Locally Grown


The Things The Datebook Diner Should Miss.

Dearest Tens,

Yes, we have been absent again after a big push to start things back up fool time. Full time. BUT DON’T GET SALTY!  The weather blossomed into an early spring which caused me, The Cook, to do my job of cooking again.  Last time we checked in our main subject of honor had announced her retirement from reviewing the restaurants in Our Fair City to pursue her other, more Francophilic, interests.  I, along with my cohorts, have been poring over her increasingly truncated reviews, trying to find something LG-worthy to share.  No luck there, until yesterday.  Last night I fired up my Android (uggg) powered Google Reader application and among my plethora of news items from Cat Fancy and Milk Chugger’s Magazine I found a little post from our beloved DD concerning what she will not be missing upon her leaving the eating scene of the DMZ (Des Moines Zone).

First I would like to state that a person whom after nearly 14 YEARS of writing about a dining scene publishes one of their final articles regarding said scene and chooses only NEGATIVES to outline her nearly 14 YEARS of writing about said dining scene maybe shouldn’t have been writing about our city to begin with.  After all of that time and all those hundreds of reviews all she has to say to the diners, restauranteurs, chefs, cooks, and servers is THREE NEGATIVE STATEMENTS ABOUT WHAT SHE WON’T BE MISSING ABOUT WHAT DES MOINES HAS BEEN DOING WITH FOOD OVER THE LAST NEARLY 14 YEARS.  What will she not miss?  Read Here.  We have all spent a long time reading about her complaints, and I personally think she could have come up with a better list.  (on a little tangent, I can’t help but think when she took the job, nearly 14 years ago, she was in another city with a less French Name and saw an opportunity to live in the “Midwest Riviera” but upon arrival found the dread of gloppy soup, iceberg lettuce, and giant wasteful portions to be so oppressive that she decided that if she has to do this 13 or 14 more times, she is out of here)

Seriously, you serve me gloppy soup 13 or 14 more times, and I am OUT OF HERE! -Datebook Diner

So what do we here at the world’s most dangerous food blog (about Des Moines) think that the list should have included?  First off, it should be a POSITIVE list that doesn’t read like an elementary report card that says “Your kid will never learn, they are hopeless and you should just give up for there is no hope for change.”  Maybe after blah blah blah years said food reviewist could find at least three things to miss about Our Fair City and those whom bring you publicly consumed food?  Here are three-ish things that, after our NEARLY THREE YEARS of writing about the DD, we would expect to see in a list written by her, if she wasn’t being a constant “negative nancy.”  (btw, just because your job title includes the word “critic,” it doesn’t preclude you from making positive statements) So here it is, the….

Three-ish Things We Feel The Datebook Diner Should Miss About DSM Dining

(if she wasn’t being such a negative-pants)

  1. The growing of French cuisine in Des Moines.  Back when DD started out in Des Moines there were very few choices for French dining.  Over the years French has come and French has gone, but our current state of French Dining in the city of the monks finds us a plethora of French-based restaurants.  Bistro Montage, Django, Tartine, La Mie, Baru 66…these are all places that should bring joy to a Francophile’s heart.
  2. The Farmers’ Markets.  The Farmer’s Market isn’t a wholly French concept, but it is French enough for a Francophile to come enjoy.  On Saturday mornings you can walk through the market, sample prepared foods, buy fresh baked breads and locally grown produce and meats, and see some of our more ambitious Chefs of des Moines chatting with local farmers and picking out the freshest goods for their menus.  It is my understanding that the DD never really liked the Farmers Market (at least the Down town iteration) and kept visits to a minimum.  The Farmers Market is the life of our Dining Scene during the summer…but maybe now that her job isn’t reviewing food she will stop down more often.
  3. Watching A City Grow.  You get a job reviewing restaurants in Chicago, New York, LA, SF, any larger city and you get to jump right in to a dining scene which has been thriving for many decades.  If you took a job doing the same thing NEARLY 14 YEARS AGO, you were in a very special position to watch what was once a chain restaurant hell with a few local choices, most of which probably served gloppy soup, to what it is now: A growing community of chefs and restaurateurs whom are constantly working to raise the bar in the dining scene.  We have a respected culinary program just to the north in Ankeny (Iowa Culinary Institute/DMACC) and the students of that program are staying in town with increasing frequency, seeing an opportunity for growth…or even of a fast rise to ownership.  It’s a much different world from the day George Formaro was baking bread on South Union to this day after Chef Formaro and his cohorts at Orchestrate worked for over a decade to change the face of what and how we eat (even if he has been damned for portion size).  Things are much different now, and are growing at an increased rate.  DD had the opportunity to watch all of this from the inside, yet it doesn’t seem to matter in the context of her career in DSM.
  4. Influence.  Maybe she should miss the somewhat misguided influence she wielded over the dining public?  Her words have had noticeable impact on the lives of restaurants.  In fact I have watched a few close with a quickness after a Datebook Diner review (not that a few of those few weren’t warranted).  Whatever.

