Category Archives: Des Moines

Touring the fabulous new Renzo Piano building – downtown Des Moines

Thanks to the Krause Corporation (owner of the Kum & Go convenience store chain) for opening its fantastic new headquarters downtown for a day of public tours. So many people wanted to walk around the five-story Krause Gateway Center, designed by Italian architect  Renzo Piano that extra tours were added last Saturday (Dec.1) and another day of tours will be available in early January. If you haven’t gone already, go! The building isn’t technically open to the public except for the ground floor lobby which now has some cool architectural drawings and models tracing the development of the building.  Eventually the ground floor will also have a restaurant open to the public — an outpost of Table 128, one of the better restaurants in the metro area. An outdoor plaza to the west of the building is also public green space, with 128 mature trees,  interactive musical sculptures, chess tables, bocce ball courts and cafe tables —  perfect for people visiting the Pappajohn Sculpture Park (just south of the Krause building) who want to bask in the shade for a bit.The building is unlike any other in Des Moines — or elsewhere that I’ve visited–with its massive scale and sculptural look including high glass walls separated by four overhanging white horizontal planes.  The glass walls on the main floor are 29 feet high — higher than any other such walls in North America except for an Apple store in New York City. The space is very light (naturally) and the building almost translucent. From the building’s south side,  you have a fantastic view of the sculpture park below and if you look north, down a long hall, you can gaze through another window at a street leading up to the Sherman Hill neighborhood.

The interior design is sparse and clean with immaculate desks – in various configurations and groupings. There are high top tables, lower top desks, sitting spaces in an upholstered nook that felt a bit like a padded cell (except one side is open.) Most people don’t have assigned desks. Employees do get their own locker, to store their stuff, which they remove and place wherever they plant themselves during a given day. I gather this is au currant office design (and supposedly spurs more collaboration) but also takes some getting used to for employees accustomed to the creature comforts of their very own cubicle, slathered with family photos, gag bobble-heads and stacks of yellowing paper, yes, paper.

None of that to be found at the Krause Gateway Center, where the furniture is clean and contemporary, popping with color including orange and red Swan chairs, the famous chairs designed in 1958 by Arne Jacobsen for a Copenhagen hotel (I grew up with white Swan chairs in our ancestral home) as well as deep blue, orange and green high-backed chairs and couches. Big dramatic pieces of contemporary art also pop off the white walls and blond wood paneling –and there’s even a second floor art gallery, open to employees only.

The roof has vegetation that apparently will grow — and features stupendous views of the city, although I worry that the fencing at the edges isn’t high enough.


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Figge Museum, Hotel Blackhawk, Fred at Up, Faithful Pilot – Davenport/LeClaire

15CEA6D8-3D11-4E3A-9766-C4DE0606B41EFinally made it to the Figge Museum, thanks to the Des Moines Art Center’s Docent program. I enjoyed the French Moderns show, a traveling exhibit from the Brooklyn Museum, but also enjoyed the fabulous outsider art of William Hawkins, an exhibit of John Bloom (liked his rural scenes much more than the work of his known wife Isobel.) The Figge building, the first new major U.S. commission for English architect David  Chipperfield (whose latest commission is an addition to the Met in NYC) is stunning. It’s clad in white  see-through glass with huge windows looking out to the Mississippi and high white ceilings inside.

3E64C07B-6271-4860-BBCF-03065F476E1F.jpegWe stayed at the renovated historic Hotel Blackhawk which was organized by the tour, otherwise I would stick with a much less expensive Airbnb, although the hotel had some charming features including an old-fashioned   atrium lobby and a funky bowling alley /bar in the basement. I’m also curious about the artsy Current Hotel, which has a fantastic rooftop bar called Up, with an outdoor patio with stupendous views of the river and lock and dam. We bumped into the Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell who was preparing for a debate today. We wished him well!

4F3675E7-EA61-435F-9E75-58B0DF593684.jpegDinner was very good at The Faithful Pilot, about  a half  hour drive north in LeClaire. Three others joined us and we were all happy with our meals and each other. We all had small plates. Dirck and I had excellent pork belly with potatoes plus mussels in a light tomato sauce. Glad we booked ahead. Small place and busy. It has a cool view of the old riverboat beached behind a glass wall in the local history museum and a  cozy atmosphere, with an occasional train rumbling past, near the riverbank.

We had a mediocre lunch at Lagomarcino’s Confectionery in East Davenport.  Better to stick with their specialties – -candy and ice cream. We did have a good chocolate milk shake. Also went to a nonprofit art gallery in rock island. Other Davenport restaurants to try: Me and Billy Cafe, Front Street Brewery and Duck City bistro.

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Filed under architecture, arts festival, Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa, museum exhibit

Filipino-Pakistani fusion food in — where else, Ankeny Iowa.

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Shakey Graves @Brenton/Black Cat Ice Cream/Harbinger – DSM

1shake.jpgWe got very lucky with the weather Sunday night — it’s been raining off and on (mostly on, it seems) all weekend but the sky cleared for an outdoor concert by Shakey Graves, an Austin singer/guitarist, at the Brenton Skating Rink in downtown Des Moines. The rink — with stage and standing-room only area — is covered by a tarp but for those of us who needed seats, we had to sit outside the rink in the plein air, which had me nervous at first since I cannot get the cast on my arm wet. (I also couldn’t join the standing crowd, for fear of being jostled, with said cast.)

