Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Flour Pizza: Sterile ambience, good pizza.

The Everything.
UPDATE: Flour Pizza has since closed.

The minimalist communal interior and drippy mood music were rather intimidating upon first entering Flour Pizza, nestled between Jimmy John’s and Smokey D’s BBQ in the Nationwide Insurance building on the corner of 13th and Locust Streets. After the initial shock subsided, I stepped up to the counter and placed my order.

The Everything is a solid filling slice. Good crisp on the crust’s bottom. Topped with abundant cheese and a good mix of pepperoni, sausage, black olives, ham, mushrooms, and roasted red peppers.

The bright Caprese sports a interesting mix of cherry tomatoes, red grapes, and dried basil. A thicker, bready crust asserts itself against the subdued flavors.

The Verde offers broccoli, caramelized onions, zucchini, and a brush of pesto underneath the cheese. The abundance of sautéed veggies imparts a distracting oiliness. In comparison, the Caprese's clean, simple tastes are refreshing.

The Caprese, left; and The Verde.

Flour Pizza on Urbanspoon

Open your taste buds to Open Sesame

Back in Des Moines after my time away in Iowa City and Ottumwa, I finally got an opportunity to dine at Open Sesame in the East Village neighborhood. My dining partner tried the Falafel Salad while I ordered the Vegetarian Plate.

Falafel salad, left, and Vegetarian Plate.

The falafel was lightly fried, which made for a tender bite. If I had not asked, I could easily assume it was baked. Texture and spiciness were first rate too.

Hummus was super smooth and creamy, sported a nice salty tang and hint of sesame. Not as earth-shattering as the hummus I tried recently at Fair Grounds Coffeehouse in Iowa City [see blog post], but still a superior dip.

The pita was thin and crispy, appealingly so. Stuffed grape leaves were the tenderest I've ever eaten, with a bright briny flavor but not overpowering. The tabbouleh was also bright, and vegetal.

For beverages, I started off with cardamon spiced iced tea. It was delicate and refreshing. A squeeze of lemon is not advised.

Turkish coffee, left, and baklava.

The Turkish coffee was a roller-coaster, but still surprisingly smooth and flavorful. Beware if you're an espresso lightweight. Once finished, dredging the sludgy dregs with the handle of my fork amused me so. Obviously not to be consumed, but might do in a pinch for eye black.

The visit would not have been complete without a taste of baklava. Sweet but not cloyingly so. No lack of walnuts within its phyllo confines. More filling than expected: split one with a friend.

Open Sesame Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dog shit is a serious matter on N. Market St. in Ottumwa

This homeowner had two sets of these signs on both sides of their property along the sidewalk. Considering the neighborhood, I'd say getting "shit on" by the neighbors, in one form or another, is not uncommon.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lunch in the sun at Graham's Dairy Freez in Ottumwa

On my last day in Ottumwa during my recent vacation I passed on breakfast after two disappointing meals the previous two days and opted for lunch at Graham’s Dairy Freez, a local soft-serve favorite.

Enjoying lunch al fresco, I started off with a tasty Black Angus hot dog with chili and cheese sauce, a “steakburger” made with a fairly decent pre-formed patty, and a cup of the soft-serve flavor-of-the-week, black raspberry.

Cool and creamy, but the raspberry flavor is quite muted, and incomparable to hard-pack and frozen custard versions I've enjoyed elsewhere. Still worth a try if vanilla or chocolate neither float your boat. Graham's rotates a special flavor every two weeks.

Graham Milk & Ice Cream Co on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 15, 2011

In Memoriam: Red Garter Parlor

Sadly, this remnant of history exists no more. And so with it goes the whimsical fantasies of Ottumwa youth, pondering the delights within.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Breakfast at Fair Grounds in Iowa City: Great Taste…Less Killing!

My recent trip to Iowa City had no end of breakfast delights. I secured a comforting omelet at an old favorite, The Hamburg, No. 2 [see blog post]. And took an opportunity to rediscover another Iowa City institution, Lou Henri [see blog post].

The last morning, on my way to catch a bus out of town, I visited Fair Grounds Coffeehouse and Bakery, conveniently located across the street from the Megabus stop and just around the corner from the Greyhound/Burlington Trailways station.