There are many more, but alas, I am out of time and have to go do my actual job.  Keep following along, there are only two more weeks of our current DD’s reign of terror…then it’s time for to pick on the new guy/gal.

Rep Local.

The Cook.

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Locally Grown Monday News

I forgot to start the dryer last night.

As I sit waiting for my panticular clothing items to dry before heading out into the wild gray abyss that is our dreary little Monday, a few non-pants-related thoughts come to mind.  How is our food scene doing, DMZ?  I see some of our local food-blog types have stepped up their dining-opinion-spouting, most likely due to a constant cropping up of new or redesignated restaurants (thus is the circle of restaurant life, eating establishments begin anew only to be barnacled by the words of reviewers, or their own service/food ball dropping, business slows, and some other restaurateur purchases the failed business only to start the whole process over again). I still stand by my opinion that amateur restaurant reviewists, whether by Yelp or by Blog, are exactly what the name states, amateurs.  But some are slowwwwwly starting to get it.  And by slow, I mean evolution of the cosmos slow.  Oops!  Did I just say evolution?  Better watch it before I start getting attacked for violating the Separation of Church and Steak laws.

ooh.  that joke was almost as painful as reading some bush league foodie rantings.  On with the news.

-Chef Hal Jasa of Zingaro has stayed true to the “Gypsy” theme of his Pop-Up dining experience’s name (thanks to the Our Fair City’s City Officials) and has changed locations, taking up home inside of the Kirkwood Lounge (400 Walnut Street) (formerly Azalea).  Hal is using their abundance of kitchen space and mezzanine seating to offer his constantly changing menu to a select few who are able to snatch up reservations.

-You have probably already heard about this, but I am pretty excited for you to hear about it again. Chef George Formaro’s Zombie Burger will be opening in the near future (possibly August) at the e300 building in the East Village.  What the heck is a Zombie Burger?  Read about it here. 

-A new daily deal web site launches today, DSM Daily. DSM Daily offers an email based discount and incentive system to encourage you, the consumer, to frequent businesses but UNLIKE the established daily discount sites, DSMD is locally owned and features only locally owned businesses.  Their focus is keeping local dollars local and introducing people to businesses that would otherwise stay under the radar due to lack of “big marketing” dollars employed by national chains.  Their launch party is tonight at the Bombay Bicycle Club.  I encourage you to sign up and support this local business which supports local business.

Well, the pants-are-dry buzzer just went off, which means our news session is over for todah. today.  Remember to keep things really real you have to really keep things local.

We Love you, Des Moines!  Good Night!

The Cook



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.

 



Sitting On The Throne Of (radio edit)

Before you confirm your thought that this blog has gone the way of the dodo or Red Dog beer, I invite you to spread your non-avian wings, pop open an extinct canine-themed beverage, and wrap your thoughts around this (like the wrapping paper that engulfed your least favorite holiday gifts):

Locally Grown is still here for you, baby.  Like a gift card that never expires,  this steamy den of drama of a blog sits comfortably in a back pocket until you or I am ready to “cash in,” and today is your lucky day (although this blog has no real value, cash our otherwise)!

We have an election coming up for secretary of agriculture.  I urge you to vote for the guy challenging the incumbent.  He is a PhD and runs a small organic grass-fed dairy among many other fine qualities.  (names have been removed to avoid potential law-suitors)

There is a Cuban restaurant in town.  I will be going there sometime soon.

