3 secret menu items in Des Moines

3 secret menu items in Des Moines

Foodies sometimes brag about ordering off-menu. Instead of sticking to the prescribed dishes, there are those diners brave enough to ask for something not called out in print. This can work or not, depending on the willingness of the chef and the availability of ingredients. But some spots are known for secret offerings that are often available, if you know what to ask for.

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Mushroom risotto at Tally’s: Chef Robert Sanda of Tally’s likes to use fresh, local ingredients whenever possible. This philosophy extends to the off-menu favorite mushroom risotto, which is made using whatever mushrooms are in season. In addition to cream, cheese, vegetable stock and fresh herbs, the dish has included portabella, oyster and chanterelle mushrooms. While not always available, the risotto can generally be ordered as long as fresh mushrooms are in the kitchen. Info: 2712 Beaver Ave., 11 a.m.-close Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. for Sunday brunch, 515-279-2067, tallysbeaverdale.com.

Cajun chicken pasta at Baratta’s Restaurant: The regulars at this south-side spot are familiar with a spicy dish you won’t find on the menu. The Cajun chicken pasta features grilled chicken breast along with whatever fresh veggies are in season. This might mean tomatoes in summer, or peppers and onions in the fall. A Cajun cream sauce adds spice. The dish occasionally pops up as a special feature, but head of catering Lora Simpson said as long as the restaurant has the ingredients, “We’re always happy to accommodate those special requests.” Info: 2320 South Union, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday, 5-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 515-243-4516, barattas.com.

Featured sushi at Akebono Japanese Restaurant: Sushi restaurants are one place where ordering off-menu is almost always encouraged. Sushi chefs are known for taking a certain fish or other ingredient and creating a delicious roll or piece of sashimi. At Akebono, sushi chef Chuckee Nguyen said regular customers learn when certain special types of fish are coming in and know when to ask for dishes including those ingredients, even though they aren’t on the regular menu. Features like live scallops, Japanese mackerel or Japanese snapper are flown in fresh weekly. For newbies, one secret is to act like a regular and simply ask for whatever is the featured fish on a given day. Info: 215 10th St., Ste. 120, 11 a.m.-close Monday through Friday, 5 p.m.-close Saturday, 5-9 p.m. Sunday, 515-244-5972, akebono515.com.

How to order off-menu

If the idea of ordering off-menu makes you anxious, there are ways to ask for what you want and keep from being obnoxious. Here are some tips from local chefs for venturing off-menu while maintaining a good relationship with the kitchen.

It’s ok to ask: By and large, chefs say there’s no harm in asking, as long as diners keep in mind the answer could be no. Sometimes the kitchen simply doesn’t have the ingredients in stock. But often restaurants will do what they can to accommodate requests. Lora Simpson, head of catering at Baratta’s, said if you previously had something you liked that now isn’t on the menu, just say, “Hey, last time I was here I had a Cajun chicken pasta. Is that available?”

Consider what’s in season: At Tally’s, chef Robert Sanda encourages diners to ask about local ingredients, especially vegetables. “Ask if they have local produce,” he said. Restaurants may have seasonal features incorporating whatever is good in the garden, and asking can put you in the know about a dish that may not be on the menu.

Use common sense: Is the restaurant packed to bursting with servers rushing from kitchen to dining room? Did you have to wait an hour for a table? These are signs it may not be the best time to ask for something off-menu. Tacopocalypse owner and veteran of multiple restaurants Sam Auen said diners should “have some compassion toward the kitchen.” During super-busy times, unless the request relates to a food allergy or dietary need, it may be best to wait and ask for a special dish another day. Also make sure you aren’t in a rush. Auen said, “Don’t do it if you’re trying to get to a show and have 45 minutes for dinner.”

About the Author

Laura is contributor to Juice Magazine.

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