Locally Grown

Hello, Friday. Some Local News.

Good morning to all of you out there with the free time in which to partake in some inter-oggling of some more news type things.

This Saturday you will have the opportunity to hear myself and Cafe Di Scala/Gusto Pizza owner Anthony Lemmo on the radio show of George Formaro, Kitchen Insider.  We will be talking about local food and dining (shocker) and the GRAND OPENING OF GUSTO PIZZA (which you can read about in the next paragraph).  Tune in to 99.1 FM or listen from the KFMG webular site at 10 am this Saturday morning.

Yes, the moment has finally arrived.  After much anticipation, Gusto Pizza is officially opening this coming Monday, January 31st at 11 am.  I have been to the location at 1905 Ingersoll Avenue…it is a great looking spot.  I have had the pizza, I love it.  Come in Monday and see an all star opening crew, including Mr. Lemmo, Chef Phil Shires of Cafe Di Scala, and your favorite Cook, me.  It will be a glorious day of pizza, pranks, and hilarity.  See you there.

The TACOPOCALYPSE is upon you!  Saturday night from 5 until 7 I will be serving my sort-of-well-know tacos as part of the Central Iowa Trails Association get together at All Play in downtown DMZ.  Get all of the information at the CITA Facebook Site.


Well, that isn’t all of the news we have to talk about, but somebody has to mount a bike and ride to work.  Don’t forget to partake in all of the fun this weekend and Monday.

The Cook.


Correction Junction/Gusto Pizza Opening
2011/01/26, 7:28 am
Filed under: Local Food Commentary | Tags: , , , ,

Any “news” source (and this term can be used VERY loosely for almost any information outlet these days) has its good and bad days.  Some days are spot on, others are full of hiccups and literary “nip slips,” but the mark of a true (not really) professional (huh?) publication is the ability to admit those mistakes and go the extra mile to print the correction/retraction and not move on to a distraction (ala certain talk radio hosts).

Locally Grown strives to provide you, the valued reader, with the correctest most correct information possible, but during our journey to local food/dining informational glory we too trip over a few roots in the path, much like other, more legitimate, news sources.

This week we tripped over the same root twice.  Whoops!  Now it is ticertain talk radio hostsme for a correction:

Gusto Pizza Co. (1905 Ingersoll Ave) will not be opening tomorrow, January 27th.  Gusto will be announcing their opening date via Twitter tonight.  Follow them (@GustoPizzaDM) for the announcement and further updates.

Sorry to you, and to the fine women and men of Gusto Pizza, for the confusion.

The Cook.

Locally Grown Classics: Padding The Words, Coddling The Cooks
2011/01/25, 8:44 am
Filed under: Locally Grown Classics

Welcome, Faithful Tens, to another installment of what we/the royal I like to call “Locally Grown Classics.”  This is an opportunity extended to your eyes for a second chance to read some words that may have been missed during previous post perusal.  In short, I pick some favorite old posts from the Cook’s Catacombs and repost with commentary (like what is happening right now).

Today’s post was written after watching some movie which had a few scenes of children hating on their mothers’ cooking.  I am fortunate enough to not have had that problem growing up, but know many that had.  A conversation was started as to what happens to your adult tastes when your childhood experience with food is less than appetizing, and what happens when you tell bad cooks that they are doing a good job (I also picked this post for today because of the horse connection with yesterday’s post).  Read on, Readers, for we bring unto your eyeholes a Locally Grown Classic from way back in January 2010 entitled:

Padding The Words/Coddling The Cooks

First off I would like to thank all of you whom have taken time out of your…time to read the words of this cook. It is nice to know there are some like-minded individuals in Des Moines. Keep the feedback coming, and I will keep spouting opinions.

I have some words regarding last week’s Blog, something about Chefs getting along. Apparently this concept has been deemed HORSESHIT in DSM, so please disregard the late night ramblings of a Kitchen Peace Activist. I still urge you non-chefs to pass along the words to any working chefs as I suspect most of the Chefs Of Des Moines have not seen nor have the time to search for this blog. In fact, let all of your friends – in or out of the restaurant industry- know what words have been spit out and encourage them taste the fresh barnyard flavor of Inter-Kitchen Peace.

