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Relish sept 2021


By Jim Duncan

Weather dominated food narratives the last semester. Mississippi River water levels were so low that barges were only able to load 90% or less of capacity. That was messing with Iowa soybean prices at the worst time. In late September, Brazil, the main U.S. competitor in the market, ran out of soybeans. October through December is when U.S. soy farmers make their nut, and this time, their profit was discounted because of increased shipping costs.
Florida orange growers, Georgia peach farmers and California almond growers, all coming off terrible harvests last year, are optimistic. Hurricane season left orange groves unscathed, and rain has been heavy, but not destructive, for almonds. Peach growers still worry about an April hard freeze. In Oregon, where 99% of American hazelnuts grow, things are disastrous after ice storms froze trees.

Local news
The dominant theme for local restaurants was questing for the holy zip code. Fong’s Pizza, like Zombie Burger before them, retreated from its beachhead in Ankeny. Those two restaurants are the most popular downtown with visitors from out of town, particularly road crews for traveling Broadway shows. Yet their magic did not translate to the fastest growing suburb… Barrel House’s Quad Cities lure did not translate to Des Moines... Beer Can Alley closed its Court Avenue venue less than a year after opening there… Billy Vee’s closed its Clive store after being forced out of Valley Junction after several good years… Ben’s Burgers closed in Ankeny after Curbin’ Cuisine took over its space there, moving out of Beaverdale…  Dough Crazy took its cookie dough out of the Court Avenue district… The itinerant Big Al’s left Normandy Plaza, as it did Army Post, Hubbell, Ankeny and Adel before. He still runs two food trucks… Jenny Lee’s Korean restaurant left West Des Moines, looking for a new venue… Triangle Tap closed for street remodeling. There will be a new joint off MLK… Franka gave up its East Village location citing difficult parking after snowstorms and re-opened in Clive… Pad Thai gave up, citing street construction disruptions… Scratch Cupcakery closed after a decade in West Des Moines but still has stores in Waterloo, Coralville and Cedar Falls… Nadia’s bakery opened on Grand Avenue in a former Jimmy John’s… Wasabi Johnston moved to 8481 Birchwood Court. The new place is considerably bigger and better looking with the same great sushi-centric fare. Wasabi Urbandale is now open in the old Irina’s at Hickman and Rocklyn… Trang Pham opened her “Woman- and veteran-owned” Egg Roll Ladies on Second Avenue… Fuzzy’s Tacos of Fort Worth closed both their area stores… Hy-Vee gave up on Wahlburgers stand-alone stores in Iowa… Zora was executed for improper behavior while several of Steve McFadden’s restaurants were doing time in limbo or without liquor licenses…   Claxon’s Smokehouse & Grill closed in Ankeny after 26 years… Barbarian, a once-a-week restaurant in Kinship Brewing, closed when the brewery went down for the count. Chef Jacob Demars is a talented guy with terrible luck. His R/I opened just before COVID-19 quarantines. His work at Sevastapol Station was obscured by the wrong zip code…  The Old Spaghetti Works, which anchored the Court Avenue district’s makeover 45 years ago, gave up on the locale. They hosted some of America’s best comedians including Tom Arnold of Ottumwa… Paesano’s closed after 41 years on the southside… Raising Cane’s opened their third metro store at 8660 Birchwood Court in Johnston. They also announced a new store coming to S.E. 14th and Army Post Road…. Grimaldi’s opened in Ankeny’s Prairie Trail with coal-fired pizza… Basic Bird opened in Beaverdale with Korean chicken and bahn chan… JC Cirese is opening “Zazas” in the former Java Joes location along Fourth Avenue downtown… David Baruthio is opening a downtown restaurant this spring in the Fleming Building. Baruthio has been operating restaurants a few miles apart in both France and Switzerland the last several years. He had several restaurants in Des Moines after Steve Logsdon brought him here to open Lucca. The best known and most successful was Baru66 where Thomas Keller dined on his only visit to Des Moines… Chinese street food company Wow Bao has partnered with Walmart, so expect to see it in the latter’s aisles soon.

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