As I noted in my earlier post on Smokey D's in Des Moines, the capital city of Iowa is quickly garnering a lot of attention from barbecue enthusiasts for the quality of barbecue places that have sprung up in the area over the past few years. While I can't quite put Des Moines in the same category as Kansas City, St. Louis or Memphis in regard to renown barbecue joints, my quest to find good barbecue places the city continued with a visit to Jethro's Barbecue, just west of Drake University on Forest Ave. (see map).
Jethro's is the brain child of Des Moines real estate developer Bruce Gerleman. Gerleman bought the old Pizza Hut building along Forest Ave. in 2007, and in the Spring of 2008 he opened the doors to Jethro's, named after the dim-bulb character, Jethro Bodine, in Gerleman's favorite television show, The Beverly Hillbillies. On Jethro's web site, Gerleman even came up with a story that took up after the Beverly Hillbillies were canceled in the early 70's. In that story, Jethro had grown tired of Beverly Hills and moved back east. He ended up in Des Moines, bought a 750 lb. smoker and opened his little barbecue place near Drake. Some of the original sandwiches he had to offer on the menu were named after other characters of the television program such as the Elly May, the Jed and the Mr. Drysdale.
Of course, it wasn't much more than six months after Gerleman opened Jethro's that he got a "cease and desist" letter from CBS Television, who still owned rights to the Beverly Hillbillies shows. To appease the CBS lawyers, he dropped the character names from the sandwiches, but kept the Jethro's name, complete with the strapping character in a plaid shirt, jeans with a rope belt, suspenders and boots. That didn't satisfy CBS enough, who continued to go after Gerleman by saying that using the hillbilly character in his logo was still infringing on their intellectual property.
Gerleman maintained that hillbilly character in the logo was a composite of 20 different characters conjured up by an artist he hired. While I couldn't find anywhere that the conflict had been resolved, the character in the logo now has a solid red shirt, but sans the rope belt that helped hold up the tattered jeans along with a pair of suspenders. Jethro's is still going strong, so I'm guessing CBS thought they were wasting a lot of time and money chasing after a restaurant that was somehow ripping off the Beverly Hillbillies nearly 40 years after the last show was aired on CBS - and before it went into perpetual reruns around the world, garnering CBS untold riches from a cheap form of entertainment.
Last fall, Gerleman, who also owns Splash Seafood restaurant in downtown Des Moines, opened a second Jethro's location - this one called Jethro 'n Jake's Smokehouse Steaks - in suburban Altoona near Prairie Meadows and Adventureland. According the "back story" on Jethro's web site, the Jake in the name is Jethro's bulldog (the mascot for Drake University is a bulldog). While Jethro 'n Jake's has the same barbecue menu as Jethro's original location, they also feature steaks and prime rib.
The Des Moines location for Jethro's is a laid back, quasi-sports bar that features a number of flat screen televisions throughout the restaurant. Lighted signs and memorabilia hang above the exposed wooden rafters, while many of the walls are adorned with Drake athletic pictures and posters paying homage to former stand out athletes and teams over the years.
Jethro's features a nice little outside patio eating area out behind the place which also had a couple flat screens to allow patrons to watch television while they eat or enjoy a cold drink. Both Jethro's locations feature 12 DirecTV satellite receivers so if there's a sporting event on, at least one television will be turned to it. Jethro's is a destination for fans who want to catch their favorite National Football League team.
It was mid-afternoon when I made it into Jethro's on my way to Omaha. I took a seat at the bar and looked over a menu. A television crew was just packing up when I was there and it turned out they were interviewing the manager about an ESPN contest Jethro's was participating in regarding their signature sandwich, the Adam Emmenecker. They throw a little bit of everything on the Adam Emmenecker, named after the former Drake basketball player who led the Bulldogs to the Missouri Valley championship three years ago. The sandwich, which weighs 5 pounds, features an Angus steak burger, a giant pork tenderloin, and Jethro's Texas-style brisket. And that's just the start. They then add spicy chicken tenders, fried cheese, bacon, MORE cheese and top it off with a toasted bun and a pickle spear. People voted on ESPN's web site for the best "Fanwich", a sandwich named after an athlete. (The Emmenecker got second, beaten out by a sandwich that was named after San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain at Ike's Place in San Francisco.)
