By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com
“We announced our opening on Twitter and the first response we heard was ‘Just what we need, another frigging barbecue,’” related The Q owner Bob Conley.
Barbecue is politically incorrect. In greater Des Moines, more new barbecues opened during the Bush administration than any other restaurant genre and, to many minds, they are associated with red state, red meat mentality. Some Obama era revisionists would like to quarantine them to Texas with the former president. Barbecue is now included in sin tax proposals, and the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed levying ozone endangerment taxes on cattle and burned wood. However, eating remains an act of politics, and barbecue is not going gently in any vegan good night.
In fact, The Q raises the bar for the genre in Des Moines. Tired of tentative tenants, landlord Conley decided to open his own restaurant in a venue that had briefly housed both Bordo’s and Town Hall during the last year. He recruited a smoke master from Kansas City’s Gates family, as in Gates & Sons BBQ and Gates College of Barbecue. Aaron “A-Train” Byrd says the Gates family patriarch is his godfather. He left Kansas City because he’s involved with the Iowa Chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse and because he wants to market his own line of barbecue sauces.
The restaurant looks like an urban archeological display. The hacienda style architecture has not changed since Cabo San Lucas was here. Indoor furniture hasn’t changed since a previous tenant sanded down Sticks’ designed tables and painted them black. Conley added outdoor furniture that includes heavy wrought iron tables and rocking chairs that I have previously only seen in five star resorts. The full bar remains unchanged from previous incarnations, except that bartenders now seem to treat strangers as well as their friends.
A well-dressed hostess greeted me with “Hi, how are you doing?” a Gates signature. She didn’t take my order though — The Q is full service with a full bar. On my first visit, briskets were being removed from the smoker, and I could specify freshly sliced meat from the deckle — the staff knew what that meant, too. Byrd has the good sense to smoke his chickens in quarters, so his white meat need not be overcooked to safely cook his dark meat. Both chicken and brisket were as good as they get. Ribs, pork shoulders and burnt ends were all above average, showing smoke rings and smelling of hickory. Ribs had been grilled, drying out the surface areas — I’d prefer lukewarm ribs, if that’s the trade off. That kept them from the status of the chickens and briskets.
Broasted chicken was panko breaded, fried crisp and tender to the bone. When I asked what award the “award-winning chili” won, I was introduced to a manager whose recipe garnered a blue ribbon in the Illinois Chili Cook-off. The chili was meatier than most. Of two kinds of slaw, vinegar-based excelled. Mac and cheese was heavy on cheese. Mashed potatoes had excellent stock-based gravy. Baked beans, fries and sweet potato fries were industry products. Potato salad and au gratin potatoes were both scratch made and creamy. House made bread pudding stood out over a pair of cobblers on the dessert menu.
On three subsequent visits, brisket that could be freshly sliced was available once and was just as good as the first time. Smoked chickens were consistently perfect. Four sauces were all sweetened yet distinctly different in flavor. All sandwiches and dinners came with two sides and were good bargains at $7 to $13.
Smokey D’s opened their third area barbecue, at 12th and Locust… Smokey Row opened on Cottage Grove after years of remodeling… Community Food Security Coalition Conference will bring both international food system radicals and USDA Secretary Vilsack to the Polk County Convention Center beginning Oct. 13. CV
Caption: The Q
1250 Eighth St., West Des Moines, 224-7440
Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.