Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Formaro's Okey Dokey Restaurant & Bar Des Moines

This neighborhood restaurant clearly states that its ingredients are fresh and food is made from scratch recipes. You can see the tenderizer through the kitchen door when walking in, any visitor can expect a fresh tenderloin. The menu prominently uses the American and Italian flags, both cuisines are represented on the large menu.

Location: 2700 E. 17th Des Moines. At the Corner of East 17th and Easton Blvd.
The Tenderloin: The large size is a half pound pork loin cut inside the cafe and hand breaded. There is a good asymmetrical shape and nice uneven depth. It ranges from thick in the center of the loin shape to just a bit thinner outside the bun. The thick parts had a little more chewy fat in my sandwich. The breading is modestly crunchy, and doesn't separate from the pork inside. Moisture is inside the tenderloin and does not form drips. This is served with the fixings thrown on top, other places charge for that. Served on a freshly baked toasted bun which is warm throughout and nearly as large as the tenderloin. Overall: A magnifico 7/10 .

Price: $6.95 with fries or onion rings (homemade). Also available in 1/4 lb. Size for $4.95 or served with chili or cheese for an extra charge. Italian Tenderloin with sausage, onions, peppers, and cheese also available.
Service: Table service, although you are never far from the counter.

Also on the Menu: Loose-meat burgers, Italian sausage sandwiches, pizza, ribs, and Italian dishes like Manicotti Formaggio and chicken tortellini.
Ambiance: The eating area is small, and the colors of all the tables and chairs don't go too well together. Plants are hanging around, and there is a flat screen TV. This is a neighborhood hole in the wall on Des Moines Eastside.

Final verdict: This is a nice neighborhood family restaurant with a good and fresh tenderloin. The menu clearly states Real Tenderloin, and does not disappoint. Don't be fooled by the sign marked Gifts and Snacks, this is a full bar and restaurant.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Waveland Cafe Des Moines

The Waveland is a neighborhood institution on the west side of Des Moines, I have been sent here by plenty of people who know I am looking for tenderloins. Its the kind of place which presidential hopefuls visit to "get in touch" with the common people. Sadly, I would never vote for this tenderloin.

Location: 4708 University Ave. in the West side of Des Moines.

Directions: Just drive west on University Ave, on the way to Windsor Heights.

The Tenderloin: The menu tells me this is hand breaded. The sandwich tasted like a total bummer or a mass-produced frozen tenderloin. There was the usual amount of juice inside with the frozen-in aftertase. There was nothing chewy or notable to take your attention while eating this. The tenderloin displayed the classic asymmetrical shape, this one was like a mitten shape with a thumb on the side. The complete flatness of the tenderloin was clear. The breading was nothing special, but it did cover what was just your basic food supplier pork loin cut. Served on a toasted bun. Overall 2/10

Price: $7.25 with fries, its not cheap.

Service: table service with waitresses who always seem to be busy.

Ambiance: The dinner area is painted brightly, and there is always something noisy going on. The weekend and after-church crowd will form a line out the door for breakfast.

Also on the Menu: Hot beef sandwiches, several breakfast items sold any time.

Closing Comments: This is a nice diner with a dedicated following, just don't order the tenderloin.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Original Coney Island Des Moines Skywalk

This is a Skywalk lunch rush institution.

Location: 501 Locust St. 2nd Floor, Des Moines, in Skywalk.
Directions: Enter building through parking ramp and go up stairs or elevator, skywalk intersection is in middle of the building.
The Tenderloin: This is a huge piece of pork loin. It measures just under nine inches at its widest point. There is considerable depth as well, with over a quarter inch thickness throughout. The breading has a light layer of crumbs, and just a little crunch. The breading layer does not separate from the meat inside. There is some moisture, but no dripping of juice from inside. The tenderloin is not made of the leanest cut of pork. Many parts of fat will provide a little resistance while biting and will take a while to chew. Served with ketchup, mustard and onions on a toasted bun. Overall a very impressive 9/10

Special Note: This comes in a different shape each time I order one. Its not always in the pork loin shape seen in these pictures. Sometimes its pounded into a rounder, wider shape.

Price: $4.79, available in a "value basket" with onion rings, fries, and coleslaw for $7.29 actually served in two baskets.

Service: Just counter service with your receipt number screamed when your order is ready.

Ambiance: There are pink neon lights everywhere, and the eating area is lit brightly. A TV plays soap operas all day. The smoking section was closed a few years ago, previously smoke would float everywhere.

Also on the Menu: Loose meat burgers, gyros, hot dogs, onion rings, walking tacos.

Closing Comments: This Skywalk diner suffers the same fate as any place in the Des Moines Skywalk. Its busy during the workday, and may have a line going to the door during the lunch rush. Its nearly abandoned after five and on weekends. The tenderloin is huge and thick, what else could you want..
Update: This placed closed in the summer of 2008.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Bibbs East 14th St. Des Moines

This African-American owned restaurant recently relocated to the East Side from its old home in the Drake Neighborhood.

