A small room inside a bar a few blocks from downtown, Hole in the Wall is the kind of place you could easily miss if you walked by. It's less than a mile from my apartment, yet for months I didn't know it existed. But it's there, with food for both indoor patrons at the Gas Lamp bar and customers ordering outside a window. A few plastic chairs lined up against an exterior wall are about all you'll get if you ask for a reservation.
But if you're expecting lukewarm hot dogs or overcooked burgers, you've come to the wrong place. As chef Zach Gutweiler explains it, Hole in the Wall offers high-end street food. And it's served on paper plates and in plastic baskets that you can munch on while sipping a beer and listening to live music at the bar.
Gutweiler launched Hole in the Wall nearly two years ago following several restaurant stints in Denver. He wants to change how customers view the quality of bar food and meals on-the-go. And he's doing it in Des Moines, which has recently gotten some buzz for an emerging hipster scene complete with a resurgence of younger residents and several new restaurants with eclectic menus.
Gutweiler's dishes bridge the gap between fine dining and what people think of as bar food. On the menu recently were bay scallops with speck that had fennel puree, smoked pecan nage (broth), daikon and apples. A few weeks ago, a plate included beef cheeks, hen of the woods mushroom powder, smashed potatoes, soy pickled mushrooms, grilled frisee, aronia berry gastrique (caramelized sugar) and blue basil. A few months ago, there was squid and shrimp ceviche with corn milk foam, mojo verde, chili oil and fresh herbs.
But what's there one day may not be there the next, and that's the beauty of Hole in the Wall. The dishes change all the time. Gutweiler often tinkers with them based on fresh ingredients available at local farms near Des Moines, and he uses organic options whenever he can.
But if that sounds too healthy for your idea of bar food, fear not. His dessert is currently a Twinkie that includes mint Bavarian cream, bourbon condensed milk, pear puree and dehydrated pears.
Hole in the Wall has evolved over time. While it began with Southern-driven foods like biscuits and gravy, there's a little more Asian-American style to it these days. The menu has a section completely dedicated to buns, which are steamed, folded and presented like a taco with various ingredients. On a recent night, I ordered the fish sticks bun. The red curry fish cakes were elevated with pickled cabbage, sweet chili sauce and sweet carrots. The cilantro on top was just right. It'll be gone in a few weeks. But that just means I either have to eat lots of fish taco buns ASAP or I need to trust that the new item will be just has good or even better.
Oh, did I mention that more than half the menu is under $7? It's a perfect price point for Des Moines' changing demographics. Younger newcomers moving here from bigger cities don't always have deep pockets, but they're bringing sophisticated palates, and they're helping the community create a customer base for interesting menus that are a little bit different.
If You Go...
HOLE IN THE WALL: At the Gas Lamp, 1501 Grand Ave., Des Moines; https://www.facebook.com/holeinthewallzach .