“What is this HORSESHIT in front of me? I did not realize the internet was powerful enough to carry such a large load of HORSESHIT all the way to my eyes.”

I still think it is a good idea, at least it is a concept that could be locally grown.

On to TODAY’S subject (Notice this says today, not ‘this week’ for I may have MORE THAN ONE POST IN ME THIS WEEK).

Growing up in Iowa is much like growing up any place in the U.S. in that you have to eat food, usually a few times per day. At least once in a while you will eat one of these meals rather reluctantly due to it being mis-represented as food by the crook – er – Cook. Anyone following yet? What I am saying here is that sometime in your life you have had to eat a meal prepared by a family member or family friend and PRETEND IT WAS OK TO EAT. Dry burgers, stringy chicken, bland lumpy gravies, CANNED VEGETABLES, and the like are all culprits here. Crunchy mac and cheese (and not due to toasted bread crumbs), disintagrated lasagne noodles, you all can add a few to the list. What did you do in such situations? More often than not we are taught to grin and bear it. Bad Idea.

“Nathan, how is that yummy meatloaf? Huh?”
“Oh *retch* it’s good, Aunt Geri”
Scene cuts to under the table. Nathan stuffing meatloaf in his pockets for a later rondevouz with the outside trash can or neighborhood dogs.

Nothing good becomes of this passive eating technique. Teaching children to communicate is a very important job which adults drop the ball on when forcing kids to accept the inevitable bland chicken and dumplings as delicious. Showing kids at an early age that it is ok to disagree with food choices, within reason, could mean all the difference in the youngsters’ lives. A child taught to convey their feelings about food can help a future friend discover that they were missing something in their cooking, could lead to happier interpersonal relationships in adulthood, and will ultimately guide them through life as an honest contributing member of society. Allowing a child’s taste buds to create lies to coddle the cook could turn them into a bitter, passive aggressive adult or worse…a FOOD CRITIC.

Anyway, until next time. Bon Apetite for Destruction.

Monday News!
2011/01/24, 11:40 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Good Afternoon, Tens!  You have all survived the 9-5 M-F world’s worst nightmare, the dreaded Monday Morning.  High five the person next to you, then read on…

– Gusto Pizza Opens This Week!  The word on the street is Thursday, Jan 27th…but stay tuned.  Ingersoll Ave and MLK will be treated to some REAL pizza!

– Tacopocalypse Lands At All Play!  Those of you out there who have enjoyed tacos from yours truly will be thrilled to know that this Saturday the fine folks at the Central Iowa Trails Association are hosting a party benefiting Iowa’s dirt trails and celebrating dirty cycling with tacos.  Party Begins at 5pm, Check out the CITA web site for more details.

– BaconFest is upon us.  Rumor has it that after DOUBLING the number of tickets available and expanding the event to a whole week, Blue Ribbon Bacon Fest sold out in FOUR MINUTES this past Friday.  That is 18 minutes less than last year’s event sell out time.  Des Moines, you really want your cured pork!  Wow.  Click the link for the particulars.

– Bacon Week is rumored to be kicking off with a Bacon Taco Extravaganza with a selection of bacon themed…tacos…from Tacopocalypse.

The Cook

Food Criticism: It’s Not Horseplay

It’s refreshing to see that so many of you have such strong opinions regarding the desired credentials of the people who have been charged with the task of influencing your opinion with their…opinion.
Some of you have tried making a distinction between Food Writers, Food Critics, Restaurant Critics, Restaurant Reviewers, Entertainment Writers, and Yelpers, BUT you can toss around words like Foal, Mare, Colt, Filly, or Stallion, but a horse is still a horse.  If you choose to review food or a restaurant (professionally or on a user-reviewed site like Yelp), you are really trying to throw yourself into the same stable as the rest of the neighing nay-sayers.  This is one of the reasons I don’t “review” restaurants here, and if you took a look at the first Locally Grown post which i re-posted last week, you would maybe understand where I am coming from.

