Nancy and I left Ames after a long walk around the lovely Iowa State campus, a fruitless effort to find a Clone Cone (they’re only sold during basketball games, it seems), and a drive around the historic downtown, we turned toward a main Iowa destination: a steakhouse in Des Moines.
Jesse’s Embers came with a strong recommendation from our Senior Mexico and Iowa Correspondents Lyn and Marc Ingersoll, whom you met here and here. They particularly recommended the onion rings appetizer and the steaks. You can count on our Senior Correspondents for excellent advice.
Jesse’s Embers is a very traditional steakhouse. It’s smaller than most steakhouses, and more intimate. The owners are on site attending to everything at once, and greeting and checking on customers. Many customers are regulars. In season, many are politicos, swapping promises and lies across the tables. The decor is wood and brick, moderately dark. It’s a relaxing and comfortable atmosphere. Nancy and I went as soon as Jesse’s opened to ensure we’d get a seat.
Michaela, our server, arrived laden with menus and water as we sat down. Nancy ordered a glass of wine and I had a Woodford Reserve over frozen water, and Michaela was back with our drinks almost before we knew she’d gone. We sipped and looked over the menu at leisure. It’s an interesting menu, a steakhouse menu. The cocktail menu consists of seven martinis; steakhouse drinks. Oh, there are three ice cream based drinks, and they’ll fill other cocktail orders, as they did very well with my order. They also have an extensive and thoughtful wine list. Jesse’s menu is steak-centric — they disclaim responsibility for steaks cooked to well done. They do have token chicken and salmon dishes, as well as tuna, shrimp, and lobster. And they have an onion ring appetizer.
I can’t recall the last time I ordered onion rings as an appetizer. As a side, sure, but not as an appetizer. We have full confidence in our Senior Correspondents, however, so we ordered the onion rings to start, a small serving. It was Nancy who specified “small,” as you may have guessed. She protects me. Here they are —
These were onion rings for the ages, beautifully fried, with the batter adhering to each bite of the ring. The rings had an excellent texture and flavor, and I rate them among the best I’ve ever had. Get a large order.
Our decision making naturally took a while, and Michaela asked if I’d like another Woodford. No, thank you. If you need anything …. Well, perhaps. Another Woodford appeared as if by magic.
Salads came with our order, smallish fresh salads with a very tasty creamy garlic dressing. Nancy ordered their smallest filet mignon, medium rare, and I ordered a small ribeye, rare.
Well, it wasn’t exactly small. I think 16 ounces. And it was delicious. This was a high quality meat, cooked just rare, with a truly great crust. It clearly had been prepped and cooked expertly. A little salt and pepper… I always add salt and pepper. I know I’m not supposed to, and in France they won’t let you thus insult the chef, but I have low blood pressure and this is America.
The service at Jesse’s Embers is superb. Michaela, our server, was charming with just the right amount of attention to us. And she had a sense of humor. A young assistant, Owen, alertly anticipated needs, such as for more water (it was 93 out and he was busy). I asked him what his name was in order to credit his service. He looked me in the eye and said, “Owen. What’s yours?” “John.” “It’s nice to meet you, John.” “It’s a pleasure meeting you, Owen. Thank you.” Owen is a very self-possessed young man. His parents should be very proud.
As I mentioned, whenever we needed something, it appeared with incredible speed. The closest Jesse’s came to a delay was when I ordered a glass of wine to go with my steak. It turned out that Jesse’s was out of that wine. It took perhaps two minutes for the owner personally to select, open, and pour a glass of another wine that was not on the by-the-glass list, and bring it over himself. He waited while I took a sip. “How is it? Satisfactory?” “Delicious.”
This was a terrific meal, one of the best, a delight from start to finish. If you’re going to Iowa, and it looks like everyone in the US will go there as either as a candidate or a campaign worker in 2024, make sure you go to Jesse’s Embers. Thank Lyn and Marc, not me.
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