Oh, Halloween is this weekend.  Please celebrate responsibly.

If you or a loved one are suffering from depression or any mental illness, please seek help.  There are people/programs out there who can help, and there is always hope.  Take care of yourself, and your life will reward you with a whole bunch of extra days of happiness.   

I can be heard, along with Chef George Formaro, on “Kitchen Insider” this Saturday at 10am on 99.1 in des moines (or lively streamed from their web site) taking about life, the love of the (food) game, and zombies.  I strongly urge you to join us as we travel to/through something something something.

Saturday is also the birthday celebration of the woman ultimately responsible for the existence of yours truly, and thusly this blog, my mother.  Mom, mad happy birthday shout-out to you!  Love you, hope this weekend treats you well!

That, my tens of friends, is all he (me) wrote.  

The Cook



The Name’s Beard, James Beard (Awards)

Another Monday is upon us, greeting some of us with in warm wash of sunshine on our shoulders (which reportedly makes people happy), and climbing on the backs of others.  Whatever, it’s just Monday (although I hear Tuesday is just as bad), and it will pass.  It’s funny how even though many of us who are employed in the food industry consider ACTUAL Monday as our perceived Saturday or Sunday, Monday still holds in it’s grubby little paws the same lack of appeal and hardships as it does for those of you who are kicking it Monday through Friday style.  It could have something to do with trying to keep up with the weekend festivities that the rest of the “normal” work force are partaking in while also trying to keep our “shit” together as we work the busy, grueling (well, I hope it’s busy and grueling for everyone) Friday and Saturday shifts…and some of you REALLY lucky folks get the benefit of working Sunday Morning duh duh duuuuuuh…..Brunch.   What’s the point?  I forget, honestly.  Something about the Equal Opportunity nature of Monday’s wiles.  Um…lost it.

I heard from a local source that it is again time for The 2011 James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards nomination process to begin.  This is an exciting time of the year for Chefs around the country, as getting a JBA is akin to winning an Oscar for your food.  (I was planning on making some kind of beard joke here, but that would be disrespectful to one of the greatest culinarians…ever).  (ok, I am just going to go ahead with the joke).

Although a righteous beard, it is not the kind we are talking about here.

 

Personally, I don’t get very excited about the James Beard Awards, as I will never be on that level and the chances of a chef from Our Fair City nabbing the Best Chef award from the grips of someone from a larger city in our region (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI) are more than slim.  It’s still fun to watch and speculate.  Kansas City, Minneapolis, Madison, and Milwaukee all have some great chefs, so what do we have?  Here are the guidelines for the award, from the James Beard Foundation web site:

Chefs who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions. Candidates may be from any kind of dining establishment and must have been working as a chef for at least five years with the three most recent years spent in the region.

I think two-time Cochon555 winner Matt Steigerwald of Lincoln Cafe in Mount Vernon, Iowa is going to be my first pick.  Chef Steigerwald has decimated the competition at Cochon and managed to get a 5 star review in the Datebook.  He has definitely set both new and consistent standards in our region (especially in Iowa), and meets the time in service constraints.  His staff is knowledgeable, respectful, and super nice.  At Cochon 2008, Chef Steigerwald’s people made me a great vegetarian dinner from the ingredients they were using for the competition dishes.  Great Stuff.

Second Choice, George Formaro.  George has done more to change the face of dining in Des Moines more than any other chef/business owner in the last decade.  He is the drive behind such local favorites as South Union Bread Cafe, Django, Centro,Jorge’s Tacos (at the Downtown Farmer’s Market), and Gateway Market not to mention that his South Union Bakery makes the bread served by most of the better restaurants in central Iowa.  I would really like to see George step back from his enormous machine and take a year to operate ONLY one small (fifty=ish seats) restaurant.  I would wager that it would be quite an experience for diners and Chef Formaro alike.

Those are my choices for this year.  Who are yours?  Discuss.