Do we need restaurant reviewists?  We do. Do we need sweeping food review reform? Probably not.  Unlike the policies force-fed to us by our elected officials, the word of a reviewer can and should be taken with a little subjectivity.  Ok, maybe my coffee intake has overtaken my ability to turn a sensible sentence.

We DO need people who are willing to venture out to new dining spots and share the story of their experience with others who may not be able to get out as often to try new spots, or may not have the financial or time resources to spare on an unknown venture.  There is nothing wrong with being careful with your wallet/purse or your tastebuds, and you careful diners have to be thankful for those who would help you avoid making a dining experience into your own personal tar baby.

Reviews can help you ensure your next dining experience doesn't end up like this.

In this case a review can be a valuable asset.  BUT the problem is trust.  Should you trust a particular reviewer or publication?  Should you put the fate of your hard earned money and free time in the hands of a stranger?  Have you ever been disappointed by a restaurant after reading a glowing review?  I have.  Hell, I have even gone to work at a particular kitchen because of its popularity within the reviewer crowd only to be fully let down.

What does all of this gibberish mean?  (it’s funny, you would think that stepping away from the bottle for a length of time would make for more coherent posts) I will try to sum this up one more time:

LG Tips For Successful Ventures Into Unknown Dining

  • Friends – First and foremost you should have, or find, a friend or colleague whom has similar taste as you, and has an adventurous spirit which propels them into the dining world.
  • Social Media – Use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to your advantage.  You can begin networking with like-minded diners from your area and find some hidden gems that would have otherwise escaped your grasp.
  • User Review Sites – Yes, read reviews on popular web search sites in addition to user-reviewer sites such as Yelp and the like.  Yes, I warn you about trusting these sites…but not all of the reviews are from deck stacking restaurant staff or disgruntled diners/former employees.  With a little reading and research you can find some trustworthy folks.  Right, Jordan?
  • The Print Press – The Physically Printed On Paper crew are a good resource for finding newly opened or soon-to-open spots.  Your local newspaper (sometimes) has an entertainment staff with ears to the ground listening for the faint footsteps of an approaching restaurant opening.  You can also get a valuable history lesson on the dining scene from people who have been dining…professionally…for a number of years. You can also be misled by someone with years of “beef” built up with the local Restaurateurs and Chefs.  Approach the words of the “pro” with the same caution you would use as the “Yelper.”
  • Food Bloggers – Local food bloggers are a valuable resource.  These people have invested the time and money in their own web presence and generally take their writing serious.  This is another avenue which you have to explore carefully, read their blogs and get to know their taste.  If they have written about a restaurant you frequented, compare your experience with theirs.  If there are discrepancies contact the blogger and open a discussion.  Most bloggers are more than helpful when it comes to explaining what they have written about.
  • Insiders – Do you know someone on the “inside?”  Shirley Surely you know someone who works in a restaurant (this seems elementary to me as all of my friends know someone who works in a restaurant).  This doesn’t really pertain to chains, those folks IMO and experience know nothing about the local dining scene.  I am talking about insiders who work at places like Django, Alba, Centro, 801, and the like.  These folks usually have worked at a few of the local spots and know the food and service provided.  Pick their brains, even when dining at their restaurants. I know this sounds a little tacky, but I am sure anyone reading this has the ability to wind a yarn around the situation.

The message here is such:  You have to do some research, spend a little time poking around.  Your money and time is valuable, and Our Fair City has an almost inordinate amount of restaurants vying for your financial attention.  Don’t trust just one source, there is no “Food Guru” (although one guy tried convincing you of this) which can espouse every bit of knowledge you need to make a decision.  Don’t trust a “star” system, trust your own taste and ingenuity.

My last bit of advice is DON’T TRUST ANONYMOUS INTERWEB REVIEWERS.  If you don’t have the cajones to attach your real identity to your opinion, it must not matter that much to you.  These people are what I often like to refer to as “Culinary Cowards” (not to be confused with Culinary Cow) are often just talking a bunch of crap.  Go back to AOL chat rooms with your BS, CC.  We don’t need you here.

Culinary Cow Sez: Trust your tastebuds, but keep them away from ME!

Now get out there and eat (Local)!

