Des Moines? Yes, Des Moines.

This past weekend Zachary and I got away, just the two of us. Previously the longest we’d both been away from the kids was a whopping one night (we’ve individually spent more time away from them, like when I went to California for a friend’s wedding earlier this year and was gone for seven days).  We took our chances and doubled that away time and booked a hotel room for two nights.

I had lofty ideas when I first thought of this trip. Hawaii, Ireland, England. But with four children to clothe and feed, not to mention a Disney World vacation later this year, it didn’t make much sense to spend a fortune on a getaway.

I initially wanted to visit Duluth, because, despite having lived in Minnesota my entire life, I’ve never been. But Zachary suggested Des Moines, which is where we lived when we met. Quick to drive to, and as far as destinations go, rather inexpensive.

The reactions from people when they found out where we were going were priceless. Even from people who still call Des Moines home. On our first day there, we spent some time talking with a woman K used to work with, and she asked, “So, what brings you to town?” and when we explained we were just visiting for the sake of visiting she wrinkled her nose and asked, “Really? Des Moines?”

It was a sentiment we heard several times over.

Yes, it’s Iowa. Yes, Des Moines isn’t exactly a huge metropolis. Back when we lived there, you could stand in the middle of one of the busier streets on a Saturday night and not see a car for an hour. But we had fun visiting the apartments where we used to live, for nostalgia, and trying new, hip restaurants that didn’t exist back in our DSM days.

Friday night we had just enough time to pop into a few shops in the new-ish East Village district, full of unique stores and restaurants. I tried on a few dresses and shirts at aimée and Vitae Design Collective, and we browsed new and unique good at Porch Light Antiques and Found Things (I found a ton of things I wanted to buy at Found Things, it’s full of interesting things, but only came home with a metal number 4 I will prop against the new photo of the kids I am framing). Topped our hot shopping walk with a mojito and beer at The Continental. Loved its neighborhood feel. One of my favorite things about dining and drinking at new places is to ask for recommendations from the staff. Our bartender recommended the O Mojito and I was not disappointed. But really, who can be disappointed with a mojito on a hot day?

For dinner Zachary and I headed to Django, which was recommended a few times over by the foodies at chowhound.com. We were sat for our 8pm reservations immediately at a window table. I tried a New Frenchie on the recommendation of our waiter, while Zachary stuck with his vodka 7.

Our appetizer was one of the specials for the night. I wish I’d written down the name, but it was a ratatouille with goat cheese and pesto and served with crostini, and it was amazing. For our entrees, we decided to share a Tuna Nicoise Salad and the Blue Cheese Medallions. The Nicoise salad was perfectly light. I can be picky about tuna at restaurants not near an ocean, but it was fresh and perfectly seared. I was so full by the time I started on the beef medallion that I couldn’t finish the whole thing, but it was well done. For dessert Zachary chose lemon and raspberry sorbet.

Saturday morning we slept in (relatively speaking) and headed to the Des Moines Farmers’ Market. I’d heard it was quite an affair, but I wasn’t prepared for quite how enormous it is. Blocks and blocks of tents selling pastries, flour, flowers, beef, produce, ice cream, arts and crafts, and more. It was about six billion degrees and very sunny, so we didn’t linger as long as I would have liked, but we managed to pick up adorable cookies for the kids from Three Chicks Bakery, buckwheat pancake mix from Paul’s Grains, Garlic Basil Linguine from Sunrise Creative Gourmet, and some garlic from Grade A Grass & Gardens.

For lunch we walked to Zombie Burger & Drink Lab, a concept eatery taking full advantage of the zombie craze going on. We had a bit of a wait (place is popular!), but our server was great and gave us good recommendations for our burger (we split a Sarah’s Revenge, which was great, and the Garlic Bacon and Blue Cheese Fries, which were slightly difficult to eat, but tasty). The back of the menu was an entertaining faux newspaper about zombie employment.

