Locally Grown

Whine me, Dine Me?
2012/07/07, 2:16 am
Filed under: Dining Tips


One thing I am officially over is this: people who constantly whine about what Our Fair City doesn’t, in their opinion, have to offer as far as dining options.  Why don’t these people either do something about it, find something close to what they are looking for, or just move to the city/country they deem the benchmark of culinary cornucopism?

Because that would be too easy.  The DMZ is growing, and we are seeing the next generation of food leaders start to mold the dining future, a future that could include whatever it is that you are waiting for.  Eat, follow, or get out of the way.

The Cook.


Life’s (really) Little Questions:
2011/10/24, 7:58 am
Filed under: Dining Tips | Tags: , , , ,

Hello, tens.  It has been a long-ish six months in all of our lives, mine consisting of being too busy to really get any writing of this sort accomplished due to being busy with business, and yours consisting of wondering when you will get some snarky remarks regarding dining out and maybe a funny cat picture or two from yours truly.  Don’t hold your breath, tens, we aren’t out of the proverbial woods yet. (Although if you do decide to  hold your breath, you are lucky that Mom Nature built in that failsafe that causes you to pass out and continue breathing instead of exiting this mortal coil.  Just make sure you are sitting down so as not to fall and bump your little head)

Now, on to our very short subject today:  Questions.

During the last six months I, along with my staff, have heard some questions which have pushed the limits of the old adage that “there are no stupid questions.”  I am here to break it to you now, THERE ARE SOME VERY STUPID QUESTIONS.  I understand that there is a small portion of the population that knows absolutely nothing about the things you encounter in adult life, especially the phenomonon known as solid food.  By small portion I am talking about infants.  Regular sized (or even over- or under-sized) adult humans have all had enough life experience when dealing with solid food and the people whom serve said solids that there should be some expectation as to the direction of questioning directed towards said solid food servers.  Here are a few of my favorites as of late:

  • “So, how does this work?”  This is really the number one bone head question.  You walk up to a business which has food for sale.  Better yet, you are waiting in line for food and get to your goal, the person taking your order.  You then utter the phrase “so, how does this work?”  This is enough to Simon Cowel-ize anyone forced to confront such a situation.  Here is how it works:  Order Food.  Get Food.  Eat Food.  Repeat When Hungry.
  • What is that?” (while pointing to an item with a 12″x8″ label written in chalk beneath it) COME ON PEOPLE!  No matter what time of day, you should always approach this situation like you would approach an intersection: Look Before Crossing.   This is a pretty harmless situation, and made especially entertaining when the person has a dining partner who does the work of making fun of the question asker for the service staff.  Everyone can laugh, and the food staff doesn’t have to say a thing…until later when they talk a bunch of smack.
  • “Is that tofu?” (while pointing at shredded pork) Seriously?

What should you do if you find yourself about to ask a really bone headed question?  Here is a simple guide:

  1. Pause.
  2. Observe.
  3. Evaluate.
  4. Revise
  5. Ask.

Learn It.  Know It.  Live It.

Until next time, mind your manners and your something that rhymes with manners.

The cook

Farmers’ Market Pre-Game Pep Talk!
2011/05/04, 8:30 am
Filed under: Dining Tips, Local Food Commentary | Tags: ,

As a grandperson said to me once in my childicular years, “Excuses are like dentures.  Everybody here has them, and the harder you bite down the worse they hurt you.”  Thusly I will not be biting down on or spitting out any excuses as to why this Blog has become wordly arid.  Instead, we here at Locally Grown have decided to break another stretch of muted bloggedness with your very own

Farmers’ Market Guide To Attending The Farmers’ Market!!

