December 2, 2014
Jesse's Embers is known as a hot spot for a great steak. 

Warming Up, Part 1   

By Wini Moranville   
Owing to the early arrival of winter, I recently posted a query on my Facebook page: What's the coziest restaurant in Des Moines? Besides Noah's Ark.

I took Noah's out of the running because, for me, this time-honored Ingersoll Avenue venue is the most obvious go-to spot for the kind of midcentury charm that warms you through and through. Settle into a booth or into one of the banquettes in the Fireside Lounge, order a glass of wine and a pizza--it's one of the best places to be on a cold winter night.

Here are some of the most popular suggestions that readers offered:
  • Jesse's Embers: Of course! This snug spot also offers the sense of well-being that midcentury restaurants pull off so well. Great steaks, too. (3301 Ingersoll Ave.; 255-6011)
  • Simon's (also known as J. Benjamin's): I haven't been in years, but this pizza-pasta place offers a quintessential neighborhood vibe, and plenty of people on my page gave it a thumbs up. (5800 Franklin Ave.; 255-3725)
  • Café di Scala: This former Sherman Hill mansion will hit the spot when you're craving something warming (and romantic) on date night. (644 18th St.; 244-1353)
  • Fire Creek Grill: A number of people gave a shout-out to this West Des Moines venue. There's a toasty-warm glow here, thanks to stone fireplaces in every room. (800 S. 50th St., #110, West Des Moines; 224-0500)
  • Woody's Smoke Shack: This venue near Drake University also got some thumbs-up action. The old storefront does have a charming vibe--especially if you can snag a booth. (2511 Cottage Grove Ave., 277-0005)


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Beaches make the perfect wintertime getaway.

Warming Up, Part 2    

If cozying up in the above restaurants doesn't quite fulfill your yearning for warmth, then we suggest you start plotting your escape. Specifically, plan a getaway now, so when those below-zero temps stick around, you can bolt. And where should you go?  Allied Travel let us in on some of this year's hottest warm-weather destinations:
  • Costa Rica. The Central American country's "rugged beauty is unspoiled and is the perfect setting for some smaller, ultraluxury properties," says Jody Valentine, marketing navigator of Allied. Known for its biodiversity and eco-tourism, Costa Rica draws visitors to its hundreds of beaches along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, well as to the country's mountains, forests and river valleys.
  • Riviera Nayarit. One of Mexico's newest beach destinations, this 200-mile stretch of coastline (located just north of Puerto Vallarta) is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Western Sierra Madre mountains. You'll find luxury and all-inclusive resorts, authentic seaside towns, lush vegetation and nature sanctuaries, among other attractions.
  • U.S. Virgin Islands. This "quintessential Caribbean destination," as Valentine describes it, consists of the perennially popular islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John. In addition to gorgeous beaches, each island offers plenty of options for vacationers, including the historic towns of St. Croix, the natural splendors of St. John and the bustling downtown Charlotte Amalie of St. Thomas.

fyi: Mark Your Calendar

  • A first-time collaboration between Des Moines Metro Opera (DMMO) and StageWest Theater Company will take place Dec. 5-7 at The Temple for Performing Arts (1011 Locust St.) to support World AIDS Day 2014. StageWest will present Paula Vogel's "The Baltimore Waltz" for the first half, and DMMO will perform Jake Heggie's "Three Decembers," a one-act opera, for the second half. The two works focus on families coming to terms with the effects of the AIDS crisis. A portion of the proceeds will benefit The Project of Primary Health Care, which offers HIV and AIDS services. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5-6 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 7. Tickets cost $50 and can be purchased here. Learn more about the double-bill at or  
  • The 18th annual Holly & Ivy home tour Dec. 5-7 will showcase lavish holiday decorations at four historic properties: the Salisbury House, built 1923-1928 as the family home of cosmetics magnate Carl Weeks; Rollins Mansion, built 1925-1927 by Ralph Rollins, owner of Rollins Hosiery Mills, that today is an event venue; the Chamberlain estate, built in 1900 that is now owned by Wesley Acres; and the 1915 South of Grand home now owned by Steve Lacy, chair and CEO of Meredith Corp., and his wife, Cathy. Tickets are $20 for adults, $6 for children, available at or by calling 274-1777. The tours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.
  • Olson-Larsen Galleries will host an opening reception Dec. 5, from 5 to 7 p.m., for "New Work" by Paula Schuette Kraemer, Stephen Metcalf and Debra Smith. The galleries' annual "Small Works" will be held at the same time and feature works by William Barnes, Mary Merkel-Hess, Johanna Mueller, Gary Olson, Aaron Tinder and Paul Konchagulian, plus prints from Four Winds Fine Art. Also, custom jeweler 2AU Ltd. will debut its "Facets and Cabochons" collection. For details, click here. Olson-Larsen is located at 203 Fifth St. in Valley Junction.

P.S. Broadway Bound   

It's not too early to claim your spot in the Des Moines Community Playhouse's "Best of Broadway" tour May 14-17 (the May 7-10 trip is already full). The $1,949 fee (per person, double occupancy) includes round-trip airfare, three nights' hotel stay and tickets to three Broadway shows. Find out more here.

Speaking of the Playhouse, celebrate the season with popular family favorite
"Mary Poppins," through Dec. 18. Get more information and tickets here.

P.S.S. Calling All Collectors     

Do you have an interesting or unusual collection? Or, do you know someone who does? If so, we'd love to hear about the collection for consideration for a story in dsm magazine. Contact us at
Belle Du Chene is senior editor of dsm magazine.

Wini Moranville, author of "The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day," is a food, wine and travel writer who covers the dining scene for dsm magazine. Follow her at All Things Food DSM - Wini Moranville and catch her food segment on Fridays at 6:40 a.m. on KCWI-23's "Great Day" morning show.

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