Wisco Grub and Pub: A new sanctuary for Badger State natives
Finally, someone in Des Moines has opened a watering hole where Wisconsinites can flock to pray for their Green Bay Packers, Badgers, Brewers and Bucks.
A family of Milwaukee-ans opened the Wisco Grub and Pub in March. Tom and Jeni Riley lived in Des Moines a decade before deciding to buy the former Tropik Restaurant in a little strip mall.
They’ve dressed the place in dark wood paneling so banners paying homage to 'Sconnie sports teams pop from the walls.
Jeni joked that since she left her hometown, she’s had trouble keeping cardinal directions straight without Lake Michigan. She’s pondered painting a map of the Great Lake on one of her restaurant’s eastern walls — a choice my lake-deprived self wholeheartedly supports.
Jeni and her husband do all the cooking and while their teenage son waits tables. The family says they want the restaurant to feel like their home — a place where “everyone is over,” chatting and eating.
And it really feels like it. Between clearing tables and taking orders, the family may stop by to share a few stories and “get to know yah,” as we Wisconsinites say.
The food is more than “grub.”
My dinner companion and I ordered the beer pretzel-encrusted cheese curds ($5.50). I was anxious to see whether I’d finally found a place that offers cheddar cheese curds in Iowa, though I discovered them to be filled with warm mozzarella. Perhaps the family wants to appeal to the Iowan palate.
The crusting of beer pretzel gave the curds a satisfying and unique crunch. I’d order them again.
You’ll find all your typical domestic beers behind the bar, save a unique microbrewery called Central Waters Brewing. Jeni told me it’s one of the few breweries that runs on geothermal energy.
We tried all three selections: The HHG American Pale ale, a pleasant, hoppy flavor without being bitter; the thick Mudpuppy porter and a honey blonde ale.
After my first beer, Jeni informed me they make Old Fashioneds, the quintessential Wisconsin drink. To my sheer delight she asked, “Whiskey or brandy?” — a question I hadn't heard since leaving my homeland.
For the entree, we chose a butter burger ($8.50), reminiscent of the famous sandwich from Culver’s but with fresher ingredients and a scrumptious bun.
And my partner ordered the belly buster burger ($10), a double-sized patty of pork belly mixed with ground beef. It’s “better than any bacon cheeseburger," according to my dining partner, because the pork is actually mixed into the patty. You can add a fried egg for 50 cents extra.
Their fries were especially good — unlike any I’ve had in the city with an extremely crispy and light battered exterior.
They also offer other Wisconsin classics: Polish sausage on a pretzel bun with kraut and a fish fry on Fridays. And it’s a kid-friendly pub offering very affordable items.
If I lived in the Merle Hay Neighborhood, I’d be happy to have the pub within walking distance. I can’t wait to down a cold one with my fellow ‘Sconnies come football season.
And don’t forget to pay tribute to Millie the Cow on your way out.
Wisco Grub and Pub
Where: 3015 Merle Hay Road, Des Moines
When: The bar is open from 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 9 a.m. to midnight Sunday. Food is served until 8 p.m. every night.
More: Find Wisco Grub and Pub on Facebook