Top Takeout of 2020, Alex Brown, EleanorGrace
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January 5, 2021  |  VIEW AS WEBPAGE
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Wasabi's crispy Brussels sprouts make for a splendid appetizer to any of the restaurant's meals.


Writer: Karla Walsh

Like many things during 2020, the “research” of keeping up with the local food scene looked different last year. Rather than visiting five pizza places in one week to dine in—as I did to do the reporting for dsm’s “Slices of Heaven” feature pre-pandemic—many of the meals the dsm editors and I enjoyed “out” were via takeout. (In case you missed the story, ordering food to go is just one of 10 ways local restaurant owners say that you can help them hang in there. Click here for nine more ideas.)

So as we embark on a new year, the editors and I looked back to round up our most memorable meals. Read on for our picks, and after that, head to our Facebook page to share yours.

Basic Bird
Joe Tripp, the chef/co-owner of Harbinger, has been nominated for five James Beard Awards for the innovative and upscale cuisine he created first at Alba and now at Harbinger. But many of the Harbinger plates are so intricate that they don’t translate well into the to-go model. So in spring 2020, Tripp and his team tested out a new concept: Korean fried chicken. And goodness, the carryout-only concept was such a bright spot of 2020 (don’t miss the double-dunk chicken and the Korean cheese corn) for me that I hope it flies into its own brick and mortar in 2021. (2724 Ingersoll Ave.;

Catering by Cyd
With many larger-scale events like weddings, corporate lunches and galas canceled, chef Cyd Koehn quickly adjusted her business model to offer themed family-size meals, snack boards, tapas and more. The value Koehn offers simply can’t be beat: Everything we’ve tried feeds at least twice as many people as it promises—and all the dishes have been stellar. dsm editor-in-chief Christine Riccelli especially raves about the “French Favorites” dinner, which features pan-roasted chicken paillard, a pistachio-crusted potato and leek galette, and an apricot, peach and almond galette with homemade whipped cream. (5405 N.W. 78th Court, Johnston;

Wasabi restaurants
You can savor remarkably fresh sushi at home, thanks to seamless direct online ordering (psstremember to skip those third-party apps if you can) and easy curbside carryout at Jay Wang’s Wasabi family of restaurants. You won’t go wrong ordering to-go from any of the five locations: Waukee, Ankeny, Johnston, Des Moines and Ames. The only way you can go wrong, in my opinion, is not adding the crispy Brussels sprouts appetizer to your meal. (Five locations across Central Iowa;

Click here to read about the other four highlights.
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    “The City of Des Moines” (2004) by Alex Brown, oil paint on canvas, 70 by 70 inches. Courtesy of Feature Inc., New York.


    Alex Brown (1966-2019) was one of Greater Des Moines' most acclaimed artists who gained international renown for his abstract interpretations of everyday images. A new residency program seeks to honor his legacy by providing artists with "an experience of the working conditions Brown found in Des Moines—the ability to make the work you want to make, free from the daily influence of being immersed in a major metropolitan scene but without the isolation of a rural residency," according to the Alex Brown Foundation. The artists chosen will work at Mainframe Studios.

    Brown grew up in Des Moines and moved to New York City as a young adult. There, he played guitar for the punk bank Gorilla Biscuits, which produced several records and toured extensively. After leaving the band, Brown began focusing on painting, eventually graduating from the New School's Parsons School of Design and signing with Feature Inc. in New York, recognized as one of the world's most cutting-edge galleries. Solo shows followed in Geneva, Tokyo and other international locales. He returned to Des Moines in 1995 and eventually moved to a studio at Mainframe. He died from an aneurysm in January 2019.

    To learn more about the residency, which was established with funds from his estate, visit the Alex Brown Foundation's website. To find out more about Brown's extraordinary life and work, read this profile from the dsm archive.

    EleanorGrace started as a musician as a young girl in Des Moines. Photo: Billy Dohrmann.


