I have had el Bait Shop on the south side of Des Moines' downtown area on my "Restaurants to Visit" list for a long, long time. I've dined at its sister (and attached) restaurant the High Life Lounge a number of times (click here to see my post on the High Life Lounge), but have never ventured over to the el Bait Shop side of the building. On a trip earlier this year to Des Moines, I made it a point to get something to eat at el Bait Shop.
El Bait Shop is one of the many restaurants under the Full Court Press umbrella of restaurants that include Hessen Haus (click here for my entry on Hessen Haus), Fong's Pizza, Mullets, and, of course, the High Life Lounge. It opened in 2006 and quickly became known for its extensive variety of beers on tap and in bottles. El Bait Shop features over 100 beers on tap.
You can't miss the taps behind the bar at el Bait Shop. I got in there around 9:00 p.m. that particular evening and took a seat at the bar. One of the bartenders gave me a menu and I looked through their beer selection. Imagine my surprise to find that they had Lagunitas IPA on tap - I didn't know that Lagunitas was available in Iowa. The bartender told me, "Yeah, we just got Lagunitas back in July. I take it that you're familiar with their beer." Oh, yeah...
The interior of el Bait Shop could be described as delightfully tacky. Even more delightfully tacky than any Hooters I've been in - which has been a long, LONG time since the last time I was in a Hooters. They have a lot of kitsch hanging from the walls giving it a somewhat cluttered - but interesting - look.
There was an area that paid homage to former professional wrestler Ric Flair. Flair won more championship titles than any other pro wrestler and his large portrait was the centerpiece of a display of dozens of other professional wrestlers - many of whom used to wrestle in Des Moines years ago.
Going through the food menu I found that they have the typical bar appetizers - wings, quesadillas, onion rings - but they also have something called bacon wrapped tater tots. They were tater tots and chopped jalapenos that are wrapped in bacon, deep fried and then topped with cheddar and jack cheese. Now THOSE sounded good!
Because they share the kitchen with the High Life Lounge, the menu also features some of the comfort food favorites on the menu next door. (Similarly, many of the el Bait Shop menu items are available next door at the High Life Lounge.) Some of the specialty sandwiches served at el Bait Shop include a Spam, egg and cheese sandwich; a maple sausage, egg and cheese on Texas toast; and a good ol' Sloppy Joe sandwich.
But I was interested in the "el Bait Shop Specialties" part of the menu which included fish tacos. For $7.99 you could get two flour tacos filled with seasoned and grilled tilapia filets and topped with shredded cabbage, pineapple salsa and cilantro cream sauce. Black beans and rice came on the side. (For two bucks more, you could get seasoned grilled shrimp.)
And that's exactly what I ordered. I like good fish tacos and the ones at el Bait Shop were very good. The fish was fresh with a nice little spicy seasoning, the cilantro cream sauce was a nice balance to the somewhat spicy taste of the fish. I added rice and black beans to the tacos to give them a full hearty taste. They were nice and light - not too filling - and tasted fine. For fish tacos, I'd give them a B+.
So, yeah, el Bait Shop is fun and kitschy. The food is a step above typical bar food (especially with the help of some menu items culled from the High Life Lounge) and it's difficult to find a place with a more wide variety of beers than what they have to offer on tap and in bottles. It's a place that if you're 22 or 62 you'll have fun in and get a good meal.