Inspired by trips to the state's northwestern lakes, Okoboji Grill conjures the wayfaring spirit of summer vacation with hearty American comfort food. Chefs marinate chicken strips in beer before hand-breading them in a secret blend of spices, crown crispy onion strings with Iowa-raised pork chops, and stack thin-sliced meats into towering club sandwiches and edible replicas of the Chrysler Building. Okoboji Grill also culls recipes from international cuisines, adding an American take to greek gyros, housemade tzatziki sauce, and italian bruschetta and pastas.
801 Chophouse establishes itself as a special-occasion restaurant, where every table might well hold a ring in a hidden box or a couple celebrating an anniversary. There are the white tablecloths popping against dark leather booths, the racks of wine tended by a certified sommelier, and, of course, the chops and steaks, all USDA Prime. On the other hand, it's quite conceivable that someone might gladly eat at 801 Chophouse every week and for any occasion—the menu, drink selection, and Wine Spectator-awarded wine list could accommodate months of exploration, and an ever-changing "fresh sheet" overflows with the jet-fresh seafood selections of the day.
On any given night, the wait staff moves across wooden floors beneath high ceilings and 1920s-inspired decor, trays loaded with nine creative potato preparations, filet mignon, and dry-aged pork chops. Meanwhile, the cattle of a pastoral mural gaze out over the dining room's cherry-wood finishes, waiting patiently to graze on uneaten garnishes.
A third generation of the Foggia family helms Gino's Food & Restaurants, which still cooks the recipes founder Gino Foggia first created in 1966. At the restaurant's Des Moines and West Des Moines locations, chefs stuff housemade ravioli with meat, layer lasagna with housemade meatballs, and toss freshly rolled cavatelli with sausages made onsite. Other pasta dishes, such as chicken marsala served over linguine, join pan-seared fish and the kitchen's signature steak de burgo, which comprises two fillet medallions with butter-garlic de burgo sauce, on the menu of Italian favorites. Wines, martinis, and desserts such as spumoni complement meals with the charm of two mismatched but lovable roommates.
Mezzodi's Italian eats transport continental American mouths to continental European plates with pastas, pizzas, and peninsular classics. Hand-breaded fried green-pepper rings ($5.99) dunk impatient appetites in an above-plate appetizer pool of marinara sauce. Mezzodi's Italic prowess shines in the specialty thin-crust pies, including The Joe, with Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, basil, and mozzarella cheese ($11.99 lunch, $13.99 dinner). Meatball lasagna ($8.99 lunch, $14.99 dinner) crams two classics into one dish with layers of sliced meatball, spinach, and ricotta cheese sporting marinara sauce. Filet mignon ($23.99) sates meaty cravings with bacon-wrapped steak juiciness, garlic mashed potatoes, and sautéed vegetables, and it fulfills surf 'n' turf longings when paired with a side of shrimp scampi ($4).
Brasserie-Style French | Laid-Back Vibe | BYOB | House-Ground Beef
When to Go: If you're only in the mood for a cocktail and a small plate, then swing by for happy hour (Monday–Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.). Specialty cocktails, cheese and charcuterie plates, and selections from the raw bar are all served at a discount.
Rouille: a creamy sauce blended with olive oil, breadcrumbs, and saffron. It's commonly served as an accompaniment to fish dishes, especially bouillabaisse.
Au poivre: French for "with pepper." Django showcases steaks, burgers, and portobello mushrooms prepared au poivre, either crusted with peppercorns or paired with peppercorn sauce.
While You're in the Neighborhood
Before: Sift through the modish furnishings and knickknacks that time forgot at Funky Finds Vintage & Retro (515 18th Street).
After: Finish the night with a cold pint at El Bait Shop (200 SW 2nd Street), which boasts a jaw-dropping menu of more than 120 on-tap beers and 150 bottled brews.
If You Can’t Make It, Try This: Savor authentic Italian fare served with the same casual bent at Mezzodi's (4519 Fleur Drive), which is owned by the company behind Django, Orchestrate Hospitality.
Players Sports Bar & Grill treats its patrons to fun nights out with friends and neighbors, as well as a tasty spread of chicken wings, sirloin steaks, beer-battered fish and chips, and hearty half-pound prime Angus burgers. Guests pair their pub fare with frosty beers or specialty drinks such as the creamy Bailey's caramel shake or a fruit-flavored Melontini.
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