What can you say about Centro that has not already been said? Quality food and ingredients prepared in a casual yet precise fashion? Check. Well-trained service staff eager to make your meal memorable? Check. Atmosphere pumping with the who’s who of Des Moines and one of the few places in town where you need a reservation? Check, check. SHE and I have eaten here many times over the years, and are almost always left satisfied that we received the best value for our dollar we could find in town. Our evening this past week was no different. Dropped in for a quick bite before the show upstairs at the Temple. Dined on the best calamari and pizza our city has to offer. Quick, easy, casual, delicious, respectful of our plans for the evening. These are the reasons Centro helped to shepherd in a new culinary scene in Des Moines.
Centro is not alone in setting the bar high and welcoming a new dining experience to Des Moines. The idea for Centro – a big city feel – was created by people with big visions, namely Paul Rottenberg of Orchestrate Management and Harry and Pam Bookey, owners and preservers of the Masonic Temple Centro is housed in. Historically preserving the Temple is one thing, but what they put in it is another. A theater, an events space, a sandwich shop, a Starbucks (first one in Des Moines as I understand it), offices, classrooms, Centro and I’m sure more than I am aware of. Building such a crossroads of downtown vibrant life was essential to keep Des Moines progressing. Centro, is now an institution, that keeps humming along.
More people list Centro as the place they entertain out-of-town guests than any other restaurant. I believe this goes beyond the core values of a great eatery. We bring our guests to Centro because it helps dismiss pre-conceived notions about Des Moines. This same mentality applies when SHE and I dine at Centro – we want to be reminded thatDes Moines has such an entity.
Centro, and the Temple as a whole, were the catalysts for much progression in downtown. Such a risky idea in 2002, Centro helped to change its neighborhood. The Pappajohn Sculpture Park, Central Library and dare I say Nationwide and the new Wellmark building all came into prominence or were helped to incubate because of the success Centro has shared along with the Temple. New ideas like Des Moines Social Club and the 80/35 Festival may not have had the early success they did without this landmark changing the way people thought about downtown.
Centro is more than simply a restaurant. Though as a restaurant, it stands alone in terms of hitting all of the dining high points, except one. Originality. And that’s fine by me; I don’t go to Centro to eat uniquely. I typically go for the best pizza and service. Centro is significant for its trans-figurative nature as well as for what goes on inside its soaring ceilings. Let’s hope Centro now helps lead a new wave of culinary excellence, and is the catalyst for more risk and innovation in kitchens coming soon.
It’s the holidays. We are all running around like crazy people, trying to finalize our never-ending to-do lists. There are holiday parties to attend, cookies to bake, gifts for undeserving family members that must be wrapped. In this, collectively our busiest time of year, the likelihood that we will give up on finding time to cook dinner is high. I’m going to guess many people stop in at TGIFriday’s, Chili’s, or the like on their way to/from the mall. So what’s my point (you are no doubt asking yourself)? Simple. The amount of money and time you spend at The Cheesecake Factory is much better spent at a place like Centro.
HE and I headed out this weekend to do a few last-minute holiday errands (the last last minute errands we’ll do next week). Right around 6p on Saturday we decided we needed nourishment. Rather than navigating the holiday frenzy that is West Clive-andale, we headed downtown. First stop, Centro.
Centro is the flagship restaurant of Orchestrate Management – the fine folks who bring you Django, Gateway Market, and Zombie Burger. It has also become a flagship of downtown eateries, and an anchor in the Western Gateway. Many people think of Centro as a date spot, a networking lunch spot, or a special occasion spot. I suppose it is all of those things… but it’s really just a casual city bistro that takes the new-Italian/brick oven concept and carefully crafts the menu around the likes and dislikes of average Central Iowans.
We arrived to face a 30-45minute wait. This, I’m sure, would be comparable to the wait time at any of the big chains. But rather than being greeting by a gum-chomping teenager wearing too much eyeliner and a vacant stare, the helpful staff at Centro told us which tables would be opening in the bar area and they let us hover. They assured us we could be in and out in less than an hour and they were right.
Another point worth mentioning here: price-point. HE and I spend exactly $40. Including a well-deserved a 20% gratuity. That’s an appetizer (lightly fried and perfectly tender calamari), two beers (Peroni), and a pizza (a deliciously crisp prosciutto/goat cheese/spinach). For those of who think of Centro as “fancy,” don’t confuse that with expensive. Ask yourself how much you spent on those mass-market nachos, sizzling fajitas, and that bowl of margarita mix last time you were at Chili’s.
There is a big push to buy local this holiday season (quite rightly). That mantra should extend to your dining practices as well. Americana has a half price lunch until 11:30 during the week. Gateway Market Café has $5.99 meals on Mondays, and on Tuesdays kids eat free… there are more examples out there. With a little luck, and some research, you, could have an affordable dining experience every week; and one that does not include an Applebee’s Riblet Platter.
That’s all for the year from HE and me. Have a safe, healthy, Holiday Season. Stay hungry DSM! We’ll see you next year!