Tag Archives: des moines restaurants

Tea for two and cheese for three

A few weeks ago I posted about seven things to do to take the chill out of  a Des Moines winter. On Wednesday, I checked two little local adventures off the list!

Joe and I started the morning at Gong Fu Tea with a traditional Gong Fu style ceremony. It was fun to go on a sunrise date, with the sky pink on the east side of the city.

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I don’t really recommend trying to squeeze in a whole ceremonial tea service before work, because it’s really not the thing to do in a rush, but I was on deadline. It was still lovely. Tea has been prepared this way in China since the 1300s, and it’s a great almost meditative way to relax because you’re doing multiple steepings in a tiny clay teapot. The service is for two people, and $8 each. It’s available at limited times because it takes the staff about 15 minutes to explain, so they can’t be super busy.

After work, I met up with my friends Chelsea and Holly for fondue night at The Cheese Shop. Check their Facebook for specific fondue nights, and be prepared to wait for a table! The place was bustling right after work. It’s $30 to share a pot of bubbling, delicious cheese and unlimited bread and pickles. We also ordered some roasted veggies for dipping and my lady friends got glasses of white wine while I paired with Ginger Ale. Charcuterie is also a great pairing.

Cheese Shop Fondue

Chelsea lived in Switzerland for a time, so she was like our culinary tour guide, explaining some of their traditions there, like the “nun’s cap” in the bottom of the pot, which is basically a disc of crusty fried cheese that you scrape off the bottom and divvy up to eat. It was so fun to go out with two ladies who I see a lot, but don’t spend much one-on-one time with. Wednesday was definitely a little warmer because of these mini adventures!

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First-timer: Jesse’s Embers

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.

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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!

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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.

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Brianne’s Des Moines restaurant go-tos

Someone asked me on Twitter what my favorite restaurant in Des Moines is and I felt guilty keeping it to 140 characters, because it’s hard to pick one when different places are better for different things. Here are a few of my favorite spots and what I tend to order there, organized more by occasion than cuisine:

Indulgent weekday breakfast with the ladies
Where: La Mie
What I order: Avocado tartine, which is a hearty piece of toast covered in cream cheese and sprouts, eggs over easy and a half avocado.
There are few better ways to start the day than walking into La Mie on a crisp morning and settling into a table with some of my dearest Des Moines friends and a little cup of coffee. This is where we catch up and gather energylike batteries powered by each others energy and passion for life. If you go the pastry route, my favorite are the long rectangular ones that are filled with some sort of cream and chocolate chip concoction. They should be illegal.

Payday lunch with downtown workers
Where: Basil Prosperi
What I order: Spinach Ricotta pasta
Carbohydrate overload? Definitely. This lunch is for Fridays at the end of the month when you’re feeling rich and in the mood for something with a taste to match. I miss working so close to this tucked away Skywalk staple, where the line moves fast but you’ll feel full well into the evening.

Sunday evening doing crossword puzzles and drinking crappy beers
Where: High Life Lounge
What I order: Broasted chicken meal with tater tots and corn on the side
You know how healthy eating doctrine says you’re not supposed to have a plate of entirely brown food? This is worth breaking the rule.

Craving hot wings
Where: Gerri’s
What I order: These are the best wings in Des Moines, and you can order them in five pound increments. (CABCo comes close, but theirs aren’t as cheap.) These have the perfect sauce and a slight crisp in the skin. I used to hate hot wings, but these converted me.

Double date night
Where: Flying Mango
What I order: Grilled Cajun Chicken, with Goat Cheese & Thick-Cut Bacon
Joe and I went on a kind of double date the other week with the Heggens and this was a great spot. It’s so unassuming on the outside, but then the dining room opens up and it’s got a great atmosphere. There’s a good beer selection, and even good vegetarian options, which you might not think about coming out of a place known for its 24-hour brisket.

Satisfying the sweet tooth
Where: Chocolaterie Stam
What I order: There’s a sweet little wine flight/chocolate pairing deal that was only $10 the last time I went!
Even though it’s right on Ingersoll, the little side yard next to Stam is like a tucked-away wonderland. There’s a babbling fountain, pretty lights strung up and lots of gelato options!

A ladies "picnic" at Stam

Power lunch
Where: Des Moines Art Center Restaurant
What I order: “Pick two”
Where: Proof
What I order: Lamb burger
I always forget about the Art Center restaurant, and each time I re-discover it, I vow to go back soon. One of the IHAD mentors is the chef there, and the setting and food are inspired, but the price is right. My boss, Emily, and I had lunch here a few weeks ago and she told me to do the “pick two” selection because the portions are generous enough you don’t really have to choose, if you’re wavering between options.
Proof is the downtown go-to! Everything is amazing, fresh and made with care. Love it.

Saturday afternoon “linner”
Where: Gateway Market
What I order: Veggie burger (which is crazy, considering I looove burgers)
You know when you’re in the zone running errands and you don’t have any food in the house and it’s 2 p.m. and you probably shouldn’t go to the grocery store hungry? Gateway Market is the go-to for a fresh-tasting option. Then you can also pick up some essentials to tide you over to your next shopping trip. And by “essentials,” I mean wine and bread. Right? Also, last time I got the veggie burger here was on the way to get my new bike, and some guy walked up to me and asked me what I was eating because it looked awesome.

A taste of suburbia
Where: Rock Bottom Brewery
What I order: Various burgers
Sometimes we go past 63rd Street. Not a lot, but sometimes. Rock Bottom has some awesome perks for their mug club members (and being a member is free.) Plus, their beer is brewed on-site and the place is huge, with a patio. They used to have half price burger nights, I think on Wednesdays, which made for a really reasonable dinner out.

OK, a few other picks! I’m going to be lazy and not include links, but you can find details for most Des Moines restaurants on DesMoines.Metromix.com.

Brianne’s favorite places for:

Chips: City Bakery. They basically slice a potato lengthwise and crisp it until it’s a chip, then pepper and salt it. Thanks to the ladies of Ephemera for turning me on to these.
Margaritas: El Patio in the summer. Awesome hanging planters and a sweet patio that’s a good respite from the rest of the world.
Chinese: Rolling Wok. I only ever order Mongolian Beef from Chinese places. They have great lunch specials, but are otherwise a bit pricey.
Romance: Cafe di Scala. Joe and I went here after we got engaged, so it will always be a special place. I also recommend just dressing up and getting a drink and appetizer at the bar.
Pretending I’m French and mysterious: Baru 66. I dined alone here once, which was a strangely amazing experience for me. I should have worn stripes and red lipstick. I also took my mom and aunt here as a thank you for throwing me a wedding. A lovely special occasion spot.
Tamales: La Rosa. I buy them by the dozen and freeze them. These remind me of the ones we’d get in Pilsen growing up.
Fancy brunch: Centro. You will not regret getting the French Toast.
Fancy dinner: Django. This doesn’t HAVE to be fancy, and sometimes we go on random nights, but my birthday dinner here last year was a pretty epic chicken dish that made me dream about caramelized pearl onions for months.
Quick Drake-area lunch: Gazali’s. I’m a little too obsessed with their chicken salad. This, coming from a person who almost never orders salad anywhere.
Lunch with a big group of co-workers: Gusto Pizza Company. Call ahead for a big long table.
Random lunch date with Joe: Woody’s Smoke Shack. Free cornbread!

I’d also have to say that the only place I’m really a “regular” is Mars Cafe! It’s that “third space” for so many of us.

I’m also probably forgetting other favorite spots! What are yours? What did I miss?!

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