Locally Grown


Goodbye, Blue Monday! er…. 2010!
2010/12/31, 9:35 am
Filed under: Personal

This is a short thank you to all who have made this year a success for whomever you made this year successful for.  I am very excited moderately enthused to see what path the year 2011 leads us towards.  Whatever that path may be, for better or for worse, the next year promises to produce a little excitement (stay tuned for the 2011 insider sneak preview coming this weekend) and a lot of malarkey, as to be expected.

This past year has been a learning, growing, and hectic time for those involved in this here interweb parking spot.  I appreciate your readership and participation.  Big things are happening in the coming months, including the Locally Grown One Year Anniversary Blowout, and it would be nice to see all your shining ip addresses during there!

Please have a safe and responsible time tonight!  Or at least make it out alive and without need for a lawyer!

Happy New Year!

 

Your not so humble un-servant,

The Cook.



DSM Food Cart Law Backlash Update

While you are enjoying the holiday season and preparing the list of things you will most likely not be accomplishing next year (aka resolutions), many others are looking toward the future with you.  This year we shall be looking toward a future with at least one less late night dining option, thanks to the Des Moines City Council.

The New Enemy Of The State

I spoke with sources close to the owner of the food cart which formerly took residence in the parking lot across from the Royal Mile on 4th street in down town DMZ.  It seems that due to the new “crackdown” on the troublesome food vendor sector that this food cart will never return to operation.  No, it wasn’t shut down by the city.  It was a decision by the the owner/operator, who is fed up with the treatment that has been doled out upon the food cart dining scene.

That’s right, the Des Moines City Council has made moves that have caused at least one business owner to shut down operations.  Reasons cited by the cart owner include increasingly rising licensing fees, the new hour restriction which takes away the busiest 90 minutes of the service evening, and some new “hoop jumping” put in place by the new laws. Evidently the 1:30 am law isn’t the time you stop serving, but you have to be packed up and out of the area by that time.

I am sickened by this whole situation.  Drunks can’t get a taco or a grill cheese on the streets, but they can get a sloppy beef sandwich or slice pizza then drunkenly spill back out onto the streets to cause the same problems cited by the city in their complaint about the street vendors.  Bullshit.  First the Taco Trucks, now the food carts.

What about the people who get done at work late, bike commute, and find it more convenient to ride up to a food cart, eat without dismounting, then continue on to the next destination?  What about the income lost by the food cart owners who have invested time and money in their venture hoping to one day have a “brick and mortar” spot?  What about the tax revenue lost by the city due to their treatment of small business owners?

What’s next?  No more drive through food after 1?

The Cook



Locally Grown’s Best Of 2010 Smorgastorta!

It’s the time of the year that comes only one time a…year, the END OF THE YEAR.  With the end of any Culinary year comes the profiligamutzis of top whatever lists compiled by (padded) consumer voting, and claims of future trend telling by (mostly) self-proclaimed experts in the field, “Food Experts” who are more likely to have a degree in Jounalism than to have any real culinary background other than dining (or the classic “waited tables in college”).  I am not trying to discount the value of years of dining experience coupled with the drive to write about said adventures and the true Culinary Professionals encountered along the way, but…

I offer you a “Best Of” list comprised of not ONE person’s view, but compiled from conversing with a group of chefs (some of which will be part of a new midwestern consortium banding together to give you honest food talk and opinion, in a slightly different manner than you have become accustomed to here), owners, and professional service staff.  Without further pomping the circumstance, I present unto thee the giant savory cake called:

The Locally Grown REAL Best Of Des Moines

Best Local Food Critic of the Year: Jim Duncan – “Food Dude” Duncan writes for weekly publication CityView and is the founder of Relish magazine.  He has a humble passion for food (and futbol), and reviews restaurants without resorting to animating light fixtures or the  “Star (Bar) Rating System.”  Jim has also been a voice for our food scene to outsiders such as television producers, doing his best to assist them in their decision to come to Our Fair City (unlike another local critic who scoffed at the idea of helping promote Des Moines Food).  Jim is OK in the LG book.

Restaurateur Of The Year: Joe Logsdon – This is a very hard category as we have a number of hard working, dedicated restaurant owners operating within the confines of the DMZ (Des Moines Zone, in case you forgot).  A few of these women and men, but none stuck out as far as La Mie owner Joe Logsdon.  Mr. Logsdon did the unspeakable this past fall when he refused to serve a local food critic, asking the critic to leave his restaurant.  This move was viewed by a number of dining-types as wrong, but we of the professionals laud his effort as heroism, something that many have joked about doing, but none (in DMZ) has has the cajones to act upon.  Joe, thank you.

