A new brewpub opened in Des Moines just over a year ago - Exile Brewing Company. A couple friends had been telling me about the place and they seemed to be pretty excited about it. I wondered if they had food and I was told that they did. On a recent trip to Des Moines, I decided to stop in and have dinner and a couple beers at Exile Brewing Company.
Bob Tursi is a somewhat famous name in Des Moines restaurant circles. For 30 years he and his wife, Amy, have owned the venerable Tursi's Latin King Italian Restaurant on Des Moines' east side. (Now THAT'S a place I haven't been to in a LONG time.) Tursi bought the restaurant from longtime owners Jim and Rose Pigneri when he was 21. Tursi had worked in restaurants since he was 16 and the business was in his blood.
Tursi's son, R.J., had worked in his parents restaurant since an early age. After graduating from Notre Dame, the younger Tursi spent time at a family winery in Calabria, Italy learning about wine. Becoming a certified sommelier, R.J. Tursi came back to Des Moines to work in at the Latin King where he revamped their wine selection.
Bob and R.J. Tursi had discussed opening a new restaurant somewhere in Des Moines, but they decided that it couldn't be another Latin King or a wine bar. Bob Tursi then came up with the idea of opening a craft brewery and R.J. Tursi was intrigued. Making wine is somewhat similar to brewing beer and the younger Tursi was soon learning the beer making process with Kansas City brewer James Hudec who is the head brewer for the Gordon Biersch locations in the greater Kansas City area. Hudec was Tursi's lead consultant on acquiring brewing equipment and looking for a head brewer for the new business. R.J. Tursi selected John Woodward, a chemistry major at Iowa State University who got his masters in brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, as his head brewer.
The two found a building on Walnut Street on the west side of downtown Des Moines that used to house the F.W. Fitch soap company that had opened in 1929. The area around the building had been cleaned up and Western Gateway Park - a mixed use area of green space and commercial buildings - was just a block north. The Tursi's opened Exile Brewing Company in August of 2012.
The Tursi's came up with the Exile Brewing Company name partly due to their Italian heritage. Bob Tursi's father, Joe, immigrated from the family's home in Terrevechia, Italy in the 1920's. They came upon Exile Brewing because Joe Tursi went through Ellis Island, right next to the Statue of Liberty - known as "The Mother of Exiles". A replica of the Statue of Liberty's crown adorns the southeast corner of the building. (Photo courtesy Jack of All Brews.)
I pulled into the parking lot in the 1500 block of W. Walnut Ave. around 7:30 p.m. (see map) They have an outdoor dining area with a small bar area. Inside, Exile Brewing Company has a large dining area known as their "beer hall". It was a nice evening and I decided to take a seat in the outside bar area.
(None of the pictures I took of the dimly lit beer hall came out. But it was unlike a true German beer hall with it's sleek and contemporary industrial design with large windows that overlook the brewery area.)
I took a seat at a table in the outdoor bar and a waiter by the name of Sam came over to drop off a menu. He asked me if I wanted a beer. I looked through the list of what they had to offer and their main beers are all German-style brews named after women. For example, the Hannah is a Bavarian-style wheat beer, the Ruthie is a Munich-style golden lager, the Gigi is a Munich-style dunkel, and Betty is a honey-blonde lager. R.J. Tursi said that he wanted all of his beers to have a German signature in taste so they'd be easy to drink. It turned out that they had a seasonal Czech-style pilsner that evening - the Nadia. I ordered one of those from Sam.
The menu at Exile Brewing Company has a number of main entrees ranging from lasagna, salmon pasta, a 14 oz. ribeye steak, fish and chips, and a German food plate consisting of veal schnitzel and sausage links served with red cabbage. I got to looking at some of their sandwiches they had on the menu and they had four different types of burgers including the "Uncle Buck" that consisted of a hand-pattied burger topped with bacon, pepper jack cheese, caramelized onions and roasted red peppers. I almost got that. But the thing that jumped out to me the most was the Italian Stallion - salami, ham, capicola, provolone, arugula, tomato, onion, roasted red pepper aioli, with Italian dressing on artisan garlic focaccia bread from the South Union bakery. You can order it either cold or warmed up. When Sam came back to take my order, I signed up for the Italian Stallion - warmed up. I got a side with the sandwich and Sam suggested the German potato salad - warmed potato cubes served in a vinegar sauce. I took his advice and went with that.
I really enjoyed my pilsner at Exile Brewing Company. I like the sharpness of a good pilsner and the one they brewed at Exile was very good. It was light and left a nice aftertaste. When Sam brought out my sandwich, I was ready for another beer.
The sandwich was piled high with ingredients on a full piece of focaccia cut in half. It was warm, but not hot. There were a lot of taste sensations on the sandwich, some overpowering, some not so much. The capicola was spicy and very tasty, but I couldn't taste the roasted red pepper aioli so much. The focaccia bread was spongy and held together very well with all that was on it. It was a good sandwich and just enough for dinner.
I will say the German potato salad that Sam recommended was a little "blah". It didn't jump out at me liked I hoped, but it was all right for what it was. Besides, I wasn't focusing on the potato salad as much as I was on the sandwich.
Des Moines is starting to turn into a little "beer mecca" with the number of brew pubs and craft beer bars the city has to offer. I think there are now four brew pubs in the downtown Des Moines area and each of them has their own signature for beer and food. The Exile Brewing Company is a welcome addition to the beer landscape of Des Moines and with their good beer and good food - and Sam's good service work - the Tursi family has done it right. Again.