The Cook.

P.S. feel free to ask me for dining ideas (FB Sam Auen, Twitter @VegChefDSM, Email locallygrowndsm@gmail.com).  I HAVE most of the information you need at my disposal

A Conundrum Of Critical (Food) Criticism
2011/01/20, 8:43 am
Filed under: Local Food Commentary, restaurant reviews | Tags: , , , ,

Dear (Tens Of) Readers,

Sometimes in life our ears act as catcher’s mitts to fastball rants and curve ball truth-smearings, but once in a while our cartilaganeous (yes, I just made that up) sound-capture-holes bear witness to such a simple yet precise change-up which effectively closes out the game.  Such a query befell the ear-atuses of a local food critic this past weekend during a seemingly routine visit to one of the DMZ’s newest and most innovative dining concepts.  A person at this food venture struck up a conversation with this local Food Critic went (according to the account which squeaked by my ear lobes and landed in my brain lobes) a little something like this:

Person: “Oh, so you are a food critic.”

Critic: “yes, I am.”

Person: “Are you a chef?”

Critic: “No…”

Person:  “Well, then how do you know how to write about food?”

Critic “…”

Wow.  The “Person” just blew my mind.  All of this debate about what qualifies as good food criticism and whether food critics should even be considered legitimate (especially due to the recent bias and favorite playing of a  13 year vet…or is it 14 now) has just taken a turn toward home.  (please excuse the baseball references, I am just trying to wash away the single digit temperatures by thinking of spring)  Would you rather take your dining cues from someone who knows the food from a kitchen and service standpoint, or would you like to continue tuning in to the eating advice reception from a handful of “Professional Diners” around the state/country who seem to yearn more for whatever they are reviewing to conform to some ideal they formulated in another country/restaurant/bar?  To some wildly mild aesthetic that comforts the person writing the review?  What about real facts, real discussions of food and technique, objective, unbiased reviews of service and value without regard to the reviewer’s personal prejudice toward the reviewed cuisine, concept, restaurateur, chef, or light fixtures?

You, my tens of readers, have been duped on many occasion by restaurant reviewers around the world.  These business or journalism school grads don’t really know food like the women and men who have chosen a path to culinary glory, but they know how to write words.  There have to be a few out there who transcend this problem, who crosses the line drawn in the sand between the food professional and the food critic.

“Are you a chef?  Then how do you know how to write about food?”

The Cook

Wednesday Attempt At Writing About Food
2011/01/19, 9:47 am
Filed under: Total Rubbish | Tags:

Hello, Tens.  I had originally planned on expanding on a few recent subjects including proper tipping, locally grown food as a “trend”, and some other stuff.  Due to some work related timing problems and a late start to the day, I do not have time to get down with any or all of these subjects, but I did want to drop in to say hello.  So there you have it…Hello.

Also, what do you think about the proclamation that Local Food is a Trend?  I though Local Food was the foundation on which modern human eating was founded on thousands of years ago.

I leave you with this:

Great Hot Dog Bike, but what's with that heinous gear?

The Cook

Locally Grown Classics: Critical Of The Critics/DSM’s Finest Complainers

About a year ago, on a day not unlike today (but with about 16 inches more snow on the ground) I awoke to an interesting message in my inbox.  A very close friend of mine had, via FaceBook, posed the query “If Star Bar was a dude would the [Food Critic Name Withheld] eat its ass?”  Now, had I been a coffee drinker, this statement would have resulted in a mildly injurious explosion of steaming black fluids from my nostrils.  Lucky for me and my trusty editor and feline companion Bathory (who was napping on my chest at the time of the reading) I had not sunken back in to the coffee pit.  So as I lay on my couch, cat perched on my chest, laughing wildly at the very disturbing visions forming, playing, and fading in my head I decided to finally point my T-mobile G-1 with Android towards the interweb and address a real problem in dining today: Restaurant Critics.  Here is the foundation for all that has been written within the confines of this particular blog, the first official post from Locally Grown dating back to January 2010. Enjoy.