Restaurant Of The Year: Pho All Seasons – Yes, my pick for RotY closed down this year (although a certain other RotY hasn’t even been open a year) due to the owners relocating to another city. Garnering more acclaim from culinary pros than any other restaurant under consideration, Pho All Seasons was a little Vietnamese spot on East 9th a little south of University Avenue that was very popular with local chefs, which served not only its namesake noodle soup, but the most amazing Banh Mi sandwiches you could (and unfortunately no longer) get in Our Fair City.  This place was the real deal, everything house made including the amazing little baguettes, or Bahn Mi (I did not believe them the first time they claimed that they baked this bread on premises).  A favorite of the food professionals in the DMZ, Pho All Seasons will be sorely missed.

Best Place For Vegetarian Dining: A-Dong – Another place loved by restaurant folk as well as locals diners, A-dong has an extensive vegetarian menu which keeps even the staunchest meat eaters coming back for 1c (vegetable eggrolls), 8c (veggie pho), and great house made tofu.  There are many other spots worth mentioning, and there will be a future listing of local vegetarian spots.

Top Local Trends:

  • Iowa Beer – Iowa added Peacetree Brewery (Knoxville) and Madhouse Brewery to its roster of beer producers, these spots along with changes to the alcohol content laws could poise the state for more booze notoriety than just Templeton Rye.
  • Consuming Local – More people are going to the Farmers Markets for produce, asking where their food comes from at restaurants, shopping locally, and demanding Iowa agricultural products.  More restaurants are with the program than ever (Mojo’s on 86th, Azalea, Cafe Di Scala, Zingaro, Django, Centro, Gateway Market, Alba, Proof, and Fresh Cafe, to name a few).
  • Small Ag Producers/CSA’s – With so many options to buy locally, #2 on the list is easier than ever.  Locally Community Supported Agriculture will net you a regular produce delivery with your membership, and small producers like Butcher Crick Farms and Cleverly Farms, among a growing amount of others, have produce available at local markets.  You live in the #1 agriculture state, act like it.
  • Quick Service Dining –  Quick service or counter service is starting to be implemented more and more, and not just in BBQ’s, delis and coffee shops.  Proof led the way a few years back by offering fine-dining-esque dishes with polished counter service, utilizing staff to help with order assembly, food delivery, and customer service.  This system creates a more linear and efficient service model, and saves everyone from the business owner to the customer some money.  Proof owner Carly Groben uses this model in her new pizza shop, Flour, and is also used at Bagni Di Luca, Big City Burgers and Greens, and is slated to be implemented at a few spots opening in 2011.
  • Social Media Marketing: In 2010, businesses really started taking advantage of outlets such as Four Square, Twitter, and Facebook,  to open a dialogue with their current and prospective customers.  Local spots Mars Cafe and Cafe Di Scala (as well as Pancheros) have established themselves as forerunners in this still-new trend towards social media marketing by expanding their businesses by consistently conversing with their customers (you still have to back your words up with a good product).  Think of it as a thousand-times better version of the old-hat practice of table touching.  I believe that social media, if used properly, will strike yet another nail into the coffin of traditional food criticism.

Trends We Could Do Without:

  • The BBQ Invasion: The BBQ invasion is even more city-smothering than the Sushi Rising of 2007-2009.  I just counted off the top of my head 9 new smoked meat outlets which have opened or changed location in the last 12 months.  I just counted 4 in the DMZ that I would consider worth a trip.  Make it six.  Enough with the BBQ already, let’s see some more exciting trends like Korean/Western fusion, or a few traditional Spanish/Cuban/Ethiopian/South American restaurants.
  • “Local” Chains: Yes, Traitor Joe’s has landed.  They are a chain of food outlets which claim to sell products produced within the area of their stores.  The only positive thing I have to say about TJ’s is that they carry Kosher Beef, which benefits a very small group of my friends.  A chain is a chain, and we already have a number of natural/local food shops.  Spend your money there.
  • The Big Boxing of Locavore-ism: Mal-Wart, keep your lobbyists’ grubby hands off our agriculture laws!  The King Of Savings has seen the benefits of marketing local food in their stores, already causing some problems in the organic farming community, and have decided to appoint themselves “Meddling Mother Of Agriculture” by lobbying to make laws governing what is considered locally grown.  This is going to seem a little harsh, but F*ck You Wal Mart.

