Best Food in Des Moines

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting lovely Des Moines to catch up with friends, eat, set up a new apartment, eat, and also do some eating. Honestly, I didn’t realize how much I missed the food of Des Moines until I came back into the fold over these past couple days. Now I’m no culinary expert, but I have seen some Top Chef in my day, and let me tell you, the ‘ol DSM can dish up some meals worthy of the flawless Padma Lakshmi. I’ve listed some of my current favorites below, but what are your top DSM restaurant picks? Where do I still need to try?

Best Pizza Joint- Gusto

Though it might not technically be in the Drake neighborhood, Gusto really is the perfect local pizza place. With cool Italian-inspired pizza combinations (like my fav The Stallion) and perfect location just minutes from campus, it really has become my weekend go-to. One time I even saw a professor and her family there, so if that isn’t cute I don’t know what is.

Best Ice Cream- Snookies

Okay, so ice cream may not formally be considered food, but to me, it’s the most important food there is. And Snookies does it better than anybody. An old-fashioned malt shop with awesome dipped cones, the place is a Drake neighborhood must. In fact, it’s one of the earliest places I visited with my FYS during welcome weekend my first year. Seeing the families, students, kids, and even dogs all hanging out eating ice cream together made me know I made the right college decision.

The awesome, quirky back deck at Centro. Just kidding! It's Mullet's.

The awesome, quirky back deck at Centro. Just kidding! It’s Mullet’s.

Best Fancy Dinner- Centro

I’m not gonna lie to you, this place is not exactly budget friendly (unless you have the budget of a midwestern James Bond). But it is the place to celebrate big occasions or simply splurge a little on incredible food. And now that I’ve finally figured out how to pronounce “Centro”, I’m excited to go back. Wait, it’s “chen-tro”, right? Oh, no. I’m still not sure.

Best Game-Day Food- Mullet’s

The game in this case is baseball, but really, Mullet’s is good anytime. It’s a quirky place with a beautiful outdoor deck overlooking the river and Iowa Cubs stadium. And while all that is nice, it’s not as nice as the delicious sweet potato tots you can get there. Oh, and did I mention the copious photos of mullet-clad gentlemen that line the walls?

Best Location- Dos Rios

I know this makes me sound a little basic, but you really cannot beat Dos Rios chips and guac. Seriously, they’re the best. Plus, there’s nothing like sitting out on the patio in the heart of downtown Des Moines’s Court Avenue district with all the people, all the restaurants, and all the guac.

That Intern Life

Ah, summertime. It’s the season for relaxation, long days by the pool, and simply having fun. For these three months in the year, one can simply unwind, sleep, and eat excessive amounts of ice cream. JOKES! Sadly, as a burgeoning real-life adult, I have sacrificed summer fun in the name of work. No longer are my days spent lounging and soaking in the sun. Instead, I have joined the workforce, hoping to build my professional skills and make the world a better place. Call me a hero if you will, but…no actually, I am kind of a hero.

Seriously, though, I’ve had an amazing summer thanks to a couple of incredible opportunities to work in my dream field. I’m learning the ropes of non-profit communications in the best way possible: doing meaningful work for some awesome organizations in my hometown of St. Louis. My two summertime internships are very different experiences, but equally rewarding ones. And despite the loss of sun and ice cream time, I honestly wouldn’t want to spend my summer any other way.

The view from the rooftop deck at MCE, overlooking St. Louis' beautiful South Grand neighborhood. It's basically the penthouse of the non-profit world.

The view from the rooftop deck at MCE, overlooking St. Louis’ beautiful South Grand neighborhood. It’s basically the penthouse of the non-profit world.

My first job is as a communications intern with the Missouri Coalition for The Environment. I’m working specifically on a healthy food systems project to edit, promote, and distribute MCE’s St. Louis Regional Food Study. As I’m working to help educate others, I’m also learning a ton myself about our how our environment and health are connected. The internship allows me to combine traditional PR skills with editing with public outreach (my favorite component). In fact, next week, I’ll be facilitating a roundtable discussion among local organizations to brainstorm ways we can make our food healthier and safer. And did I mention the discussion will be held on MCE’s beautiful rooftop deck? Nbd.