-The Cook


Critical Of The Critics: Des Moines’ Finest Complainers

It has come to my attention through the observations of more than a few local restaurant goers/owners/staffers that the local food scene, albeit struggling in the wake of the country’s financial crisis, is lacking only a few things: better food critics.
Cityview’s “Food Dude” always seems to be fair and accurate, and is willing to thumb his nose at convention by reviewing anything from fast food chains to sushi. (I have been tickled by his reviews of Popeye’s Chicken and Wendy’s – and not in a bad way). His recent review of Sake21 was touching, he could have really slammed that place but instead chose careful words that are more of a parental caution than a fog horn. I have rarely heard a bad word from industry people about Mr. Duncan (every food writer has an enemy somwhere in the business). My only real complaint here is that he doesn’t stay up to date on new spots, and doesn’t seem to get “out there” to the people due to Cityview losing some ground to the more young-person-savvy Juice.

When it comes to Juice, they believe that less is more. What I mean here is that less skill and experience must mean more to them. Often the restaurant reviews read as if they were written by 10th graders from a poorly taught journalism class. I will go as far as to call most of the reviews bullshit, giving no real information or true objective opinion. The readers don’t really care what your date was wearing or where you were headed to, or that you ordered the same thing as the table next to you and it reminded you of something you had at a similar place in Omaha. Juice, you just need to get a real food writer and let the music geeks write about music, or the um…crafting geeks write about crafting. Scratch that, crafting geeks should just stick to knitting and stop trying to BS the public by writing. Maybe you could have Ms. Wagemann from your parent Des Moines Register to contribute. She seems capable. I think.

On to the Register. The illustrious datebook diner seems to wield the brunt of the power in the food critic community here in the Metro DSM. This is a shame. I have seen her reviews make or break restaurants. People listen to her, and the people she is writing about don’t always deserve the fate she tries to dish out. Ms. Moranville seems to have the power to either completely trash talk a new spot, talk about how the East Coast is doing something that whatever restaurant she is reviewing isn’t doing and how much better the East Coast is than here, or to compare every bar-and-grill-type place to Star Bar. If you are an Orchestrate restaurant or (in the past) a Jeremy Morrow venture then you are golden. If you are anyone else (besides Star Bar), then beware of the wrath of Winnie. Take her recent review of Saints in West Des Moines. She begins by comparing the place to Star Bar, then ends by comparing the place to Star Bar*. Redundantly delicious? She also ran an interesting article about Vegetarian Dining in the city which featured a few variations on the old Butternut Squash/Sage/Butter song and dance, then panned Cafe Di Scala for their Butternut Squash Cappelaci dish. (I will be writing my own expose on Dining Vegetarian Style in Des Moines next week). She doesn’t mention that they have been doing the dish seasonally (as many other spots are doing currently), or that it is totally hand made, or that they probably listen to John Lennon albums while hand forming each pasta hat, adding to the love in the dish. That doesn’t count. Also regarding this fascination with the food comparisons to “big cities,” one of my cohorts said it best. If you want New York Food at New York Prices then go to New York. We think Des Moines should continue developing itself into what Des Moines should be, a place with access to some of the greatest fresh ingredients in the world with some established and up-and-coming Chefs using these ingredients to full potential. We don’t really give a sh*t about the price of pasta dishes in NYC. Doesn’t really matter. This is Des Moines.
Ok, let me sum this up as it is late and my own deadline is coming up (bed time). Food Critics of Des Moines, if you want to go in to a new spot and bombard it with overwrought criticism, go for it. The owners, chefs, managers, and other staff of whatever place you blast can read your review and try to adapt your philosophies into their restaurant to please you while your readers just avoid the place all together. Or maybe you could lighten up, encourage businesses to grow, and if you don’t have anything nice to say, then review a different restaurant (thanks Easy-P). Those are real people that you are undermining out there, they have worked hard to open a restaurant (there is nothing easy about opening your own business), and deserve a fair shake.

We need to be more critical of our “critics.” Readers, go out and try our local places for youself. Trust your own taste buds. They have gotten you this far, haven’t they?

*I do like Star Bar, I just don’t feel as fuzzy about it as Ms. Moranville.

