A time of reawakening

By Jim Duncan

Spring was most definitely a time of reawakening in Iowa this year. After decades of reaping the seeds of denial sown by a state legislature filled with Farm Bureau lackeys, federal judge Leonard Strand dismissed all Des Moines Water Works claims against drainage districts in three northwest Iowa counties. He admitted that DMWW may well have suffered an injury but determined the problems were issues for the legislature. DMWW wanted to have the water
systems and farms of the polluting districts regulated under the federal Clean Water Act, in the same way that businesses and manufacturers are. But no.

Meanwhile the state Department of Natural Resources called 253 community water systems highly susceptible to the same nitrate pollution that threatens the DMWW’s 500,000 customers. Sixty-two of those systems draw water from the same watersheds that supply Des Moines. Thirty-nine systems are targeted for immediate action because their drinking water is already contaminated with high nitrate levels.

The Des Moines Register’s esteemed poll found that the DMWW lawsuit was supported by a majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents. It also found that a majority of rural Iowans supported it. That would contrast with the Farm Bureau inspired propaganda that DMWW and metro Des Moines are waging war on rural Iowa.

Water quality boosters got a jump start when the mercurial Art Cullen of Storm Lake Times won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing for covering the water pollution subject — the overall prize, not one for papers with small circulations. Farmers, and potentially water quality, engaged a new problem, too. The number of counties in Iowa infested with the super pigweed Palmer amaranth increased sevenfold in one year after the killer weed was inadvertently included in “conservation propagation program” plantings That convinced the U.S. Department of
Agriculture to rule that farmers with 100 or more plants of killer pigweed can broadly introduce herbicides. That ruling has more steps to navigate in the federal bureaucracy, but this inadvertent mistake has no upside.

There was some good news for safe food and water. Outgoing Governor Terry Branstad granted a reprieve to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture by vetoing legislation that would have killed it. There are still problems for the center, though, as the legislature did not provide any funding for them. There have been a lot of jokes about the legislature’s apparent aversion to sustainability.

News in the restaurant scene was far more positive. Openings dwarfed closings as analysts talked about a last hurrah — theory is interest rates are rising for the first time in 10 years, with economic growth, and that usually slows the rate of new openings.

The good news

Jason Simon and Joe Tripp opened Harbinger in the former Bistro Montage. The pair, both James Beard
Award semifinalists at Alba, feature Thai culinary philosophies with Iowa ingredient application… Longtime sous chef Martin Altheide is the new head chef at Alba. That is significant because Simon has promoted two other chefs to James Beard semifinalist level. Nic Gonwa at Eatery A was national semifinalist as Rising Star of the Year after he moved from Alba to Eatery A… Travel + Leisure magazine proclaimed Nic Gonwa’s ciopinno the best “cheap eat” in Iowa. The honor was part of Cooking Channel host Ali Khan’s show Cheap Eats. While visiting Eatery A
for a show, Khan also touted the breakfast nachos at University Library Café, the broasted chicken at High Life Lounge and the napoleons at Strudl Haus… Riley Drive Entertainment (Kansas) opened its second Taco Hangover, in a former dry cleaner in the Urban Town Center in Urbandale. The company also began building a third area Taco Hangover, in Ankeny’s Prairie Trail… Danny and Sheri Holmes opened a Marco’s Pizza (Ohio) outlet in Windsor Heights. The chain bills itelf as the fastest growing pizza chain in America (750 stores) and the only one founded by
a native Italian… Dan and Stephanie White opened Angry Goldfish in the venue best known as Little Joe’s (where more than one person was assassinated). Former Orchestrate employees Clark and Renee Way manage the store… Joe and Kristina Logsdon opened a La Mie in the former Winston’s in the skywalk… Keri Rush’s Fresh Café, the wheatgrass juice bar, opened in the downtown Hy-Vee… Big Al’s, an excellent BBQ, opened on Hubbell across from the AE Dairy. This happened nearly a year ago, but we just now heard about it and it’s still worth broadcasting… A Peruvian restaurant had a “Grand Opening” sign on its door at press time. The new place will take over the former
Taco King on East Grand… Cheese Shop of Des Moines expanded to the former Candela on Ingersoll.


Sam and Gabe’s completely reworked its menu at both the new store in East Village and the old one in Urbandale. Chris Place, original chef at Django and Proof, heads the kitchen… Former Sam & Gabe’s owner chef Jerry Talerico was spied working the kitchen at the West Glen Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse… Courtney Oberender, an Iowa
Restaurant Association chef of the year, moved from Gateway Market Café to Bubba–Southern Comforts… Phil Shires, Cityview’s Chef of the Year in 2014, retired from the kitchen at Aposto for health reasons. He now runs the front of the house for La Mie’s skywalk café… Chicago restaurateur and Des Moines native Pete Faber opened Barntown Brewery and Restaurant in West Des Moines… Gina Formaro passed away at age 88. The mother and grandmother of many of Des Moines’ food scene founders, she was a genius baker and a generous soul… Mike and Lisa LaValle moved to buy their own property on the river docks for catering headquarters.

Honors and accolades

Legendary chef and curmudgeon Gordon Ramsey visited Alba… The Greek family restaurant Northwestern Steakhouse in Mason City was namedthe “most iconic” restaurant in the state by Thrillist… Joe Tripp made the semifinals of James Beard Awards Best Chef Midwest for the second straight year and the only two years he has been eligible. He was Iowa’s only semifinalist this year as St. Louis and Minneapolis continued their domination of the awards in the Midwest. Each city had two of the five finalists. The fifth came from Milwaukee… Des Moines
was one of 12 semifinalists for Midwest Living’s Greatest Midwest Food Town award. Champaign, Bloomington (Indiana), Ann Arbor, Lawrence, Duluth, Columbia (Missouri), Fargo, Omaha, Sioux Falls, Madison and Toledo joined Des Moines. Vote at www.midwestliving.com/vote.

The industrial news

McDonald’s, on the comeback finally with all-day breakfast and three sizes of Big Mac bolstering sales, has determined it will finance franchisees who are upgrading their stores. For years, the latter have complained that the improvements ordered have forced individual owners to sell to bigger pockets… “Fake meat” gained credence with the anti-livestock media, and some environmentalists. Here is how Nicole Niman, advocate of sustainable livestock,
weighed in: 1. This is fake food not real food, which is key to humans fixing their health and their messed-up
relationship with food and the earth; 2. There is no good data showing that fake meat is actually better from an environmental perspective; 3. The manifold benefits of good livestock husbandry are lost, and, finally, 4. This is a distraction. The more energy that is directed at “solutions” like this, the more difficult it will be to work toward truly regenerative food production. ♦

Categories: The Dish

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