Gino’s is an old-line Des Moines Italian establishment. Although Gino’s is probably best known for its aged corn-fed steak, it offers the usual Italian dishes, though done in a style unique to Gino’s. Unless you are unlucky, the steak is usually the best steak to be found anywhere in Iowa. I am a big believer in corn-fed steak and I’m not about to fall for the line that grass-fed beef is better. Add some hanging time to that corn-fed beef and I’m in heaven. I’ll take my steak marbled and juicy; none of that tough and gamey shoe leather for me.
When you walk into the restaurant one of the first things that you notice (other than the decor and layout) is that Gino’s offers a number of food products, including dressings, sauces, and grated cheese shakers. Another thing that you may find is that the crowd is very established. Everyone seems to know each other and they must have been coming to Ginos for at least a half century. The staff is equally experienced and the host was diligent in checking in with each table to make sure that the service and food was up to specifications.
The decor features formica topped tables with paper placemats, cellophane-wrapped crackers and dark pine plank walls. The plank walls are reportedly very old and may date back to when that addition was built. I ordered an Old-fashioned cocktail and it was expertly prepared. I don’t recall what their special name is for the drink, but they have their own twist on the drink. It was $8, which is on the low side. The glass was average-sized. The bar was as busy as the rest of the restaurant and had a lively crowd, though we did not visit on a weekend.
Despite Gino’s well-earned reputation as a steakhouse, we ordered pasta, in keeping with our current goal to take in the best of Des Moines’ Italian original old-line restaurants. The meals arrived with iceberg lettuce and sliced bread. I ordered chicken wrapped in pasta and served with a bed of spaghetti. I think it might be called a chicken roll. Anyway, it cost $18.99 which is about average for a featured entree at one of Des Moines’ established restaurants. The sauce was neither overly sweet nor spicy. It was just your usual tomato-based red sauce. My spouse ordered the toasted ravioli. The ravioli was hot on the outside, having just been fried, and full of hot cheese in the inside and cost $14.75. She thought it was very tasty, though the sauce came in handy for dipping as it is a bit dry after having been fried. I will be certain to come back again to try the steak. I will also want to try the new location.
The construction of the building is hilarious. I’d love to try to figure out where one add-on begins and another ends. Just look at the roof-line and you get an idea of what efforts the owners went through to expand the building over the years. It is amazing that once you enter that it seems to hang together fairly well, even though the ceilings in some sections are fairly low, in keeping with the place’s original roots as an older facility. The restaurant began as the Chickadee Restaurant in the 1920s. A Chickadee Restaurant menu on the wall of the entry way to Gino’s proclaims: “On the wrong side of: the fence, the tracks, the river, the hill town. The food must be good.” I’m not sure what the reference is to the “hill town” unless it refers to the “Sherman Hill” area, which back then would have been the ritzy area of Des Moines. Gene “Gino” Foggia opened the restaurant as Gino’s in 1966.
The wine list is modest and very, very inexpensive. The Chianti we ordered to go along with our meal was fine. Many of the bottles cost half of what some local high-brow restaurants charge just for a corkage fee.
2809 6th Ave.
Des Moines, IA 50313
Update: Gino’s on 6th closed during the first week of 2013. Gino’s West is still open.
Update: Gino’s West is now closed but Gino’s on 6th is back open!