Friday, March 27, 2015

On this day: Remembering past visits to Something Italian, Angelo's Pizza, and Chisme.

I'll never forget my first alfredo deep-dish and the Ham and Alfredo I enjoyed one year ago at Something Italian on the Skywalk in The Kirkwood was a revelation! Creamy, crispy, hammy, and so decadent. It was intoxicating! Something Italian [see blog post] is one of my favorite pizzerias and their continued experimentation with pizza styles cements my fondness even moreso. And I long for their Farmers' Market frittata!

Angelo's Pizza has had a storied past, with Mark Nicola first developing an extraordinary thin crust at Plaza Pub [see blog post] before striking out on his own with a pizzeria down the street at 70th & Douglas. Fortunes did not favor that location well, so Angelo's relocated to a magnificent dump of a location on Grand Ave. in West Des Moines.

It was here that I first became enamoured with their pizza and an exceptional Italian grinder [see blog post]. Emboldened with some success, Angelo's opened up a second location on E. 14th with an expanded menu that included Cincinnati chili [see blog post]. The t-shirt pictured below indicated my first sampling of their unique chili, three years ago. Things started to go awry when Angelo's tried operating a kitchen within a Court Avenue bar. The venture fell apart quickly. Then in a move to upscale, Angelo's closed both its Grand Ave. and E. 14th locations and reopened as Angelo's on Eighth [see blog post]. A change in ownership, some unwarranted tweaking of the food, soon followed by the owner's untimely death doomed the restaurant.

Another restaurant that has passed into the ether is Chisme. Starting out humbly as El Chisme at the corner of Merle Hay and Urbandale, I quickly became a huge fan of Chisme's then quirky offering of pizza, tacos, calzones, and traditonal Mexican breakfast fare [see blog post]. Also in a move to go upscale, Chisme uprooted and relocated to Valley Junction, moving into space previously occupied by Cafe Su.

It was here, four years ago, where I had the most extraordinary breakfast pizza I had ever eaten with scrambled egg and chorizo, sandwiched between cream sauce and cheese, with red onion, jalapeño, and a drizzle of chipotle crema. Fortune did not favor Chisme in this location and eventually the restaurant folded. I lament the loss greatly. Years before Malo took seed with its New Latin-influenced cuisine [see blog post], Chisme broke sod with its inventive fusion of Mexican and Italian cuisines. Settling into another location, like Ingersoll Avenue, could have made all the difference. It was, after all Cafe Su's venture onto Ingersoll as Red Bistro which ultimately led them to abandon Valley Junction in the first place.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Zanzibar's Coffee Adventure: An adventure in each cup and on every plate.

Well over twenty years ago Cyndy and Joe Coppola opened Java Joes on Fourth St., ushering in not only a revival of the neighborhood, but the return of coffeehouse culture to a city bereft of such a cosmopolitan fixture.

Independently within months, Julie McGuire opened Zanzibar's Coffee Adventure at 2723 Ingersoll Ave., quickly becoming a neighborhood favorite for their plethora of quality fresh-roasted coffees, exotic teas, delightfully simple breakfast fare, locally made baked goods, and various gadgets to enlighten coffee and tea enjoyment at home. For me, a French press of their heavy bodied and pungent Indian Monsoon Malabar is better than sex, IMHO, but I'm open to second opinions.

Despite the nearby presence of two drive-up coffee chains – the long-defunct Grounds for Celebration on Grand Ave. next to Terrace Hill, and Caribou Coffee for the last eight years up the street – Zanizbar’s preserveres as an Ingersoll fixture with a loyal following of regulars alongside less frequent customers, myself included.

Ranking as one of the most unique breakfasts you can find in town is Zanizbar's steamed scrambled egg with toast, juice, and coffee. The egg is one the fluffiest you'll ever eat. With some white cheddar and scallion tops, the presentation and flavor is sublime. Sturdy toast pairs well with the delicate egg, and the fresh squeezed orange juice is so pulpy it separates from the waterier elements and floats to the top if left to rest.

Aside from coffee and tea, Zanzibar’s offers a Red Espresso which is rooibos herbal tea prepared through an espresso machine. Served as an alternative to coffee in espresso drinks, I'm hooked by its dry, hay-like flavor and prefer it neat.

Another unique breakfast treat at Zanzibar's is the Linda Special: a choice of toast or bagel topped with cream cheese under a broiled cap of white cheddar and scallion tops. A popular option is to mix steamed scrambled egg in with the toppings before broiling. It's tasty and an inspiring pairing of protein and carbohydrates, but I find the Linda Special more appealing sans egg.

Zanzibar's Coffee Adventure on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Coney and a beer at Jim's Coney Island: A natural pairing.

Jim's Coney Island at 3700 S.E. Ninth lays claim to the chili recipe of the original downtown Coney Island restaurant, which survived urban renewal in the early 1980s to resurface as a smoker-friendly Skywalk-level restaurant until it finally closed in 2008, a victim in part of the indoor smoking ban law enacted that year.

The concoction is almost a mirror image in consistency and content to the chili served by the more famous Ted's Coney Island on Ingersoll Avenue [see blog post], but sports a completely different flavor profile. Tasting more akin to a mild Tex-Mex than Greek-American Midwest style, it still boasts a nice black pepper bite.

