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Working for a week in Des Moines, IA - What should I not miss?

Hi all,

I'm from Los Angeles and will be spending a week in Des Moines for work starting Wednesday. I will not have much access to a car and may be confined to walking or DART outside of work. I'll be staying at the Marriott Downtown and working out of the State Historical Building. I think there will be a group meal at Centro and I will try to get to a Culvers and maybe a Sonic while I am in town.

Is there anything I shouldn't Miss? I saw a post from earlier this year which gave me some ideas, but what I am looking for is food I won't find in LA. Also looking for thoughts on what I can bring back to share with friends.

Take Care

- P.

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  1. Not a food tip, but the Des Moines MTA is pretty good for traveling around. It should get you anywhere you wanna go, just be mindful of what time the last busses run. It's fairly early, if I remember correctly.

    2 Replies
    1. re: spellweaver16

      Do you know if I might be able to get to Norwalk IA from Downtown Des Moines on DART? My fiancee wants me to bring home goodies from La Quercia Cured Meats and I don't think they have any retail in Des Moines.

      1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

        To the best of my knowledge - no. Fortunately the Gateway Market sells La Quercia products. It's on MLK, just west of downtown. It's worth a stop anyway. Try the cheeseburger - it's the best I've had here in town.

    2. No idea why anyone would want to go to Culvers, or Sonic for that matter. If you want a regional fast food burger, go to B-Bops. If you just want a good burger, The Library near Drake U.
      You need to have a good pork tenderloin sandwich. Not sure who has a great one in the downtown area, I'll ask around. You should also experience a Grazianos Italian Sausage sandwich. Most places will have a sausage sandwich on the menu, but Grazianos is the key here. Historical Building is in the East Village. Lucca, The Continental, Olympic Flame, all good choices.
      Marriott will give you skywalk almost all the way to Court Ave. Lots of changes since I've been downtown, but Judge Roy Beans for Grampa Mikes special is always a good meal. SIrloin Steak, shrimp, spaghetti, onion rings, baked potato, all for like 16.00.
      Expense account? 801 Steak and Chop. For that matter, being from LA, you probably wouldn't find the prices that high. If not, JWagner swears by the Steak Del Monico.
      Ask around for Asian recs. Jim Leff says Des Moines has the best. Just not my cuisine. I know A Dong and Nut Pob get some people excited.
      Raccoon River brewpub is also close by and well regarded.
      Something to take back? Bring us some warm weather, and take back some snow.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Bobfrmia

        I will do my best to bring good weather with me. thanks for the recs. The reason for going to Culvers is for Frozen Custard and it is something you can't get in LA which is going through a frozen yogurt craze. And Sonic, I am ashamed to say, to try their Mac & Cheese Bites.

        1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

          Ahh, reasons I can understand. Never tried either. Yet. I will admit to being intriqued by the Mac and Cheese bites. Sadly, (or not) Sonic within the Des Moines city limits, have closed. Still alive in the burbs, tho. Probably about 5 miles west of downtown on 63rd would be closest. Yes, the suburbs are only 5 miles from downtown.
          On the chance that you are able to get around reasonably well, in my opinion, the best Pork Tenderloin sandwich lives at Michaels, in Beaverdale. A few miles northwest of downtown on Beaver and Urbandale. I would tell you if you have never had a breaded pork tenderloin, it is worth whatever it takes to get there. Talk someone you're working with into a lunch trip.

      2. You should hunt down a good tenderloin. I'm a fan of the one they serve at The House of Bricks on east 6th and Grand in the east village. It's a live-music venue at night but they have a pretty competent cook who works the lunch shift. You might also take some time and walk around the East Village. There's some interesting shops/bars/restaurants there.

        My "go-to" gift for out-of-state friends is a bottle of Templeton's Rye Whiskey. It's only available here in Iowa and (I think) in Chicago. You might be able to buy it downtown at the Hawkeye Pantry on the skywalk. Of course flying with full bottles of anything is a bit of a challenge.

        5 Replies
        1. re: dg2445

          I'll have to second the Templeton. That's what all my East Coast family's getting for Christmas this year. It's local, it's delicious, and it's widely unavailable. And I believe you can ship bottles UPS to Cali (is this legal, or just ignored?).

          1. re: dg2445

            I like rye, and I'd never heard of Templeton's. I nosed around a bit, found their website. I emailed them via their 'Contact' page, asking where to get their stuff at Des Moines retailers. I explained that I may in Des Moines, looking in on an old friend who is playing with the symphony this weekend.
            Now get this. Within about an hour, my email box beeps. I look, expecting the usual autoreply thank you for your interest, meowmeowmeow. No. I got a response written by a human saying that most Des Moines retailers carry their product, but that I should try Fleur Wine and Ale, Ingersoll Wine & Spirits, Central City or Hy-Vee Wine and Spirits. I googlemap these, and find that several are pretty handy to the symphony's venue. Pretty good.
            They also suggested that I could taste their hootch at Azalea, which is also near the symphony, if I wanted to try before I buy.
            Even better. But then consider that this exchange happened well after business hours, and I think that these jokers get some kind of Customer Service Gold Shot Glass or whatnot.
            Now I have to taste this stuff.

            1. re: ajs

              The best part for me is that every bottle is numbered with barrel and batch number, and they're written BY HAND, in pen! In some great kind of shaky penmanship. I'm a Connecticut transplant who's lived in Iowa for 8 years, and that customer service experience, which matches many I've had with local businesses/producers, is one of the main reasons I love it here. Plus, the rye's delicious! :)

              1. re: ctscorp

                Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye numbers their bottles in a scritchyscritchy handwriting, too. Maybe it's a Rye thing...
                Nice article about Bourbon in today's NYT, btw.

              2. re: ajs

                My sister sent me a bottle for X-mas last year (I'm in Oregon) and it was very good stuff. I think they also just got a very positive mention in Imbibe magazine a month or so ago -- so I think you can feel confident that the Iowa hounds aren't just supporting the home team.

            2. Pay attention to where you're going when you all go to Centro, then go back there (next door) to South Union Bread Cafe for lunch some day. I'm fond of the Hot Italian and Sara's Revenge sandwiches; half a sandwich will do you, and a cup of soup is a nice addition.

              1. You can get the Norwalk proscuitto at the Gateway Market on MLK, as well as lots of other great Iowa food products.