There’s a little more to it than that of course, so give me a little latitude to bring this full circle. Hang in there. I think I can do it.
I had a conversation waiting outside a courthouse with a minister the other day about how uptight people get in front of the men in cloth. We expect to see our leaders in church, but what happens when you’re all setting around in the garage telling stories with your buddies and your pastor is present? Most tend to clam up or choose their words carefully. While it wasn’t a parallel exactly, it was similar to a fleeting comment or two my pastor and I had exchanged about how people don’t associate on a social level often with their pastors. I can only assume some feel apprehensive about showing their spiritual shepherds that they, in fact, aren’t perfect.
I’ve got news for you. They know.
I’ve got more news for you. They aren’t perfect either. However, the intent and vigilance to live as true Christians is incumbent on us all, so we rise with purpose each day and do our best in honor of Him.
How does this equate to yummy cannolis you ask? Well, I noticed my pastor had the opportunity to enjoy a great meal with his wife not long ago. With a house full of children and a job that doesn’t hold banker’s hours I can only imagine the schedule of a pastor being hectic at best. To this end, the subject of restaurants came up. “Eat, Drink, and be Merry” right? Well, in moderation I reckon…
As luck would have it, one of my personal favorite dining establishments was the location my pastor ended up dining. The Latin King has been in my blood for a couple of decades now. With good reason too. Prior to children my wife and I had money. Many of you may remember what that was like. So while we saved a buck or two here and there we also enjoyed the evenings of trying all of what the Des Moines area had to offer along with many other Iowa favorites. We’d find ourselves visiting with Bobby Tursi, long time owner, and the staff across the street from the legendary AE Cow one weekend night at the Latin King. The other night we’d try a new spot in hopes of simply enjoying something different. 15 years is a good run for that kind of thing. Two things happened as a result. I got fatter than a tick and we found dozens of treasures I can share with you. This is mostly Des Moines oriented, so keep that in mind…
1st Corinthians 10:31 – So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Tursi’s Latin King – One of my personal favorites and my longest standing local relationships… Bobby is a big time Catholic so each year during lent he offers a special dish on the weekend comprised of the freshest fish and seafood in a linguini based pasta. I’ll admit, I jump right in with the Roman doodleys for that stuff. My long time favorites include the Steak Duburgo with a side of ‘American Fries’ – ask them to add cheese and onion to the fries and you won’t be sorry. I can say with honesty I’ve had every single item on the menu and each is good. I never found anything I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. Their Chicken Spiedini is the house specialty and whether you choose amogio or alfredo, it is choice. The Gemberi Diavlo as a spicy shrimp linguini is my treat for times other than lent… And don’t forget to save room for the fresh made cannoli. Just like his grandmother’s recipe, Bobby doesn’t disappoint when it comes to a great cannoli. Besides, a sip of wine imported from his family vineyard in Italy is icing on the proverbial cake.
Genesis 9:3 – Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.
So you’re a ‘steak guy’ huh? I can relate. Prime rib is your ditty? Ok, now we understand one another. If that’s the case you’re going to need to make your way to Sam & Gabe’s near 86th and Hickman. I remember when this little bar was a start up in some tiny strip plaza off University Ave. There was barely enough room in that place to turn around, literally, and I think the capacity was 58 people when they began business. It may have been less. But over the years I watched this business accommodate it’s customers and flourish, moving to a great location with much more room near 86th and Hickman. Their menu is first rate, the food is great, and the bartenders are true mixologists. The cocktails they provide are top shelf. With a splash of live music they manage to bring the dining experience full circle in one spot. When you’re ready for the best prime rib in town and an overall dining experience, this is a great choice.
John 6:35 – Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
What about best burger? Seriously folks. Is there nobody that can’t appreciate a good burger that’s a true Midwesterner? I’ll have to divide this into two categories – local and statewide. For the statewide winner we have the burger at the Hideaway Lounge within the Ida Bowl bowling alley in Ida Grove. I’m not sure what to say. I set there and watch a guy smash the burger with his bare hands and work each patty, and all of a sudden they get tossed on a stained grill surface. I’m not sure what goes into them, and I really don’t care. They’re little brown patties chocked full of God’s love and I won’t discount them.
If you’re looking for a local spot and aren’t adverse to the ‘dive’ feeling, you’re in luck. B&B’s Grocery is your destination. In fact ‘dive’ is highly inappropriate. B&B is small, quaint, but isn’t huge on curb appeal. It’s your typical neighborhood grocery, except for the people and the food. The folks are friendly as the day is long, and the only thing they know is top quality. If it isn’t fantastic, they don’t do it. From deli sandwiches to sous vide food prep to deviled eggs, this place is a spa for your mouth. The burger is out of this world…
Genesis 1:29 – And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.
