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).
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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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