After our time at the farmers’ market, it was time for a different kind of shopping. We drove to West Des Moines to the Jordan Creek Town Center so I could find something to wear to dinner that evening. Des Moines had some decent malls when we lived there over ten years ago, but Jordan Creek was much nicer, I have to say. I was particularly excited to find a dress at J. Crew, marked down from $198 to just $60, yay! I got an even better deal on it than if I’d bought online!

Shopping over (thanks to Zachary for putting up with me browsing the sales racks), we drove past a few familiar sites then returned to the hotel to get ready for Nice Dinner Number Two. We’d originally had reservations at Lucca, but canceled when we found out that three of the five entree options on their prix fixe menu were seafood (not good for me and my allergies). I’d still love to try it at some point, but we went for a more varied menu and chose another recommended hot spot, Centro.

As with Django, we were seated for our reservation right away. Centro is very dimly lit, but I liked the ambiance. Having been a server for four years during college and just after, I could tell right away that our server was in training. He was peppy but nervous. Luckily, having been a server, this doesn’t bother me. We all have to start somewhere! We took his reservation for our appetizer, which was on the special list for the evening. I can’t recall what on earth it was called, because neither Zachary nor I recognized the main ingredient, but it turned out to be a bruchsetta made of the meat from a pig’s jaw and cherries. The appetizer was very salty, almost to the point that I would have sent it back, but the cherries provided enough sweetness we finished it. The accompanying greens were overwhelmingly salty, though. I worried about the sodium content for the rest of our meal, but needlessly. Zachary and I were trying not to stuff ourselves too much, so we split the spinach salad. I can say that the warm dressing with that salad is one of my favorites in recent memory. Loved it. For dinner I considered steak again, but chose the Spicy Sausage Rigatoni. I have a high tolerance for spiciness and really enjoy flavorful food with a punch, but finding truly spicy foods in the Midwest can be a challenge. Luckily my pasta sauce had just enough kick – good enough to satisfy my spicy craving, but not too much to overpower the dish. Zachary chose the Chicken and Prosciutto, which he told me was excellent. For dessert we splurged and ordered a sundae we’d seen at another table – George’s Marshmallow Sundae – and we devoured every last bit. The giant marshmallow layers were bruleed, the menu stated, making them taste like s’mores, and the salty peanuts contrasted just enough with the sweetness of the marshmallow and ice cream. A great way to end our meal.

The next morning we skipped the hotel’s breakfast offerings again and went to The Americana, which features a Bombshell Brunch with a grilled cheese bar, bloody mary and mimosa bar, and all-you-can eat lunch and breakfast foods. I sampled salad (trying to get a ton of vegetables in after my carb splurge the night before), sweet potatoes, a quiche or fritatta with vegetables, which were all good but not spectacular, just standard brunch fare. The waffle bread pudding was, as Zachary told me it would be, wonderful and rich. For $16 a person, I think it’s a good deal, and I loved the building/atmosphere.

During the weekend we stayed at Hyatt Place, which means we were able to walk to a lot of our destinations downtown (the East Village, Zombie Burger, Farmers’ Market, Centro, The Americana and Django, plus we were close to a Walgreens when I needed sunscreen and Diet Dr. Pepper). We had a huge room on the top floor and the staff was exceptionally friendly, probably one of the nicest hotel stay I’ve had in a while (except for the drunk guys who woke us up with their door slamming and yelling at midnight on Friday, but that’s not the hotel’s fault. When we finally grew tired of the ruckus we called the front desk, and they immediately put an end to the shenanigans).

And so, our little jaunt to Des Moines was quite nice, and we didn’t see a single cow or barn downtown. We found plenty to do, and didn’t have to pay $250 a night for a downtown hotel to do it, and the drive from several larger cities isn’t too long (from Minneapolis, Omaha, Kansas City, or Chicago, for example).

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Comments

  1. I love Des Moines! Of course I was born there so I’m a wee bit biased. So glad you got away for a while. That’s my goal this year: to go somewhere with my husband, away for a few days.

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