- 2318 University Ave., Des Moines, IA, 50311
- Overall User Rating:
- (86 ratings)
- 6:30a.m.-10p.m. Monday through Friday; 7:30a.m.-10p.m. Saturday and Sunday
- Official Web Site:
Frankly, while I’ve enjoyed Mars Cafe as great place for coffee, chats and write-ins with my writing buddies, I’ve never taken the food too seriously here, as it didn’t seem this spot’s focus. But recently, they’ve taken great care to offer a quality selection of coffeehouse fare.
Atmosphere: Red (as in Mars) walls, globe-shaped lamps and a few astronaut paintings play off the space-age theme, but it’s mostly a down-to-earth spot, with sturdy wood furnishings, large storefront windows and a comfortable mix of chairs, booths and banquette seating.
Menu: Local chef Hal Jasa helped design a new slate of offerings. Such a thing could spell trouble (i.e., ambitious chef fashions a killer-good menu, but leaves it in the hands of the non-chef counter help to pull it off).
Fortunately the menu does not over-reach what a small, often-chef-less staff with a small kitchen can do — and yet, it goes beyond what you’d expect at such a casual spot. Find grilled panini, salads, one soup (usually roasted red pepper) and breakfast sandwiches (served all day). Cold sandwiches, served on ciabbatta, are prepared and ready to take away from the cold case.
Some options are classic (e.g., the turkey sandwich and the spinach salad with walnuts), while others are more contemporarily wrought, including a salami, red pepper and provolone panini and a yellow fin tuna salad.
Best bites: The ham-and-egg sandwich is out of this world, thanks to the rich yet fluffy egg, thin slices of ham and the crowning glory of lavender-Dijon mustard. This breakfast sandwich is definitely lunch-worthy.
I also admired the hummus and veggie sandwich, with a good housemade hummus, roasted red pepper and lightly wilted spinach leaves dotted with red onions.
A smooth and intense roasted red pepper soup is offered most days. Try it alongside a half-panini sandwich in the “pick two” option for a reasonable $6.29.
Complaints: The exceedingly thick ciabatta loaf doesn’t flatter every sandwich. In one case, the slices were so thick that the grilled Turkey Pesto sandwich arrived with cheese that was barely warm (let alone melted). And isn’t a little ooze the point of a panini? With dry chicken and a less-than-thrilling mix of greens, the chicken salad was a non-event.
Stay for dessert? Yes. Sweets and breakfast pastries come by way of Sweet Binney’s, a local pastry shop.
Bottom line: Mostly admirable food in one of the city’s hippest cafes.