Anyway, we got lucky (and lucky is not what I have been feeling lately): the weather was perfect. Not rainy, muggy or buggy. We could see surprisingly well from our seats near the stage (if we stood) and the band put on a great show, more psychedelic Pink Floyd-esque than expected but still some good ole knee-stomping guitar playing, which is what first drew me to Shakey. The opening band, Twin Peaks – some very young energetic guys from Chicago – was good too.

During another break in the rain, we finally tried some Black Cat ice cream, served out of a window on the side of the Gaslamp bar downtown, across from the sculpture park. not sure its better than Bauders but darned good. especially liked the very fresh tasting peacch sorbet. mint chocolate chip creamy and good too (although Coneflower in Omaha was more garden mint fresh).

1shake3.jpgMeant to mention a recent visit to Harbinger, the James Beard Foundation-acknowledged  restaurant on ingersoll in Des Moines. We went during restaurant week and enjoyed various small plates – the ribs and zucchini/squash flowers stuffed with cheese were my favorites.

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Riding a new almost-loop along both sides of the Des Moines River – in DSM

Whether biking, walking or driving, I always prefer going in a loop — returning a different way than the one I just rode, walked or drove.  New scenery, new experiences, new, new, new! But it’s not always easy- – especially on bike trails around Des Moines.

Now we have a new almost-loop that takes us north of our Beaverdale/Drake Neighborhood, on both sides of the Des Moines River, thanks to the new improved bridge on NW 66th Avenue that crosses the river.  It’s all about “connectivity” — in this case connecting the Inter-Urban Trail to the Trestle to Trestle Trail , along the river’s west bank, to the Neal Smith Trail, along the river’s east bank. It’s not perfect — the second connection still requires navigating residential streets — but it’s better than it used to be.

From our house, we ride north to the intersection of  Urbandale Avenue and 34th street, where we hop on the Inter-Urban trail, winding through the woods eastward, across  30th street on Urbandale Avenue, past the HyVee on ML King Blvd and onto the  Trestle to Trestle Trail, riding north to the Des Moines suburb of Johnston.

In the bad old days, we used to turn around when we got to the ice cream shop (Van Dees) in Johnston (where all good trails should lead) and retrace our route. Or we’d dare to wend our way north and east on neighborhood streets (including the once-scary NW 66th Avenue bridge) to connect to the Neal Smith Trail, where we’d ride south on the river’s east bank.

Now, thanks to the new bridge, getting to the river’s east side is a breeze — a pleasant discovery we made last Sunday.

The NW 66th Ave. bridge now has a self-contained bike lane!  On the west side of the bridge, there also is a new section of paved trail that leads briefly into the woods, away from the car traffic.  In the past, we had to ride on a sidewalk along the busy road to the bridge and then share the bridge road (which narrows) with cars.  At least once, we almost got blown over by passing cars while riding on the bridge’s slim and rough shoulder. NOT FUN!

Thanks to the new bridge, we can now ride safely to the east side of the river, head south to the  (Wakonsa) Trestle Bridge and then retrace our route on to the Inter-Urban trail and home.





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Simon’s for nothing fancy comfort food and comraderie – Des Moines dining

We had the hardest time using a gift certificate to dine at Simon’s (aka J. Benjamin’s) , a cozy neighborhood joint on Des Moines’ north side. Our first mistake may have been trying on Saturday night.  Both times we found a line outside the door (even in the rain). The first night, the small place was dominated by a large table full of prom kids — from far away Ames, no less. We eventually left.

The second night, there was another table of prom kids (this time from the Des Moines area) but we stuck it out and waited for a table, which was actually kind of fun.  We chatted with other waiting diners crammed into a little area between the dining room and the front door. We had a drink at the bar and discovered that one of the servers was someone we knew as a kid when she was in elementary school.

When we finally were seated, we found the food  unexceptional but serviceable/just fine. We decided it was the place to eat uncomplicated southern Italian staples — spaghetti with meatballs and red sauce; hearty lasagna with sausage from local favorite, Graziano’s, and oozing with ricotta and mozzarella.

But we can see why the place is popular.  It has a “Cheers” kind of feel, where everyone would know your name if you told them your name.  The small dining room was so packed that when people walked past our high-walled booth, they inevitably peeked in at us — looking like they hoped they’d spot friends. When they didn’t, they smiled. Some people might find this intrusive. We found it amusing — and endearing. Classic Des Moines.

Also, the service was warm, friendly and swift.  The young owner, in casual garb, went out of his way to acknowledge that people were waiting and to update them on the wait and the options while waiting (like sitting at the bar). That’s the way to do it! And I’m assuming it was his idea to give us a free piece of delicious red velvet cake at the end of our meal. I gather from Yelp that complimentary cake is not unusual…although I can’t promise it.

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Filed under Des Moines, DINING

New (or newly spotted) at the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market

Several new (or new-to-me) stands at the Des Moines Farmers Market downtown on Saturday mornings are further testament to the creative entrepreneurial spirit that is alive and well in rural America.  Among my favorites is “Judy’s Husband’s Stuffed Pickles” — which not only has an amusing (if somewhat cumbersome) name but has people waiting in line for what appears to be “hand made” pickles stuffed with creamed cheese.

Several ethnic food stands also caught my eye including one selling Korean bibimbap and another cooking up a mean Afro-Caribbean Jerk Chicken.


Filed under Des Moines, DINING, farmers market