Review: Bold flavors highlight this trendy Des Moines gem
Take a look around Eatery A, a staple for Mediterranean small plates and pizzas on Ingersoll Avenue in Des Moines. Bryon Houlgrave/The Register
- Wood-fired pizzas with perfect crust
- Small plates to share allow you to sample a range
- Stand-out dishes include asparagus soup and grilled octopus
Eatery A, off Ingersoll in Woodland Heights, manages to be both hip and unpretentious. Swaths of reclaimed wood, cozy leather banquettes, and the smell of the wood-burning pizza oven welcome you. Eatery A uses creative flare and a skilled hand to achieve inspired Mediterranean food and exceptional drinks.
Of the two gin cocktails on the menu, I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite. Address of the Sender ($9) is the fruitier option, with pear, a hint of lemon, topped off with dry champagne and garnished with a slim sprig of rosemary — the gin tempers the slightly sweet note and the champagne lends effervescence. The Drunken Botanist ($10) is an intriguingly herby and complex concoction using Botanist gin (hence the name) and dill-y Aquavit. The tang of vinegar from the fennel and celery shrub perfectly offset the sweetness of the elderflower liqueur. The beautiful, well-balanced Double Windsor ($11) had a dry, bitter finish and a fleeting hit of chocolate from crème de cacao.
Eatery A is focused on shareable small plates, a style perfect for those of us who like to try as many different dishes as possible. Brussels Sprouts ($5) were pan seared and caramelized until they began to char, lightly drizzled with sticky pomegranate molasses and topped with toasted bread crumbs. The flavor was good, the caramelization superb, but the sprouts themselves were a little underdone and could have used a little more time in the pan.
Fiery Baba Ghanoush ($5) had ribbons of onions and roasted peppers mixed into the tahini-rich eggplant base, lending body and texture. It was perfect for spooning onto the sumac-dusted flatbreads served alongside. The (unfortunately thick and grainy) Hummus ($7.75) was bathed in bright, grassy olive oil and paired with thin house-made pickles that ranged from tangy and perfect (the spicy jalapeno) to the overly sweet and flabby (cucumber). The papery flatbread crackers that had a stale texture and didn’t hold up to swiping through the thick hummus; I wished for the flatbreads I’d had previously.
The red pepper coulis that accompanied the Bacon Wrapped Dates ($7.75) was smoky and spicy, mirroring the chorizo tucked inside. The date was sweet and the bacon salty. The whole worked.
Almost impossibly tender pork Meatballs ($7.75) came drowning in a sea of rich, spicy tomato sauce. I enjoyed the heavy dose of fennel that made them reminiscent of Italian sausage, but be warned if that isn’t to your taste. The hefty slab of spongy focaccia served to mop up the sauce could have used more character.
To declare the Asparagus Soup ($8) transcendent would edge into hyperbole, but only just. I had it on two separate occasions and both times different nuances, like a suggestion of mint or a touch of tarragon, emerged. The soup itself was a slightly frothy, velvety puree. Dijon-laced crème fraiche gave it some acid and depth, orange pearls of salmon roe a salty pop on the tongue, and a delicate, lacy bread tuile provided some crunch and richness. The whole dish came together in a symphony of layers and flavors.
The Roasted Beet Salad ($9) boasted more carrot than beet, which was only a disappointment because the beets were so delicious with the creamy, salty Cabrales blue cheese flan. Pistachios and peppery greens rounded it out.
The Cabrales blue cheese made another appearance on Pizza #13 ($15.95), along with thin slices of potato, caramelized onions, and water cress. The overall effect was excellent but very rich and was perhaps better suited for sharing. Pizza #3 ($15.95), with wedges of the aforementioned meatballs, tomatoes, and a persillade, a pesto-like mixture of parsley and garlic that brightened the pie. Eatery A’s wood-burning oven yields amazing pizza crust — blistered and crisp on the exterior, tender and chewy on the interior, well-seasoned with a yeasty tang.
I’ve encountered my share of sweet potato and butternut squash dishes with brown butter. But here, the Sweet Potato Gnocchi ($8 for half portion, $16 for full) changed it up with a brown butter vinaigrette, cutting the nutty, toasty butter with the acidity of balsamic vinegar. Crispy brussels sprout leaves and a silky celery root puree brought interesting contrast and texture and loads of flavor to the dish. All the elements were so good, I was willing to overlook the overly dense and heavy gnocchi.
Octopus is not only a somewhat exotic menu option, but can also be an iffy proposition since it isn’t always done well. Eatery A does it impeccably — they massage it in salt, place it in a wet brine, poach it, then marinate it with harissa, and lastly grill it to order. The octopus was so tender, and the plate so beautiful, with its artful swipe of black ink across the plate, dots of bright green kale pesto, and a burnt wheel of lemon. I declare it worth the effort.
Dessert was finely crafted and perfectly capped my visits. The Salted Caramel Budino ($7.75) is roasted, salty, buttery pudding, with crumbles of dark chocolate, served in a wee glass jar. As a crème brulee purist, I was wary of the Cardamom Crème Brulee ($7.75), but the warm spice was precisely enough. The custard was unctuous and light, topped with pistachios and pomegranate seeds.
On one visit the servers were attentive, thorough, and engaging; on another, my server seemed distracted and unconcerned with our overall experience. Though were some missteps like too-thick hummus and heavy gnocchi, the hits far outweighed the misses. On the whole Eatery A excels at their craft.
Emily Ekle is a senior acquisitions editor for an academic publishing company in the area of psychology. Emily dines anonymously for her reviews in efforts to capture the authentic experience of a customer. For questions on Des Moines Register reviews, contact storytelling coach Lisa Rossi at lrossi@dmreg.
Critic's rating: 3 stars
Food: 3 stars
Ambiance: 3 stars
Service: 2½ stars
Price: $5 to $18
Address: 2932 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines
Atmosphere: Relaxed, casual, trendy
Recommended orders: Bacon-wrapped dates, Octopus, asparagus soup, cardamom crème brulee
Sound: Background music
Drinks: Full bar
- Mon-Thurs: 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.
- Fri-Sat: 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.
- Sun: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- Happy hour every day from 3 to 6 p.m. — half-price beer, wine, and pizzas.
Wheelchair access: The restaurant is all on one level and wheelchair accessible. Patio is as well.
Allergen friendly/Willing to accommodate vegetarians? All pizzas can be ordered with a gluten-free crust. Has a separate “Land” section of the menu consisting of vegetarian dishes. (Other dishes can be modified, so speak to you server about dietary restrictions.
Kid friendly? No kids' menu. High chairs, booster seats and changing tables are available.
What the stars mean
4 stars: (Extraordinary) Transcendent. A one-of-a-kind experience that sets the local standard.
3 stars: (Excellent) Superior. Memorable, high-quality food; exciting environs; savvy service; smart concept.
2 stars: (Good) Solid example of restaurant type.
1 star: (Fair) Just OK. A place not worth rushing back to. But, it might have something worth recommending: A view, a single dish, friendly service, lively scene.
No stars: (Poor) Below-average restaurant.