Best BBQ In Des Moines: Stu’s Q –  Speaking of BBQ, My man Stu has BBQ you could actually die for.  Case: I once had the privilege of partaking in smoked Wagu beef brisket.  It was impressive.  Then came Stu’s smoked brisket.  Incredibly, it was exponentially better than the Japanese brisket.  His ribs have the consistency of ham.  His baked beans are amazing.  You can find him bartending at Carl’s place in Sherman Hill on Mondays, when you can sample his food.  You should do this, and get his card (or contact me for his information).  Stu only does catering for now, but hopefully he can bring his brand of standout smoked meats to a wider audience soon.  If you haven’t had it, you are missing out.

Best Worst Attempt At Food Writing: Matt Miller – Mr. Miller’s contributions to CityView sponsored Relish magazine are some of the most poorly researched and written I have ever read from someone who is paid to write.

Best Public Dick Move: Des Moines City Council Food Cart Law Changes – In knee jerk reaction to something so bad and so secret that the Des Moines City Council used smoke screens like trumped up policing needs for food carts and post- 1:30 am pedestrian traffic, the DMCC voted to make it illegal to sell food from a cart between the hours of 1:30 am and 5 am.  According to the Council, food carts are causing drunk people to walk across streets, and tons of fights.  After some research I found that down town bars such as Liar’s Club, 101 Lounge, and Surf Shack have each caused an average of more than 75 police calls per year due to fights, vandalism, theft, and disorderly conduct.  I didn’t find any stats for food carts causing fights or pedestrain/car accidents.  Sounds like the food carts down town are causing an amazing amount of trouble.  They are almost as bad as Taco Trucks!

Best Private Dick Move: Restaurant Threatens To Sue Locally Grown – After calling them A-holes in a blog post for their treatment of employees which were friends of mine, and finding out some questionable business dealings through a source that wasn’t connected to the restaurant at all, the owners of this restaurant launched an email and blog comment campaign in my direction which culminated in a threat (through third party text messaging) by them to sue me and/or this blog.  Talk about solidifying your asshole status.  If they think they are getting treated poorly, try being the Datebook Diner.  She gets it hundreds of times worse than you.  Quit your whining and cook, and learn how to thank people for compliments, which were slathered upon your restaurant both in public and private.

Best Event Not Coming Back To Des Moines: Cochon 555 – This event celebrating Heritage Hogs, Local Chefs, and Local Wines has decided to pass over Our Fair City for what will be the third year of the event.  This saddens me, many people saw this as a great event to promote our city, food, and agriculture and now it has been torn from our table cloth.  I was really looking forward to the return of  two time “Prince of Pork” Matt Steigerwald of Lincoln Cafe for another run at the title.  My fantasy pick for chef Lineup this year: Stiegerwald, David Baruthia of Baru 66 (I think he could have won this one), Sean Wilson of Azalea, Phil Shires of Cafe Di Scala, and Jason Simon of Alba.  this would have been a (4/5ths) fun group to be around.  Well, sorry that we couldn’t sustain a third visit, Cochon…or was it that we didn’t cause enough controversy (Portland)?

That wraps up this year’s edition of Locally Grown’s Best Of post.  We hope that you find this information marginally helpful.  Stay tuned for our 2011 preview coming later this week…

The Cook.



Holiday Wishes From Locally Grown
2010/12/25, 9:29 am
Filed under: Personal

As you may have heard, today is a particularly huge holiday for not only little kiddies wishing for stuff and adults wishing they could afford to provide those material goods, but for Peace, Love, Kindness, and Understanding.  In the spirit of those four things which are normally not found within imaginary interweb boundaries of this blog, I would like to give you a Christmas thank you from us to you.

Meowy Xmas from Bathory, Karaoke King and Editor Extraordinaire.

Bathory would like to send his wishes to the Datebook Diner, whom he feels has been a little mistreated this year; All of the various internet handles of our favorite commentatrix, Pat Mearson; All of the people responsible for the invention, production, packaging, and shipping of Nine Lives “Super Supper” cat food; Slow rodents; the members of the band Dahmer; All of those at NPR/IPR; and the rest of you out there who have competed against him in Karaoke around the world.

