Roast duck, anyone?
 ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌
January 10, 2024
For years, fans of roast duck have flocked to Le's Chinese Bar-B-Que. Photo: Seeta Mangra-Stubbs

Tried and true: Le's Chinese Bar-B-Que
Writer: Seeta Mangra-Stubbs

Despite its location on busy Second Avenue north of downtown, Le’s Chinese Bar-B-Que has racked up only 150-some reviews on Google Maps since it opened 21 years ago. By comparison, Either/Or has garnered a few more since its opening just last summer. While one Facebook commenter “drove by that place for years and always thought it looked sketchy,” most of Le’s diners rave about the food.

I’ll admit to thinking like that Facebook user. In fact, that’s what sparked this new “tried and true” series. What is it about Le’s? How does a restaurant with such a low profile have such long-lasting success?

Short answer: the duck. It’s easily the dish that gets the most praise. The roasting golden birds, with their heads still on in the display case, are familiar sights in Chinatown in bigger cities like Chicago. But whole barbecued ducks aren’t as readily available here in Des Moines, so they’re understandably intimidating to some diners, myself included.

I’ll confess: I’d never tried duck before my trip to Le’s, but I would definitely return for it. The meat is juicy and ridiculously tender, and the skin is comparable to baked chicken, simultaneously pliable and firm. I tried the duck on its own since the sauce options on the table — an intense chili oil, hoisin and Sriracha — would have overpowered its delicate flavor.

During my visit, two separate customers came in to request ducks from the display case. Amey, who works up front, quietly but firmly chops them up, preparing them to go. It’s a fast, seamless transaction she’s obviously performed many, many times, even on that day alone. (Still, I didn’t hear anyone order the “duck tongue,” as advertised.)

Le’s also serves roast pork, a marvel of hot pink, marinated sweetness that’s as tender as can be. Sometimes, you’ll see a whole pig in the display case, too, which is an unusual sight even to a lifelong Iowan. There wasn’t one during my recent visit, but a handwritten sign near the cash register noted the price of “pork bone.”

That kind of specialization is why the eatery continues to succeed, according to the chef Kevin Le. “A lot of Asian people ...” he said, pointing downward in a circle to indicate the surrounding neighborhood. He said Le’s offers dishes folks can’t find anywhere else in town. And besides, they’re as tasty as they are versatile. The duck is juicy, and you can eat it with rice, with vegetables, in soup and so forth — in the small dining room or in whatever recipe you’d like to prepare at home.

Le’s is in a small building with a small parking lot, the definition of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. But chef Kevin, who started with new owners in 2009, said the humble spot suits him just fine. They stick to the basics.

I had one more question for chef Le, but with the perfectly spaced parade of customers, I didn’t get a chance to ask. I wondered about the sign outside that reads, “HEO QUAY VIT QUAY.”

Turns out, it means “roast pig, roast duck.” This whole time, the answer to the restaurant's staying power has been right in front of our eyes.

The percussion group Stomp creates rhythms with improvised instruments. Photo: Steve McNicholas

'Stomp' to the beat of your own makeshift drum

Did you know the co-founders of the percussion group Stomp first teamed up in the 1980s in a British street band called Pookiesnackenburger? Well, now you do. You learn something every day.

Even now, decades later, the endlessly innovative dancing drummers (or drumming dancers?) are still figuring out new ways to tap, brush, sweep, bang and pound hubcaps, trash cans, brooms and other familiar odds and ends. See what they’re up to these days when Stomp makes a ruckus at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at the Des Moines Civic Center.

While they’re in town, Des Moines Performing Arts is collecting coats to “Stomp Out the Cold.” You can drop off coats any time Friday through Sunday in the lobby, before they’re donated to Children and Families of Iowa.

The Week Ahead

“artist as model, model as artist,” (6:30 p.m. Thursday): The Polk County Heritage Gallery hosts a reception to open a solo exhibition by local photographer Brittany Brooke Crow, whose self-portrait collages explore themes of intimacy, gender and queerness. It's up through Feb. 15.