 

The Cook



Regulators, Mount Up…For Friday News!
2010/10/15, 9:48 am
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Happy Friday!!!  It’s been a heck of a week! Dealing with egos, injuries, and economics has left your Humble-ish Cook a little frizzle fried.  Thank you to all that helped clear the path of BS as we ran the gauntlet called this week, only to land safely and soundly within the boundaries of this beautiful Friday.  In the spirit of NOT pissing in the cheerios of a few of the more sensitive readers of LG, today we will just talk news.

Tomorrow I will be appearing, once again, on George Formaro’s radio show, The Kitchen Insider which airs on KFMG 99.1 at 10 am every Saturday.  Chef Formaro and I will be discussing the local food scene, tacos, and our favorite movies to watch during the run-up to Halloween.  It will, as always, be a good time.

Super Hot Breaking News:  The New Issue of Relish has dropped.  Look for a propper tearing apart of some of its articles next week…

In the “This Is A Huge Blow To The DMZ Food Scene” department:  The heralded Heritage Pork Pride event Cochon 555 will not be returning to Our Fair City for what would have been its third year of showcasing Heritage Pork and Local Chefs.  I have not yet heard back from the event organizers as to why we are being skipped over, but a few inside sources say it is rumored to be directly related to the Meh turnout at last years event.  There is a rumor that the Cochon555 folks have just decided to skip the formalities and directly award two-time winner and Datebook 5-Star awardee Matt Steigerwald of the Lincoln Cafe in Mt. Vernon, Iowa his three-peat.  Just kidding.  I will pass on any more information as it rolls in.  Locally Grown will be traveling to one of the other Midwest cities to cover the event.

As some of you know, I have been working hard at bringing you not only the most inflamatory words and subjects in the local food scene, but also to bring you TACOS that will change your life.  Well, your Taco life.  I have secured a builder for my dream bike, the Taco Bike.  Scott Forscht of Cornfed Customs has agreed to construct this unholy mix of Taco Truck and Bicycle.  Thank you, Scott.  This is exciting news for all you Taco Likers out there who have been making the trip to the Cumming Tap every Tuesday for the Best Tacos You Are Going To Probably Going To Stuff In Your Face, or B.T.Y.A.G.T.P.G.T.S.I.Y.F. as the plan involves me riding around town on The Taco Bike, throwing down tacos for you to chomp.  More to follow…

[I am writing this as Barney is on in the background.  I can’t take it.]

A certain local food critic has declared via the comments section of this little kitten of a blog that this person does not consider Cafe Di Scala a real restaurant, but more of a catering place.  Hilarious.  We at the “not restaurant” have been having a good laugh at your statement, person who I promised via Twitter to never mention again.

Well, Friday is about to get underway.  Time for Me, Warren G, and Nate Dogg to saddle up and regulate.

 

The Cook

 



Artificial Dissemination (Attn Vegans)

Happy Tuesday, all…or as I like to call it “The Day I Finally Forget Last Thursday.” This is usually my grumpiest day of the week (well, at least the grumpiest day of the week I am allowed in public).  This morning was a little different than other Tuesday mornings…or so it seemed…

(Note to Michael Libbe:  Maybe if you have me return to your show, we should try it on a Tuesday.  I would probably be at the normal rumored level of grumpiness)

So I wake up and realize that the bedroom temperature has bottomed out at around 60 degrees, and even wrapped up in a down comforter the shivers could not be shaken. (I have strategically placed window air units in the Pink House, which was built in 1886…a few years before the cool sins of central air were felt. One of them is thigh-high and four feet from my bed.)  The heat-oppression of the past few days has kept me running to turn the air colder and colder.  ok, you get it.  It was cold. (tangental modulation) I walk out into the kitchen heat-wave to turn on my daily NPR soundtrack and feed my Editor and the World’s Second-Most Storm Shy Dog.  I check on the prep for Taco Tuesday (which I am serving my new recipe Vegan Chorizo tacos on hand made corn tortillas with cortida, a Salvadorian slaw…or you can have the braised pork tacos which I also made…at the Cumming Tap [117 N 44th St. Cumming, Iowa 50061] tonight from 4 until 10ish. A good chance to try out my cooking for the uninitiated.  Yes, I can put my money where my mouth is, but tacos are much better tasting and contain 100% less contaminates.  Come out to the Tap tonight for tacos!)  All temperatures checked out, and I thought it about time to have a little sample of my new soy chorizo recipe.  Excellent, it turned out even better than I had hoped.  So far this is playing out like that Ice Cube song.  So fast forward a little to my first Twitter check of the day.  What do I see?

