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Food Dude

Flying Mango is unique to the bone

4/3/2024

Flying Mango
4345 Hickman Road,
515-255-4111
Wednesday – Saturday,
5 p.m. – whenever

Flying Mango has been around for a quarter century, 21 years at its present location in Beaverdale and five before that at farmers markets and as a catering service. Its name came because owner Mike Wedeking has been a licensed pilot for more than half a century, and mango is his favorite fruit.

When Wedeking began flying, restaurants in Des Moines were driven by the personalities of their owners. Joe and Red Giudicessi at Christopher’s, Babe and Chuck Bisignano at Babe’s and Chuck’s, Johnny and Kay Compiano at Johnny & Kays, Ralph Compiano at Compianos and Ralph’s, Paul Trostel at Colorado Feed & Grain, Gino Foggia at Gino’s, Vic Talerico at Vic’s Tally Ho, Noah Lacona at Noah’s Ark, etc. 

Talerico was the only one of them who spent more time in the kitchen than the front of the house. Babe Bisignano closed his restaurant rather than letting it continue without his daily presence. He correctly knew that people came to his place to see him as much as for the food. 

That is gone with the wind-grieved 20th century. The back of the house drives today’s restaurants, and chefs have replaced front men as the faces of places. Among today’s cafés, only Simon Goheen of Simon’s and Wedeking run things the old-fashioned way, greeting their customers personally and making sure service trumps everything else. 

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No other restaurant in town has a personality like the Mango. If the restaurant was a singer-songwriter, it would probably be Jimmy Buffet or Brian Wilson. Wedeking and many of his customers often dress like they are going to an outdoor concert on a boat. The vibes are not just casual, they define the word laidback. 

Catfish cake at Flying Mango

“The restaurant came about simply because the space became available and Suzanne and Mike weren’t thinking clearly,” the menu explains.  

Wedeking runs the front of the house like Babe did. He not only greets everyone, he sits down with some. The restaurant doubles as a concert venue. Though it only seats 50 for music, it attracts a lot of seriously cool talent. Jon Justice, Stephen Kellogg, Ryan Montbleau, Lipbone Redding, Jonah Smith, Carrie Rodriguez, Honey Island Swamp Band and California Honey Drops are among the acts to have played Mango in between stops on national tours. They usually stay with Wedeking, and every one of them has returned to do it again, too. 

Guy Fieri, the most laidback of all celebrity chefs, has visited more than once, too, with cameras to feature Mango on his show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Wedeking is so laidback that, when the show first came to Mango, he had no idea what it was. He never watches television. Never.

When Mango began, Des Moines had just two barbecues — Big Daddy’s and Battles. BBQ had not yet been fast tracked with gas-driven smokers and wood pellets. It was purely fueled by hard wood. Mango’s oven was designed for portability. Wedeking is licensed to perform weddings, as long as Mango is the wedding’s caterer. Kentucky is a favorite place for such things. 

The BBQ remains exemplary of old school values. Brisket, pulled pork, ribs, tenderloins, andouille, and chickens are smoked for up to 24 hours. Because Wedeking came from Ocala and loves New Orleans, much of the non Q is Southern, Cajun and Creole. Red beans and rice are meaty. Shrimp are served with grits or dirty rice. Yellowtail is grilled and served with mango salsa, chicken Creole with cornbread. Collard greens and roasted apples are options with all dishes. 

Invention is represented here by catfish cakes. They are, of course, smoked and then molded into cakes that are fried. White chocolate bread pudding, with mango sauce, stars on the dessert menu, with chocolate cake, Grandma Irene’s red hot, and cinnamon apple pie. Bellinis are made with mango nectar and margaritas can be, too. Because the owner is a Bourbon fan, a call for “Mike’s Choice” can provide some rare surprises. ♦

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

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