Disbelief and incredulity in the local food scene

By Jim Duncan


To borrow from probably the most populist novelist of all time, “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.” Charles Dickens could have been writing about the U.S. as 2016 became 2017.

The last four months brought a tornado of incredible contradictions, redefinitions and confusions. A gilded New York billionaire ran for president of the United States as the most complete populist since Andy Jackson and won convincingly. As political pundits predicted imminent economic doom, U.S. stock markets and the dollar soared, while commodity prices held their own, or grew, in healthy contradiction to typical wisdom.

After eight years of proclaiming that environmental science was conclusive and infallible, Tom Vilsack turned that holy dogma of wine into vinegar. In his last desperate act before resigning as head of the United States Department of Agriculture, he released a “new study,” which claimed that ethanol was almost two times greener than previously reported in “conclusive studies” by the same agency. Skeptics complained about the new methodology because of what? Politics.

Who knew what to do? As craft beer sales dived below levels of their previous three-year decline, 14 craft breweries in Iowa moved to open or expand. As the demand for restaurant food waned while that for prepared supermarket food waxed, the best new idea that the fast food industry could come up with was “bundling” (five for $5, four for $5, etc.) without allowing for individual choice. As ethanol prices remained low, production in Iowa soared to an all-time high. Twenty-five members of Congress petitioned the Federal Drug Administration to redefine the word “milk,” restricting its use only to “the secretions of mammary glands of female mammals.” Merriam-Webster did not respond to our calls.

In news that would shock Dickens, the Mirror announced that London was losing 500 pubs a year. City taxes there have forced the average price of a pint of beer to $6, compared with $4 in the rest of the United Kingdom. Locally, restaurants expanded and contracted as if confusion was a new method for mixing cocktails.

The Good News

David Baruthio (Baru 66, Prime) and Michael Crownover (Lurra Cocina) opened Saison Kitchen & Pub in the former Mustard’s in Windsor Heights. A totally remodeled restaurant and bar are separated… Sunflower Catering became the first client to move into a shared-use kitchen at the Mickle Center in Valley Junction. Happy Plates, a new food business, signed to move in, too, with plans to provide hot lunches for 600 children attending various pre schools/daycare locations. Diane Weiland of the venerable Wallace House is managing the kitchen… Kathmandu opened on S.E. 14th Street, with Indian, and the area’s first-ever Nepalese food… Sushi 117 debuted on historic Fifth Street in Valley Junction with crepes in addition to its namesake… China One Buffet reopened, in the former Ming Dynasty building on S.W. Ninth… The Foundry announced it would open in Valley Junction’s Mickle Center with a distillery and a 6,000-square-foot beer hall… Peace Tree Brewing opened a Des Moines store in East Village… Sam & Gabe’s debuted in the Lyon in East Village, with 270 seats and marvelous views… Goldfinch opened in the old Dos Rios with a fresh and local menu and lovely new trappings… Molly’s Cupcakes (Iowa City) opened a store in East Village… Sam Auen debuted his Krunkwich/Piu,Piu venture in the former Kwong Tung on Ingersoll… Kevin and Jennifer DuBay opened Bar Tareau in the Randolph Hotel… Tom Baldwin debuted his latest Draught House 1908 in the Hotel Randolph… David Baruthio and Uriah Mixdorf opened Whiskey House & Bourbon Grill in Ankeny with 480 whiskey selections… Annie Baldwin opened Blu Toro, a tequila-forward Mexican restaurant in West Glen… Liam Anivat opened Banana Leaf, a Thai-forward Asian café, in West Glen Town Center… Hurt’s Donut Shop, a 24-7 fix with huge instant success, opened in the same shopping center. Lines were long from day one, 24- 7… Fareway announced plans to build a second West Des Moines store, this one on Mills Civic Parkway, and a new store on Fleur Drive… Aposto is now open every Saturday night, not just once a month… Fresh Fit Meals (Texas) opened its first two area stores, in Ankeny and Urbandale, and announced a third would be coming to West Des Moines… Smoothie King (New Orleans) announced its second area store, in Waukee, and a third coming to Ankeny this summer… New American Brewing Co. unveiled its first taproom, in the District at Prairie Trail in Ankeny… Lincoln Café’s legendary founder/chef Matt Steigerwald announced he was returning to Iowa from North Carolina to open a full service restaurant at Wilson’s Orchard near Iowa City. A re-purposed barn wood building has been built, and hard cider, bourbon, beer and live music will be featured… The Original Pancake House (Oregon and five years older than IHOP) opened a store in a former Rookies in Ankeny… Ice cream/taqueria La Michoacana (Valley Jct.) expanded into the former Burek on Merle Hay Road… Pot Belly Sandwich Shop (Chicago) announced it would be opening a third area store, in the Galleria at Jordan Creek. Its previous local stores opened recently in Ames and downtown in the Equitable Building. The stores feature live music.

The Bad News

Local legend Noah Lacona passed away in January… Candela closed… Café Su shut down… Encore Pizza closed. Marino’s moved into its venue on Merle Hay Road after closing its Franklin store… In a deal involving three James Beard Award semifinalists, Enosh Kelley sold his Bistro Montage venue to Joe Tripp and Jason Simon (both Alba) but retained rights to the name and recipes (including legendary escargot)… Okoboji Grill closed all its metro restaurants… Louie’s Wine Dive shuttered its Waukee store after two years… Burek, a Bosnian café that served a dish best described as “pizza on Russian steroids,” closed on Merle Hay Road… The Bear shut down in Ankeny after 43 years… Mustard’s closed its last store after 46 years in the area… China One gave up on Ingersoll… Blue Tomato shut down after three years… Ranallo’s closed in Ankeny after a dozen years… Ming Dynasty closed after a decade on Army Post Road.

Honors & Accolades

The Café at the Meadows won Cityview’s Ultimate Burger Challenge with its Café cheeseburger. Trophy’s and G Mig’s were runners-up…. Nick’s won the Iowa Pork Producers’ Best Tenderloin contest, which was long deserved… Food Dude named Kue’d the Best New Restaurant of 2016, Tom and Annie Baldwin as Restaurateurs of the Year, George Formaro as Chef of the Year, and Alba as Best Café… The Cooking Channel’s “Cheap Eats” filmed at Strudel Haus in November. That show premiered on the Feb. 15 episode. The same network plans to shoot at High Life Lounge this spring… Jessica Dunn, former Food Dude “Rising Star of the Year” at Baru66 and Alba, has landed a job at New York City’s prestigious Eleven Madison Park… Sean Wilson, who took over Proof five years ago, is resurrecting his roots there in new terroir this March. “The new style will be strictly Southern in nature but more precise in place. The style of cuisine will be strictly Outer Banks, Carolina coastal plain and low country, featuring areas like Hatteras Island, Haker’s Island, Penguin Island, Sea Island, Tybee Island, from the North Shores and Down Easters, to Calabash and Gullah,” Wilson explained. I, for one, will don sky blue for the transition. ♦

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Categories: The Dish

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