Location: 1246 E. 14th St, Des Moines
Directions: 2 blocks north of freeway exit on East 14th and University.
The Tenderloin: This is clearly a homemade tenderloin, pounded thin into an asymmetrical shape. The tenderloin was thinner in some parts than others, with "cracks" in its shape forming short arms. There was a small hole in the center from being beaten too hard. The breading uses generous amounts of flour, and keeps a powdery texture. There is no crunch upon biting, but the breading does stick to your mouth. The pork is tender and moist without being juicy. The edges are easily pulled apart from the area beneath the bun. It is served on a toasted bun, with onions suspended in ketchup and mustard on top. Overall: 6/10.
Price: $4.99 With Fries, also available Deluxe Tenderloin with tomato, lettuce etc. for $5.49.

Service: Counter service with food brought to your table when its not busy inside. The food takes time to prepare, many may be waiting at the same time in front of the counter.

Ambiance: the old location was mostly wood paneling and pictures of Martin Luther King. The new location was a Mexican restaurant, and has not been remodeled. There is a purple and orange color scheme with Mayan Pyramid shapes carved into the stalls and pictures of Jesus everywhere. The strip mall contains places for Thai and Vietnamese food, along with many empty areas.
The word Mexican has been removed from the Mexican Food sign.
Also on the menu: Fried Chicken, Catfish, Beef Brisket, BBQ Sandwiches, Okra, Red Beans and Rice, Philly Steak, Grinders and much more.

Closing Comments: The location has changed but the Tenderloin remains the same. Its good, but too thin and powdery. The problems with the decor will be remedied soon enough.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hank & Sharon's Giant Tenderloins Des Moines

Update: This place closed in 2010, it is now home to Jenny Grinder from the State Fair. Do not eat the tenderloin.

The wavy Tenderloin sign on the side of this take-out stand lets you know a serious sandwich lies inside.

Location: 3765 E Hubbell Ave. Des Moines.

Directions: On Highway 6, the main road from Des Moines to Altoona

The Tenderloin: This jumbo tenderloin is made from a butterfly cut 12 ounce pork tenderloin , not a tenderlized pork loin cut. It is wide and required three toothpicks to almost hold it within a paper wrapper. It has a recognizable butterfly shape, with large arms of crispy goodness extending outside the large Rotella Bun. It has a consistent depth across the entire Tenderloin, with only small brown edges coming to less than a quarter-inch thickness. The breading creates a crunchy layer of crumbs, many of these jump out of your sandwich and all over your car interior. This holds a solid and slightly tender middle layer while containing no moisture. The whole thing is salted afterward, which doesn't go too well with the dryness of the tenderloin. Rating 6.5/10

Postscript: This sandwich bothered me later in the day. I think its the huge amount of salt poured on the large surface area. My metabolism slowed down more than it does after most fried foods. This made me rethink my policy of always eating the largest thing on the menu at these places.

Price: $6.65, also comes in regular size at $5.50.
Ambiance: There are picnic tables on the pavement in front of the stand, but its only worthwhile if the weather is nice.

Service: The front window has been closed for years, now you either drive your car to one side or walk into the cluttered front area to give your order. Your sandwich is walked out to you at your car in about ten minutes.

Also on the Menu: Guinea Grinder sandwiches made of Italian Sausage, Cheese, and Peppers. Onion Rings, Chili Dogs.

Closing Comments: This place is good for takeouts. I take my sandwich back to my office to eat it. The Guinea Grinder is another special sandwich. Next time I will get the regular size Tenderloin. Plus they have a discount card so your 8th sandwich is free.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Jim's Coney Island Des Moines

This is one of several places calling themselves Coney Island in the Des Moines area. The south side of Des Moines is known more for its Italian food, but there are no shortage of working class food options at lunch time.

Location: 3700 SW 9th St. Des Moines, about 5 minutes south from downtown.

The Tenderloin: This was clearly made on-site, which made me excited before starting to eat it. Upon further inspection it has a couple flaws. I am not a fan of the thinnest tenderloins available, this was no exception. The loin is thicker on one side than the other, the meat is not as white as in other tenderloins in town, see picture. The middle layer of pork was not tender, but seemed to be just pressed together into the flat shape. There is little juice in the thick side, and no moisture at all on the thin side. The edges are thin, and it forms a flat disc shape around the bun, which is crunchy on every bite. The center is between a layer of ketchup at the bottom, and an onions with mustard mix on top. These soak into the breadcrumbs, making a not crunchy but most satisfying middle. The bun was toasted well, making the center enjoyable to eat. Overall 6/10.

Price: $4.25, also available is a "veggie tenderloin".

Ambiance: This is a "down-home" place, with wood paneling and mounted animals on the walls next to pictures of game. The non-smoking section is small, the bar area has ashtrays at every table but few were smoking.

Service: Counter service, at busy times the lady at the counter just screams the number on your receipt.

Also on the menu: loose-meat burgers, onion rings, steak sandwiches, chili.

