Scratch Italian Bruce Gerleman and Dom Iannarelli’s latest collaboration, Jethroni Pepperoni, is a populist take on southern Italian dining, providing the experience of more expensive restaurants

By Jim Duncan  |  Photos by Dan Hodges

Jethroni Pepperoni.  Colossal Meatball, Chicken Artichoke and Chicken Parmesan.

Jethroni Pepperoni. Colossal Meatball, Chicken Artichoke and Chicken Parmesan.

Bruce Gerleman and Dom Iannarelli have teamed up to create the lavish Splash, where seafood is air freighted daily from both Hawaii and the Caribbean, and Jethro’s, the machoi barbecue giant known for massive servings and award-winning wings. Jethroni Pepperoni, their latest collaboration, is a populist take on southern Italian dining. Mediterranean yellow stucco walls, stained cedar and copper accents give the Altoona café a look of Calabria. It has the kitchen trappings of a far more expensive restaurant. Other than two dishes with hand-cut filet medallions, all entrees cost less than $19, with most in the $11-$15 range. At that price point, one does not expect a kitchen that prepares nearly everything from scratch.

The kitchen staff cuts crimini mushrooms and vegetables, breads, calamari and onion rings, and kneads fresh dough into pizza pies and scratch-made breads. The house table breads are small loaves and sticks of garlic bread. Some people buy the latter by the score. Jethroni doesn’t even have a walk-in freezer because the only thing they use that is frozen is french fries. Recipes here are not typical of what you find in older Calabrese cafés of Des Moines. The marinara tastes more of umami and is a lighter shade of red. The colossal meatball ($8) is a unique creation of Chef Nate Applebaum of A16 in San Francisco and Tokyo. In those cities, they are only served on Mondays despite huge demand. Jethroni serves them daily. The meatball is also served on a La Mie sesame roll as a sandwich ($12). They are wonders of texture. How does anything so large not crumble apart when cut? Also starring on the appetizer menu are hand cut and breaded calamari and onion rings ($9 each).

Jethroni Pepperoni. Baked  Cavatelli. Hot and garlic sausage, loaded with marinara sauce and melty mozzarella.

Jethroni Pepperoni. Baked Cavatelli. Hot and garlic sausage, loaded with marinara sauce and melty mozzarella.

One pasta dish uses Graziano’s garlic and hot sausages with roasted banana, hot, red and green peppers plus marinara ($15). The house specialty is Sunday sauce. Pork shoulder, pork blade, beef top sirloin, two Graziano sausages, pepperoni and ground beef are simmered for 12 hours in a reduction of both beef and pork stocks. It is served on pasta ($14). Diablo spaghetti ($14) is made with grilled chicken, giardiniera and cream sauce. Iannarelli says his best-selling item is probably six-cheese manicotti ($13). It’s a take on Margherita pizza with tri-colored sauces — from pesto, marinara and Alfredo sauces — on handmade pasta stuffed with six cheeses. It is also sold Sutera style ($18), with Graziano’s sausage included.

Generally speaking, chicken breasts are the most likely order to be overcooked and dried out in restaurants. Jethroni tenderizes its breasts by making deep punctures that allow them to cook in just three minutes and keep them moist and juicy. Its chicken speroni is a pepperoni-added take of Latin King’s spiedini, with a rich garlic sauce. Chicken Parmesan uses a lighter breading than is common. Chicken Marsala uses pan-roasted breast with criminis, roasted onions and a wine-prominent sauce. Artichoke and olive chicken uses a lemon sauce that pairs delightfully with artichokes. Chicken balsamico is not like anything I had ever tried. Fried breasts are covered with a sauce of balsamic sundried tomatoes.

Steak Sinatra ($23-$30), filet medallions in veal demiglace and smothered in garlic tomato sauce, is covered with Gorgonzola. Eggplant meatballs ($12) are made with chick peas and ricotta. De Burgo steak is made here with the creamy recipe made famous at Johnny’s Vets Club.

Jethroni Pepperoni.  Chicken Artichioke.  Grilled chicken on toasted ciabatta topped with spinach dip, artichokes, red onion, tomato, basil  and melty mozzarella.

Jethroni Pepperoni. Chicken Artichioke. Grilled chicken on toasted ciabatta topped with spinach dip, artichokes, red onion, tomato, basil
and melty mozzarella.

Iannarelli said the biggest surprise since opening last winter is that customers gravitated more toward pasta dishes than pizza. As a result, the restaurant now serves only one size of pie, 10 inches in diameter. Margherita pizza ($15-$17) employs fresh mozzarella and basil with more balsamic drizzle than usual. Supreme pizzas include three meats, two peppers, mushrooms, olives and onions.

Chocolate and hazelnut cheesecake ($6) is made with cookie crust and both white and dark chocolates. The bar features 30 specialty martinis and iced mugs. RELISH

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Categories: The Feature

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