THE DISH – A flurry of activity

By Jim Duncan

The fourth quarter of 2015 was a perplexing disappointment to food consumers. Despite the continued drop in energy prices, food prices rose. That’s not supposed to happen. The United States Department of Agriculture found that the consumer price index for food rose 1.4 percent from November of the previous year. It was even worse for people who go out to eat, with restaurant prices soaring 2.7 percent in a year. There were some hopeful signs at the end of the year, though, with supermarket prices for almost all categories, even beef and veal, dipping slightly after October.

Locally, the year closed with a devastating flurry of activity. A proposed merger of Dow and DuPont vanquished Pioneer Hybrid. That proud research facility fell victim to a new corporate cost-cutting strategy that is no longer interested in scientists developing new products. Why bother when you can make money selling genetically modified seeds that encourage increased use of pesticides and herbicides? In related news, debate raged about the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit against agricultural pollution of Des Moines’ river water.

The Good News

Mike Crownover (Django, Centro) and Spencer Vandeberg opened a two-level, 5,000-square-foot Mediterranean and Spanish restaurant — Lurra Cocina — on Locust Street adjacent the sculpture park downtown. The restaurant, which stars Nick Illingworth (Flying Mango, Blue Tomato, Tangerine) as chef, features small plates (tapas) and really small plates (pinxtos), plus paella, snapper and lamb…  Kwok Chow and Van Lam (China Café, Winterset) opened Asian Cook House on Keosauqua Way. The restaurant, which seats 120, includes Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and Cambodian dishes… The Natural Grocers (Denver) began construction on its first local store at Hickman and 83rd Street in Clive. The 15,000-square-foot store is being built in front of a former Dahl’s. They will offer natural and organic foods… Lou King reopened the beloved Donut King store on Grand Avenue in West Des Moines. The store had been closed several months while King recovered from an injury… Chris Diebel, Kolby Jones and Lana Jones Gould began work on Bubba — Southern Comforts in the old Raccoon River Brewing Co. venue downtown. The two-level, 5,300-square-foot store will offer soul food and other southern delights… Mellissa Murphy and William Wynkoop opened Drink Up Sports Bar & Grill in the former Bosnian pub Euro Bar in Urbandale. The menu is more American with pizza, sandwiches and appetizers… Nicki and Joe Romare (Founders Irish Pub in Bondurant and Whiskey River in Ames) announced a new 10,000-square-foot Whiskey River to open in Ankeny, with a reception hall called The District Venue. They will have two patios, with one on the rooftop. The District Venue reception hall will hold up to 300 people for weddings, corporate and community events… Gusto owners opened Juniper Moon, an upscale cocktail lounge with free delivery from a neighboring Gusto… Firebird’s Wood Fired Grill (Charlotte) opened its first area store in West Des Moines, tempting the Fleming’s customer with considerably lower prices… Fuzzy’s Tacos (Fort Worth) opened its first area store, in downtown’s old Des Moines Brewery, bringing a Baja-style take on Mexican food to town… Firehouse Subs (Jacksonville) opened three new area stores with child-friendly ambiance and an amazing selection of hot sauces.

The Bad News

A Cedar Rapids Gazette investigation found that fertilizer use increased sevenfold and chemical use by 8.78 times in Iowa between 1960 and 2004. The study claimed that externalized costs of agriculture included a minimum of $4 billion a year lost because of the degradation of freshwater sources… The World Health Organization declared that processed meats can cause cancer… The excellent The Salween, one of Omaha’s top restaurants, closed after two years on Douglas Ave. in Des Moines… The superb jerk house Eastman’s Jamaican Restaurant closed only months after opening.

Honors & Milestones

Hing Wong closed the legendary restaurant and dim sum house Kwong Tung after more than half a century. He said he hopes to rent the place to a new owner who is interested in dim sum service… Tony Lemmo closed his trend-setting restaurant Café di Scala after 10 years. That restaurant will transition into a special events facility with most of the same staff… Great China closed after 27 years… Table 128 was named the restaurant of the year by DSM’s Wini Moranville and the Iowa Restaurant Association… Wasabi Chi and Wasabi Tao were jointly named restaurant of the year by Cityview’s Food Dude… Jay Wang and Tony He shared Food Dude’s chef of the year honor… Sidebar’s chef Andrew Havlovic took first place honors and Ankeny Hy-Vee chef Dylan Carol placed second in the Iowa Restaurant Association’s Dine Iowa Grand Tasting Gala. Chef Jeff Snowgren of Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Altoona won the People’s Choice award. Havlovic’s winning dish paired Mongolian beef entrée with a tofu waffle, ginger puffed rice, soy caramel, herbs and scallions… Taste of New York won the Cityview readers’ challenge as the “ultimate place for pizza.”

Moves & Changes

Strudl Haus added Chinoise, raclette, chocolate and cheese fondue services to its repertoire…  Waterfront Seafood Market and Restaurant expanded their West Des Moines landmark into a neighboring bay. The move adds 2,000 square feet, including a 10-seat sushi bar, additional tables for 32 people and a party room that accommodates 40 people. The highlight of the expansion is room for new freezer cases for king and snow crab and lobster tails… Farmers Market vendor Janet Hoch announced an imminent move for her Cupcake Addict to Chambery Boulevard in Johnston. The store will rotate 80 flavors of cupcake, plus brownies, cake balls, layer cakes and pretzels… Noodle Zoo began opening a new store, also on Chambery Boulevard in Johnston…  Lisa Keena revived her Chicago Dog restaurant, formerly in Highland Park, to a new building in the Cityville development on S.W. Ninth Street. She featured Italian beef sandwiches, grinders, reubens and Philly cheesesteaks in addition to the classic all beef dogs of the Windy City… Mark Nicola reopened Angelo’s Pizza and Café on 121st Street in Urbandale. Angelo’s previously operated at two locations in West Des Moines, in Urbandale, downtown and on the eastside. The new location will add breakfast to its menu… Chris Van Horn, Chris Lynch and Jeremy Paine took over Victor’s Sports Club and renamed it The U Neighborhood Bar & Grill on Douglas Avenue in Urbandale. The new place features an updated menu, new TVs and a blue and white theme to honor Urbandale High School teams… Fred and Kim Hagar, owners of Hagar’s Manhattan Deli on Ingersoll Avenue, opened Manhattan Grill in the former Limey’s Pub in Normandy Plaza of West Des Moines. Unlike their deli, which remains open for now, the new place adds pizza, burgers, chicken and a full bar… Tulsa-based QuikTrip made it clear they would fight local convenience chains Casey’s and Kum & Go. QT began work to expand its metro lineup by two new stores, from 24 to 26. They replaced an older store on Hubbel Avenue and began building two brand new ones — one on Keosauqua Way in Des Moines (almost next door to two other convenience stores) and another at Indianola Avenue and Indianola Road in Des Moines… Red China Bistro morphed into Café Zon and then closed completely. RELISH

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