When traveling is involved, buying local can take on a whole new dimension. While it’s easy to avoid well-known chains, it can be tricky to identify locally-owned out-of-town establishments. I put my Local Challenge (LC) to this test recently when visiting Des Moines.

Good Eats
The trip started with an evening in Iowa City to visit friends Geoff and Betsey, in town from Kansas City and watching Marquette tear it up in first-round NCAA hoops action. Accompanying them were several pounds of assorted K.C. barbecue from Oklahoma Joe’s (the one in the gas station). Who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth!* The barbecue hit the spot, the Warriors won (surprise!), and it was a great time spent with good friends.

In Des Moines the next day, I found myself in a mall for lunch. That certainly narrows the options, but not impossibly so. I grabbed a plate of food at the Chinese food counter and a chocolate malt at Maid-Rite (3850 Merle Hay Rd), which turned out to be a bit of a local institution. Next time I’m back, I’m definitely going to try one of their loose meat sandwiches. Overall, the band concert and the good company made it an enjoyable mall trip–my first intentional mall visit in many years.

Bottle Opener
Sunday night, I ventured out to two popular Des Moines watering holes: El Bait Shop and High Life Lounge (both at 200 SW 2nd St). El Bait Shop was a recommendation on Twitter from the fine folks at Peace Tree Brewing in Knoxville, Iowa. With over 100 beers on tap and more than 100 in bottles, the selection was not lacking. As a general ordering tradition, however, my first draft selection (Peace Tree Hop Wrangler IPA) was tapped out.**

I “settled” for a bottle of Peace Tree Double IPA (Beeradvocate: A-, Ratebeer: 94). Loved it. The serving temperature was perfect and the bitterness was impressive. I sipped this one while watching Marquette win (again! surprise!) their second-round NCAA match-up. After polishing off the Double IPA, I switched to a bottle of the Peace Tree Rye Porter (Beeradvocate: B, Ratebeer: 75). I enjoyed the smoky sweetness of this one.

Beer got kicked to the curb as we ventured next door to the High Life Lounge. The place was plucked directly from the early seventies, and reminded me of oh-so-many places I’ve been throughout small-town Wisconsin. Signage, wall carpeting, wood paneling, tables and chairs are all vintage, as is the drink menu. High Life Lounge also serves only food and drinks from the era, including the Tangermeister: a tasty blend of Tang and Jägermeister. I got there too late for food service, or I’d have tried the highly-recommended tater-tot casserole. Next time.

We Shall Overcome
Monday included a lunch stop at The Old Spaghetti Works (310 Court Ave) for all-you-can eat pasta (I finished my first bowl, but wimped out on the second and had to take it to go). On the way back to Wisconsin, I managed a pitstop at Millstream Brewing Company (835 48th Ave, Amana), another of Iowa’s breweries. Tried several samples here, and discussed the recently-overturned archaic Iowa beer tax law with one of the brew masters.

Until just last year at this time, beer over 6% ABV was taxed in Iowa as hard liquor, which made brewing the stuff in state slightly prohibitive, and distributing it outside the state-run Alcoholic Beverages Division impossible. By moving that limit to 15%, breweries are now putting more effort into classic barley wines, double IPAs, and other beers which traditionally contain higher alcohol content. Local beer distributors are now able to sell a greater selection.

And local drinkers (and those who visit the state) benefit with the renewed energy placed in the craft beer space. I took home six packs of the Millstream German Pilsner and Back Road Stout to celebrate.

* Bottom line, I just can’t worry about where my friends and family get food from. The scope of that project would be insane (and not to mention socially awkward).

** This seems to happen to me an inordinate percentage of the time.