The third location under the Jethro's Barbecue umbrella opened late in 2011 out in West Des Moines - Jethro's Barbecue and Jambalaya - taking the best of Jethro's barbecue from their original restaurant on Forest Avenue in Des Moines near Drake University and adding a number of Cajun specialties. I visited the Jethro's Barbecue in Des Moines last year (click here to read that entry) and came away sort of impressed with their barbecue. Their second location in eastern suburban Altoona, IA - Jethro and Jake's Smokehouse Steaks - takes the Jethro's Barbecue and pairs it with a steakhouse theme. When I found out that the third Jethro's had a Cajun twist to their food, I immediately put it on my list of restaurants to visit. During a trip to Des Moines a few weeks ago, I decided to stop in for lunch.
Des Moines developer/restaurateur Bruce Gerleman designed his third Jethro's location similar to the original one in Des Moines - exposed wood rafters, open floor plan, corrugated metal walls in the bathrooms giving the decor kind of a "shack" feel. (I haven't been to the one in Altoona, but I'm guessing it's similar to the other two.) The West Des Moines location is located on University Ave. just west of 92nd St. in West Des Moines and Boone Drive in Waukee (see map). It's kind of confusing as West Des Moines is on the south side of University and Waukee is across the street to the north. My GPS was equally confused after I put in the address and it tried to get me to turn into the Des Moines Golf and Country Club. But there was no entrance. I continued down the road a bit and saw Jethro's on the corner of a small strip mall just past 92nd St.
It was just after 1 p.m. when I got into Jethro's in West Des Moines and the lunch rush was in full swing. This Jethro's location is about double the size of the one near Drake University and also has a party room toward the back that can be used for overflow when it's not in use for private functions. The bar is similar to the original Jethro's with three sides surrounding tin corrugated culvert tubes stretching from the middle part of the inner bar to the ceiling holding the spigots of draft beer.
And like the Drake location, there is a "Wall of Fame" and a "Wall of Shame" for those who have tried the Adam Emmenecker sandwich challenge - a behemoth sandwich named after a former Drake University men's basketball star that features Jethro's huge pork tenderloin, then add an Angus steak burger, they they top that with mounds of Texas brisket, applewood bacon and then fried cheese. They finish the toppings with buffalo chicken tenders and smother the mountain of beef and pork with melted cheddar and white cheddar sauce.
This is Matt Meszaros, a young man from the Des Moines area who - if you believe the Adam Emmenecker web site devoted to the sandwich - has the record of consuming at least 25 of the sandwiches. Meszaros is the man behind the Des Moines Egotist website that follows Central Iowa advertising and marketing. One thing I have to tell Matt - I used to be your size at one time. While I probably couldn't have eaten one Adam Emmenecker sandwich, let alone at least 25, I probably would have made a serious dent in one when I was your age. But I have to tell you - age catches up with you and most people's metabolism slows down pretty quickly after the age of 40. And it's a lot tougher to drop 50 pounds after the age of 40. Believe me.
While the dining area was pretty full and there were tables available, I decided to sit at the bar which was about 2/3rd's full. A perky young girl by the name of Alicia greeted me with a menu and asked if I wanted anything to drink. I took a quick look at what they had to offer on their beer menu and I noticed they had an unnamed Samuel Adams seasonal. I asked Alicia what it was and she said it was called Alpine Spring. "It's light like a lager, but has sort of a hoppy taste," she explained. She offered me a small glass to taste it and I thought it was fine. I ordered a 16 oz. glass of that.
While Jethro's Barbecue and Jambalaya did have a number of barbecue items on their menu, I was interested primarily on the Cajun specialties listed under "Jasper's Cajun Favorites". There weren't a lot of entrees to choose from - jambalaya, chicken and sausage gumbo, crawfish etouffee, and red beans and "nice" rice - but you could combine them with ribs and other barbecue combinations. I really wanted to try a cup of gumbo along with the jambalaya, but it appeared that the gumbo was only available as an entree. When Alicia asked me if I had any questions, I asked her if the gumbo was available in anything smaller than the entree. She opened up my menu and pointed to a cup of gumbo that was toward the front of the menu. I said, "Perfect! I'll take a cup of gumbo and the jambalaya!"
She brought the gumbo out first. It had a dab of rice on top, topped with chopped green onions. It was a nice presentation. It had a lot of shredded chicken and long slices of smoked andouille sausage. In fact, the slices were cut long-ways and almost needed to be cut in half to get them on the soup spoon. I prefer smaller chunks of sausage in my gumbo, but I could live with it.
The gumbo (below left) was, well, different. While it was thick and rich, I can't really say the taste was bad, but it wasn't great, either. It had a little spicy zip to the taste, but the roux was sort of "eh!". I added copious amounts of Tabasco sauce throughout the eating process to help with the taste. I can't say that it was bland, but it had a different taste than any gumbo I'd ever had. I'm not certain I cared for it. No, actually, I didn't care for it all.
After finishing the gumbo, Alicia brought out a huge bowl of the jambalaya (above right). The gumbo was very filling and I knew that I wouldn't be able to finish the jambalaya. I could only hope to make a dent in it. While the jambalaya looked scrumptious with large chunks of sliced andouille sausage and small shrimp in a very thick rich tomato-base broth with rice, the smell was something else. Even though they put what seemed to be a bushel of fresh chopped green onions on top of the jambalaya, I could easily smell the fishy-ness from the shrimp. The first bite of one of the shrimp on top of the jambalaya was very fishy in taste. The shrimp they used had to be old and I was sort of contemplating sending it back. I had another shrimp that wasn't as fishy in taste - probably because it couldn't get any worse than the first shrimp I had - and decided to keep eating. I joked to a friend later on that they probably got the shrimp out of the nearby Raccoon River.
When Alicia came back to check on me and asked me how the jambalaya was, I said, "All right." I lied. Big time. The bottom line - the jambalaya wasn't very good. I wasn't overly enamored with the gumbo, but the jambalaya was worse. But Alicia was so nice and helpful that I didn't want to say anything to her. So that's why I have a blog.
I was overly disappointed in their Cajun food at Jethro's Barbecue and Jambalaya. My overall sentiment is that they need to stick to barbecue, which Jethro's does all right, and forget about the Cajun food. This won't stop me from going to one of the Jethro's locations in the future for barbecue. But I think I know Cajun food pretty well and this was not good.