Morning in Des Moines found our group in a state of post Iowa State Fair intestinal trauma, but in true “this may be our only chance to eat in Des Moines” fashion, we put our gut pain aside and challenged the city to give us her best.
First, coffee, fruit, and a group wide fiber and caffeine induced purge, then, morning cocktails and a snack in “downtown” Des Moines at Malo: http://malodesmoines.com
an artsy space with bright ceiling tiles, colorful bauble chandeliers, and one awesomely kitchy Lucha Libre painting
Unfortunately, more thought was put into Malo’s design than their food and drink program. The margaritas were so sappy sweet that we sent them back with a request for extra tequila, only to have them returned to us more saccharine than when they left. The food was no better, starting with a goopily dressed crispy onion and avocado taco that was not amusing on any level
and ending with an equally sobering grilled cod taco. The fish, at least, had flavor and char, but enough already with the gobs of mayo based sauce, which is to say nothing of that inexplicably giant swath of iceberg in the foreground.
From there, the goal was a brewery situated more or less kitty-corner across the grassy square that is downtown, but it was closed, so we opted for neighboring Django. http://www.djangodesmoines.com/
Django is a brasserie, all dark wood and copper
With a surprisingly legitimate bar menu; in a refreshing twist, the bar staff actually knew how to execute said menu properly. Satisfyingly strong cocktail with bobbing brandy soaked cherry in hand, we made our food move
Hand cut Duck fat fries, pleasantly crisp, generously seasoned, with sides of ketchup, hollandaise and chipotle mayo. Had we intended to have a full meal anywhere in Des Moines, Django would be my choice. The rest of the menu was not entirely predictable, in fact, it looked rather promising, and the effort to hand cut the fries says a lot about the standard of care in the kitchen.
We took a short drive then, a tour through Des Moines fancy area, full of giant houses with even bigger yards, which probably cost $300,000 for 4,000 square feet. I can’t seem to locate the name of said neighborhood, as searches for “Des Moines rich neighborhood” and the like seems to yield nothing, because it’s not exactly rich, but more, ostentatious, and really, who cares. Our tour ended at Hessen Haus, a German style beer hall http://www.hessenhaus.com/
What Hessen Haus’s beer menu lacked in design, it more than made up for in content, with a comprehensive selection of brews on tap, in bottles, in cans
Of course, no visit to a beer hall is complete without picnic tables (check) and litres (check)
Food options were mostly ordinary…Bavarian pretzels, meat and cheese, wursts, spaetzel, pork knuckle and the like, with the excption of alligator tail, an odd one-off in those parts, served breaded and fried.
For us, the old standy, a perfectly satisfying, recently thawed, Bavarian style pretzel with cheese sauce
and a “charcuterie platter”
We all know that assemblage of Costco cheese & crackers with mail order summer sausage wouldn’t fly in a reputable house of food, but alas, Des Moines is not quite a center of cured meat and artisanal cheese sophistication. No matter, the beers were big, and strong, and who doesn’t like a slug of nitrate filled meat and 80’s after school cheese squares every now and again? And thank GOD for that wilted piece of lettuce garnish, so at least one of us could get an eighteenth of our daily vegetable requirement.
Des Moines downtown, while somewhat quaint, left a whole lot to be desired. Once again, Iowa’s real charm was revealed in a backyard grilling session, complete with Buddha and candles, proper apps, lovely wine, real Iowa corn on the cob (finally!) and the relaxation that comes from quiet, outdoor space
and longtime friends.