 

Hank The Chimp easily handles double checking lists with his poo-fling-proof computer

Our behind-the-scenes guy, Hank, would like to wish Christmas cheer to nothing.  It turns out he is an Atheist, Anarchist, Anti-capitalist Bananatarian.  He is currently in front of his improvised record player listening to Aus-Rotten and drinking femented banana mash.  He also mentioned that he would like to get fully loaded and party to the Blatz/Filth split lp.

 

And now for some wishes from the Cook.  I wish all of you, no matter your religious affiliation, sexual orientation, financial status, eating habits, a-hole level, etc, a happy holiday and great end cap to this shopping aisle called 2010.  It has been a fun year full of smack talk, lessons learned, and feedback from you tens of readers, and a year of great misinformation and bullhonkey from me.  I wish all of you (even the ones who I don’t really care for) success in your holiday celebration.

Now Mrs. The Cook is probably wondering what the hell I am doing hanging out in my Panic Room instead of helping in the entertainment of our guests.

Happy Holidays, and an even happier new year from Locally Grown

The Cook.



Ejection Ressurection/Diner Down!

OH, I love it when restaurateurs take their fate into their own hands!  They might be undermining themselves, they may be poising themselves for a “Person Of The Year” award from local diners, or they might just be kicking out another paying customer.  Such is life, when making decisions regarding your own fate compounded with the inclusion of another person/group of people you can only predict the outcome to so many decimals.  That is what makes life interesting, and in this case:

RESTAURANT LIFE

In this episode of Restaurant Life we encounter an uh…encounter betwixt a Restaurant Owner and a Restaurant Critic who are at odds as to whether said Critic should be seated.  This scenario may sound VERY familiar to you tens of readers who experienced “Wini-Gate” in all of its Meh-ness.

Here is the tale as told by the New York Times:

December 22, 2010, 6:04 pm

<!– — Updated: 6:29 pm –>

Restaurateur Ejects Los Angeles Times Critic

By PETE WELLS

If you are an owner of a restaurant that keeps a critic waiting for a table, you could spend the rest of the night trying to make it all better. Or you could just throw the critic out on the street.

Noah Ellis chose the second route when the Los Angeles Times critic S. Irene Virbila came into Red Medicine last night. Mr. Ellis recounted the episode on the restaurant’s Tumblr, and posted a photo of Ms. Virbila that he snapped just before expelling her. Here’s how he explained making that call:

Our purpose for posting this is so that all restaurants can have a picture of her and make a decision as to whether or not they would like to serve her. We find that some of her reviews can be unnecessarily cruel and irrational, and that they have caused hard-working people in this industry to lose their jobs — we don’t feel that they should be blind-sided by someone with no understanding of what it takes to run or work in a restaurant.

Ms. Virbila told Daily Dish, her paper’s food blog, that she and her party had been waiting 45 minutes past their reservation time when Mr. Ellis walked up, carrying a camera. Her editor, Russ Parsons, told Daily Dish that Ms. Virbila was unsettled by the encounter and by having her picture taken without her permission. Most of all, he said, “She was upset because she has worked extremely hard for more than 15 years to maintain her anonymity in the L.A. restaurant scene.”

He also told Daily Dish that the Times will continue with its plans to review Red Medicine. The blog did not state whether he intends to have the review carried out by Ms. Virbila or by another critic.

6:25 p.m. | Updated In a phone interview with Glenn Collins, Mr. Parsons said that Ms. Virbila preferred not to speak about the incident. “She would rather let her writing speak for itself,” she said.

He confirmed that the paper intends to have the restaurant reviewed, either by Ms. Virbila or by another staffer. “We may dress her up in a clown uniform,” he said with a laugh, “or enlist one of Ruth Reichl’s makeup artists.”

 

This is the part I have found to be the most profound, and is almost the thesis statement on which this blog was founded on one year ago:

“We find that some of her reviews can be unnecessarily cruel and irrational, and that they have caused hard-working people in this industry to lose their jobs — we don’t feel that they should be blind-sided by someone with no understanding of what it takes to run or work in a restaurant.”
Sounds VERY familiar…maybe we need an United Anti-Critic Revolution.  Maybe we just need to laugh.  I guess that goes back to the original statement about choices.
The Cook.
ps: If you find it hard to separate the Times words from Mine, my worpress block quote thingy won’t work.  I am growing tired of all the wordpress glitches and may be switching over to SquareSpace.  Or something. maybe I will just quit.

