceit (HomeGrown, PF Chang’s) or esteem (Star Bar, Royal Mile). Curiosity is not usually discussed, but maybe it should be.

I have tried out new restaurants just because I wondered what the hell their name could mean — MinGaLaBar, Scenic Route, The Other Place, Psycho Suzi’s in Minneapolis, Runza’s in Omaha, and Le Fou Frog in Kansas City. All those places delighted me. Des Moines Performing Arts President Jeff Chelesvig told me that road show casts and crews almost always want to try Zombie Burger and Fong’s Pizza because of their curious names and often return frequently for the food and value.

Add a new name to the list of Des Moines restaurant curiosities — Sprockets. Yes, a restaurant is named after something that most people only know of regarding bicycles and chainsaws. You could say that the restaurant keeps up this theme with lots of décor related to auto and machinery repair signs, but that is not what you will remember. My first notable experience was the music. I asked several people what to call it and heard “easy listening,” “light jazz” and “R&B.” By whatever name, it’s as pleasant as any place’s in town — soft, easy and curiously unfamiliar. 

It created a vibe that made conversation easy, even with strangers. So did a very long bar where most people chose to sit on my visits. Customers made menu suggestions and asked how I liked certain dishes. So did staff, especially personable chef Austin and bartender Kai. Both seemed genuinely happy to greet me on return visits. I like to think Des Moines is the kind of town that treats newbies that way, but it’s not always that way. 

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Austin told me he learned to cook from church ladies on Chicago’s Southside. 

“I grew up in foster homes, and that means you spend a lot of time in church basements. The church ladies would ask me to help, and I accepted that as an opportunity to learn,” he explained. 

He learned well. Sprockets’ breakfast-oriented menu executes basic dishes very well. Catfish, with grits and eggs till 2 p.m., or with a side choice later, was superb — hand-breaded and fried, or blackened. Wings, with a choice of six preparations were, too. A salmon omelet was Florentine in its simplicity — with cream cheese and spinach. Most everything here is made from scratch, even thick onion rings, and pancakes or waffles with a sweeter-than-typical batter.

“I think the best dishes are made with simple ingredients but preparations that take no short cuts. Really, the only thing that comes in here pre-prepared is shredded but uncooked hash browns,” Austin said. 

Not everything was that all that simple. Burgers got a bit extreme. A breakfast burger was served on a croissant with bacon jam, a sunny side egg and hashed browns. The house burger included two patties, bacon, an egg, avocado, grilled onions and mushrooms, lettuce, tomato and condiments. 

My favorite dish was the chicken and waffles sandwich, with fried tenders between two waffles, served with a large bowl of five fresh fruits — Belgian style. Austin said his No. 1 recommendation is sausage gravy and biscuits, one of the breakfast items sold all day and night. 

Sprockets has a large patio that will be popular in warmer weather. Parking is free and plentiful. Happy Hour includes half-price drinks and appetizers. Tuesdays feature $2 tequila shots. The full bar includes a lot of top-shelf choices. In fact, Elijah Craig was my “well drink” Bourbon. ♦

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


  1. Margi Weiss says:

    Sounds great! Where is it located?

    1. Hi Margi! Sprockets is at 1905 Ingersoll Ave., Suite 106, Des Moines.

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