Jethro's has a challenge for those who can eat a whole Adam Emmenecker sandwich in an allotted time. For a $25 dollar price, a number of people have tried to finish the Adam Emmenecker in less than 15 minutes, including The Travel Channel's "Man Vs. Food's" Adam Richman who visited Jethro's last year for the challenge. Here's a You Tube video of Richman trying to tackle the Adam Emmenecker -
Quite honestly, I didn't even know there was a "Man Vs. Food" episode on Jethro's, let alone one that featured the greater Des Moines area, until I visited Jethro's that particular day. While Richman wasn't able to finish the behemoth sandwich in under 15 minutes, a handful of people have. Just inside the front door of Jethro's is the "Hall of Fame" - pictures of the seven people (that was the total up to my visit) who have finished the Adam Emmenecker sandwich during the 15 minute time limit. (At the time of the taping of Richman's segment at Jethro's, only two people had been able to finish the sandwich. Nearly a year later, five more people had triumphed.)
Not to take anything away from those who failed to finish the Adam Emmenecker, Jethro's pays homage to those who tried with a "Hall of Shame" featuring hundreds of pictures of those who weren't up for the challenge.
Me? I wouldn't even begin to try it. Oh, maybe 30 years ago when I was younger and more stupid than I am today. It just doesn't sound appealing to me to eat a burger, some brisket, a 10 oz. deep-fried pork tenderloin, chicken tenders and all that cheese on a sandwich.
The bar at Jethro's continues the "shack" theme with what appears go be a tin culvert drainage tile that goes from floor to ceiling which also serves as the spigot holder for a number of Jethro's fine selection of draft beers. Flat screen televisions covered three sides of the culvert tile fixture.
It wasn't busy in the least when I was in Jethro's that afternoon. Knowing that this would probably be lunch and dinner for me, I decided to get a two meat combination dinner that came with two sides of my choosing. I had my choice between brisket, sliced smoked turkey, pulled chicken, smoked ham, pulled pork and smoked sausage. Brisket and pulled pork are my favorites, so I went with that combination.
For my sides, I had to get baked beans, but I was sort of torn between Jethro's hot coleslaw (I really wanted to try that, but chickened out), jalapeno creamed corn (also was going to pull the trigger on that, but didn't at the last minute), and the mac and cheese. I wussed out and got the mac and cheese.
Not long after I ordered and just in time for me to order a second beer, my barbecue platter showed up in front of me. The pulled pork was moist and had a nice smokey flavor on its own. The brisket was cut thick and was also very juicy and favorable. The baked beans - it looked like they used three or four different types of beans in the concoction - was pedestrian at best, even when I tried to kick it up a notch with one Jethro's barbecue sauces. And the mac and cheese was overly disappointing. One bite told me that it was bland and boring. In hindsight, I really wish I would have gotten the hot coleslaw.
Jethro's features five different types of barbecue sauces - their "secret" sauce that is thick and sweet, a Carolina sauce that is thin and vinegary, a Georgia mustard-based sauce that I didn't care for, and a hot barbecue sauce that featured seven different types of peppers in the mix. It was zippy, but not overpowering. (The fifth sauce - an Alabama white cream sauce - didn't look appealing to me.) Mixing some of the Jethro's Secret sauce with the hot sauce made for a nice combination to go along with the meat and the beans.
Overall, the barbecue at Jethro's was good, above average good. The meats were tasty and moist, but the sides were a little less than desirable. The combination of the two sweet and hot sauces was a great compliment to the meat giving it a nice "zippy" taste quality. Jethro's has become a favorite of many people around Des Moines and in their first year of business they garnered the "Best Barbecue in Des Moines" by the Cityview, the local free weekly newspaper. I can see why. It's a pretty cool place, even if you weren't there for the barbecue. While I wouldn't put it on par with some great barbecue joints I've eaten at in St. Louis or Kansas City, it's still very good.
My quest continues for good barbecue in Des Moines. If you have any ideas, send 'em my way!