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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Recent pizzas: Mad Meatball and Bianchi's Hilltop.

The Supreme at Mad Meatball with pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, onion, black olive, and banana pepper. Briny, salty flavors dominated this build. A thin red sauce provided a solid backbone.

A simple meatball pizza at Mad Meatball offered a flavor surpirisingly reminiscent of garlic butter. Hearty pieces of meatball lent a sausage-like chew that was most appealing.


Pizza at Bianchi's Hilltop Restaurant isn't complete without salad and onion rings. Creamy Parmesan dressing was smooth and sweet. Onion rings were thin, crisp and hardly oily, but came to the table on the cool side. The remaining dregs would make an excellent salad topper, if you can resist eating the salad first.

An old favorite of mine at Bianchi's, the Meat Lover's with capicola, pepperoni, ground beef and Italian sausage didn't slouch on toppings, but the crust was disappointingly soggy and limp right up to the edge. I've had better here, though its been four years since my last visit [see blog post].

Mad Meatball Pizzeria & Pub on Urbanspoon Bianchi's Hilltop Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Djonuts needs you!

Since I last wrote about Joe Formaro's Djonuts [see blog post], the word of these baked-from-scratch baked and hand-dipped doughnuts, sold exclusively at Capes Kafé, has spread far and wide, with write-ups in the local rag, appearances on local television, and a fundraising party at the Des Moines Social Club. Joe has also introduced two new lines of Djonuts – unfrosted Buck Nakeds and Never Nudes with a simple drizzle of frosting – all the while working on new creations.

Joe making Butterfinger Bacon Djonuts for the fundraiser party: A butter-glazed Butterfinger doughnut, with Butterfinger frosting and topped with candied bacon.

Red Velvet and PB&J Never Nudes, and a Chocolate Buck Naked.

The party raised approximately $2,500. Shortly thereafter, Djonuts launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise a further $10,000 with a plethora of incentives for backers, including complementary Djonuts, swag and coffee from Capes Kafé, gluten free Djonuts for backers with gluten intolerance, a box of Djonuts shipped free to out-of-town backers, the opportunity to create a Djonut with Joe, and the ultimate prize for the ultimate backer – a Djonut a day for a year.

Joe Formaro, above center, flanked by his creations.

With eleven days to go on the Kickstarter campaign, the fundraiser is still $7,000 shy of the $10,000 goal. With just Joe baking solo all night long, with few baking pans, one oven, and little other equipment, there's little room for expansion without funds for more baking pans, drying racks, mixers, mixing and frosting bowls, spatulas, rent, and a paid baking assistant. Please pitch in and thanks.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Cranberry, Oatmeal Cookie Butter, Peanut Butter Cup, Blueberry Greek Yogurt.

Almond Almond Joy Joy, Dirty Chai, Honeybun, Lemon Poppyseed.

Caramel Latte, Peanut Butter Never Nude, French Vanilla, Peanut Butterfinger Cup.

Djonuts on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 27, 2015

Random Bites: Chili King, Mars Cafe, Famous Dave's, Firetrucker, Old Chicago, Graziano's.


A bowl of the good stuff at George the Chili King.

At Mars Cafe, killing time over an espresso. Feels like I'm cheating on Capes Kafé.


Looky what I found at Famous Dave's! Caliente!

Gilded growlers and black walnut coasters at Firetrucker Brewery for a festive beer pairing dinner.


Chicago Fire calzone at the Old Chicago at Merle Hay Mall. Decent amount of meats and peppers. Despite the jalapeño garnish, the Fire was …umm… delayed.

Seasonings at Graziano Brothers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Recent beers at Firetrucker and 515.

The latest release from Firetrucker Brewery, the Under Lager Search & Rescue IPL is a dry hopped lager that starts off with a grapefruit bitterness that finishes bright like a pilsner. And I love the lacing left behind by the foam. Beer pairing cheese plates from The Cheese Shop of Des Moines are the best thing to show up at Firetrucker that doesn't come in a pint glass. The selection includes notable Iowa cheeses Milton Creamery's Prairie Breeze Cheddar and Frisian Farms Aged Gouda, along with a monger pick, a Hawes Wensleydale in this instance. Complimentary crackers come with the cheeses, but I much prefer the buttery bite-sized pretzels that Firetrucker offers for snacking.

A quick flight at 515 Brewing Company, from left: the Weiner Bever, a rye wheat; the OooooJ IPA, an American pale wheat; the black wheat IPA Thang; and the chai stout Belly Dancer, a collaboration with Iowa Brewers' Union home brew competition winner Paul Kay. Favorites on this visit were the OooooJ IPA, dry hopped with Citra hops for a remarkable citrus flavor, and the Belly Dancer, an eye opening spice brew. Both were exceptional.