As much as I love my work with MCE, I’m equally enthralled with my other summer internship at Pedal the Cause. Pedal is another St. Louis non-profit that hosts an annual bike ride for local cancer research. And maybe the coolest part? 100 percent of the funds raised through the ride go directly to cancer research. I’m working as a marketing and journalism intern to run social media accounts and write and pitch stories about Pedal participants. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I could not be more excited about it. Yet, again, I’m learning from incredible people, getting to do incredible work, in an incredible location…just steps from the lovely Busch Stadium.

So, in retrospect, maybe summer is still pretty great after all.

Drake vs. Drake

This week, Drake takes its turn in the spotlight hosting Wednesday night’s ESPY awards. But where will we accommodate the nation’s celebrities and athletes? Do we have a venue big enough for all those muscles and egos? The answer is no, but not to worry, because alas, the ESPYS are hosted by Drake the rapper, not Drake the University.

One of these Drakes is from 1881 and the other is from 1986. I'll let you puzzle out which one is which.

One of these Drakes was founded in 1881 and the other was born in 1986. I’ll let you puzzle out which one is which.

You see, the two Drakes have haunted me for a while. When I first wore a Drake shirt to high school, my peers assumed I just traded in my Who band tee for something a lot more relevant (I didn’t). But the confusion didn’t end there. All through my college education, people have mistaken my school for a Canadian teen soap opera star. And yeah, that’s tough. I’m not going to lie to you. But after years of fighting the confusion, of drawing a distinction between the two Drakes, I’ve come to accept something: maybe Drake and Drake have more in common than I thought. For instance:

Hoop Dreams

Drake (the human) was recently named the Global Ambassador for the Toronto Raptors. And while I’m still not exactly sure what that means or why Toronto chose a dinosaur in sneakers as their mascot, what I do know is that Drake likes basketball. Meanwhile, we got a little basketball of our own going on in the Knapp Center. The Bulldogs have made their mark in the NCAA Tournament in the past, and after a couple of seasons of fun, dramatic games, I have a feeling we’re headed there again pretty soon.

Tweet, Tweet

Yeah, Drizzy’s made his mark on social media with cryptic retweets, tons of photos, and concert information. But you know who also tweets? That’s right. Drake University. And while an international rap star and an institution of higher education clearly present different social media content, I say they’re both worth a follow.

Identity Formation

Drake is just your everyday Canadian rapper of Jewish and African American decent. But he’s embraced his background, knowing his diversity is what makes him who he is today. One of the things I like best about Drake (the school) is that the identity of our student body is equally layered. Students from all across the U.S. and all over the world make up our campus, creating an interesting mix of perspectives in Bulldog nation.

Made for the Stage

Maybe the most obvious connection between the two Drakes is their shared high level of artistic, musical, and dramatic talent. From his famed Degrassi days to his stint as an SNL host, to his international tour, one thing’s for sure: Drake’s got no shortage of talent. But the same can be said of the university. I’ve attended jam sessions in the Turner Jazz Center, improv shows, and a performance of Twelfth Night all on a Drake stage. And that’s pretty cool. Maybe even as cool as Aubrey Graham himself.

Des Music of Des Moines

This weekend marks the annual 80/35 Music Festival in Des Moines. While I sadly will not be able to make it this year, somehow the festival has found the strength to proceed without me. And I couldn’t be more excited for/jealous of my friends who will be there. It’s a great lineup of musicians I’ve loved for years (Dr. Dog, Best Coast, The Envy Corps, Conor Oberst, Cake…), and local artists I’m just now falling in love with (MAIDS, Max Jury, Parlours, The River Monks…).  I mean, come on; it’s gonna be great! If you’re telling me you didn’t jam out to “First Day of My Life” back in the day, then you are a boldfaced liar, cause that stuff is indie gold. As is the whole lineup, actually.

Last year’s 80/35 was no different. I caught a really cool mix of local artists and big-time acts. Some of my favorite times were listening to the incredible Dustin Smith then heading over to catch the equally incredible Yeasayer followed by the David Byrne and St. Vincent show to end all shows. And all of this music set against the beautiful downtown Des Moines skyline? It’s perfect.

