Posts tagged ‘Iowa James Beard Finalists’

Eatin’ in Iowa

Jeff needed to work in Iowa, so he reviewed the list of 2010 James Beard finalists and was surprised to find five finalists scattered amongst the potential nominees. One was a “lunch-only” place (Proof) one a pastry shop (La Mie) and two were full service restaurants located in downtown Des Moines, where Jeff was working (Centro and Lucca.) The fifth, Lincoln Café took some research. Tucked into a storefront in historic Mount Vernon, Iowa, it was two and a half hours east from Des Moines. Who would have thought that fabulous food was overflowing in the middle of America?

Jeff decided on a dinner at Centro. Des Moines was enjoying an unseasonably warm week and their comfortable sidewalk patio was buzzing. Late on an October Tuesday evening, the hostess was just able to squeeze him in! Boy was he lucky! The menu is structured to feed everyone. Need a salad? Check. Crave a pizza? Check. Want some appetizers, pasta or a sandwich? Check. Hungry and need a full-blown meal? Double check. Jeff started with the enjoyable and tangy Caesar salad (sorry Michele!) with house made croutons. Because of the late hour, the Chicken Prosciutto pasta beckoned and turned out to be a fabulous choice. The wood fired grill gives the dinning room a distinctive aroma and it was put to good use with the moist chicken breast pieces. A tint of sage enveloped the whole presentation, the sauce was creamy and the LaQuercia prosciutto (Iowa made from naturally raised, heirloom bred pigs) was heavenly. Dessert sounded great, but it was too late and he knew better than to try and tackle one solitaire.

After work, Jeff stayed in Des Moines  long enough to enjoy their interesting art museum (Des Moines Art Center) with the main building designed by Eliel Saarinen and additions by I. M. Pei and Richard Meier. This intimate space houses a decent representative contemporary collection and most especially of interest to Jeff, Edward Hopper’s, “Automat.” Just as he finished reading about the wide collection of pieces in their downtown sculpture gardens, it was time to hit the road. Jeff was headed to the eastern edge of the state for his next meeting. Mount Vernon, it turns out was a fifteen minute detour and so he planned on an early dinner.

You would not expect to find a restaurant of the caliper of Lincoln Café in a town of this size. There are scores of these quirky old towns all over America. If you sneeze, you’re likely to miss it. That would be a shame. Jeff only wishes he could have spent more time there. Probably to insure another visit to the Lincoln Café for a second meal!

The chef, Matt Steigerwald apparently worked at restaurants on the east coast before following his true love to Iowa. Here, he found farm fresh ingredients and willing taste buds weary of fast food. Jeff arrived shortly after their 5:00 opening and already, most tables were full. They offered their remaining four-top table, but he suggested the bar stool to save them space. It proved to be an excellent vantage point from which to enjoy the culinary show.

The menu is slim, but not the reason the Lincoln Café pulls in a crowd. On the chalk board are the specials, derived from the fresh ingredients the chef just recently secured. Jeff started with beet soup. Smooth, creamy and just the right amount of kick, this was a perfect precursor of what is to expect. Dinner was a remarkably flavorful duck breast served over a crispy corn polenta with pureed arugula sauce. (Three specials were available, also offering roast chicken or an intriguing hanger steak entree.) Dessert was pumpkin pie, but nothing like mom ever made. Light and flavorful with spice ice cream, blueberries and chocolate sauce for a perfect ending to a welcome trip detour. By the time he left to resume his trip east, all tables were full and the wine bar next door and the bench outside housed folks eagerly waiting for the next available table. No reservations and no alcohol service are available at the Lincoln Café, only great, great food; and why else do you go out to eat?

With a full stomach, Jeff was able to complete all of his business tasks and avoid eating fast foods. Quite an accomplishment indeed! Want good food? You don’t need to go to New York or Chicago. Iowa will do just fine.

Save your money…buy good food! 1007 Locust Street Des Moines, IA 50309 515-248-1780 117 First Street W. Mount Vernon, IA 52314 319-895-4041


October 23, 2010 at 9:49 PM Leave a comment

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