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In the world of chefs and restaurants, the greatest recognition from peers comes from the James Beard Foundation, the New York-based organization that “celebrates and supports the people behind America’s food culture.” For more than 30 years, the nonprofit has honored chefs and restaurants in the United States.
Since the awards started in 1991, the so-called “Oscars of the food world,” have honored chefs who have gone on to become household names: Rick Bayless, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Nancy Silverton. In Iowa, about 18 chefs have had their names called for the semifinalist list, with a majority hailing from Des Moines.
What’s called the long list of semifinalists comes out in January, nominated by fans, regional panelists and other chefs. The organization divides the country into 12 regions, with Iowa in the Midwest competing against chefs in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. The JBF also has awards for Outstanding Restaurateur, Outstanding Pastry Chef, and the like.
About 20 restaurants and chefs are named semifinalists in each category, which are pared down to five finalists in March. From there, a winner is named, this year in June in Chicago.
This year, for example, Samuel Charles of Rodina in Cedar Rapids made the semifinalist list. For the first time, a chef from Nebraska (David Utterback, Yoshitomo, Omaha, Nebraska) and South Dakota (Sanaa Abourezk, Sanaa’s Gourmet Mediterranean, Sioux Falls, South Dakota) were named finalists in the category.
More:James Beard Foundation announced chef, restaurant finalists for 2023. How did Iowa’s chef do?
Never since the first round of James Beard nominees has a chef or restaurant in Iowa moved along further than the semifinalist stage. Nevertheless, it’s still an enormous honor for chefs to be recognized by the organization. Food-loving travelers use the list to plan dining itineraries when they cross the state. Journalists and politicians will add these names to their lists during caucus season. And other chefs will seek out these places to learn what they are doing in their kitchens.
Here’s a look at the chefs and restaurants that have earned nominations from the James Beard Foundation across Iowa, divided into groups: Chefs from Des Moines, restaurants from Des Moines, chefs outside Des Moines, and America’s Classics. Bon appétit.
The chef partner behind Centro, Django, Malo and more restaurants at Orchestrate Hospitality earned nominations in 2008, 2009 and 2010 for Best Chef Midwest and then as a semifinalist for Outstanding Restaurateur in 2013 and 2014. His Best Chef Midwest nods recognized his work at Centro, the 20-year-old Italian restaurant in downtown Des Moines. Centro serves pizzas baked in a coal-fired oven, pastas, steak and seafood. Order the chicken Francese, battered chicken breasts in a lemon butter sauce with fettuccine Alfredo on the side.
Location: 1003 Locust St., Des Moines
Contact: 515-248-1780 or centrodesmoines.com
Hours: Open Monday through Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
More:How Centro became a Des Moines restaurant staple from celebrities to caucus power tables
Eatery A comes from restaurateur Jason Simon, who has a knack for finding talented chefs. Chef Nic Gonwa earned a Rising Star Chef nomination in 2015 at Eatery A after he took charge at a building that was a former Blockbuster on Ingersoll Avenue. The Mediterranean-focused cuisine includes wood-fired pizzas with Napolitano-style crusts that are thin and chewy with a broad, blistered rim. Do come in on the weekend for brunch and do order the salted caramel budino for dessert.
Gonwa went on to open Motley School Tavern with Simon. The Beaverdale restaurant that debuted in 2019 specializes in new twists on comfort food dishes, such as a house pimento cheese, hanger steak de Burgo, shrimp and grits, and grilled pork loin. But the star of the show is the fried chicken served Korean-style, as a Nashville hot version or with house barbecue. Brunch brings chicken fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, omelets, and pastrami hash.
Eatery A Location: 2932 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines
Contact: 515-282-8085 or eateryadsm.com
Hours: Open 3 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. SundayMotley School Tavern Location: 1903 Beaver Ave., Des Moines
Contact: 515-279-0075 or mstdsm.com
Hours: Open Tuesday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
More:12 of the best restaurants in Des Moines for celebrating Mother’s Day or graduation
Joe Logsdon at La Mie earned a nomination for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2010. His café on 42nd Street in Des Moines got its start in 2003, at first baking breads and pastries, then expanding to breakfast and lunch dishes. Tartines, quiches and omelets are just some of the options here. Diners order at the counter and then await their menu items at a table, or stand in the queue to grab to-go sandwiches or pastries.
