I have a goal to eat at all of the restaurants along Ingersoll Avenue, the street I most often use to get downtown. I’ve been to most of them, but for the past 5.5 years, never checked Jesse’s Embers off the list. This place is a Des Moines classic, but to an outsider, the squat white windowless building is intimidating. There’s no parking in the front, so I’d wonder – Is anyone even in there? Then tonight Joe and I were trying to figure out what we were going to do for dinner, and I decided that it was the night to experience the Embers.
We pulled in the back parking lot at a little before 6 p.m. and were barely able to find a spot. It was hoppin’. The back entrance to Jesse’s is through a kind of pantry setup and then you pop into the dining room right next to the open kitchen, which gave me a bit of a shock. We were seated facing the kitchen — the centerpiece of the restaurant, and it was fun to watch people come in and wave at people they knew.
I was instantly charmed by the setup: Warm wood paneling and brick walls decorated with images of iconic spots around the city. Instead of intimidating, the lack of windows create this warm, cocooned supper club vibe. The Wednesday night crowd struck me as the DSM Magazine demographic: Established Des Moinesians relishing a casual night out with old friends. I was pretty jealous of everyone’s classic cocktails and big glasses of wine.
Our server asked if we wanted a half order of onion rings to start, which she probably asks everyone, but I have this weird fascination with Des Moines’ onion rings and my enthusiastic response may have freaked her out. These were the traditional, tangler type, but thicker than some other places offerings and served with a fork stuck through the stack. Yum!
Joe and I both got the specials for dinner. I tried to take a photo but the lighting was off and my phone flashed, which was kind of embarrassing in a spot like this. Instead, I’ll make you drool with my words. Our meals came with a generous house salad (house dressing was a creamy garlic, natch) that featured shaved carrots, crunchy croutons and a sliced radish garnish.
I ordered the Iowa chop, which came topped with chunks of sweet baked apple. I loved the way the apple flavor melded with the savory seasoning of the chop, and let Joe have two bites, but polished it — and the accompanying foil-wrapped baked potato — off. Joe said his shrimp scampi dish was good, but he admitted to dinner envy.
In all, Jesse’s Embers was a little bit spendy for us to make it too regularly, but we will definitely be back. I love this kind of spot that feels worn in and well-oiled, like a favorite baseball glove or jacket.