F&W’s roundup of the best restaurants in Des Moines, from a café at the Richard Meier-designed Des Moines Art Center to one housed in an old Victorian mansion. For more great restaurants, check out our guide to the best places to eat in the country.
The all-important Iowa caucuses happen next month, which means the 2008 presidential candidates will be rolling into Des Moines, equally hungry for votes and for campaign-trail fuel. I visited this politically charged city to scout its best new and classic restaurants, a crop that’s as diverse as the candidates themselves.
My first stop was year-old Lucca, a minimalist brick hall in the trendy East Village area. It’s the kind of stylish, self-assured restaurant where Barack Obama would feel right at home (literally—it’s a few yards from his local campaign headquarters). I chose three courses from the menu of Italian- and French-inspired dishes: scallops with ricotta ravioli, tender pork shoulder in shiitake broth and a cheese flight handpicked by owner Steve Logsdon (who’s a dead ringer for Obama backer George Clooney).
I could see Rudy Giuliani loving the two-year-old Cafe di Scala, housed in an old Victorian mansion, where its young chef-owner (and fellow son of Italy), Tony Lemmo, lives upstairs. Lemmo excels at homemade pastas like seashell-shaped cavatelli tossed with sausage and a tangy marinara sauce.
Around the corner is Gateway Market, a new Dean & Deluca–like store. Hillary Clinton is a self-professed burger fiend, and the market’s café makes an awesome one with ground brisket and chuck, plus a memorable burnt-ends barbecue sandwich.
The desserts at the lunch-only Des Moines Art Center Restaurant —a café in a building designed by Richard Meier—are fantastic. I had a great chocolate-stout cake and a nutty caramel tart as honeyed as John Edwards’s accent.
A must on any candidate’s tour is 801 Steak & Chop House, a deal-making den friendly to cigar puffers like Fred Thompson. 801’s Iowa-raised pork chops are stellar. And what politician doesn’t love pork?
Best Brunch At La Mie, $11 buys a homemade pastry, fresh fruit and a selection of entrées that range from wholesome (an egg-white omelet with asparagus and prosciutto) to a little bit nefarious (peanut butter-and-banana crêpes served with bacon).
Updated July 2009
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