Locations: La Mie Bakery, 841 42nd St., Des Moines; 515-255-1625
Hours: Open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
La Mie Elevate, 601 Locust St., Des Moines; 515-243-1835
Hours: Open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
More:Here are 16 of the best restaurants in Des Moines’ East Village
For fine Italian fare, head to Steve Logsdon’s Lucca in the East Village in Des Moines. The chef earned nods for Best Chef Midwest in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. That’s quite a run.
The upscale East Village restaurant serves a four-course prix fixe dinner. A pasta course and mains such as salmon, eggplant, scallops or a New York strip steak anchor the menu. During lunch, spiced chicken sandwiches, light salads and ricotta and spinach rigatoni lead the way.
Location: 420 E. Locust St., Des Moines
Contact: 515-243-1115 or luccadsm.com
Hours: Open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday.
Fun fact about brothers Steve and Joe Logsdon — they owned the Italian restaurant Basil’s, which operated in a food court in the Locust Mall in downtown Des Moines, then went on to open Basil Prosperi in the skywalk.
More:The 10 essential Italian restaurants in the Des Moines metro
Back in 2015, Tony Lemmo closed Café di Scala and renamed it Aposto. Phil Shires, the chef at the Italian restaurant in Sherman Hill in 2014, earned a nomination for Best Chef Midwest. He left Aposto to open Elevate, La Mie Bakery’s location in the Des Moines skywalk at Two Ruan Center, in 2017.
At Aposto, restaurateur Tony Lemmo continues his tradition of Italian cuisine inside a Victorian mansion originally built in the 1880s. While the menu changes all the time, do order the osso bucco with a tomato ragu, risotto with pancetta, bone marrow with caramelized onion, or Lemmo’s cavatelli with house Calabrian sausage.
Location: 644 18th St., Des Moines
Contact: 515-244-1353 or apostodm.com
Hours: Open Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 8:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m.
More:How to spend a perfect day in downtown Des Moines with food, drinks and more
Alba opened in the East Village in 2008 in a renovated 1950s auto garage, and it’s earned three nominations for a James Beard Restaurant Award. Jason Simon earned the nod in 2011 followed by Joe Tripp in 2016 and 2017. The menu changes often and features seasonal ingredients unexpectedly paired to delight the senses. Expect plates such as the spring salad featuring goat cheese, strawberries pressed in Banyuls aperitif and a duck fat financier cake and wild striped bass in a saffron tomato broth with PEI mussels, littleneck clams and beans. The burger here is a solid must-order.
Location: 524 E. Sixth St., Des Moines
Contact: 515-244-0261 or albadsm.com
Hours: Open daily at 4 p.m.
More:33 of the best places to eat in Des Moines: 2022 edition
As mentioned above, Joe Tripp earned nominations for Best Chef Midwest in 2016 and 2017, and for his restaurant Harbinger in 2018, 2019 and 2020. There he uses a delicate hand to meld Asian profiles with local produce at this vegetable-forward kitchen. Farm carrots with lemongrass sausage, sunchock and Carolina Gold rice congee, and wild mushroom chee chong fun are among the stars of the show, but like any seasonal menu, these dishes disappear as they go out of season. Do order the five-course tasting menu if you cannot decide what to order.
Location: 2724 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines
Contact: 515-244-1314 or harbingerdsm.com
Hours: Open from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 4 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
More:12 of the best restaurants in Des Moines for celebrating Mother’s Day to graduation
Chefs no longer working at their JBF-nominated restaurants
David Baruthio with his stellar Baru 66 in Windsor Heights earned nominations for Best Chef Midwest in 2011 and 2013. Baruthio now does pop-up dinners and brunches at Beer Styles in West Des Moines on occasion.
Carly Groben, who originally opened Proof, earned a Rising Star chef of the Year nomination in 2010. She went on to open Prairie Canary in Grinnell before selling the restaurant and leaving the restaurant business.
Bistro Montage from Enosh Kelley landed a James Beard Foundation nod for Best Chef Midwest in 2009. The French stalwart on Ingersoll Avenue closed in 2016 after a 16-year run. Harbinger occupies the corner space now.
Back in 2019, Sean Wilson sold Proof after earning JBF nominations for Best Chef Midwest in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Proof closed in 2022. Wilson now works as the director of food and beverage at the Hotel Fort Des Moines.
