A Weekend In Des Moines: Bosnian Cabbage Rolls & 24-Hour Beef Brisket

Staying with our parents on the weekends is nice, but sometimes it’s fun to give them a break and visit friends.

This past weekend, some friends invited us to their home in Des Moines and provided a quiet place to land. They were lovely hosts and showed us some of their favorite places to eat and drink. Plus, they shared their dog Winston. I was delighted when he wiggled his way into our room one morning and curled up on our bed.

Teddy bear face and wagging tail. 

He’s a well-mannered fellow with a gentle temperament. Puppy cuddles go a long way to soothe the hearts of weary travelers.

We began our weekend with beer and nachos at Saints Pub on Friday evening and headed to the sprawling downtown farmers market the next morning.

Like the State Fair, except better.

70 degrees and partly sunny felt refreshing. Less like summer and more like a fall.

Five years ago, old college friends took me to the market where I felt awestruck by the variety of food and beverages from around the world. It was here my friends introduced me to my first pupusa, an experience that’s become pivotal in my culinary growth. Taking my first bite of a pupusa reminds me of how Anthony Bourdain describes tasting his first oyster. I’ve eaten many other pupusas since, but this one’s still the best.

We ate no pupusas on this trip. However, we did visit a Bosnian food vendor selling savory meat pastries and cabbage rolls from this bubbling cauldron.

I ordered a roll for only $3. The silky cabbage leaf was filled with ground beef and rice.

The vendor placed a small square of bread into the dish and it soaked up the tangy sauce. Nothing flashy, but comfort food at its best. We hydrated ourselves with homemade ginger beer and people-watched over Bloody Marys at Mickey’s Irish Pub.

Jake enjoyed a peanut butter and chocolate ice cream sandwich from Thelma’s and we shared sweets from a vendor offering Moroccan pastries made with semolina flour. We bought one of the last two sticky lemon cakes that remained at 11:30 a.m.

 

Afterwards, we wandered the East Village. Jake and I bought clever t-shirts from RAYGUN, sampled tea at Gong Fu Tea, and paused at El Bait Shop where we sampled from their massive beer selection (120 on tap, 150 bottled).

After a three hour nap, we were ready to meet more friends for dinner at Flying Mango.

I chose a large piece of seared yellow-fin tuna served over creamy black beans and rice and topped with mango salsa. I snuck a bite of Jake’s 24-hour Beef Brisket. The slices were fork tender and had a visible smoke ring, but the serving was scant for $18, even with his choice of two sides.

I was surprised to find that my favorite bite all evening was my friend’s grilled portobello mushroom sandwich with creamy goat cheese and red onion. In this mecca of smoked meats, the humble mushroom reigned supreme.

Our Des Moines friends also shared tastes of their favorite side dishes; cornbread with honey butter and cinnamon-intense, fire roasted apples. Leave it to the locals to know best. The margaritas cost $8, but they were well-sized and strong. I especially appreciated how my mango margarita was minimally sweetened.

After dinner we wandered through the Italian American Heritage Festival and returned home, too full to join our friends for slices of pizza at Fong’s.

We’re so grateful for the hospitality of friends who have shared their homes, kitchens, and pets with us.

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