On Friday afternoon, Billo and I bent to the exhortation of “Go west, young man!” and drove to Des Moines for a concert, a skyline, and a real mall. For those of you who have never driven across/in the Midwest (ahem most of you), banish forever the notion that (a) all ten-odd states in the region are geographically homogeneous, in other words (b) flat as a pancake. This corner of south eastern Iowa, at least, has plenty of sloping green hills to interrupt the corn fields (corn not wheat; wheat’s in Kansas) and lovely cotton-cloud skies. Also, fields of windmills and convoys of trucks hauling the blades there.
We rolled in to Des Moines right around dinner time and promptly rediscovered three City Things that we had almost forgotten about.
1) rush hour traffic
2) a skyline
3) having to wait for a table at restaurants
The restaurant B found for us — in the pages of the New York Times, bien sur — was Centro, which the author of “36 Hours in Des Moines” describes thus: “Opened in 2002, the “Italian urban” restaurant Centro quickly became the hangout of various celebrities during the run-up to the 2004 Iowa presidential caucuses. A symbol of a re-energized downtown, it’s inside a once-faded 1913 Masonic Temple recently transformed into the Temple for Performing Arts, which includes a theater and a grand reception hall. Centro serves thin-crust brick-oven pizza ($10 to $18) and dishes inspired by Little Italy in New York ($12.95 to $32.95) in a bustling dining room overlooking a busy streetscape.”
What a no brainer! Of course we will eat there! And our hopes and dreams were fulfilled.
After a half hour wait we snagged a table on the semi-enclosed outdoor patio and fell on the warm focaccia (which I’m making later this week, stay tuned), olive oil, and general magic hour. When we told our waiter we were in a tiny hurry, he nodded appreciatively. “Going to the Dave Matthews concert?” WHY YES. What other evening performances or events might be happening here? So there’s a small town heart, still.
We started with a pair of delicious, slightly crispy crab cakes with an easy aioli. Delicious. Then Billy ordered the Siciliana pizza, which was loaded with Natalie’s Favorite Things: capers, olives, pickled hot peppers. (NOT my favorite things.) I, on the other hand, am very boring classic, and got their Napoletana offering with fresh tomatoes and sauce, fresh mozz, fresh basil, olive oil, and garlic.
It was piping hot lusciousness, and went pretty far in quelling our mad hunger for Grimaldi’s and its ilk. It’s worth mentioning, though, that this remains New York style pizza, which is very different from actual New York pizza. It’s not quite as good. The dough is a little too thick, the cheese a little too heavy. But it’s still the best I’ve had this side of the Mississippi. I enjoyed it quite enough to make my pants feel too tight, two days later.
Then we wasted some time finding different parking and headed to the fantastic Dave Matthews Band concert. They played for a solid two hours, or twenty five songs. Onstage were four of the five original band members — guitarist, bassist, drummer, violinist — accompanied by another guitarist, a trumpet player, and a saxophonist to replace the recently late LeRoi Moore of the original band. The resulting music is extremely full, and full of riffs, plays, and improvisations. Our original seats were directly behind the sound crew tent, but we hopped over a couple sections and landed a perfect view of the stage. (I was paranoid, though, and left my camera behind. This shot is from my little iPhone.)
We and our post-concert McFlurries spent the night at the airport Hampton Inn, the better to mosey on down to the wonderful Jordan Creek MALL the next day. What capitalism! I was irresponsible at J.Crew, even for for someone with my track record (there isn’t one in in Iowa City! I have to stock up!) and we rounded off the shopping with lunch at the Cheescake Factory. Fat, consumer-happy, and musically inspired, we rolled back to the car and on home to Iowa City.