More:Here are 12 of the best steakhouses in the Des Moines metro area for prime rib, steak de Burgo and more
Restaurants in Des Moines
The French restaurant from Formaro and Paul Rottenberg’s Orchestrate Hospitality earned a rare Best New Restaurant nod from the James Beard Foundation in 2009 in a year that saw David Chang’s Momofuku Ko in New York City win and Scarpetta from Scott Conant and The Bazaar from Jose Andres among the finalists.
Django moved to Locust Street in 2018 with mezzanine seating and a patio with a Pappajohn Sculpture Park view after 10 years at the Hotel Fort Des Moines. Diners can order fruits de mer such as seasonal raw oysters, scallops, mussels and poached shrimp. Try one of three styles of moules frites with Hollander and de Koning mussels, a croque-madame topped with ham and Swiss cheese and then smothered in béchamel sauce with a fried egg, or roasted chicken with black truffle Parisian-style gnocchi.
Location: 1420 Locust St., Des Moines
Contact: 515-288-0268 or djangodesmoines.com
Hours: Open Sunday through Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 4 to 10 p.m.
Chefs outside Des Moines
The latest nominee from Iowa is Samuel Charles, the chef behind Rodina in Cedar Rapids. Charles earned a 2023 nomination for Best Chef Midwest for his Midwestern menu. Try a 12-ounce ribeye, gnocchi with braised mushroom ragu, or fettuccine with lamb and pork ‘nduja sausage, but keep in mind that Charles serves seasonal dishes. Try the brunch on Sundays with salmon toast , a scallop scramble or a brunch board with smoked salmon, prosciutto, brie, and Local Crumb toast for two.
Location: 1507 C Street S.W., Cedar Rapids
Contact: 319-200-2515 or rodinaiowa.com
Hours: Open Monday, Thursday and Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 4 to 9:30 p.m.; and Sunday brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
More:How Rodina’s focus on Midwestern foods made this Iowa chef a James Beard semifinalist
Mount Vernon-based baker Aaron Hall earned a semifinalist nomination for Outstanding Baker in 2022. His bakery, The Local Crumb, specializes in sourdough breads and only takes orders online. Restaurants in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines use his breads.
More:Aaron Hall’s bakery is in a former classroom in Iowa. The James Beard Foundation took notice.
It seems like everyone knew Kevin Scharpf’s name after he appeared on Season 16 of “Top Chef.” In 2022, the James Beard Foundation recognized him with a Best Chef Midwest nomination for his Dubuque treasure Brazen Open Kitchen. Scharpf creates seasonal dishes such as a 20-ounce rib-eye steak, shrimp and grits, and duck breast a l’orange. The restaurant also has Brazen Reserve, a private dining space for an interactive multi-course tasting menu or a shared family-style dinner.
Location: 955 Washington St. Suite 101, Dubuque
Contact: 563-587-8899 or brazenopenkitchen.com
Hours: Open Tuesday through Saturday from 4:30 to 9 p.m.
More:Iowa chef Kevin Scharpf often asks recruits about James Beard Awards. Now, he is nominated for one.
Back in 2015, Andy Schumacher at Cobble Hill Eatery & Dispensary in Cedar Rapids caught the eyes of the James Beard Foundation judges with a Best Chef Midwest nod. Request the chef’s table overlooking the kitchen and order braised angus short ribs with buttered spätzle, hand-rolled linguini with Canadian lobster, or herb-roasted cauliflower with tomato braised legumes. Keep in mind this menu changes with the seasons at this downtown restaurant named for a neighborhood in Brooklyn.
Location: 219 Second St. SE, Cedar Rapids
Contact: 319-366-3177 or cobblehillrestaurant.com
Hours: Open from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The James Beard Foundation recognized Matt Steigerwald of Lincoln Café in Mount Vernon with a Best Chef Midwest nomination three times — in 2008, 2011 and 2015. The café became Lincoln Winebar and then Steigerwald sold it in 2016 to Jesse Sauerbrie. Lincoln specializes in Neapolitan-style pizzas using local ingredients.
