We’ve been to Des Moines’ hot new cheese bar, and it’s already melting hearts
Des Moines' newest eatery is sure to be a hot, melty addition to Ingersoll Avenue's restaurant row. Created by the owners of The Cheese Shop, this new location features a full kitchen and a widely expanded menu. There's much more cheesy goodness to love at Cheese Bar DSM.
It was a sad day when The Cheese Shop of Des Moines announced it was no longer serving its addictive toasted cheese sandwiches from the kitchen in its tiny basement.
But for toasted cheese devotees, these popular melty sandwiches are getting an upgrade. Instead of being cooked in a giant toaster oven in the shop's lower level, they'll be cooked on a hot griddle in a big kitchen. And for people who were fond of Wednesday night fondue, there's great news in store.
Cheese Bar DSM opened Thursday, June 1, on Ingersoll Avenue's restaurant row. And it's ready to offer Des Moines food enthusiasts a variety of cheese dishes made with fromage from around the world.
Fans of The Cheese Shop will instantly recognize some favorites on the menu.
It's the newest venture for cheesemonger C.J. Bienert and his wife, Kari, whose dedicated staff will be co-led by executive chef, business partner and fellow cheesemonger, Brett McClavy.
They happily chose the location that once housed both Candela Modern Mexican restaurant and Red China Bistro due to its proximity to The Cheese Shop and its prominent spot on Ingersoll Avenue among other popular eateries.
Cheese Bar's specialties will continue to be grilled cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese and other popular menu items from The Cheese Shop.
Gone are the Toasties — open-faced toasted cheese sandwiches — from the tiny basement kitchen on 42nd Street. But with Cheese Bar's fully-equipped kitchen, guests can look forward to plenty of menu elevation and expansion.
"It's not going to be that different from The Cheese Shop," said executive chef Brett McClavy, 33. "We will definitely still have cheese boards, meat boards and charcuterie boards. And our specialties are still grilled cheese and mac and cheese. But now that we have an actual kitchen, it's just going to be more elevated."
All of the boards used in the restaurant are made from natural cheese aging boards from Uplands Cheese Company in Dodgeville, Wisc.
In the restaurant's main dining area, two rows of communal-style tables casually welcome cheese lovers while pictures of friends and cheese producers line the walls.
"We want people to feel comfortable around each other," McClavy said. "We want it to be like The Cheese Shop. Everyone knows everybody in there — whether it's staff, whether it's a customer, whether it's a producer or a winemaker, everybody's welcome. That's important to me as a chef."
No reservations are necessary at Cheese Bar and dining spots are communal. Inside tables accommodate about 60 people with 10 more seats at the bar. And 30 patio dining seats will be available out front. Guests can park right behind the building.
Cheese, glorious cheese
Cheese Bar's menu isn't geared around starters and entrees. The various cheese dishes are meant to be shared and guests can either nibble on snacks or feast the day away.
One of the most anticipated dishes on Cheese Bar's menu is its "soon to be world-famous" Cast-Iron Mac & Cheese. This crunchy, melty comfort-bringer will be made with Frisian Farms Gouda, Hook's Four-Year Cheddar and Rustichella D'Abruzzio rigatoncini pasta with Mornay sauce and breadcrumbs ($10). And half orders will be available as a side dish ($5).
McClavy plans to have 12 kinds of cheese in constant rotation on the boards at all times. Guests can hand-select artisanal cheeses from several categories or have the chefs choose for them. Included in the opening lineup is Montgomery's cheddar from the U.K. — one of McClavy's favorites.
All cheese, meat, hand-carved ham and charcuterie boards are served with accouterments such as cornichons, Spanish almonds, seasonal jams and Potter's organic crackers. Gluten-free crackers will also be available.
One of the biggest changes from The Cheese Shop to Cheese Bar is that fondue will be served every night instead of just on Wednesdays.
