The Mac ‘n’ Cheese Waffles with Asheville Hot Fried Chicken, a decadent yet balanced dish sure to be a crowd-pleaser at the new Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen & Bar.
By Karla Walsh
When I asked chef Eric Gabrynowicz—four-time James Beard Award semifinalist, executive chef and vice president of culinary at Tupelo Honey—which dish on the menu was his personal favorite, he laughed, paused and called his mom to mind.
His mom, he tells us, was on a diet most of her life and would try to re-create comfort foods with lighter twists. One of the most disastrous meal makeovers? An ultra-dry meatloaf. Luckily, Gabrynowicz’s bourbon-glazed, peppercorn-crusted, full-octane beef and chorizo meatloaf is in a totally different class—and is now not only the chef’s own favorite, but a bestseller among Tupelo Honey’s 19 locations. It’s was one of several highlights on the tasting menu a friend and I snacked our way through last night at a preview tasting at the downtown Des Moines location, set to open March 22.
Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen & Bar was started in the early 2000s in Asheville, North Carolina, with an eye toward farm-to-table cuisine in an airy, bright, Southern dining room. Throughout all of their dozen-plus restaurants, each seasonally rotating menu and design scheme is customized to fit the local scene.
By the way, Tupelo Honey owner Steve Frabitore tells dsm that he decided on Iowa’s capital city as a new home for his quickly expanding brand because the company tries to commit to cities with a lot of growth potential—and then grow with them. As a result, they have signed a 20-year lease at their local location at 665 Grand Ave., on the ground floor of the Miesblock building.
The dining room is complete with a floral mural by local artist Jenna Brownlee, colorful wallpaper that’s a nod to what it looks like to fly over cornfields, plus plenty of plants floating from edge to edge of the ceiling in macrame baskets. Adjacent to the space, a 44-seat patio will open soon. Pups will be welcome there and even have their own separate menu.
Enough about the history and the decor; let’s dive into what you’re really curious about: the food and drink. We tried everything from appetizers and brunch items to dinner entrees and dessert, plus some nonalcoholic beverages and cocktails. If you’re on a diet akin to Gabrynowicz’s mom, your choices are slim and not as headline-worthy as the comfort food. That said, the most notable noshes are worth the splurge; although rich, they don’t taste too heavy because they’re nicely balanced.
Our highlights—and recommendations for your first visit:
- Biscuits for a Cause ($4): This starter of two cathead buttermilk biscuits (so named because that’s the approximate size) with blueberry jam and whipped butter. Proceeds go to an aid fund to help staff with financial challenges, and every last crumb of the biscuit we split didn’t go to waste.
- The Bourbon Peppercorn Glazed Meatloaf ($17.95) mentioned above.
- Mac ‘n’ Cheese Waffles with Asheville Hot Fried Chicken ($15.95): Three childhood menu favorites—Saturday morning waffles, after-school mac and cheese, and fast-food spicy chicken tenders—unite in this towering dish. The pickles, chives and spice in the chicken breading helps balance the decadent yet light-in-texture pasta-infused waffle underneath (pictured).
- Turmeric Ginger Tonic ($4.50): To wash it all down, we really enjoyed the spicy kick of the just-so-happens-to-be-anti-inflammatory spirit-free drink made with fresh ginger, turmeric, black pepper, lime and honey.
- “Heavenly” Banana Cream Pie ($4 for mini, $7.95 for regular): You can tell that the kitchen team has dialed in on this dessert during their 20 years of serving it. The custard was creamy while the bananas maintained their bite, and it was topped with a cloud of whipped cream and a vanilla wafer.
For true Southern fare devotees, come spring and summer, you can have brunch or lunch at Tupelo Honey, enjoy a few laps around the sculpture park, then keep the Southern feast going with happy hour or dinner at Bubba Southern Comforts (200 10th St.). You’ll practically feel transported to the Carolinas; no airfare required.
Tupelo Honey will be open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Brunch is available Saturday and Sunday until 4 p.m.; happy hour specials run weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. See the menus and make a reservation at tupelohoneycafe.com.