Fair Grounds is a nexus of vegetarian/vegan breakfast items, with a dizzying selection of egg-free, cholesterol-free, dairy-free waffles and french toast. Gluten-free waffles are available upon request as well. Sadly, things like pancakes, waffles and french toast aren’t my cup of tea, but I did spot a breakfast burrito on the menu which looked promising.

With scrambled tofu, roasted potatoes, homemade vegan mockstarella and sour cream, and fresh salsa in a spinach tortilla, the breakfast burrito is formidable in size and scope. All together, the flavor and texture reminds me of a spicy potato salad. I rather like it! Quite creamy inside, but nicely balanced with bite-size chunks of potato. Pieces of carrot and celery are an unexpected bonus; perhaps from the salsa? The overt yellow hue of the scrambled tofu likely comes from turmeric, which my taste buds appear to agree with. For the portion on the plate it's a good valve and all the breakfast you'll need to order.

Feeling curious I also tried the grilled tempeh, marinated then grilled in maple syrup. Salty like Parmesan, slighty sour, great texture, the light touch of maple syrup complements. A good protein source. If you like tempeh, then this should please you. Being a dyed-in-the-wool crispy bacon eater, it doesn’t come close to satisfying that desire.

After beholding the breakfast burrito I realized my error in ordering a side of Fair Grounds homemade grilled toast, with sides of hummus and butter. Still, I had to try the wonderfully creamy hummus. A exceptional amount of tahini went into this, so much so that the rich taste of ground sesame, paired with tart lemon juice is a real eye-opener. This is a great hummus!

I’d come back here without reservation to sample their coffee and to try the few savory waffles that pique my interest. Oh! Be still my craving stomach.

Fair Grounds Coffeehouse on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In a world of sophisticated tastes, Pizza on Dubuque abides.

The foundation of Pizza on Dubuque’s slices is a crispy, crunchy, rustic crust made with part white and part local organic wheat flour. Spots of char on the bottom compliments the crust’s wheaty flavor.

A slice of homemade Italian sausage, green bell pepper, and red onions is about as perfect as it gets. Good spicy sausage made with locally acquired ground pork, flavored with parsley, fennel, cayenne, salt and pepper. Crunchy peppers and red onion. A light hand on the sauce lets this simple trio of toppings stand out.

In contrast the pepperoni and sausage pizza has a generous amount of P.O.D.’s made-from-scratch tomato pizza sauce, but suffers not from overabundance. The ratio of sausage to pepperoni clearly nods towards the latter. Either more sausage or larger chunks would have made a better balance.

The veggie combo is loaded down with tomatoes, green peppers, black olives, and mushrooms. In-season locally grown heirloom tomatoes burst with fresh, vibrant flavor. A true artisan pizza. It's like a Farmers' Market in my mouth, but without all the shitty arts and crafts junk to wallow through.

Pizza On Dubuque on Urbanspoon

If you have Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman [sic]…

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Madness…? This is Sparti's Gyros!

The spanakopita at Sparti’s Gyros – with locations in Kenosha and Racine, Wisconsin, and Coralville, Iowa – is slightly reminiscent in portion size to the abysmal spinach pie I had tried to consume at some cheap gyro joint in Chicago last September [see blog post]. However, Sparti’s offering does have flavor. The phyllo has some crispiness and the spinach is quite moist, but the feta was wan.

It’s not the most appetizing presentation for the hummus with pita. The hummus is pretty average. If the pita had been warmed before serving I could not tell, for placing the cool hummus atop the pita imparted an undesirable chill.

The gyro chili was an about face from the previous dishes and impressed me more than I expected. Made with finely chopped and ground gyro meat, chopped green peppers, onions, tomatoes, and pinto and red kidney beans. The spices start off rather mild, but build up with each spoonful. Pass on saltines, order a side of pita and dip it in the juices. It's quite good.

And lastly the Sparti Dog. It's a hot dog! It's a gyro! Goodness gracious, it’s both! On a super soft poppy seed bun with tomatoes, onions and gobs of ultra-creamy tzatziki, this pairing of hot dog and sliced gyro meat is insanely decadent and delicious.