But 80/35 is not just a one-time phenomenon. In fact, the festival is symptomatic of something that all us residents know to be true: Des Moines is consistently an incredible music city. It’s a small enough town that great artists get a chance to grow and you get to see them do it. But the city’s also big enough to host tons of festivals, showcases, and music venues. I’ve seen jazz, rock, metal, hip-hop, indie, folk, and more all within the city. So while Nashville’s great and New York has a lot going for it, the best place to check out music in this fair United States might just be Des Moines, Iowa.

 

Reading James Joyce

“The demand that I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole Life to reading my works.” –James Joyce

This summer, I seriously begin that journey of devotion. Okay, not really; settle down. Of course, Joyce was joking in the above quote. Well, joking in a truly Joyceian way that lets you know he was completely serious. But the point is that I am reading a lot of Joyce this summer. And actually, it’s completely voluntary. (TWIST!)

To anyone who’s ever read James Joyce, he’s a surprising choice for a summer beach read. His work is heavy, dense, and sometimes just downright incomprehensible (Finnegan’s Wake, anybody?). Nonetheless, I find myself perched by the pool this summer, cool drink in hand, and Dubliners by my side. Why, you ask? Because strangely enough, out of everything in the world, I chose to study James Joyce.

"Nothing says summertime reading like a little Levinas."-Entertainment Weekly

“Nothing says summertime reading like a little Levinas.”-Entertainment Weekly

This foray into depressing Irish Lit (is there even non-depressing Irish lit?) is for my Senior Honors Thesis Project coming up this fall. Honors students are invited to spend a semester studying the interdisciplinary subject of their choice and then present their thesis at the end of the semester to students and faculty. I’ve chosen to explore James Joyce and notions of Irishness, and honestly, I couldn’t be more excited.

For those that are still confused as to why I equate James Joyce with positive feelings, let me back up a little. You see, I decided to become an English major because of James Joyce. After reading some of his work in high school, I was immediately entranced. He was complicated, unique, and most of all, puzzling. I can’t say that I always enjoyed reading Joyce, but I can say that he challenged the way I thought and forced me to grow as a student of literature merely to keep up with him.

And once I experienced this feeling of being challenged into growth, I knew it was what I sought in my college education. I wanted to go to college to read James Joyce. The only problem is, in my three years at Drake, I never came across a Joyce class. I’ve read things I never knew about and been challenged in so many other ways, but I still haven’t gotten the chance to study the one man who drove me to this point. So, with this Honors Thesis process, I have the power to change all that. I’ll be forming my own class, doing my own readings, and doing my best to challenge myself as much as Joyce challenges me. And who knows? Maybe this is just the start of a lifetime of devotion.

Drake First Year Seminar

It’s the classic college horror story: the terrible roommate. You know, the one you can’t possibly get along with or understand. The one you could never have anything in common with. From Felicity (what up, Keri Russell?!) to The Roommate (a slightly more topical reference), I’ve heard my share of awful roommate stories, both fictional and factual. And really, entering into my time at Drake, getting an awful roommate was probably my biggest fear.

The good news is that I had had nothing to worry about. From the moment my first year roommate snooped through my movie collection and discovered we had the same taste, we were incredibly close and amazing friends. To be honest, this is the case more often than not at Drake. Sure, there are stories of roommates who just don’t connect, but I’d wager that our roommate success rate is a lot higher than most schools for one simple reason: The Drake First Year Seminar.

The gist is that every first year student takes a class based on an area of interest with a collection of other first years. These are the same students you live with in your residence hall and adjust to the college experience with. Thus, you have an automatic bond with your fellow FYS students, and have something inherently in common with the people you live with. This concept is one of the more unique aspects of the Drake experiences, and maybe the one I’m most grateful for.

While I can now look back on my FYS days with calm fondness, entering into my first year I was crazy nervous because so much was riding on my FYS decision. The class I picked would determine the kind of people I lived with, my first friends at Drake. I agonized over which class to take and what other people would take it with me. There were so many cool classes, so many possibilities, that I got overwhelmed. I loved the idea of a LOST course, but what if everyone in there was of ambiguous morals John Locke-style? I’ve been interested in punk music since I was a kid, but what if my classmates in the punk FYS were scary nihilists who’d never watch the Oscars with me because it’s all pointless? Anyway, in the end, I ended up with an amazing collection of people in my coming of age film study class. We bonded over our mutual love of all things pop culture and they continue to be some of my best friends to this day.

