Issue 27

Finding the Food: Des Moines

Finding the Food: Des Moines

Recently some friends and I decided to head up to Des Moines for their first-ever Hinterland Music Festival. We were looking forward to music from Future Islands, TV On The Radio, Edward Sharpe and more, but I was really looking forward to seeing if the old staple, Fong’s Pizza, would still held up years after first going there. After, of course, I planned on checking out the infamous Zombie Burger for the first time.

The Hinterlands Music Festival got moved a few days from its original space in Des Moines to outside of the small town of St. Charles due to flooding. The festival and its setup were surprisingly well organized, considering that massive move. It was impressive all around.

One of the more impressive aspects of it was the food court and its eclectic and local choices. The two offerings I tried were Gusto’s Pizza and The Outside Scoop. Gusto’s features made-from-scratch pizza and, even off of a food truck, you could tell that few shortcuts were taken. My slice of simple pepperoni was tasty, well-constructed and full of quality ingredients. Truly a few notches above your typical festival slice.  The next stop was The Outside Scoop for some of the maple bacon ice cream they so cruelly advertised along the side of the road as we waited in our cars to get into the festival. This sweet and salty treat served up in a waffle cone tasted a lot like breakfast minus the eggs and was consumed quickly out of both enjoyment and the intense heat of the day.

After a night of music, Uber rides, many bars and drinking, early the next morning we headed to Fong’s Pizza in downtown Des Moines. Some of the places we stopped along the way include Des Moines premier music venue, Wooly’s, which has a great old saloon feel, but has current popular rock and indie acts performing there.  We also visited the Locust Tap, which might be the ultimate dive bar; graffiti everywhere, no real updates or amenities that I could see, and a throng of hipsters. It’s almost as if someone walked into a long closed bar and just put in some new tap handles and opened the doors right back up. It’s not even “retro bar sign” hipster; it’s just a dirty old room with high ceilings and no updates. I loved it. After some hit and miss places with karaoke, DJ’s and you name it, the bars had closed and it was time for Fong’s.

Fong’s Pizza & Tiki Bar looks like it has been there since well into the past century, but the business has only been there since 2009. I have only eaten here late at night when there are wait times, drunks and sometimes pure chaos. That is part of the appeal of the place. The other appeal is the food, which ranges from traditional pizza joint fare to Asian hybrids.

The pizza rolls and cheese sticks are rolled in egg roll wrappers and are a drunk’s dream. Their traditional slices are big, greasy and taste amazing at 2 a.m. after a night of drinking. If you leave Fong’s without having the crab Rangoon pizza, you really did not visit Fong’s. It’s a crab Rangoon base, surimi, green onion, asiago and mozzarella, topped with crispy wontons and sweet chili sauce; worth the trip to Des Moines all by itself.

On Saturday morning we woke up early to be at Zombie Burger right when it opened at 11 a.m. There was already a line and the two of us were seated at the bar as all the tables, both inside and on the expansive patio area, had filled up. We ordered some hair of the dog and a basket of poutine to split.

For the burgers, I went with a basic bacon cheeseburger as I like to try the actual burger in a place for the first time. Among the insane amount of equally insane burger concoctions, my friend found The Walking Ched. This was a cheeseburger topped with mac and cheese in between two “buns” made out of fried mac and cheese. My friend was a lot younger than me and could afford taking those years off of his life.

My burger was made with good, quality meat, a nice soft bun, kind of squished and not real pretty (which I like) with standard bacon. It was cooked well and was pretty tasty, but certainly nothing mind-blowing. The poutine was good, with fries that were not over-seasoned and the curds cooked perfectly. The gravy on the poutine was good, but I have had better here in Omaha. My friend’s Walking Ched looked amazing and he really enjoyed it. The atmosphere of Zombie Burger is fun and creative and the busy staff are just the right amount of friendly and too cool. It’s worth the visit and next time, I will be trying something more creative.

Marq Manner

Marq Manner

MarQ Manner is a fan of Americana. He is interested in small town cafe's, roadside BBQ, getting a hotdog from a stand made in the likeness of George Washington, and the grittier eating atmospheres found in out of the way places. MarQ has been writing about the local music scene for The Omaha City Weekly for the past five years and has also written music features for many other rags and blogs.


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