November 13, 2013
A hundred years ago, our civic leaders were debating a ban on food cart vendors in Des Moines. Arguments sounded much like those against food trucks today – they were eyesores and had an unfair advantage over property tax paying businesses with which they competed. A century later, I sympathize with restaurant owners who tell me how much their businesses have suffered after food trucks began parking nearby but I’ve also seen food carts and trucks act as entry level positions to entrepreneurship. Woody Wasson sold his barbecue out of truck before opening Woody’s Smoke Shack. Tony Lemmo started in a temporary stall at Metro Market before he launched Café di Scala, Hot Shots and Gusto. Years before opening La Rosa, Rosa Martinez sold her tamales in the parking lot of the original La Tapatia, and her fried chicken in industrial parking lots. I could go on and on.
The latest jumper from temporary to permanent food business is Sam Auen. Over the last three years he developed his Tacopocalypse from a farmers market stall into a Tuesday night tavern service, a regular bar service, and finally a stand alone restaurant in the Northland Building. That location has seen a number of good restaurants come and go during the last five years. Long lines at this self service joint suggest the right fit might finally have been found.
The opening menu was considerably upscale from what a temporary vendor could offer. I had some excellent shrimp ceviche, bacon parfait, and deep fried jalapenos with cream. Tacos, quesadillas and burritos were offered with eclectic choices of protein – bulgolgi, Korean chicken, lemongrass pork, wasabi brisket, bacon chorizo, braised shoulder, vegan chorizo, and poblano potato. The same proteins were available on sandwiches – banh mis rather than tortas. Brisket, bulgolgi and lemongrass pork tended to be dry when I tried them but the poblano potato and vegan chorizo were superb.
Also starring were soups – a spicy tomato and a not so spicy red pozole full of hominy, pork, cilantro and the flavors of mildly roasted chilies. Three excellent salsas were offered on a condiment table. A variety of fresh slaws topped all tacos.
Another kind of transformation has been shaping Des Moines’ food scene too. Remember Don Hensley’s Danielle? We named it the best new restaurant of the glorious year 2000, which also brought us Sage. We visited Hensley last week at his latest venture – New Horizon where he is culinary director of marketing. Like La Quercia, this company is mass producing some of the best European classic foods made in America. Giant fork lifts raised veal bones into 2500 gallon tanks where they are cooked for at least 12 hours before being strained and reduced into glace de veau, or cooked into demi glace. Like all superior glaces de veau, there is no salt or flour in this product. Even New Horizon’s concentrated demiglaces were much less salty than considerably more expensive versions I have found at places like Williams & Sonoma. The company also makes glace and demiglace of beef, pork, chicken and viand (a mix of beef and veal). All are gluten free and certified natural. I also played with their concentrated vegetable, carrot, and red pepper extracts. All were reduced to less than 0.6 percent water activity, which gives them three months of shelf life and one month after being opened. I used them in gazpacho, hot soups, and sauces with sensational results. Several of the best restaurants in town are buying New Horizon products now. Whole Foods is in line for them too.
Trostel’s Dish will host a Cline wine dinner Sept. 23, $60… The Dine Iowa Grand Tasting Gala will be held at Prairie Meadows Event Center Sept. 22 from 6 to 8 p.m., $50 includes food, wine, beer and spirits tastings, dessert, and live music. Reservations – 276-1454… Old Chicago Taproom’s Oktoberfest runs through September 29, with an expanded selection of German beers.
621 Des Moines St., 556-0571
Mon. – Sat.. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.