 

 



Rep Local For The Holidays
2010/12/22, 9:30 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I bet you expected another wordy treatise on local shopping/eating/stuff today.  Or maybe the two articles that were promised last week. Or maybe some peace and quiet.  You get only this, as I have to finish my last minute shopping.

Lame.

the cook.



Last Minute Local Holiday Shopping
2010/12/21, 8:06 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

If you are like me, and have a large beard, people expect a lot from you around this holiday time of the year.  Yes, it is time for that mythical fat bearded man whom allegedly invades your home and brings you presents while leaving your family and belongings safely planted right where you left them to visit you and do all those things, and possibly eat your cookies.  Many children in the US believe in this system (others believe that brightly lit trees simply poop out presents upon reaching full maturity on the night of December 24th), and I see the way children stare at my beard while it is out shopping for my family, their eyes telling me that their minds are trying to grasp why this Santa looking man is shopping in the same store as their parents.  In time they will figure out what anyone old enough to be reading this knows already, the real story of holiday gift giving: Santa is broke, has been for a while, and we adults have to cover for him until that glorious day when he gets his sh*t together and pays us all back with a few freebies)

This is for the adults who have managed to stick themselves into the mire of the last minute shopping frenzy, whether it be through laziness, being too busy, or financial hardship.  I sympathize with all of your situations, I have been there.  You adults who have decided to go out into the bumper car world out there have a few options.  You can either risk your life and vehicle (possibly your sanity) to enter the Big Box Gauntlet, or you can shop at a locally owned business.  You all know that buying generic gifts elicits generic responses.  “Oh, thanks for the video game…I guess you didn’t know that I already have a time-management problem,”  Or “Thank you for the eight slice mega toaster, I guess you didn’t know I was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease.”

Don’t let this happen to you!  You only have 2.76 days of shopping left, use your time wisely by shopping at a locally owned business.  The gifts you find there will be much “cooler” than grabbing one of the No-Friendo Wee’s off the stack of 100 and delivering it to your loved ones.  Here is a list of a few local spots/Ideas to shop locally.

  • Gift cards from one of your favorite local eating/drinking spots such as Cafe Di Scala, Alba, Azalea, Sbrocco, Django, Cosi Cucina, Tally’s, Mars Cafe, Ritual Cafe, etc.
  • AllSpice – 400 E Locust St, DMZ – Specialty herbs, spices, oils, vinegars…and gift sets.  I buy all of my specialty spices here.  A food lovers dream.
  • Kitchen Collage – 430 E Locust St, DMZ – Everything the cook in your life has wanted is in this store.  If it isn’t, they can order it for you.  I shop here, you should too.
  • Rasmussen Bike Shop – 301 Grand Ave, WDSM – You all know I bike, and you probably have a cyclist or aspiring cyclist in your bubble.  This is my go-to shop for parts, bikes, repairs, sports nutrition, snow shoes, accessories, etc.  Everything from Carbon Fiber bikes on the high $ end, to t-shirts, bike bells, and other accessories on the lower $ end.  Give your loved one a gift that promotes their health (and cycling is a great way to burn off those giant Des Moines- sized portions, right Wini?)  Shop at Rasmussen.
  • Tandem Brick – 2722 Ingersoll Ave, DMZ – Good place for quirky or arty gifts, or to shop after eating at the Datebook Diner’s favorite spot, Star Bar.
  • Domestica – 321 E Walnut St #150, DMZ –  If you want to get mad cool points, shop here.  Amazing hand made gifts for home, body, kitchen, etc.  I was just looking at their web site and found something for my sister-in-law and for my office.  It is really that easy.  I will be visiting the shop today.
  • Back Country – 2702 Beaver Ave, DMZ – Awesome place for outdoor gear, clothing, and accessories.  Forget Sheel’s, shop local.  They can reportedly gift wrap a yak.
  • For the discerning adult, buy them a tab at their favorite liquoring hole.  This may take some work, as many times bartenders don’t know full names unless your friend is a true regular.  The best way to expedite this is take them out for a drink at their favorite bar, while they are not paying attention (bathroom, conversation, juke box), tell the bartender that you would like to buy a tab for your friend.  Then get them a small card, or even make a card on a bar napkin to stay in theme, telling them of your liver cuddling act of holiday cheer.  Very Classy

This is by no means a complete list, but these are places that I personally have shopped or will be shopping at in the next two days.

Well, out of time.  I need to get to Domestica and Kitchen Collage to complete my Santa Bail Out.

The Cook