Closing comment: My problem with the super-thin tenderloins is that you lose the tenderness in the process. Any tender part is beaten out of the pork loin. This is not the best in Des Moines, nor is it the best at a Coney Island place in Des Moines. But it is appreciated.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Mr. Bibbs Tenderloins 6th Avenue Des Moines

As recently as 50 Years ago North Des Moines was a prosperous suburb with the newest shopping centers and the best high-end restaurants in the area. Since then, it has been annexed by Des Moines, the suburban growth has moved to the west side of town, and the area north of University is about as rough as it gets. Although Sixth Avenue, and the River Bend area have been notorious locally for crime, new visitors will not think its rough by the standards of larger towns. Many local establishments persist here thanks to authentic food, dedicated patrons, and fierce neighborhood loyalty. Bibbs 6th Ave. is a joint just north of the Des Moines River which has survived the Flood of '93, and will be around for years to come.

Location: 2705 6th Ave. Des Moines

Directions: 6th Avenue is a busy street running north from Downtown to Interstate 80/35.

The Tenderloin: This was an honorable mention all-state tenderloin a couple years age. Its not hard to see why. The meat it not soggy, there is no juice dripping. The thickness varies slightly, while forming a good wave pattern seen from the side. The breading forms a crunchy texture which can be heard as you chew it. There is a layer of less-crisp breading underneath the crunchy parts. The middle is a tender layer of white meat. The areas around the bun are easily torn off for fast eating. It is served on a toasted bun with the usual fixings. Rating 9/10.

Price: $4.39, also available in "junior" size.

Ambiance: This place can be a mixed bag. During around the noon hour it is filled with surly teenagers from the nearby high school. Its mostly blue-collar types for the rest of the day. The exterior of the building is similar to everything else in this industrial part of town. There is faded, chipped paint, weeds growing through concrete, and litter. Inside is typical diner fare, with a few tables and some pictures on the walls.

Service: Counter service is from the same lady each time I've been there.

Also on the menu: Fried okra, cheeseburgers, and grilled tenderloins.

Closing Comment: This tenderloin is clearly worth the trip from downtown Des Moines.

Special Update 2009:

The Grilled Tenderloin: Not as good as the breaded tenderloin.
Mr Bibbs has closed and then re-opened again after the floods of 2008, check out this picture from just before the levy broke:

Mr Bibbs Six Ave on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Crouse Cafe Indianola

Editors Note: This entry from October 2007 has been updated with pictures and detail from subsequent visits in 2011.

This is a family-owned eating place that has been in operation for nearly sixty-five years. The homemade Cherry Pie on the menu was listed in a Des Moines Register list of "100 things to Eat in Iowa Before You Die."

Location: 113 E. Salem in Indianola, just half a block SE of the square. Only a fifteen minute drive South from Des Moines.

Directions: Main road into town, Route 69, leads just a few blocks from this cafe. Follow signs to main square downtown.
The Tenderloin: This is clearly hand made, and lightly breaded. The loin is thin enough to have a wave shape, but is tender and juicy upon biting. There is some good asymmetry to the shape of the loin, but texture in continuous throughout. The frying leaves just the right amount of browning on the breading crumbs, and has a unique dark brown complexion. The bun is fresh made and soft but not toasted. With fries the meal overloads the plate. Verdict: 9.0/10

Price: $4.09 also available in a dinner with two sides. Ambiance: This is a very clean and well-lit place. There are family pictures and prints of farmers on the walls. Many locals were inside. The tables are slightly smaller than what you find in other restaurants, they are older fixtures that make these old cafes what they are.

Service: Several attentive waitresses took care of everything. They knew many patrons by name.

Also on the Menu: Highlights include fried chicken for dinner, hot beef sandwiches, and homemade fruit pies.

The Hot Beef Sandwich looks good too:

The Breakfast options are huge, including omelets and french toast, but I usually go with the Biscuits and Gravy:
Closing comments: this cafe is clearly worth finding when in Indianola. Its just a short drive from Des Moines, and there is something for everyone on the menu.

Crouse Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Cecil's Cafe in Marshalltown

Beneath a giant chicken sign lies a roadside cafe on the old Highway 30, now Iowa Avenue in Marshalltown. This place has clearly been here for a while, so I decided to check it out.

Location: Highway 30 & 14 Marshalltown, Iowa about 45 minutes drive northeast of Des Moines.

Directions: Cafe is 1 block north of major intersection of south Marshalltown. Go East on Iowa Avenue, less than one block to visible Cafe sign.
The Tenderloin: This was actually a little bit of a disappointment for my first blog post. It was relatively small and was dry in some areas. It was clearly from a freezer. This is more tasty than most tenderloins, as it was not overly processed. The tenderloin was only slightly asymetrical, and the texture was nothing special. As you can see, the buns were toasted well. Verdict: 3/10

Price: $3.40 for the Tenderloin, only one size available.

Ambiance: This roadside cafe is a true greasy-spoon diner. Few decorations aside from a wall with several mounted fish. Most of crowd looked like blue-collar regulars, coveralls are acceptable clothing here.

Service: Seat yourself with table service and a bar. Two elderly waitresses worked the small cafe, they were helpful.

Closing comments: This is an OK roadside cafe, its just not that great of a tenderloin.

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