A Chimera of Flavors

Ian Stout

stoutian17@grinnell.edu

Ian Stout - Jeff Li

 

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Fong’s Pizza & Tiki Bar in Des Moines, a restaurant that prides itself on taking three types of foods and blending them into a zany mix of flavors and themes. The restaurant was originally a Chinese restaurant until it closed down, upon which the new owner asked himself: How can I “one-up” Dominos’ Oreo Pizza? The result: Chinese food and pizza having a baby together, with tiki-themed drinks throwing the baby shower. I wouldn’t be surprised if Grinnell called this restaurant for a diversity picture.

Now if you’re reading this you’ve probably heard of the D-Hall’s crab rangoon pizza. And you might say to yourself: “I’ve tried Chinese pizza, and my stomach still has trust issues.” It’s a name that strikes fear into the souls of all who have tried the bitter, angry beast that stirs when the moon shines red above Grinnell. But remember: Fong’s Pizza was the inspiration for the D-Hall crab rangoon pizza, and we all know the film adaptation is always worse than the book. I promise, you won’t regret visiting Fong’s Pizza. I certainly didn’t.

Inside Des Moines’s downtown district, I’m walking down the traffic-jammed streets as the streetlights and brilliant store signs illuminate my way. Zombie Burger and several other joints I’ve tried before tempt me, but I stay true to my course: I’m going to eat at the fabled Fong’s. A minimalistic sign with Chinese-inspired text stands above the restaurant with a guardian dragon nestled atop it, the store window filled with Chinese imagery, a relic to the previous owner’s style. The restaurant is situated right next to a main district street, which my friend tells me is, in his words, “absolutely clutch” for getting pizza at 2 a.m., when the restaurant sells pizza by the slice. Tonight my stomach is empty and I’m in for a full meal, so I step inside.

The restaurant has a homey, intimate feeling that comes from being squished so close next to people that you can’t help but talk to them. The air is warm from the day’s pizza-making, and I see waitresses carrying large pizza trays across the crowd. My nose can’t decide what it’s experiencing: is this Chinese food? Pizza? Did I die and go to heaven?

After a long wait (the crowds were huge and we hadn’t made a reservation), we’re seated at the table. We both order a large crab rangoon pizza, clenching our Grinnellian stomachs at the prospect of risking another crab rangoon incident. The waitress sets a large metal stand for our pizza, a nice touch to the traditional roots of pizza restaraunts. That’s about where the traditions end, I realize, as she set our pizza on top of the stand. The pizza in front of me is daunting, a wide brim of crust covered with, as the menu described: “Crab rangoon base, surimi, green onion, asiago & mozzarella; topped with crispy wontons & sweet chili sauce.”

I serve myself a piece, mozzarella clinging to the pizza slicer like a lost lover. My first bite is sensational, an exploration of two distinct flavor types that come together like chocolate chip cookies in milk. Chinese food and pizza, it all makes sense now! The crab rangoon base is the perfect compliment to the thin, well-baked crust that gives way with a satisfying crunch. The  wontons crackle and pop, letting in a river of sweet chili sauce that covers all 9,000 taste buds. That creamy sauce. That sweet chili crab blend. As I aerate the foreign flavors in my mouth, I think to myself, “That’s a 10.” I wash down all the tastes with a zippy fruit beverage, a sweetness that complements the hearty fried flavors of the meal in a way only American cuisine can provide.

I give Fong’s Pizza a solid 9/10. The food was a welcome change to my usual restaurant experience and the fun, multicultural atmosphere had a “hip” vibe that was the topic of conversation through the whole meal. The only complaint I have is that the lines were lengthy and the service put sloths to shame, but if anything that’s a testament to Fong’s Pizza popularity.

Fong’s Pizza is located on 223 Fourth Street, Des Moines, Iowa.