Fondue serves two people for dinner and four people as a snack ($35). All fondues are served with crispy confit fingerling potatoes (cooked slowly in bacon fat and then deep-fried), housemade sausage, cornichons and cubed bread. The bubbly melted cheese is made from a blend of Gruyére 1655 (named the best gruyere by America's Test Kitchen), Reading Raclette and Mountain Dairy Emmentaler with garlic, white wine and a dash of nutmeg. "That just gives it a nice snap and a luscious character to it," McClavy said.
And Cheese Bar will also serve Vermont raclette every day.
"I jokingly say it's 'reverse fondue.' Instead of dipping potatoes into melted cheese, you just dump melted cheese on top of potatoes," McClavy said. And these potatoes will be laced with bacon and cornichons ($14).
Eight variations of modifiable grilled cheese sandwiches share starring roles on the new menu, along with six versions of "Smörgs." These tasty takes on classic open-face Scandinavian sandwiches will be served on a local crumb sourdough. Five other kinds of sandwiches will also be available, including a banh mi made with liver mousse, house pâté, Niman Ranch ham, red pepper aioli, fish vinaigrette and cilantro on a ciabatta roll. Prices range from $8 to $13.
Bienert and McClavy said that a daily specials list will be in the works that allow them to experiment with new flavors and featured cheeses, including making their own homemade crackers. The list will also feature other snacks and hot plate items such as Scotch eggs and rarebit burgers.
Their relationships with artisans and producers allow them to bring in unique choices for cheese lovers in Des Moines.
"A big part of our mission with The Cheese Shop has been has been to bridge the gap between the producer and consumer," Bienert, 34, said. He takes frequent trips to visit cheesemakers around the country.
And for those of us with a sweet tooth, the specials list will feature mostly dairy-focused desserts, with crème brûlée and chocolate as the main components, along with homemade ice creams.
And to drink...
Thirty beers will be on tap that have been chosen with the help of Andrew Groomes Gleason, formerly of El Bait Shop, to pair with the various cheeses. "We put a lot of effort into not only selecting the beer but how we serve the beer," Beinert said. Guests order beer by number and it's served exclusively in Rastal glassware in either six- or 12-ounce pours.
A seasonally changing Euro-centric wine list has been specially curated to complement the wide variety of cheeses from around the globe even features family vineyards.
"Wine is the oil to my engine," Bienert said. The list will be completely different from The Cheese Shop. All wines are served by the glass or bottle, with by-the-glass prices ranging from $5 to $11. Three kinds of sparkling wine will be served by the glass, including Vollereaux Brut Réserve, which has been a favorite of Bienert's for years.
Cheese Bar has a full liquor license, so guests can look forward to the creation of a cocktail list in the months ahead. But there are plenty of nonalcoholic drinks as well.
Beinert said everything in the restaurant was designed and built by him and the staff. Even the bookcase that is being used as a wine rack came from his living room. He grew up in the restaurant business but has been a cheesemonger for 15 years. He previously worked at Wine Experience and Gateway Market.
The Cheese Shop of Des Moines has been running for almost six years and was one of the first cut-to-order "American artisan-specific cheese shops in the Midwest," McClavy said. It will still be open, of course, but will focus more on the retail sales of packaged cheeses and will still offer cold kitchen items with meat plates, cheese plates, charcuterie and "monger" sandwiches (served cold or at room temperature).
Many of the same staff who have worked at The Cheese Shop will work at the new location. "Half the staff has been with us for two- to three-plus years at The Cheese Shop, so we're all still part of that one big Cheese Shop family," Bienert said. Both Bienert and McClavy credit the positive vibe of the cheese shop as a big part of attracting a loyal and motivated team
Bienert and McClavy look forward to hosting more beer and wine events and greatly expanding cheese classes at The Cheese Shop.
Cheese Bar DSM
Location: 2925 Ingersoll Ave., Suite 1, Des Moines
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Sundays and Mondays.
The Cheese Shop
Location: 833 42nd St., Suite B, Des Moines
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; closed Sundays and Mondays
Info: (515) 528-8181; thecheeseshopdsm.com; Facebook; Twitter; Instagram