Your first look at St. Kilda Surf & Turf, now open in Des Moines' East Village
Food aficionados will find an elevated dining experience with a modern, healthy vibe at this highly-anticipated restaurant in East Village Des Moines. Here's your first look at one of the hottest new restaurants in Des Moines in 2019. Wochit
Corporate executive chef Ken VanMilligen drizzles harissa-lime aioli onto hot battered cod layered on crisp pickled radish and cilantro slaw in warm flour tortillas.
Chefs and chefs in training nod and take notes. A few of them snap pictures for future reference on how a dish is supposed to look before leaving the kitchen.
"You want our dishes to look as good as they taste," VanMilligen, 38, says before lifting the plate to the counter to be delivered to a guest in the new restaurant.
St. Kilda Surf & Turf, the highly-anticipated culinary addition to Des Moines' East Village, opens to the public on Wednesday.
Located on the west corner of the first floor of the new building at 111 E. Grand Ave., the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch daily to diners looking for an elevated eating experience with a modern, healthy vibe.
It's the first of three new restaurants to open in the year ahead by the owners of St. Kilda, Alexander and Whitney Hall: St. Kilda at Temple for Performing Arts and another location opening in Valley Junction the spring of 2020.
Surf and Turf — with its rustic metal panels, laminated wooden beams and elegant black-and-white wallpaper — blend perfectly with pendant lights and Edison bulbs. And floor-to-ceiling windows showcase the stunning view of the downtown Des Moines skyline.
With 3,170 square feet, the space was perfectly located and appealed to the Halls because the building was designed to be environmentally friendly.
The uncluttered dining area surrounds a central bar and coffee station with an open kitchen just beyond. Seating for 110 people includes options ranging from communal to tables for two and four to bar tables facing out to the bustling street.
Be sure to bookmark these frequently-updated special dining features:
- Essential East Village dining
- Where to eat in downtown Des Moines
- Des Moines dining: Oldest restaurants where you can still grab a bite
- Here are Iowa's Top 10 burgers in 2019
Whatever the seating, the innovative menu is the star of this space — modernizing British-centric fish and chips and Mediterranean souvlaki, or skewered meat and vegetables, by way of Australia and New York City.
"It's a concept we've been following and it's done a lot in Australia," Alexander Hall, 44, said. "They modernized fish and chips about 15 to 20 years ago and they took all the greasiness out of the batter and they started grilling fish and serving it with salads as opposed to french fries."
Here are a few highlights from St. Kilda Surf & Turf's food menu:
- Ricotta hotcake: Topped with local maple syrup, whipped mascarpone, fresh berries, chia and sunflower seeds, flax and puffed rice ($14; requires 15 minutes to bake)
- Zucchini fritters: Served with sweet corn relish and smoky yogurt ($12; poached egg, $1.50 extra)
- Fish tacos: Battered and fried cod with cilantro slaw, pickled radish, spicy lime mayo and flour tortillas ($12)
- Grain bowl: Whole oats with white and red sorghum, wild rice, roasted baby carrots, spinach, almonds, cranberries and green goddess dressing ($13; falafel, $3 extra; salmon, $5 extra)
- Lamb souvlaki: Served with chips, mustard aioli, caramelized onions and parsley ($14)
The same menu is available from open to close. Bakery, eggs and sweet items are available all day. On the other hand, diners can order souvlaki and fish and chips for breakfast. "We didn't want to have restrictions," Hall said. "We want people to be able to come in at any time and get what they want."
Most dishes on the menu can be adjusted to suit any dietary restriction including gluten sensitivities and vegan, vegetarian or keto diets.
Another unique feature of the food menu is the ability to order housemade sauces like ketchup, tartar sauce, smoky yogurt and aiolis flavored with harissa, mustard and garlic-lemon. Diners can also ask for their chips to be sprinkled with chicken salt — a popular Australian savory seasoning flavored with garlic, onions, paprika and turmeric.
Due to having a proper bar, the beverage selections from Surf & Turf will be greatly expanded from St. Kilda's offerings. Hall hired cocktail consultant Karli Sandos from Proof to help create the bar program.
- Beet lemonade: Tito's vodka, sweet botanical white vermouth, fresh-squeezed lemon and beet juices.
- Visinada: Corralejo Reposado tequila, sour cherry syrup, floral liqueur, fresh-pressed pineapple juice and brandied cherry
- Hibiscus and passionfruit: Hibiscus-infused Bombay Sapphire gin, fresh-squeezed orange and Liliko's Kepolo passionfruit wheat beer
The wine list is purposefully small, with a focus on Australian varieties, of course, but with organic and vegan selections by the glass and bottle ($7 to $14; $24 to $42).
A full line of Counter Culture coffees are available as are fresh, hand-pressed juices and granitas — frozen juices served both non-alcoholic or spiked.
Corporate executive chef Ken VanMilligan, 38, is a Dubuque native who studied at culinary arts at Kendall College in Chicago and has worked in New York City, the U.S. Virgin Islands and San Francisco. He started with St. Kilda in June 2018.
"One thing that immediately drew me to Alex was that he's worked hard to develop a culture of mentorship and encouragement," VanMilligan said. VanMilligan lives in Des Moines with his wife and two children. "We very much appreciate our employees and want them to grow with us and believe in what we are trying to accomplish. We're always thinking about ways to get better."
Hall has already sent three chefs to Australia to study the food culture for more authenticity. The chefs visit places Hall recommends, writing daily reports to help increase their knowledge. Hall plans to send VanMilligan later this year.
"Ken and I have a very similar management style," Hall said. "We want to teach people. Some of our best employees had no experience when they came to work for us, but you have to train and encourage and nurture and lead by example."
Hall met his wife, Whitney, 34, in New York. Whitney, an Urbandale native, currently helps manage the restaurants and the two live in Des Moines with their 3-year-old daughter. The two ran five restaurants simultaneously in New York City and Hall vowed never to have multiple locations ever again.
But now, St. Kilda currently employs 40 people and Surf & Turf will double that. Management positions are promoted from within. After all four restaurants are open and running, his restaurant group will employ over 200 people.
"We've been very lucky in Des Moines to come across some great staff who give 110% every single day," Hall said. "I have great faith in being able to open more restaurants because of the ability of my employees. Ultimately, I'm only a sum of the small parts. I'm only as good as my employees will let me be."
St. Kilda Surf & Turf
Location: 111 E. Grand Ave., Des Moines
Hours: Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.