Jim's Coney is a pretty standard chili dog for these parts, with chopped onion, pickle sliver, and a slather of mustard. Easily the most kid-friendly Coney in town, apart from fast-food chain Sonic's footlong chili dogs. Getting a cold bottle of beer to wash down your Coney is an extra bonus for those of us with more mature tastes.

Like Ted's, Jim's offers basket combos featuring onion rings, fries, and Cole slaw. Crunchy onion rings, right smack in-between thick cut and thin strands, are not too greasy; a little salt helps counterbalance their sweetness. Jim's slaw is far creamier than Ted's, with an overt amount of sweet dressing holding it together, yet still retains some crunch.

Thick crinkle cut fries are a treat to eat. Golden, crisp exterior; fluffy inside larger pieces and crunchy on the smaller bits. Lightly salted from the fryer, they're just right. Also like Ted's, Jim's makes a decent loose-meat beefburger, served in a hot dog bun. Though not as spicy as Ted's, it's still a fine sandwich and head-over-heels better than Maid-Rite [see blog post].

Jim's Coney Island on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 16, 2015

Su bueno ser Malo.

After visits to Malo over last summer [see blog post], I was curious about a few traditional American offerings on their otherwise Latin American influenced menu, and explore their Happy Hour specials.

The signature Malo burger comes with strips of bacon, caramelized onion, creamy guacamole, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pepper jack cheese, on a toasted broiche bun. The wood-grilled half-pound beef patty was quite good, sporting just a hint of pink. Other burgers on the menu include: the Chivito with beef barbacoa, ham, jack, tomato, bacon, lime aioli, and fried egg; a vegetarian Black Bean burger with guacamole, corn salsa, pepper jack, and chipotle crema; and a simple Cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onion, and American cheese.

Strips of red pepper and green chile are pleasant distraction from the creamy salsa blanca and cheddar cheese base of Nacho Daddy's Mac & Cheese. Toppings of guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream, and fried tortilla strips round out this hearty dish.

Malo's weekday Happy Hour, from 4 to 6 p.m., offers half-price appetizers and tacos. It's a great value for a lot of food and hard to pass up on, especially the Drunken Nachos featuring Malo's housemade tortilla chips with pico de gallo, pickled jalapeño, Malo queso, black beans, guacamole, shredded cheddar, and chipotle crema. Add-ons such as carne molida (ground beef), chorizo, grilled chicken breast, and skirt steak are available.

Other appetizers of notes include Tots & Shots and Empanadas. The housemade tater tots are the best I've ever eaten! With sides of jalapeño ketchup, Malo queso, and chipotle ranch, you'll never run out of dipping options.

Empanadas, featuring a cheese blend with spinach and jalapeño sealed within a hearty masa crust, are a fun surprise. Its like eating deep-fried creamed spinach! Put it on a stick and it'll sell at the Fair.

Having enjoyed several kinds of tacos on Malo's housemade corn tortilla, I was more than interested in sampling their flour variety. Soft, pliant, and freshly made, it will spoil you for all others. The Carne Molida taco, above left, comes with ground beef, shredded cheddar, and salsa roja. I especially like the crispy sear on the beef; it's comfort food refined. Crispy Onion and Avocado, above right, with a vegan chipotle crema and pico de gallo, is crispy, creamy, and surprisingly zesty. I'm looking forward to more Happy Hour visits to Malo soon.

Malo on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Plates at Olympic Flame: Little bites, bold flavors.

On a visit to Olympic Flame in the East Village, I ordered up a Combo Plate dinner of pastitsio, moussaka, tiropita, spanakopeta, dolma, and orzo pasta. Dinners at Olympic Flame include soup, salad, and bread.

The lemony chicken soup with orzo would be the perfect dish to combat the common cold, if it only came in quarts. A side salad of lettuce, tomato, kalamata olives, and feta cheese, swimming in a simple red wine vinaigrette, is a palate cleanser.

Pastitsio, below left, offers macaroni and seasoned ground beef, topped with a custardy cream sauce and baked. I could wreck a pan of this! Moussaka, below right, is a classic Greek casserole made of layered fried eggplant slices with seasoned ground beef, tomato, and capped with a mixture of Parmesan and ricotta. Opa!

Tiropeta is a phyllo pastry stuffed with feta and ricotta. Spanakopita, below left and a personal favorite of mine, is another phyllo pastry stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. I’ve had it as crispy triangles, as squares cut from both baking pans and sheet pans, and in one instance as a Hot Pocket of the damned. Olympic Flame’s spana is light and crispy, with a tasty pouch of filling within. Its as good as you’ll find it in these parts, beyond the Greek Food Fair held each year on the first weekend in June.

Olympic Flame’s dolma is a delightful bite-sized ball of grape leaves wrapped around a ground beef filling, topped with melted cheese. Its too bad you only get one on the Combo Plate. A half-dozen would make a nice snack.

On another occasion I stopped in for lunch. The Gyros Plate appetizer with sliced, grilled gyros meat, fried zucchini, pita points, and tzatziki sauce was a much lighter alternative to a full gyros sandwich with fries. Zucchini fried in a light batter were quite surprising, and even more delicious dipped in cucumber-laden tzatziki. An unexpected lagniappe: shots of ouzo with the proud chef. Opa!

Olympic Flame on Urbanspoon