Above: Embassy Club West offers a semi-formal dining room as well as an inviting patio and a private event space.
BY STEVE DINNEN
Arriving in Des Moines to establish himself in the restaurant trade, Paul Rottenberg quickly and easily pinpointed the city’s power dining spots.
“It was the clubs and 801 (Chophouse),” he said of the small mix of country clubs, members-only venues such as the Embassy Club and Des Moines Club, and the steakhouse at 801 Grand Ave. There were a few junior members—Jesse’s Embers, Winston’s (on the skywalk), Johnny’s Vets Club, Babe’s. But the circuit was pretty tightknit for those who wanted to blend a little business dealing with some wine and chateaubriand.
Over the years, new eateries have come onto the scene that vie for the attention of business wheelers and dealers. Just as with the city that is rising around them, they have brought some diversity—in style, price and location. But they also share traits with the old camp, such as establishing an ambiance in which a customer can feel comfortable.
As the 10th annual Restaurant Week begins, it seems like a good time to take a look at some places (listed in no particular order) where local professionals wine, dine and make their best deals:
- The Club Car Restaurant and Lounge: The Clive eatery “is my go-to joint,” says West Des Moines-based attorney Tom Houser. “It has a cozy atmosphere, and the owners always greet you. The food is fantastic.”
- Des Moines Golf and Country Club and Glen Oaks Country Club: Both offer fine meals in relaxed settings for members. For power early risers, Glen Oaks opens for breakfast.
- Embassy Club: Mainly a dining establishment, this venue has two locations—downtown and in West Des Moines (where they grow their own spices and herbs). You can store your own wine here, or join their wine club. They have special events, such as Kentucky Derby parties. And traveling members have reciprocal privileges at 200-plus other clubs nationwide.
- Wakonda Club: Kristi Knous, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, says that besides great food, “the setting offers gorgeous views of Des Moines and the ability to have private conversations without the background noise of many restaurants.” They offer dining-only memberships.
- Centro: Rottenberg, president of Orchestrate Hospitality, labels this popular downtown restaurant as “a place to see and be seen.” Few would argue with that. (Presidential contender John Edwards sat next to us a few years back.)
- Tursi’s Latin King: This longtime Italian-American restaurant has become a go-to spot for the east side.
- Cub Club. Do not expect haute cuisine at this breakfast and lunch spot atop the outfield at Principal Park. Perhaps it’s the comforting view of the manicured baseball diamond below that attracts a lot of politicians and businessmen—or the fact that Cubs owner and power broker Michael Gartner can be found there. And 50 cents for a pot of coffee invites you to linger and ponder the problems vexing the city, state and world.
- Nick’s Bar and Grill: Wherever real estate titan Bill Knapp pulls over for lunch qualifies as a power dining site. He has been spotted at this Clive eatery, which has a cozy atmosphere.
- 801 Chophouse: Still the place for great steaks. Still a place where deals are made. And national media heavyweights line up here when they jet in for our caucuses.
Keep growing, Des Moines. Keep up with the power diners.