Flying Mango is at the top of its game and deserves to be considered one of the best restaurants in Des Moines right now. It is consistently ranked among the top restaurants according to various polls and this is no fluke. When Flying Mango opened in 1997 it got generally great reviews. However, it took awhile to build a solid following. I was always impressed with the quality of the food and the unique dishes, even if the menu was very short. Over time the menu has grown, the portions seem to have doubled in size, and the crowds have gone crazy over the unique food. Even though meat is the centerpiece of Flying Mango, this is not a steakhouse or another BBQ place like Famous Dave’s, Smokey D’s or Jethro’s — far from it. Instead, this is top-quality cuisine that just happens to focus on smoked and grilled meats.
The Crowd. Like I said, the crowds have discovered Flying Mango. Get one of the limited reservations they offer, get there early, or be prepared to wait for a table. Based on the types of people I saw dining during this most recent visit, I’d say that most of the tables were occupied by either families or groups of friends (mostly female). Nearly half of the tables were couples out for a nice evening. Contrast this with, say, Cafe di Scala, which is mostly couples out for a romantic dinner. The ambiance is a bit noisy, which fits the fact that the diners are having a good time with family and friends.
The Bar. The Flying Mango warns diners and drinkers that due to the small size of the bar they cannot offer every possible cocktail. They are not kidding about the size of the “bar.” It is maybe two feet long and offers no seating. For ice they use a cooler and a limited supply of necessary ingredients are available. However, they do carry most of the Cedar Ridge line of spirits, including their rum and bourbon. Try it! The drinks only cost about $6.50 and my Manhattan was prepared to perfection. I have to add that this bar proves that you don’t need a gigantic bar to serve decent drinks, even if the selection is limited. One interesting point is that the Flying Mango does not offer any “rice” beers, such as Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite or Coors Light. More power to them.
The Service. The service was serious and professional. All of the wait staff seemed to be well trained and hustled their way to and from the kitchen. When there was the slightest delay in getting me my second drink the waiter apologized profusely. She wanted her tip and she was going to do what it took to get it. The owner made the rounds to make sure that everything was as it should be. In my opinion, this is the secret of great food and a successful restaurant. Get out there on the floor and see how people like their meals and whether the staff is meeting expectations.
The Kitchen. When you walk in the door you walk by the grill and kitchen where most of the dishes are prepared. It is hard to believe that all of that food comes out of that tiny kitchen. The cooks work the oven and grill like bosses and get the job done. It is an impressive display of hard work and skill to see the food come flying off that gas-fired grill. Of course, a lot of the hard work that goes into making smoked meat takes place out of sight.
The Food. The food did not disappoint. It was a treat to see meat portions as large as these. As I mentioned in the introduction to this entry, the portions did not used to be that large. They are now large enough to satisfy anyone this side of an NFL linebacker. I tried the Coyote Strip ($24). It was doused in a sweet black caramelized crust that was sprinkled with pecans. The meat was indeed a strip steak and cooked to a nice pink and tender color. Because it was a strip steak, it took a bit of knife work to make my way through it, but it is, after all, a strip steak. The potato and spiced apples provided a nice touch to the carnivore’s dream. The other entree that we tried was the 24 hour Beef Brisket ($15). This was a hefty slice of traditionally smoked brisket. It was right up there with the smoked brisket served by the original Kin Folks BBQ restaurant in Attica, Iowa. The fat practically fell off the meat, which was succulent.
For dessert, I ordered a Chili Chocolate cake (the chili was made of marzipan) and my fellow diner ordered the bread pudding. They were a nice way to top off a meal.
I have to hand it to the owners for diligently building a restaurant with a clear theme and quality as a central goal. The gradual climb to the top ranks of Des Moines restaurants is well deserved and is the result of a very deliberate effort. The one thing that I will have to check out the next time I visit are some of the Caribbean dishes. Aside from a cocktail, we stuck with the BBQ items on this visit.
A dinner for two with three drinks, two desserts, and two entrees came to about $75.
A visit to the website suggests that the Flying Mango supports musical artists as well. I’ve never been there when music was playing, but the list of artists is impressive and worth checking out.
Flying Mango Restaurant and Catering
Dinner served Tuesday – Saturday from 5:00 p.m.
4345 Hickman Road, Des Moines, IA 50310