"Absurdities" (5-8 p.m. Friday): Moberg Gallery hosts a reception to open former Des Moines Art Center director Jeff Fleming’s new collection of layered, deliberately smudgy drawings that “record the process and history of drawing” and his own memories, in a show that runs through Feb. 3.

Eric Thompson's Soul Sessions Quintet (7 p.m. Friday): The drummer, teacher and jazz performer presents his second Soul Session, “Black Codes From The Underground,” at Noce.

Big Head Todd and the Monsters, (7:30 p.m. Friday): The Colorado rockers that broke out in the ’90s with hits like “Broken Hearted Savior” and “Resignation Superman” are still going strong with a winter tour that visits Hoyt Sherman Place.

Joe Gatto’s Night of Comedy, (7 p.m. Saturday): Known for his time on “Impractical Jokers” and his comedy podcast “Two Cool Moms,” Gatto is now headlining his own tour. The joker makes a stop in Des Moines for a night of stand-up.
News and Notes
HDA finalists: We wrap up our reveal of the 2024 dsm Home Design Awards finalists with the Decor category. Congratulations to ALT Design Studio, Amanda Reynal Interiors, Dwell Home Furnishings & Interior Design, Dynasty Homes, Hal Davis, Jeid Studio, Kimberley Development Corp., K. Renee, MainBuilt, Meghan Blum Interiors, Morris Lare, Silent Rivers Design + Build, Texturious Designs, and Wild Rose Interiors. Check out the finalists’ projects online.
Musical fundraiser: Last year’s inaugural Together Through Sound music festival, from the creative minds of Ashley Eidbo, Billy Weathers and Katelyn Stessman brought more than 100 musicians of various genres under one roof — er sky — at Riverview Park. The final acts got rained out, so this year’s festival is gearing up for an encore that packs a punch. Head to the Surety Hotel from  6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 10 for the announcement of the 2024 event date, then stick around for a few tunes from the jazz singer Blake Shaw.
Off the wall: The local artist and illustrator Nic Roth, who painted the fun new mural at Basic Bird, 2607 Beaver Ave., will discuss his inspiration and process at 6:30 p.m. Friday next door at Beaverdale Books. Bonus: He’ll also sign copies of his children’s book, “Coco Wants a Burger.”
Photo: Duane Tinkey

Matt Connolly spent 10 years with schizophrenia and 20 more helping others.
Writer: Michael Morain

A guy was doing backflips off the ceiling. One after another. And another.

Matt Connolly could see him, plain as day, during a group therapy session at Broadlawns Medical Center. It surprised him, for sure. But the real shocker came when he realized that maybe the acrobat wasn’t real.

After a decade of dreaming up strange visions, this was the first time Connolly’s brain fired off a tiny signal of doubt. Hold on. Wait a second. Does that make sense?

It’s been a long, tough journey since then, but Connolly never wants to forget it. He’s proud of his recovery and wants to help others who are struggling. And most of all, he said, “I don’t ever want to go back there, not for anything. It was scary.”

But these days, Connolly feels good. He’s healthy. He’s surrounded by family and friends.

And he takes care to keep it that way. He got involved with Mindspring Mental Health Alliance (formerly the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness) and currently serves as the president of its board. He’s participated in its walks and golf tournaments to promote mental health and destigmatize mental illness. Even his license plates say NOSTGMA.

“I’m proud of my recovery,” Connolly said. “And the second I try to forget, the next second it’ll come back rearing its head. You just can’t forget about it.”

This full version of this story is published in the current issue of Lifting the Veil, our annual publication about mental health care in Iowa. We invite you to join us for this year's Lifting the Veil virtual sessions on June 13 and Nov. 19, when a handful of experts will continue our ongoing conversation about mental health.
Take a note from Stomp and tap-tap-tap your keyboard
to pass this newsletter to a friend. They can subscribe for free.

As always, send your ideas, tips, questions and corrections to
Business Publications Corporation Inc.

Submit news:
Advertising info:
Membership info:

Copyright © BPC 2024, All rights reserved.
Reproduction or use without permission of editorial or graphic content in any manner is strictly prohibited.

Email Marketing by ActiveCampaign