First of the season!
Say what you want about Iowans, but don't say that they lack appreciation for the Spring and Summer. Around this time the entire landscape seems to erupt with joyous celebration for the warmer climes. Tulips erupt out of the ground like rockets, barbeques are lit with haste and Iowans look forward to the agriculture on display at the market.
Such was the case this Saturday at the first official Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market, held in DSM's Court Avenue district. As you can see, the courthouse presided over the masses of people who came out to see the (admittedly meager) offerings of the farmers after such a cold and depressing winter.
However, come out they did, and the farmers market tried its hardest. LIve musicians played at corners and a variety of food vendors were on hand, including quite a few of my friends.
My first stop was to the Niman Ranch booth, where Larry Cleverly was handling the grill- cooking some delicious Niman sausages, bacon and chops which he fed to Jim, my FM companion, and myself. Dripping with grease and hot off the grill they were the perfect way to start a day.
From there, we drifted down to the booth of La Mie, my favorite bakery (ever) where they were selling sumptuous pastries and delectable savories, such as the baguettes pictured above. Bonus: I got to shake the hand of Joe Logsdon, the amazing baker behind the flour power of La Mie. I don't think I will wash that hand ever again; it was like talking to a demigod of the baking world.
Just down the road Lois Reichert, the wonderful woman behind Reichert's Dairy Air goat cheese dairy, was selling her cheese. Actually, business was pretty dull when I got there. She had sold out of all of her flavored chevre's, her robiola and her feta. All that remained was a culinary joy ride: a coffee infused chevre topped with a chocolate ganache. It was delish though, and we had a fun time catching up. She is looking forward to the end of the kidding season: her goats have been popping kids out gangbuster style: she recently had to deliver quintuplets! Let me relate to you a notable exchange:
Lois: So far the most interesting thing I have learned how to do is to dilate a cervix manually
Lois: It wasn't that hard- just common sense really.
I will keep that in mind the next time I see a cervix in need of dilation- I will just use my common sense.
While I focused my attention mainly on my friends among the farmers, there were a variety of wonderful restaurants. including the above Salvadorean place. They had a link at least 20 people long for the duration of the market, as they churned out papusas and canele (I think thats the name): fried plantain covered with sweetened condensed milk and raisins. I didn't have one, but they looked good!
Jams were well represented- this lady had at least 20 types, if not more!
Des Moines does not lack for amazing Indian, as Saloo's showed. Jim told me that they have been an installation since the first market. Everything looked fresh fresh fresh!
Equally authentic were the pastries on display at the booth of the Strudl Haus in Altoona (www.strudlhaus.com). They had a variety of Austrian style pastries that hearkened me back to Berlin. Frequent readers will remember that I believed the Northern countries (Denmark and Germany) to have the superior pastry making style, and Strudl Haus' wares reminded me that I do favor those hearty dense concoctions, jammed with berries.
Less authentic, but no less delicious, was the assembly line of Farmboy burritoes. As you can see, proud Iowans cooked huge pans of eggs, bacon, potatoes and sausages to keep up with the insatiable breakfast burrito demands of block-long line of hungry Farmers Market patrons.
My friend Boonie, upper left, looked at the double pans of bacon, a wistful look in his eyes.
With the farmers market winding down around 12:30, Jim and I adjourned to Centro, one of my fave places in the city. George Formaro, thew owner, pioneered an 850 degree pizza oven in this upscale Italian joint. I could taste the difference in the amazing pizza margherita I had.
George started his career as a baker, and he grasps the fundamental importance of a great crust. The pizza was basically incredibly good bread, that he been zazzed up with some excellent fresh mozzarella, delectable tomatoes (not too much!) and a sprinkle of fresh basil. The crust was crispy, delicious and overall FLAVORFUL. All pizza makers should take note: a flavorful and crisp crust is everything! The toppings are just enhancements! Take care of the crust first, and then a delicious pizza will follow.
As you can see, the pizza was the best type of simple: good ingredients, unadorned, produced a superior pie.
Simplicity was not the name of the game for the Kill Bill sandwich. Bill Overdyke, the executive chef of Centro, had pioneered this sandwich for a, lets just say different type of gourmet. Whereas I prefer the simple elegance of the Pizza Margherita, some prefer this:
On top of a delicious bun was a breaded and fried pork tenderloin, shaved Niman Ranch ham, bacon, pepper-jack cheese and an egg. All together, these things were too busy- it had no cohesion. As Jim and I discussed, the sandwich was best when pared down into 3 separate meals. It was an amazing tenderloin sandwich, a great ham and cheese and superb bacon and eggs. Together? Not so much. I can't say I was a fan. The wait staff all seemed to adore it though, and gave me suspicious looks when I professed my love of the Margherita instead. They gave me looks as if to say, "We have a traitor in our midst".