(From Twitter)

SophiaAhmad

@GatewayMarket will serve vegan fair-inspired food. From @DatebookDiner: http://is.gd/ebAvW

Sounds good, as I am in the mood for both the State Fair and some Vegan food, so I click on the link.  It takes you to the blog of our Illustrious Datebook Diner, .   This is what it held:

(From the Datebook Diner Blog)

More from Christopher Diebel [Orchestrate Information/Marketing administerer- ed.]. It seems that Gateway Market is going to offer vegan fair food at the market (not the fair)….I suppose it’s a way for vegans to not feel left out. Anyway, this is by no means an endorsement [good call, DD], but here’s the info, from Diebel:

In honor of the Iowa State Fair, Gateway Market will feature three vegetarian takes on classic fair staples. From August 11-22, café patrons can try a vegetarian gyro, tenderloin, or grinder for $7.50 (includes fries). Chef George Formaro and his culinary team have been working on these unique recipes for weeks and can’t wait to debut them for the 2010 fair season. Please see full descriptions below:

  • Seitan Gyro– Seasoned slices of seitan with yogurt sauce, onion, tomato, feta cheese and shredded lettuce on Gateway flatbread.
  • Iowas Best Tenderloin– Breaded and fried veggie patty on an South Union egg bun with pickles, onion and tomato.
  • State Fair Veggie Grinder– Seasoned tempeh sausage, secret sauce and mozzarella cheese on South Union hoagie bun.

**Each served with fries for $7.50 during lunch and dinner.

Seems kind of suspicious…Egg Bun, Yogurt, Feta and Mozzarella Cheese.  These items are not Vegan, but they ARE Vegetarian.  For those of you who are not sure of the difference between the two here is the lowdown, in my words:

A person who practices Veganism or is a Vegan subsists on a diet solely of vegetable-based foods, taking special care not to purchase, wear, or ingest any animal based products.  Simplified, a Vegan does not eat any meat, dairy, fish, or egg products and does not wear any leather or other animal hides.

This differs from a Vegetarian in that Vegetarians may choose to eat eggs (ovo-) or dairy products (Lacto-), and some do not shy away from wearing animal hides.

So what has happened here, besides some very lackluster menu item naming, is that somewhere along the line (and I am pretty sure it wasn’t the Gateway Market kitchen or Chef Formaro) someone got their facts a little futzed up, leading to a widely dispersed mis-information bomb.  When Vegans hear about something culinarily new, it’s exciting and they will get our there and try it…and if this “new thing” is disappointing, they will make sure all of their friends know about the problem.  When you start throwing around the word Vegan when you clearly don’t know (or seem to care) what you are talking about, people’s feelings and stomachs get hurt (try eating dairy after abstaining for a few years…it’s not pretty), not to mention the hurt put on the trust for the restaurant in question.

So, I will leave it to you, the reader, to peruse through the chain of information presented and make your decision as to where the breakdown happened. (hint: listen for the chugga chugga part and watch for kids in khaki shorts, running shoes, and straight edge t-shirts to start spin-kicking)

This was all meant to be a word of warning to the makers, advertisers, and devourers of Vegan foods out there.  You have to really watch what goes in to not only the food, but the words describing it.  Please, take care to learn about Vegan and Vegetarian and present them properly.  The Veg-Heads out there insist on/deserve it.

Grumpily Yours,

The Cook.

Don’t forget to come out for some tacos and to share some of my cooking.  Most of you out there only know me from the words emanating from the interschweb.  Let us fix that problem!

Tomorrow night there is a State Fair bike ride from Orlondo’s on Park Ave to The Cumming Tap starting at 6 pm.  I will be there, you should be too. Or show up after the parade.

Yeah, I haven’t figured out the connection between today supposedly being different from other Tuesdays and this article either.  In fact, it is a pretty stock Tuesday so far.  I would have to say it was a good day...