Locally Grown’s Gift Card Guide For A-holes
2011/01/13, 8:09 am
Filed under: Dining Tips, Local Food Commentary | Tags: ,

Gift Card Kitty says "Don't be a dick."

Staring out my “office” window surveying the frozen Iowegian tundra my thoughts turn from snow removal and proper layering of my winter cycling gear (and how to convince my dog to go outside for more than 15 seconds) to the gift cards that were hurled in my direction during this past holiday season.  Mind you, all of my cards are for super hot spots such as JC Penney and Sears, 0ddly I don’t receive any gift cards for restaurants, the kind of cards which are the focus of today’s frosty little number that I like to call…

LG’s Guide To Using Your Local Restaurant Gift Cards Without Being A Dick

Yes, there are some until-now unwritten rules on how to use your restaurant gift cards.  Some of you won’t like what you are about to read, but I am bringing you the cold hard facts when it comes to avoiding blunders which will make your presence unwanted.  It should be pointed out that this is a guide for LOCAL INDEPENDENT restaurants, not chains like Chilis or Applebeez. If you receive a gift card for a chain restaurant I would like to offer this advice:  visit a “Cash for gift card” site such as Cardpool, get your money back, and use that money to dine at a local spot.

Let’s make this short, simple, and sweet.

  1. Look at the gift card in your hand.  Read the name of the restaurant.  If it is a local restaurant, proceed to step 2.  If not, see above paragraph.
  2. Decide when you want to dine at the restaurant named on the gift card you are holding in your hand.  I mean really decide on a date and time, preferably during the eatery’s operating hours.
  3. MAKE A RESERVATION.  Yes, call, email, or Tweet…whatever communication meh-thod your restaurant of choice uses for reservations.
  4. Show up 5-10 early for your reservation, especially on a busy weekend night.  This lets your host know that it is time to get serious about setting up that table.
  5. At this point, after your server has greeted and watered your table you can either inform them that you have a gift card and have been very excited to use it, or you can opt for the surprise attack method, or the “tuck it in with your bill” method.  It is your choice, and neither method is wrong.
  6. Enjoy your meal.
  7. After enjoying your meal, it’s time to settle up.  this is where the “Don’t be a dick” advice comes in handy.  Place your gift card, along with any other payment method required to settle up the bill.
  8. TIPPING.  You should tip on the original total BEFORE GIFT CARD REDUCTION.  That means you look at the total, disregard your discount due to gift card, and tip your server on the original amount.  Heck, since you are getting something free…why not tip your server extra-well, especially if they really took care of you.  While you are at it and spectacularly wow-ed…send some scrill back to the kitchen.  We don’t mind!
  9. Leave The Restaurant with a smile.
  10. Go Back For Another Visit.

There, how hard is that?  You don’t tip on the discounted check.  That isn’t cool at all.  You don’t give your server a hard time.  You just sit back, enjoy your discounted meal, then reciprocate the pleasure by acting like a proper adult guest with manners and an understanding of gratuity etiquette.

So, faithful tens (and you three new readers), get out there and do some (local) dining.  I wasn’t kidding about selling your corporate chain cards…or you could donate them as an after-prom raffle prize for your neighbor’s high school.  Or just use the card as a back-up ice scraper.  I mean, it IS pretty cold out there…

The Cook

Locally Grown News Worthy? Yes.
2011/01/11, 11:11 am
Filed under: Personal


Still Life With Fat Guy On Bike...courtesy Des Moines Register/Justin Hayworth


Mike Kilen of the Des Moines Register conducted an interview with your truly regarding my sick obsession with cycling in shit weather.  Mike had amazing timing and today the article ran on the front page in the midst of some shit weather.   Today, instead of writing my own words I would like to share the words of a pro writer who braved the barrage of coffee fueled random stories to come out victoriously articled.  Here is a link to the artice:

Link To Article

I would like to thank Mike Kilen and the Des Moines Register…and whom ever recommended my antics…for the write up.  Nice.

Also, the launch of Seitanic Feast (the new veg recipe site from your trusty cook) is pushed back one week.  Due to slow/lazy/computer problems/other excuses.

The Cook