But you know what? I don’t think the FYS class decision was as make-or-break as I thought it was. No matter which class I chose, I would’ve had a good experience because we were all taking part in the shared Drake experience together. I made friends from the Chinese Economics FYS and others from the running FYS, and I’m sure I would’ve done fine in either of their classes too. Okay, well maybe not the running one. The point is that the first year experience at Drake is designed to be fun and supportive. So there’s really nothing to worry about, and a whole lot to look forward to.

Check out this year’s list of FYS courses, including my two personal class picks: Jane Austen and Game of Thrones.

Best Places to Watch the World Cup in Des Moines

It can be lonely being a soccer fan in America. You fruitlessly explain to friends that the game is not just for second graders in a YMCA league. You wake up on Saturday mornings, all alone, to catch the latest Premier League action. You fight to describe that David Beckham is not why they call soccer “The Beautiful Game”…although he might be a contributing factor.

But every four years, something magical happens: the World Cup. Suddenly, for one month in the middle of summer, people actually care about soccer. We come together as a global community to celebrate the triumph of sport and glory of nations. It really is a beautiful thing. For soccer fans, the World Cup brings the joy of sharing the game with others. And for non-fans, the Cup means a chance to experience just how emotional soccer can be. Since the World Cup is an experience meant to be shared, why not get out there to watch and celebrate with friends, family, and complete strangers? If you’re in Des Moines, I have the perfect spots for you to do just that:

The Royal Mile

A classic English sports pub in the middle of Des Moines Iowa may seem like a bit of a contradiction, but The Royal Mile pulls it off.  They do a mean weekend breakfast during the Premier League season, and will undoubtedly be stepping up their game for soccer’s biggest month. While the Mile is externally situated in one of the hippest areas of Des Moines, once you step inside, it’s a journey to the cozy Britain of yore. So enjoy a pint, some fish and chips, and cheer on the good old USA… or I guess England. Whatever.

Jethro’s

Okay, so Jethro’s isn’t exactly known for it’s soccer fandom, but it is a Drake neighborhood staple with some of the best barbeque around. While football is usually the Jethro’s sport of choice, I’ve actually had some pretty good times watching MLS futbol with the crowd. And with the joint’s copious amounts of TVs tuned to sports all day, ev’ry day, you know the World Cup will be featured this next month. So why not watch the world’s most impressive athletes compete as you shove excessive amounts of BBQ and fried snacks in your mouth? It’s what being an American sports fan is all about.

The Keg Stand

You want real soccer fans with all the chants, cheers, and general rowdiness of World Cup fandom? Look no further than the USMNT celebrations at The Keg Stand hosted by the Des Moines chapter of the American Outlaws, an organization that supports U.S. soccer. I know that “keg stand” and “outlaws” sound like a controversial occasion, but it’s all much milder than that. Unless the U.S. wins that is, cause then, look out…

Manny Ramirez Comes to Des Moines

So it was recently announced that Manny Ramirez, yes, that Manny Ramirez will be joining the Iowa Cubs as a player/coach. To a lot of baseball fans, myself included, this was puzzling news. Nonetheless, I gotta tell you, I am excited about it, if only because I’ll be able to heckle Manny up close and personal.

The view from behind  home plate at Principal Park. You know, where the high rollers like myself sit.

The view from behind home plate at Principal Park. You know, where the high rollers like myself sit.

The Iowa Cubs, the triple A affiliate of the illustrious winning franchise the Chicago Cubs (lols, am I right?) play at Principal Park in the heart of Des Moines. Having them here is an opportunity to see future major leaguers before they hit it big, current players out on rehab assignments, and now washed-up old stars with character issues.

