I like to stay at the Hampton Inn near the Des Moines International Airport on my trips to Central Iowa. One of the reasons I like the place is that they feature an appetizer buffet each evening for Hilton Honors members - complete with free draft beer - usually catered by one of the local restaurants in the immediate area. One evening earlier this summer after I checked in, I went over to the buffet and found that they had meatballs in a marinara sauce, and a spinach and artichoke dip served with oven-baked baguette bread. The guy overseeing the buffet told me, "This is from Mezzodi's, just up the road on Fleur." (see map) I had definitely heard of Mezzodi's and I've been wanting to try the place for quite sometime. I got settled into my room and then decided to run up the road for dinner that evening.
Mezzodi's was opened in 2000 by brothers Ron and B.J. Giudecessi. The Guidecessi family are the people behind the highly popular Christopher's restaurant on Des Moines' northwest side. Ron and B.J.'s parents, Joe and "Red" Guidecessi bought Christopher's in 1963 offering a wide variety of supper club-style and Italian entrees in the Beaverdale neighborhood. Before opening Christopher's, Joe and "Red" had Rose's Cafe on the east side of Des Moines, opening in the mid-50's. The Guidecessi family wanted to expand their Italian offerings beyond Christopher's and the two Giudecessi sons decided to open Mezzodi's.
A couple years ago, the Giudecessi's sold their interest in Mezzodi's to a silent owner. The new owner reached out to Orchestrate Hospitality, a Des Moines-based management firm that handles the operations for restaurants such as Centro, Django, Zombie Burger and South Union Bakery. (Click here to see my entry on Zombie Burger, which is one of the most read entries of all-time on this blog.) All those restaurants are headed by chef George Formaro (who happens to be a follower of Road Tips on Twitter). Formaro was called upon to do some brainstorming with new Mezzodi general manager Sam Campero (formerly the owner of the now closed Nana's Italian Restaurant in Urbandale) and new Mezzodi executive chef Tom McKern (formerly the executive chef at Gateway Market). The three came up with a new menu, spruced up the place inside and out, and expanded their hours to offer lunch and dinner seven days a week, including a brunch menu for the weekends.
I arrived at Mezzodi's not long after 7:00 p.m. on a weeknight. From the outside it appears the building may have been an old Village Inn or International House of Pancakes restaurant at some point in time. The smallish dining room as you walk in was nearly full. The hostess explained to me that it had rained rather heavily a couple hours before and it was too wet on the patio to eat out there. I had my choice of a small table in the dining room or a high-top table in the bar. I decided on the bar seating area, a well lit, light-wood decored room. She dropped off a menu and soon thereafter my server for the evening, Courtney, came to great me. I got a bottle of beer as I looked over the menu.
Most of the items on the menu are Italian based from their numerous pasta dishes, steaks with an Italian twist such as their boursin cheese-crusted filet and their Tuscan-style ribeye that is marinated in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, herbs and garlic, and their chicken dishes such as chicken parmesan, chicken Florentine, chicken piccata and chicken marsala. They also had pizza at Mezzodi's along with a number of sandwiches and appetizers. Interestingly enough, I did not see the meatballs on the appetizer menu. (But they were available on the "Build Your Own Pasta" section of the menu.)
One thing I have to say about Mezzodi's was the bread that was brought to my table. It featured two slices of South Union Bakery's Italian bread and a couple hunks of their focaccia bread. Both types of bread were warm and very fresh. I didn't want to over eat the bread as I didn't want to get too filled up so I couldn't eat my dinner. But with the fresh whipped butter, it was hard not to stop.
Courtney came back to take my order and I was torn between the steak de burgo - medallions of sauteed tender beef topped with a garlic butter cream sauce, the lasagna Bolognese - Mezzodi's homemade lasagna with a Bolognese sauce with sausage, ground beef with mozzarella, parmesan and ricotta cheese, or the Cajun seafood pasta - shrimp and scallops mixed in with bell peppers and onions on a bed of penne pasta, then topped with a spicy Cajun cream sauce. I even contemplated getting a pizza, but the three entrees that I was looking at were tough to choose from. I ended up with the lasagna Bolognese. I had my choice between the soup or a house salad and I went with the salad with their homemade creamy balsamic dressing. I switched from beer to a glass of Norton malbec, a wonderful red wine from Argentina. I've been getting into malbec wines a little more as of late.
Courtney brought out my salad and it was pretty good. The lettuce greens were fresh and flavorful. Large chunks of crusty homemade croutons were on top. The creamy balsamic vinegar was a wonderful taste sensation. It was light, but had a great forward taste on my tongue.
Not long after I finished my salad, the lasagna Bolognese came out to my table. I was also ready for another glass of the very delicious Norton malbec. Courtney brought me over another glass and asked if I needed anything else. Nope! I was ready to dig in.
The lasagna wasn't all that large, but it was plenty enough. It had layers of lasagna noodles with the ricotta cheese, sausage and beef lying between the pasta. Mozzarella cheese was melted over the top and a sprinkle of parmesan topped the dish. The Bolognese sauce had a wonderful sweet tomato taste and the sausage and beef were ample in that I had I bite of the meat with nearly every fork full I cut. It's difficult to make bad lasagna, but it's even more difficult to make it taste great. Mezzodi's lasagna Bolognese fit into the latter category.
During the course of and directly after the meal, Courtney completely forgot about me. I needed another napkin as I dropped mine on the floor. She wasn't around, so I had to go over to the bar to get another napkin. Then after I was finished, I was ready for my bill. Once again, she was nowhere to be found. I finally had to ask the bartender if he could find my server so I could get my bill. About 10 minutes later, Courtney appeared with the bill. I opened it up and immediately gave her my credit card. She came back moments later and handed me the bill folder with my credit card. She thanked me and walked away. When I opened up the folder, I found that she forgot to include a pen. I had to get a pen from the bartender just to sign off on my tab. She got a couple dollars less than what I had planned on giving her. That's one of my pet peeves about service at restaurants. I don't want a server to be hovering over you during the course of your meal, but she needed to be a little more attentive. And I didn't think it was all that busy in there that evening.
Nevertheless, despite her disappearing act, Courtney did a fine job up until the meal was served. However, it didn't detract from the overall experience I had at Mezzodi's. The bread was outstanding, the salad was very good and I will say the lasagna Bolognese was one of the best lasagna dishes I've had in quite sometime. I sort of wish I would have had the experience of going to Mezzodi's when the Guidecessi's owned the place, but the team in place today acquitted themselves very well. I would definitely recommend going to Mezzodi's for a good Italian meal when you're in Des Moines.
(Update July 2016 - I just drove past where Mezzodi's was located and there is now nothing - no building, nothing. The restaurant closed in May of 2015 with the owners hoping to redo the space and rebrand into a new restaurant. That obviously didn't happen as the building has been demolished. Rumors are that a new building that will house a Panera Bread Company will be built on the former Mezzodi's site.)