Steigerwald is now the culinary director at Wilson’s Farm and chef at Wilson’s Cider House in Iowa City. Wilson’s plans to open in Cumming, southwest of Des Moines, with a second orchard and a restaurant and event center in the state’s first agrihood, a 900-acre development called Middlebrook. The $800 million mixed residential, retail and commercial project is centered on farming, with the orchard joining a giant community garden. Until it opens in 2023, order braised beef short ribs with wild mushroom bread pudding, Atlantic fluke, and Thai grilled quail with pork stuffing. Head here for brunch on Saturday and Sunday for roasted mushrooms and grits, a Belgian waffle or biscuits and gravy.
Location: Lincoln Winebar, 125 First St. W., Mount Vernon
Contact: 319-895-9463 or foodisimportant.com
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 4 to 9 p.m.
Location: Wilson’s Cider House, 4823 Dingleberry Road NE, Iowa City
Contact: 319-643-4159 or wilsonsorchard.com
Hours: Open Wednesday through Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
More:Popular Iowa City business is planting roots in Cumming’s agrihood with orchard, restaurant, cider pub
The James Beard Foundation honors locally owned restaurants that have a timeless feel to them and serve food that reflects the community. In Iowa, three restaurants earned the America’s Classics Award. Consider these the timeless classics of Iowa.
Head up to Le Mars for Archie’s Waeside, opened in 1949 by the late Archie Jackson, who came to America to escape Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution. Once in America, he worked at a packing house, first in Sioux City and later Los Angeles, according to the restaurant’s website. He learned how to cut and dry-age the beef that he used when he opened Archie’s Waeside.
Now his grandson, Robert Rand, and granddaughter, Lorrie Luense, run the restaurant that features 10 cuts of dry-aged beef including the 16- to 18-ounce Benny Weiker as well as steak and seafood options with lobster or shrimp. Each dish comes with a tossed salad and a relish tray.
Archie’s Waeside won its America’s Classic Award from the James Beard Foundation in 2015.
Location: 224 Fourth Ave. NE, Le Mars
Contact: 712-546-7011 or archieswaeside.com
Hours: Open Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 8:15 p.m., Friday from 5 to 9:15 p.m., and Saturday from 4:30 to 9:15 p.m.
Breitbach’s Country Dining
On the other side of the state sits Breitbach’s Country Dining, touted as the oldest bar and restaurant in Iowa. It opened in 1852 after President Millard Fillmore issued a federal permit, and Jacob Breitbach took over in 1862, marking the beginning of six generations running the restaurant. A Christmas Eve fire in 2007 burned the original building for Breitbach’s Country Dining, but Mike Breitbach and the Balltown community rallied to rebuild in 69 days. Six months later and the restaurant burned to the ground again.
Diners love this restaurant for homemade pies by the slice, broasted chicken and prime rib on Saturday nights. Diners can also order a buffet, and everyone can make their own salad creation there.
The James Beard Foundation honored the restaurant with an America’s Classic Award in 2009.
Location: 563 Balltown Road, Balltown
Contact: 563-552-2220 or breitbachscountrydining.com
Hours: Open Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Angelo Lagomarcino immigrated to the United States from northern Italy and decided to strike out on his own in 1908 when he opened his confectionary shop in Moline, Illinois, selling ice cream treats such as malted milks, ice cream sodas and hot fudge sundaes that use the shop’s own vanilla ice cream and a pitcher of hot fudge on the side. The restaurant sold sandwiches, salads, homemade pie, and fountain drinks such as the Green River, a lime thirst quencher named after the Chicago River, and the Lago, a fruit flavored soda pop concocted by Charlie Lagomarcino in the 1930s. The store also sells candies — pecan dainties, mints, truffles, sea salt caramels and more. Four generations have run the business since its opening.
Lagomarcino’s opened a second location in The Village of East Davenport in 1997. Lagomarcino’s won its America’s Classic Award from the James Beard Foundation in 2006.
Locations: 1422 Fifth Ave., Moline, Illinois; 309-764-1814
2132 E. 11th St., Davenport; 563-324-6137
Hours: Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
James Beard Foundation by the numbers
Number of Iowa chefs nominated: 18
Number of Best Chef Midwest nominations: 26
Number of Rising Star nominations: 2
Number of Restaurateur of the Year nominations: 2
Number of Outstanding Pastry Chef nominations: 2
Number of Best New Restaurant nominations: 1
Number of America’s Classics winners: 3
Number of chefs in Des Moines: 11
Number of chefs in Cedar Rapids: 2
Number of chefs in Mount Vernon: 2
Number of chefs in Dubuque: 1