    Reaching 500,000 plays on Spotify, a popular music streaming platform, is an accomplishment for any up-and-coming musician. But it's even more impressive for a teenager. Such is the case for EleanorGrace, a 17-year-old Des Moines musician whose song "Lighthouse" reached a half-million streams last year.

    Spotify placed the single on one of its playlists called “Zuhause,” which helped it reach listeners in 72 countries. The song touches on feelings of isolation and loneliness, certainly a timely theme during a global pandemic. Its success has helped EleanorGrace connect with a growing number of industry insiders, fans and other artists. “It has been so rewarding on so many different levels, especially in this time of social distancing and staying home,” she said in a statement.

    EleanorGrace developed her interest in music at a young age, teaching herself to play piano, guitar, ukulele and trumpet. She was an early participant in Girls Rock! Des Moines, a local music program for girls, and currently is completing high school at Des Moines Public Schools' Virtual Campus.

    Find "Lighthouse" and her new single, "Timeless," on her website.

    Musician Bonne Finken grew up in Central Iowa and has been gaining notice throughout in the music industry in recent years. Photo: Justice Simpson.


    While 2020 was a tough year for musicians, it was a milestone one for Bonne Finken, as she signed with the label Winding Way Records. It marks the latest step in a career that also has included winning an Emmy for her music on the Iowa PBS documentary "FarmHer" and having her music featured on popular TV shows such as "Real World" and "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."

    Finken's rise in the music industry is something that seemed distant when she was refining her craft in cover bands around Greater Des Moines about a decade ago. "[These achievements] mean keep going because it is really easy to think, 'Am I crazy? What am I doing?' " Finken said on the latest dsm CultureCast podcast. "I've worked so long and so hard on original music."

    Finken lived for several years in Nashville, Tennessee, but she has spent the pandemic in Des Moines working on a new album, which she says has provided a creative outlet during isolation. Listen to the full episode here. You can subscribe to find more interviews like this at Apple Podcast, Spotify and more.
    Chef Michael LaValle gave us a tour of the River Center last summer for our ia magazine unveiling. Watch the video here. He also created the menu for our dsm Dinner Party next week.


    We're just a week away from our virtual January Dinner Party (7 p.m., Jan. 14), and we can't wait to celebrate the new year and new issue with all of you! Our partners at the River Center have created a menu that's sure to please your palate: The starter is seafood bisque, followed by the entree of duck confit with truffle sauce and sides of spinach spaetzle and roasted winter root vegetables. The vegetarian option is curried tofu with lemon grass farro. To finish, Dore Bakery is providing a dark chocolate-orange tea cake, served with a side of blood orange coulis and a spice citrus French macaron.

    Place your order by Jan. 12. Pickup is 5-6 p.m. on Jan. 14 at the River Center. The cost is $36 per meal, excluding drinks. (The add-on drink options include Purveyor Wine Growler for $25 or the River Center Season Cocktail for $9.) You'll also be one of the first to receive a copy of our January/February issue. Find registration information here.
    You can read a variety of books this year and win prizes as a part of Des Moines Public Library's new challenge.


    We can think of few better resolutions than to read a book every month. If you agree (and we know you do), join Des Moines Public Library's 2021 Reading Challenge. The program encourages participants to read books in 12 categories, such as "A Book Based On Its Cover" or "A Book Where Humans Are Not the Main Characters," over the course of a year. Traditional books, audiobooks and e-books all count. Bonus: You can win prizes by doing so!

    To register, sign up for a Beanstack account and click on the 2021 DMPL Reading Challenge, which tracks your progress. Participants who stay on track (for example, reading three books in three months, six books in six months, etc.) will be eligible to win monthly prizes. Those who complete the challenge could win the grand prize of a $150 gift card; two will win $50 gift cards.

    Find out more, including suggested reads, on the Des Moines Public Library website. You can also join the public Facebook group to be inspired and to chat with other avid readers.
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