Locally Grown

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.


7 Comments so far
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On the subject of booze notoriety, if you get a chance check out the wide variety of distilled beverages from the eastern Iowa winery/distillery Cedar Ridge. I bought a bottle of their vodka and apple brandy for the holidays. I was quite pleased with both the quality and the pricing. I hope to get my hands on one of their bottles of bourbon here soon. I’ve pretty much given up on Templeton Rye for now. They already have issues keeping up with supply, and they are expanding their distribution into NYC and San Francisco. Doesn’t seem like a good way to support those who have supported you.

Comment by steve Fuller

Sam, it would be great if you could link to some of the great places on your post. Keep up the great work. And I agree, WalMart can just fuck off. Claire

Comment by Claire Celsi

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Big Stu.

I had his BBQ at the Police / Firefighter bridge party this fall. Windy as hell, but the food was great. He was trying a brand new smoker, and the brisket didn’t come out as good as he had wanted ( it was a little tough) but the pulled pork was fantastic, as were the sides.

Plus, he is a really good guy. Not to mention that he is big enough to make me look like a little punk (and that takes a big man).

Loved the list, thanks for sharing.

Comment by InthewaterDSM

the opening of liar’s club, 101 lounge and surf shack is the worst thing to happen to des moines other than the floods.

Comment by andrew

Sam…just saw this and it’s part of our post for Insight on Business “The Stuff We See”. Nice work and thanks for your insight. Must have you back on the show soon!

Comment by Michael Libbie

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