THE DISH- Pretzels? No. Color-changing ice cream? Yes.

By Jim Duncan

The third quarter of 2014 was a bizarre time in the food world. As food prices rose at an accelerated rate, school districts in both New York City and Chicago decided to forego nearly $1 million each in subsidies rather than accept federal restrictions imposed on schools to make cafeteria food “healthier.” Both school districts said they were under pressure to serve students “foods they want to eat, rather than what the government tells them to eat.” For instance, the restrictions would have forbid hummus (too fatty) and pretzels (too salty). Even hard-boiled eggs and yogurt didn’t get federal approval.

The nutrition cops also took a hit from chain restaurants. As the casual dining restaurant genre struggled with lost earnings, many turned into quasi “all you can eat” buffets. Outback’s “steak and endless shrimp” deal promised that the shrimp were “bigger than ever,” for $15.99. After Olive Garden’s same-store sales dropped 1.3 percent in the most recent quarter, they responded with a “never-ending pasta bowl” offer, which also included “endless” bread sticks and salad, for $9.99. TGI Fridays launched a $10 “endless appetizers” deal. Red Lobster offered “endless shrimp” for $15.99. Ruby Tuesday began advertising an “endless” salad bar. Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., the long-time scourges of the health police, launched a new burger with “mile high bacon.”

Oddly, one restaurant wanted to get rid of customers rather than attract them. A New York City McDonald’s called police to remove senior citizens who were taking too long drinking coffee with their friends. In Des Moines, things were less desperate. Once again far more new places opened than places closed.

Good news

Full Court Press (Mullet’s, Red Monk, Royal Mile, High Life, El Bait Shop, Hessen Haus, Shorty’s Somewhat Fancy Bar, Fong’s Pizza, etc.) announced their first store ever in the suburbs — a Fong’s Pizza that will open in Ankeny next spring… H’s Pho & Restaurant opened in the Liberty Park Mall in Waukee… Chef David Baruthio (Baru 66, Baru at the Art Center, Blue Tomato) planned to open his newest restaurant, Prime, sometime between New Year’s Eve and the end of January in the Midland Building downtown. The steakhouse’s private lounge will have a separate entrance and require membership. Customers will be able to bring their own liquor for a corkage fee, and the restaurant is working on a permit for cigar smoking… Sunny Day Cafe opened in Ankeny offering bakery goods, coffee drinks, smoothies and frappes… Gusto Pizza Co. announced a new store on Johnston’s Chambery Boulevard would open in early 2015… Mahalo’s Mini Donuts should open any day now in Jordan Creek Town Center… Taste of New York opened in the Jordan Creek area featuring genuine New York City pizza, 18 and 20 inches in diameter, with stuffed rolls, calzones, arancini and Italian ices… Jersey Mike’s opened its first subway store in Iowa, on University in Clive.

Bad news

Saraj closed their Urbandale cafe… Yanno’s Uniq Cuisine closed in West Des Moines.

Transitions

Kris Van Tuyl has been promoted from executive chef of Cityscapes to Food and Beverage Director for the Downtown Holiday Inn. His sous chef, Beto Vergara, became the new executive chef, and his former sous chef from Luna, Johnny Robovski, is now the company’s banquet captain… The Des Moines Wine Festival Foundation named Natasha Sayles its new executive director, replacing Nikki Syverson who moved to The Des Moines Community Playhouse… Valley West Mall refigured its food court, reducing the number of vendors from nine to six… Scott Stroud left his executive chef position at Malo for an opportunity in Australia. Malo’s new executive chef is Matt Howard who recently relocated from New York City after marrying an Iowa girl. Jamie Monaghan is now banquet/ brunch sous chef, and Julio Gamboa is now production sous chef… Aldi expanded its Urbandale store by 25 percent… Fareway broke ground on its new supermarket in eastern West Des Moines… Champps restaurant in Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines changed its name to Eighty Six’d and is offering several new menu items… Blue Tomato added a lunch service… Trellis opened its spectacular outdoor service area overlooking the Des Moines River… Malo and Eatery A added brunch services… After moving his Tacopocalypse from Des Moines Street to East Sixth, Sam Auen planned to open a homemade ramen shop, Krunkwich, in the former venue… Centro added a Bloody Mary bar… Hy-Vee converted the dining areas in many of its local stores into more upscale — and expensive — Market Cafés. Most have full bars. (“Got to run down to the supermarket to pick up some chicks”)… Yanno’s Italian American moved into the old Tamales Industry venue at Second & New York… Sakara completed its expansion, doubling in size. Manhattan Deli began expanding into the building next door… Ingersoll Tap opened in the former Suzette’s Candy, specializing in rare whiskey… The Waverly transformed its kitchen into that of an Irish gastropub.

Honors and milestones

Robert Anderson (Iowa Culinary Institute) won the Iowa Restaurant Association’s (IRA) Lifetime Achievement Award. Dom Iannarelli (Splash, Jethro’s) was named IRA’s Chef of the Year. George Miggs (G Miggs) was proclaimed their Restaurateur of the Year… Wine Spectator awards this year went to Splash, Tursi’s Latin King, Greenbriar, Dish, Fleming’s and 801 Steak & Chop House…Splash’s Rex Schulze won the IRA’s 2014 Top Mixologist competition. That returned the championship to Des Moines after a rare, one-year absence in Council Bluffs. Amanda Schreiber of Creme finished runner-up. Schulze’s piece de resistance was his take on The Last Word, with vodka replacing gin plus green chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, lime juice ice cubes and real Dalmatian maraschinos. He said it would go on the menu at Splash at a new top price point of $20… A Dong, Des Moines’ original Vietnamese café, celebrated its 25th anniversary… A worldwide network of organic organizations presented its top honor, the One World Award for Lifetime Achievement, to Fred Kirschenmann, Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.

Tout

The 14th Annual Iowa Organic Conference will be Nov. 16-17 on the University of Iowa campus as a joint effort between Iowa State University and the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability. Producers and experts from across the country will share tips for transitioning into organic production and methods. Cost is $95 through Nov. 7 and $115 afterwards. For more information, visit http://sustainability.uiowa.edu/2014-iowa-organic-conference/

New stuff we like

“The American Plate: A History of the United States in 100 Bites” (Libby O’Connell, History), published by the History Channel’s new press, is a delicious read, showing how our eating choices influence history for centuries to come… Color-changing ice cream, called Xameleon, hit the market. Invented by Charlie Francis of Lick Me I’m Delicious (a protégé of Feran Adria and also of the ice cream guru who invented Viagara ice cream). This mad science is described as tasting like “strawberry, cocoa, almond, banana, pistachio, vanilla, and caramel.”

Stuff we don’t understand

Caramel-flan-flavored ramen became the rage in China… “The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry,” a research project by six leading women’s organizations, reported that 90 percent of female restaurant workers experience sexual harassment, half of them on a weekly basis. RELISH

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