Firetrucker Brewery on Urbanspoon 515 Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A brew AND a movie at Flix Brewhouse: What a concept!

Its been a little more than two months since Flix Brewhouse opened its doors in Merle Hay Mall to offer a unique experience, a movie theatre with a functioning microbrewery. Though skeptical at first, in part due to my pining for the recently shuttered Merle Hay Cinema, my visits to Flix have been positive. Its also a much needed boost to the neighborhood as well, having lacked a first-run multiplex theatre for decades as well as being overlooked by the local microbrewing industry.

The way to my heart is through my stomach so it was no surprise that my first visit was not to catch a movie, but to quaff a couple of Flix's house crafted beers. The Lupulus IPA features a light body that comes off citrusy at first, but the bitterness blossomed with further sups. A malty and lightly sweet 10 Day Scottish Ale greeted me with a slight smokiness atop its nutty flavor. Feeling peckish I scored a couple of handfuls of bacon popcorn from fellow bar patrons. The mix was savory and thirst inducing, the perfect prime for ordering another beer.

The Luna Rosa Wit is a blood orange influenced wheat, spiced with coriander, with a refreshing citrus acidity. The Kill Shot Scotch Ale with cacao nibs and ancho chile offers a sweet caramel malt with a subliminal boozy punch. A quite drinkable Satellite Red Ale provides a mild roasty flavor with floral hoppiness and a yeasty backbone.

After several visits to the bar, I finally found an opportunity to take in a movie. The seats are fairly comfortable, with fold down arm rests with glass holders, plus a slide-out tray up front for your food order. All seating at Flix is reserved; you can make your selection either at the ticket counter or in advance online. Seating times run about 20-30 minutes prior to screening times, during which you take your assigned seat, are greeted by a server, and your order is placed and served. Once the movie starts you are given pen and paper to jot down any further orders and instructed to press a button in front of your seat to request service. Before the movie ends, the server comes around for payment and to clear your tray. Its fairly straightforward and efficient, but can be confusing to those accustomed to the traditional movie theatre experience.

On this occasion, unsure if a single pizza could serve two healthy appetites, my movie mate and I both settled on the Meatloaf sandwich, offering Irish meatloaf, red onion, pepper jack cheese, and a housemade rémoulade on soft, toasted ciabatta bread. The meatloaf was surprisingly tender, and a side of seasoned French fries were golden and consistently crisp. Such a joy to eat were the fries, I pocketed the ketchup packets for later use.

Returning for more brews, an aggressive smoke aroma enticed me when I first approached the Lucky George Smoked Porter. Its easy drinking even as the smoke continued on the palate. The Rose Tattoo IPA with its appealing hue is hoppy and bright, and primed my appetite for more. The Corn Fed Collab IPA is a Confluence/Peace Tree/New American/Flix Brewhouse collaboration that's appropriately bitter but quite smooth and drinkable.

A pleasant surprise on my next visit to Flix was the weekend brunch offered. Their Breakfast Pizza is built on a thin, consistently crisp crust. Caramelized onions are the standout on this build, followed by red bell pepper and green onion. Four cheeses, scrambled egg, and breakfast sausage round out the ingredients, but its the mélange of veggies that makes the pizza. So much so you could easily skip the sausage for a delightful vegetarian alternative.

The Saison de Walt is a bright tasting Belgian farmhouse ale that excites with a smidgen of floral. Its a dry white wine drinkers' beer. A heady Anubis Stout with a deep, rich, roasted malt offers an appealing dark chocolate flavor. The Great White Buffalo white IPA is medium-bodied, with a soft, rounded bitterness, and a citrus finish. Surprising Winter Wheat starts off with a dose of banana that fades into caramel with a hint of nutmeg. The finish is tongue-curling.

On further visits I was able to explore more menu items. The Bacon Bleu Burger featured a blue cheese studded burger, topped with cheddar, bacon, and Thousand Island dressing. The blue cheese embedded in the beef patty contributes just a hint of funk against more aggressive flavors. Overall a fairly decent burger, and the fries once more were delightfully crispy and seasoned well.

The Meat Lovers pizza proved that the Breakfast Pizza was no fluke. Topped with a four-cheese blend, marinara, and generous amounts of salami, pepperoni, diced ham, bacon, and sausage, it more than lives up to its name.

I appreciate what Flix Brewhouse has to offer. And I've been very pleased with the friendly staff there, especially at the bar. Its where you'll usually find me, savoring whatever seasonal brew or inventive IPA they have to offer.

Flix Brewhouse & Cinema on Urbanspoon