(and pep talk)

  • The DMZ (That is Des Moines Zone for all of you who have forgotten the jargon used up in this piece) has one of the largest farmers’ markets in the country.  This giant mess of goodness attracts from 10,000 to 25,000 people to the Court Avenue district in Downtown Des Moines every Saturday from 7am to noon.  It is complete madness, a mob of people with giant dogs and strollers, and hangovers, and babies, and big sunglasses, and stainless steel water bottles, and reuseable shopping bags, and messenger bags, and sometimes even under-the-eyes bags all converging on the same few blocks to buy fresh produce, watch musicians perform, find some good hangover food, show off their really cool triple-wide baby strollers, walk their giant bear-dogs, buy some cupcakes, beef jerky, salsa, hand-made textile-type items…etc, etc, etc.  The Des Moines Downtown Farmers’ Market is nothing short of a spectacle all rolled up in a not very neat package meant to deliver you from your homes earlier than you probably want to be out of your home and around 24,999 other people.  It’s an amazing experience, and I urge you to get your possibly-sorry buns out of your toasty oven of a bed and EXPERIENCE IT.

    Now, those tens of you who were with me at this time last year may remember my attitude towards the market being…let’s say…slightly askew from this year’s cheery-esque something or other.

    (I was going to post some links to last year’s blog posts regarding this subject here, but can’t seem to find them due to the distraction of reading other posts and laughing out loud.  Just go to the left and click on the may or june 2010 links in the “compost heap”)

    Well, I am a little excited for the Farmerz Market due to this: I will be working it under my own employ.  Come visit me at 3rd and Court Ave.

    Oh, this isn’t really about that.  This is about you enjoying your Market Experience.

    Keys to a good DTFM Experience:

    • Have some patience.  This is definitely #1 on the list
    • Check under produce sellers’ tables for freshly opened boxes from Loffredo’s Produce.  These people are fine to buy from , but you will be better served by ACTUALLY buying locally grown food which is what the Market was founded on.
    • Step out of your comfort zone.  Try foods and drinks that you wouldn’t normally seek out on your own.  DO YOU REALLY NEED TO EAT ANOTHER BREAKFAST BURRITO?
    • Have a loose game plan.  This may take a few trips to formulate, but plotting your parking, point of entry, and having an idea of what vendors you definitely want to visit  will keep you on point and out of the Zombie Zone. (the mindless wanderers who seem to not notice the other tens of thousands trying to get around them)
    • Check the Weather Forecast but don’t marry it.  We all know how fickle the South Central Iowa weather patterns can be, and how un-accurate our local weather people can be.  Don’t be scared off by a little drizzle or a chilly morning, just dress appropriately and follow your game plan.  The market goes on rain or shine, and the vendors work very hard to serve you.  Also, a “bad” day is the perfect time for you agoraphobes to get  your DTFM fix, as the attendance is markedly sparse…and you can hide under your rain ponch and pretend you are the only one there.
    • Ask Questions It is ok to engage in conversation with your market vendors, in fact most of them are very enthusiastic about answering customer questions.  You may get some good tips or recipes for using the produce you have aquired, or find out what local stores carry that home made jam for which you might have a late night emergency craving.
    • BRING YOUR OWN BAGS to carry your purchases.  don’t be “that” person at the Farmers’ Market carrying a bunch of plastic bags.  Uncool.
    • Pay attention to your surroundings and remember that you are not the only person walking along at your own pace.  There are thousands of other paces being paced and people tend to run in to each other or run over feet with strollers, or trip over dogs.  Watch where you are going, and pull over to let faster peoples pass.
    • Don’t be a dick.
    • Applaud the performers.
    • Buy Things

    and most of all, HAVE FUN.

The Cook.

The Great (Complimentary) Bread Basket Controversy
2011/03/02, 5:18 pm
Filed under: Dining Tips



The People Of America: do you really need bread within arm’s reach before looking at the menu to make your dining experience more enjoyable?  Does a restaurant only achieve the lofty goal of success and prosperity when they bring basket after basket of baked goodness…at no cost…and without the diners’ request?

To be continued…

A Tale Of Two A-Holes
2011/02/02, 10:53 am
Filed under: Dining Tips | Tags: ,

It was the best of double dates, it was the worst of double dates.  Two women and two men entered into agreement that dining together in a fine dining setting would seem to be…um… agreeable, and set out to find a destination worthy of their like.

“A lord and lady such as myself and my esteemed date shall be in need of a quaint and cozy dining location with lighting such as to set a mood of romantic-icized devourment” spat Man 1.

