(Note - B&B Grocery made Road Tips' updated Top Ten List of Best Burgers for 2011. Click here to see the entry.)
A shout out today to my good friend, Jeff "Burph" Versteegh, who asked me earlier this year if I'd ever been to the Killer Deli inside B&B Grocery in Des Moines. He said, "They've got pretty good sandwiches there." Not only had I never been there, I'd never heard of the place. And after doing some research, then subsequently visiting B&B Grocery earlier this summer, I'm sort of embarrassed to say that it had never, ever popped up on my radar before.
One of the biggest reasons for my embarrassment is that I grew up near Des Moines and thought of myself as a guy who knew a lot of the out of the way places in the city. But B&B Grocery never registered before and it should have - they've been in business for 88 years.
Brothers John and Archie Brooks opened the little south side grocery in Des Moines in 1922 making B&B the oldest grocery store in the city. Over the years, John and Archie expanded their little store, even opening a second location at the corner of SE 6th and SE Hartford - across from their present location today (see map).
Archie Brooks passed away in 1957 and his brother continued to run the business with the help of Archie's widow, Gwen, and Archie's two sons - John A and Archie, Jr. John Brooks retired in 1965 and Gwen retired to Arizona in 1971 leaving her two sons to run the business. John A. Brooks eventually bought the store from the family in 1977 and along with his wife and sons, they ushered B&B into the modern era by adding homemade deli sandwiches to their butcher business. Their sandwiches are named "Killer Sandwiches" because that's what a hungry railroad worker asked for when he wandered in one day nearly 30 years ago.
John A. Brooks sons - Joe and John A., Jr. (right - this picture had to be taken 20 years ago) - took over the family business and continued the family tradition. Joe's daughter and John's sons also work in the family business making 4 generations of Brooks who have worked behind the counter at B&B. And, reportedly, there's now a 5th generation of the Brooks family who will one day work in the family business.
Not only is B&B Grocery known for their "Killer Sandwiches" and their old-fashioned meat counter that continues to stock specialty meats and cheese that grocery stores quit carrying long ago, they're also known as having one of the best hamburgers in Des Moines. That's right - a deli/meat market making their own burger. While a burger was intriguing on my initial visit, I was there for a good ol' "Killer Sandwich".
It was just before the noon lunch rush when I walked into B&B Grocery. I could easily smell the burger meat cooking on a grill as I walked in. I went past the front counter and down toward the meat counter to check out the menu posted on a board behind the counter. As I was sort of standing there, I heard this voice next to me say, "What are YOU doing here?"
It was an old friend from my days growing up in nearby Newton, Terry Moss, who was there on his lunch hour picking up a sandwich with a co-worker. I told him that our mutual friend, Burph, had turned me on to this place and I was there to try it out. Terry asked, "Are you gonna write about it on your blog?" Well, of course, Terry!
I went up to the counter and Joe Brooks was there. I said, "I hear you guys have great sandwiches."
He said, "Oh, you bet!" And he described a couple of them including "Dad's Killer Sandwich" - roast beef, turkey breast, smoked ham, corned beef, pepper cheese, Swiss cheese, American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, Kosher pickles, mustard, Miracle Whip, Tuscan Italian dressing on a soft Italian hoagie roll. "It's the original 'Killer Sandwich' that my dad came up with." I immediately signed up for one of those.
While I waited, I chatted up Terry, catching up on things going on in our lives and checking out other things they had to offer on their menu. Good God, they had a lot to offer. They had different sizes of burgers from a single patty all the way up to the 1.3 pound "Quadzilla" burger featuring 4 1/3 lb. burger patties. They also had homemade breaded tenderloin sandwiches, Italian sausage sandwiches, grilled rib eye and grilled chicken sandwiches and a who list of variations of a "name-your-own" killer sandwich. My friend, Burph, said that he's particularly fond of the "Zach's Killer" (named after John Brooks' son) sandwich that has more Italian meats on it than the potpourri of traditional meats on a "Dad's Killer". Oooo... Another sandwich to try on another trip to B&B Grocery.
A young girl brought out my sandwich to me and I went over to the cooler and pulled out a bottle of water. The procedure then it to take it to the counter and pay for it. While B&B Grocery has a sit down area with a counter and swivel chairs, I opted to take mine to my car and get going for what was going to be a long trip between Des Moines and Manhattan, KS.
As I unwrapped my "Dad's Killer" sandwich, I could easily see that it was stacked high with the four different types of meat and the three different types of cheese. The lettuce was shredded and there were pretty ripe tomatoes on the sandwich as well.
From the first bite I could immediately see why the "Dad's Killer" sandwich has been voted the best deli sandwich in the Des Moines over the past few years. The bread was light and chewy, the meat was great and the cheese was very fresh. Even with the combination of the Miracle Whip, mustard and the Italian dressing, it was a "killer" sandwich. It reminded me a lot of the Davanni's "assorted whole" sandwich that I like to get when I visit the Twin Cities. And I love those sandwiches tremendously. But the "Dad's Killer" sandwich was definitely on par with the sandwiches at Davanni's.
I was back in Des Moines for business later in the summer and had a chance to stop by the Killer Deli at B&B Grocery for one of their cheeseburgers. It was the middle part of the afternoon when I got in there, but there was still four or five people waiting on sandwiches.
I asked the 20-something cook behind the counter about the burgers and whether a single or a double would be the best. He was a young guy of small stature and he said, "I can down a double hamburger, no problem. You can do a double." So I ordered up a double with cheese.
It takes about 15 minutes to make a burger at B&B Grocery, so I wandered around the store looking at stuff and grabbing a newspaper to read. Finally, the guy yelled out, "Hey, your double cheeseburger with everything is ready!" He placed the burger wrapped in butcher paper on the counter for me. The price was only $3.89 - a great bargain for a big cheeseburger.
After paying for the burger at the check out counter, I decided that I wanted to use their little dining area toward the front of the store to enjoy my burger. The bun was soft and chewy, the burger patties were thick and juicy. The burger itself was very flavorful and very good. It had just a little pink in the middle, just the way I like my burgers. The cheese just oozed off the burgers and it was definitely a four napkin meal. I may have to add B&B Grocery to my honorable mention list of burgers when I update it at some point.
As I was leaving, the kid who made my burger was out back behind the store on a smoke break. He said, "Hey, buddy! How did you like that burger?"
I told him it was very good. "Surprisingly good," I said with emphasis.
He said, "Great! Glad you enjoyed it!"
In addition to other awards for having the best burgers, tenderloins and being the best south side grocery store in Des Moines, B&B Grocery has also garnered the "Best Kept Secret in Des Moines" award, as well. Well, I certainly didn't know about the place until Burph told me and I'm certainly glad I did. The "Killer Sandwich" was, well, killer. The burger was excellent. My next visit, I'll be getting a "Zach's Killer" sandwich. B&B Grocery is one of those little out of the way gems that I love finding during my travels - even if someone has to tell me about it first.