What about best hidden spot? Well, I have two entries. Baratta’s and the Flying Mango are top rated in this category. If you’re tripping around the hills on the southside not far from AIB and Gray’s Lake there’s a chance as you’re knee deep in trees and residential homes you’ll find Baratta’s. I’m a sucker for Italian and especially well prepared Italian. This is your location if you want something from the north end of the Mediterranean and can do so from a converted 1920’s genre home. Yes, it’s a tiny little house converted into an eatery, and it’s not good, but great. My favorites include the Cannelloni Carbonara Al Forno and the Veal Piccata…
Are you looking for your food grilled over fresh hickory planks? Fair enough, place the Flying Mango in your GPS and hit the road. Whether you want Black Beans or Smoked Beef Tenderloin or the Roast Duck, you’re in for a great experience. The place is small but the food is big, so you leave well balanced. …And full. I’m a fan of the Red Beans and Rice and just about anything with the word “jerk” in it. Enjoy, and tell Mike I said “hi”…
Psalm 104:15 – And wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
Life isn’t complete without a good pie. Around my house, when we say “pie” we mean pizza pie. Sure, I appreciate an actual pie, pie. But I’ve referred to pizza as “pie” so long I’m not sure I could break the habit. Pie is a very personal thing. We all have different tastes and expectations, so this list could be long. However, I’ll keep it confined to my most favorite since I can enjoy both thin crust traditional pizza and Chicago-style deep dish at the same place – The Tavern, in Valley Junction. Chuck Celsi put the place together well. While the name implies it’s a bar and there is an actual bar table top, it seats about six, while their is room for a hundred or so more in the balance of the two rooms for dining. The pie is the bomb. The Bavarian and the Italian Philly Steak are top mentions. While they have two locations, it isn’t the same to me unless you’re in Valley Junction. It just seems right there…
1st Timothy 4:4-5 – For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
What about a short list of honorable mentions you ask? Surely.
Centro in downtown Des Moines. Pronounced “Chen-Tro” it is top tier – try the Three Cheese Medallions, Seared Sea Scallops, or the Pork Chop Milanese for eye rolling supper. Their pizza is fantastic, and for the sandwiches the Kill-Bill Tenderloin and Gorgonzola Burger are where it’s at. Centro – webpage
You like Greek? So do I. The Olympic Flame just down the street from the state capitol building in Des Moines is great. Small and fun, I recommend the Pistaccio and the Mezethes. Of course your experience isn’t complete without cheese sporting six foot flames, so order the Saganaki and holler “OPAH” along with the staff. Olympic Flame – webpage
Mexican? Well, you have plenty of choices but I’ll break it into two basic options for downtown Des Moines dining. Tacopocalypse for a place with a roof over your head, and ANY taco truck. Yes, I wrote ANY for a reason. I’ve eaten at a half dozen of them over and over and only enjoyed good eats made with fresh ingredients by hard workers. They all hold my confidence. I even ate at one that was a pop up camper and had mold on the door – the food was that good. As for dine in, Tacopocalypse is out of this world and even uses produce from an all-organic farm located just a few miles from my house. Tacopocalypse – webpage
Pizza outside the city? I have a soft spot for the Haverhill Social Club pizza in Haverhill Iowa. Made fresh on Thursdays only, all the ingredients are brought in and Emily makes up the pies ready for Thursday evening. Sure, if there are any left you can order them on Friday and Saturday nights, but you might miss out as quantities are limited. I recommend the Mediterranean Delight and the Pepper Jack. The HSC special doesn’t disappoint either. One a side note, they offer fresh catfish and fish fries occasionally when locals bring in the fresh catch. Along with that they do a sweet corn feed in the fall for a local charity and also fly in Louisiana crawfish for a mudbug boil as well. Check them out. Haverhill Social Club – facebook page
Last but not least, is probably my favorite establishment between Des Moines and Chicago. Duck City Bistro… I found this gem when entertaining some clients from ADM years ago. Located in downtown Davenport, there are plenty of places you can dine in the area. Only one offers food of this quality by a chef that is able to blend coastal dining traditions with small city Midwest flavors.
Chef Charles studied in both Chicago and Paris, France for years and his philosophy comes through in true seasonal dining. When the migrating birds come through the I-80 corridor you’ll enjoy duck, during the fall fresh mezes and beef, along with year long favorites like bone in chops and local meats. He’s treated me and my fellow patrons well for years. While I traveled up and down the Mississippi River for a decade and know nearly every cute little spot on both sides of the river, Duck City Bistro is my favorite in the QC. While I haven’t worked in the area for years, I still make time to drive over two hours one way to dine with Chef Charles. Do yourself a favor when you make your reservation and ask for the Capone table. What a place… Duck City Bistro – webpage
Romans 14:1-23 – As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
I’ve managed to lay out some super duper places to break bread and tossed out some scripture. But how does this relate to you? As I grew up, prayers weren’t said at every meal. Special occasions were included of course, but Sunday lunch after church service came an expectation of a timely and special prayer before the family sat down to dine. My mom’s side of the family was long winded but heartfelt and thorough in their prayer to the Lord. My dad’s side of the family never participated as much and preferred the prayer be left to one of us kids to speak to God on the group’s behalf. I remember, sure as I write this in this moment, the pitch and timber of my Granddaddy’s voice when he’d say “that was a dandy” after “Amen.” I learned to pray at those meals.
Dining is sacred even though we may not think so sometimes as we spend social and family time together. With fast paced lives while being pulled in so many directions, the dining aspect of our lives is more crucial than ever before in our culture. I believe it is imperative we make the very most of our time with family and friends when we’re all in one place. What better way to honor Him than asking He bless the food and drink to the nourishment of our bodies and enrichment of our souls? Spending your time over meals is personal, as it should be, so make it count…