Man 2 added, “Yes, yes!  And such special patrons you are!  Me and Mine are in agreement with your requests and shall dispatch our internet search thusly.”

The women spoke not, but their time would come soon enough.

Men 1 and 2 were both of the type which felt that money was an object, but not one to be fearful of parting with (and especially when entertaining such fair maidens as Women 1 and 2) as more was just around the bend waiting to hop into the vest pocket of their multi-piece suits.  The internetular restaurant search yielded a restaurant which had earned collectively, through various user review outlets, 4 Spoons, 3.5 out of 5 stars, 7.75 Stars out of 10 Stars, 6 Pasta Spinners, One Golden Egg, and an overall affordability rating of $$$$.  All of these factors were like analice to the eye holes of our two couples.

Exclaimed Woman 2, “We must hurry!  They close in one hour!”

Women and Men both 1 and 2 loaded into their respective semi-unaffordable chariot choices and headed, separately, to this restaurant.  They arrived thirty minutes before close.

“Oh, what a beautiful place in which to spend our bounty of cash,” spewed Woman 1

“But this place seems to be mostly empty and full of only worker-peasants,” belched Woman 2

“Let us stand at the bar for a few cocktails whilst they wrangle us a table which is already set and prepared for dining,” Orally farted Man 2

Man 1 vomited “Agreed!”

So the two couples stood at the bar of the mostly empty, about-to-close restaurant to imbibe some libations.  Two rounds of Cosmo-colored fruity alcoholic filth later it was decided that the couples were indeed ready to be waited on by the serfs of the land (restaurant).

[let’s see…page turn, page turn, ruffle.  Hmmm. Where DOES this story head off to…maybe HERE]

(you have just witnessed what we in the modern writing world as a literary fast forward.  Ok, nobody really uses that term because it isn’t a real thing.)

Man 1 and Man 2 order the most manly and meaty dishes the restaurant can sear and pan-roast for them.  This is a showing of not only wealth, but of their virility which will be thrust upon the world and possibly their dates before the night’s end.

were not speakingWomen 1 and 2 both decide on a seasonal stuffed pasta dish, Winter Squash Ravioli in a Burnt Butter and Sage sauce, which sounds rather light since the sauce for the dish not assigned an “alfredo” designator of which is their normal preference when ordering pasta.  W1 and W2 making an attempt to comply with their “new year’s resolutions” which included, as to be expected, losing weight.

Four expertly prepared and beautifully plated dishes are whisked to the last four remaining diners at their table in the restaurant which has been closed for forty minutes.

The men, nay… the MEN, ogle their meat-platters with ill intent, bent on coating their intestines and manly aura with a carnivorous um…coating.

The Women give their tandem dishes a stare not unlike the stare they give the Von Maur shoe lady upon being informed their precious Pliner pumps are not in stock in the necessary size.

“Waitress, waitress!” harkens Woman 1

“Yes, miss, is there something I can do for you?” offers the SERVER.

“How can I eat this pasta dish?  For it is soaked in Butter!” exclaimed Woman 1.

The server attempts to educate the Women, “The sauce is made of browned butter as stated within the confines of the menu description.  That means the sauce is butter.  Simply butter.”

“Well, it is soaked in butter and we can not eat such buttery filth for we are bound by the ideals of a New Year’s Resolution!” Seethes Woman 2

The Men pay this exchange no mind, for they are feasting contently upon their manly-meals and discussing the non-object money and their fearless ability to pay for meals that remain uneaten.  Which they did.

The Server expressed her intent to box up their butter-bathed dishes, presumably to be saved for eating in a few days when the New Year’s Resolution became less of an ideal and more of a memory.  This offer was refused, as was the offer to prepare another less buttery dish for the ladies.

Food was wasted, thrown into a waste receptacle.  Money was spent.  Two diners were full and happy, two were still burdened with hunger and the need to verbally stab away at the girl who, they thought, had led them to a butter pool from which they could not drink.

For the satisfied Men and wholly unsatisfied Women of this Best of/Worst of double date of double, yet opposite, satisfaction no lesson was learned.

Can you see the lessons that were to be learned in our story today?

The Cook

*The names of dishes in this story may have been changed to preserve anonymity*


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

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