But seriously, it’s a cool place with a personal, approachable atmosphere. Unlike major league parks, you are always close to the action at Principal, and often within earshot of the players on the field. But as Spiderman’s Uncle Ben told us, with great power comes great responsibility, so be very careful what you say. Anyway, for baseball fans, Principal Park is a must-see during a trip to Des Moines. And actually, it’s a must see for those who aren’t baseball fans too. I recently went with a couple friends who weren’t sure how many “turns” each team got, and we still had an absolute blast. And by the end of the game, they even learned a little bit about the fundamentals of baseball. Maybe the same thing will happen for Manny.

Best Books to Read in College

As an English major, I’ve read a lot of books in my time at Drake. Good thing, too. It would certainly reflect poorly on the University if I had not. But some of the best things I’ve read actually haven’t been related to my major at all. When I glance at my bookshelf, what stands out are the books I never would have picked out myself, the ones I never knew I wanted to read. In fact, my favorite college books are the perfect representation of what a liberal arts education is supposed to be about. They span disciplines, subject matter, and time, and have challenged the way I think. Each individual will undoubtedly have their own collection of influential books, but here’s my personal list of the best books I’ve read in college:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Mix some Pakistani politics with a cool literary structure, and you get a really fun, fascinating read. I read Hamid’s work in a class about Middle Eastern politics and literature as we tackled the origins of religious extremism. I know it may not sound like a good time, but this novel and this class gave me a new, more enlightened perspective on US foreign policy. Also, Kate Hudson, starred in the movie adaptation, but don’t that that bias you; it actually is a good book.

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

Ok, so I’m not going to lie to you. Little Dorrit is no beach read. In fact, it’s easy to understand the misery of Victorian London while trudging through an 800+ page novel. But reading Dorrit in my Charles Dickens class taught me the value of completing a literary task and how to become engaged in a truly epic, complex tale. Plus, I developed an outstanding cockney accent, guv’nah.

Being and Time by Martin Heidegger

When I began my Phenomenology and Existentialism class, I couldn’t even spell Heidegger, much less tell you about his philosophical musings. And while my spelling is still not great, my existential understanding has definitely improved. There’s no doubt that old Martin makes for a tough read and a bit of a downer. But his thoughts on the how the context of our lives is artificially constructed have been some of the most influential in my academic career.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Confession time: I love Jane Austen. In fact, I have since I was a kid. And while I reveled in the wit and satire of most of her works, the dark undertones of Mansfield Park always troubled me. While taking a j-term class on Austen and landscape last year, I got to fully explore the novel’s use of land, British Empire, and slavery. And what I learned is that all literature, even lovely Jane Austen, is full of complications and contradictions. That’s what makes it fun.

The Elements of Style by E.B. White and William Strunk Jr.

For a short book, The Elements of Style certainly packs a punch. It details the principles all good writers should live by and common mistakes to avoid. I actually read it as part of a journalism class, but I think about it anytime I’m writing. As someone who tends to be a little wordy, White and Strunk serve as a reminder to me that often the best writing is the most concise. In their spirit, I’ll leave it at that.

Sumertime Sadness

After classes ended for the year, I was admittedly burnt out. I’ve talked before about the horrors of finals season, and they came again full-force this semester. Come the last week of my junior year, I was tired, grouchy, and suffering from severe carpal tunnel syndrome after writing my copious amounts of papers. (This was not formally diagnosed, but I think I’ve seen enough Grey’s Anatomy to successfully detect pretty much any ailment).

Anyway, now that I’m home, I took a few days off. I slept, I ate things other than my finals diet of cookie dough and old jelly beans, and I began to slowly relax a little. These days, I’m feeling pretty good. I’m mentally and physically rested and able to look back on what was, in retrospect, a pretty great semester. Not only did I learn a lot in the classroom these past few months, but I grew a lot outside of it. As an almost senior, I can say I’m now older, wiser, and more comfortable than ever in my Drake home and in Des Moines.

With this period of rest and reflection under my belt, something strange began happening. I not only began to miss Drake, Des Moines, and all my friends, but I began to miss school itself. I miss my Habitat for Humanity meetings and chatting with my professors in Howard Hall. I miss my classes and getting to discuss with other students. I miss all my readings, and yes, I even miss my homework.

Maybe I’m a little crazy or maybe it’s a case of pre-summer nostalgia. But maybe, just maybe, I go to a really great school that deserves to be missed.