Sparti's Gyros on Urbanspoon

9/11: What I Remember…

I had gone downstairs to the break room to get an egg salad sandwich from the vending machines. As I returned, eating the sandwich, the first plane strike was on every television in the office. It is the most vivid thing I remember of that day. After that, it was a blur.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Whitey's Ice Cream saves the day!

Recently an otherwise futile trip to Coral Ridge Mall was rescued with a visit to Whitey's Ice Cream – a Quad Cities/Iowa City/Coralville chain – to sample some of their delightful ice creams.

Whitey’s orange sherbet is refreshing, and not at all as cloying as Heyn's strawberry sorbet [see blog post]. It is though an unfair comparison, sorbet being made with sweetened, flavored water, whereas sherbet also has a small amount of dairy present.

Big pieces of fruit are what takes notice in Whitey’s smooth and creamy strawberry ice cream. The flavor may not be as bright as Des Moines’ favorite Bauder's [see blog post], but nonetheless would make a good foundation for a delicious shake.

The mint chocolate chip’s mintiness is neither weak nor overpowering. Unevenly sized pieces of chocolate add a nice crunch and are visually appealing. A treat for kids of all ages.

UPDATE: Whitey's Ice Cream is now available in pints and quarts at Des Moines Metro-area Hy-Vee stores.

Whiteys Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Filled with holes or holes filled. Take your choice, parents.

The boys' costume with matching accoutrement warrants a SWAT team takedown, while the girls' attire is more than enough for the neighborhood pedophiles to take notice.

Omelets galore at The Hamburg Inn in Iowa City

When visiting Iowa City’s famous Hamburg Inn, No. 2, I usually order up the ground beef Mexican Deluxe omelet with an English muffin. The omelet is spicy, tomatoey, beefy, and cheesy, highlighted with a decadent ribbon of sour cream, all packaged nicely within the confines of an eggy shroud.

The Hamburg's Mexican Omelet, with or without home fries.

On my latest trip, I veered off the norm and went with a Goosetown omelet, filled with grilled kielbasa, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese, with a side of home fries to complete the meal.

The Goosetown is replete with slices of meaty kielbasa which contrasts well with the tart sauerkraut. The skin-on home fries are not as crispy or seasoned like the home fries at Lou Henri [see blog post], but still quite hearty.

A Goosetown omelet with home fries.

The Hamburg Inn No. 2 Inc. on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Heyn's Ice Cream: The Towncrest treat

Having the luxury of time during my recent visit to Iowa City, I took a long walk southeast to the Towncrest neighborhood in search of Heyn’s Ice Cream.

For over twenty years Heyn’s has been perfecting their handmade ice creams. Ready for a break after an hour’s walk, I sat down and sampled a few of their hard-pack creations along with a scoop of Heyn’s sorbet, a frozen dessert made from sweetened water usually flavored with fruit.

Dense and creamy ice cream.

Sampling the Chocoholic Delight, I was reminded of the taste of chocolate cake and frosting. So rich and dense, and studded with hot fudge, brownies, and crushed Heath bars. There's no end of oral delight!

Sadly, the strawberry sorbet was way too sweet for my palate. Despite the bits of fruit strewn about, the sugar overpowers the fruit flavor and renders one unconscious from the diabetic coma it induces. I could not finish it.

Trying to end my visit on a positive note, I ordered a scoop of Lemon Custard. More dense than the delightful Lemon Custard ice cream served at Bauder Pharmacy in Des Moines [see blog review], Heyn's has a smooth and creamy lemon flavor but doesn't sport as much flavor and aroma of zest that makes Bauder's ice cream shine.

Fans of Whitey’s Ice Cream – a popular chain of ice cream shops in Iowa City, Coralville, and the Quad Cities – are legion. Generally I would not pass up an opportunity to have some of Whitey’s delicious ice creams, but if given a choice I would gravitate to Heyn’s for another scoop of their creamy concoctions.

But not the sorbet. My teeth hurt just thinking about it.

Heyns Ice Cream on Urbanspoon