Jarad Bernstein, 30, moved to Des Moines from San Francisco, Calif., five years ago. In addition to adapting to the Midwest culture, finicky weather and a smaller metropolis, he had to adjust to the restaurant scene, which at the time, wasn’t exactly booming. In addition to the limited options for carnivore faves (steak, burgers, wings), the options were even more limited for vegetarians. And since Bernstein eats a mainly kosher diet, every one of those options mattered.
We first spoke with Bernstein, director of public relations and media management at Drake University, back in 2010, just after he started thepeskydiner.com, a blog dedicated to “Des Moines-area restaurant goers whose menu choices are limited to dietary restrictions.” It was when our restaurant scene was taking off, and “vegetarian” options were growing from plain pasta or salad only, into unique, meat-free dishes. Today, the blog is still going strong, so we checked in to see how Des Moines has changed in the past two years, and what he’s still looking forward to.
Q: First, can you explain the rules of eating kosher?
“Kosher is the dietary guideline to Judaism. On a practical level, it means not eating dairy or meat in the same meal. It also means not eating meat that doesn’t come from a kosher animal, such as pigs. And any meat I do eat has to be certified kosher, which means the animal was slaughtered in a certain way. Fish, however, is not considered meat, although some varieties of fish are not kosher to eat.”
Q: How big of a challenge is it to eat kosher when you go out to eat?
“Well, since there is only one place in Des Moines to buy meat that is certified kosher — Maccabee’s Deli — I’m basically limited to a vegetarian diet when I go out to eat.”
Q: Do you wish we had more options for kosher dining?
“It would be great to have, but we don’t have the market right now to support it. Plus, certified kosher meat is expensive. It’s not necessarily a higher quality meat, but it’s the time and process used to slaughter an animal that makes it more expensive. It’s a hard sell to convince someone to buy a $10 kosher-certified pastrami sandwich versus a $6 regular pastrami sandwich.”
Q: What do you think of Des Moines’ options for vegetarians?
“Compared to when I moved here about five years ago, there are many more vegetarian options that have popped up. It used to be that you could only eat pasta with a plain sauce or a simple salad, but now there is a more intentional focus on vegetarian meals. They aren’t a second thought anymore, they are actually well-rounded meals. I love what George Formaro is doing with meatless Mondays, and even the Iowa State Fair had better options this year, like a mock tenderloin and a veggie gyro. I’m sure I’m in the minority for eating vegetarian for religious reasons, but there are plenty of people making the change for dietary and animal rights reasons that are a big driving force for Des Moines’ scene.”
Q: When we spoke to you last, you named Maccabee’s, A Dong, Gateway Market, Thai Flavors and RedRossa as a few of your favorite restaurants. Do you have any new regular spots?
“I love Gusto Pizza, and Americana’s weekend brunch has enough vegetarian options to blow anyone’s diet. I also love Tacopocalypse — Sam has done an amazing thing with his veggie chorizo.”
Q: You mentioned the Iowa State Fair had a decent amount of vegetarian options this year. What did you eat?
“I had a hard boiled egg on-a-stick — my ‘free fair favorite.’ I also had deep fried pineapple, a veggie corn dog, onion rings… Definitely not a healthy list by any means!”