Historic Valley Junction has seen several new venues open in the past year with Billy Vee's Italian Restaurant's relocation from Panora, the opening of The Hall and the addition of Foundry Distilling Company. But one new restaurant is already celebrating its first anniversary.
Vino209 Wine Cafe is marking one year of bringing wine and food pairings — served in a modernized 100-year-old building — to this charming shopping and dining district in West Des Moines. Food and wine aficionados can enjoy new menu offerings, specials and wine tastings on September 7-8 from 4 to 7 p.m. Guests can register to win a magnum-sized bottle of Superfecta wine, gift certificates and other prizes.
"The first year of operation was difficult, fun, exciting and rewarding," said Kelly Sharp, who owns Vino209 with her husband Denny. "My goal for Vino209 was to create a space that would be sophisticated, yet cozy and that a wide variety of people would feel comfortable coming in and enjoying food and wine and we have accomplished that."
Sharp said she is thrilled that people love the intimate atmosphere of the 64-seat space — and the food. The food menu is wine-centric, with pairing-friendly items ranging from shareable small plates, charcuterie and cheese boards to sandwiches and desserts. "The thing I am most excited about is our new executive chef, Andrew Phelps," Sharp said.
Phelps, 27, a Denver native, is an industry-taught chef who trained under Joseph B. Westley, award-winning chef of Peoria Grill at The Timbers Hotel in Denver. Phelps moved to Des Moines in September 2017 with his wife, Caitlyn, who is originally from Urbandale. The two now live in Beaverdale and have a 10-month-old-daughter and Caitlyn is also a server at Vino 209.
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"My first and foremost job and expectation of the culinary staff here is to push food that complements the wine," Phelps said. And that means having food that will pair well with wine varietals from regions all around the globe. Servers are trained by Phelps himself in how to pair wine with food.
Phelps said his Italian family was his major childhood cooking influence.
He made sauces, meatballs, focaccia bread and fresh mozzarella with his grandfather on the weekends. But he decided to follow his heart when he realized he was looking up recipes in class during his sophomore year at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Before moving to Des Moines, Phelps was the head chef of Lone Tree Golf Club & Hotel, orchestrating the staff of its banquet and restaurant kitchens to execute a wide variety of personalized dining experiences.
And, to coincide with his one-year anniversary in a city he sees as more family-oriented, Phelps is launching Vino209's winter menu that will go into effect on September 4.
After taking the reins at Vino209 earlier this year, Phelps immediately recognized two distinct clientele: the lunch crowd, who have a taste for lighter fare, like sandwiches, salads and soups, and the dinner and late-night crowd, who are more into sharing wine and food pairings.
He immediately set about gearing the menu around both dining styles, being mindful of the smaller kitchen, which he describes as a "New York kitchen."
Phelps said he's excited for people to try the burrata plate on the new menu: "Burrata is a cheese I grew up with and I think a lot of people are not familiar with it," Phelps said. "But it's a very simple, rustic Italian flavor of cheese that epitomizes what I like to do as a chef and that is to let ingredients speak for themselves." The Burrata Plate is served with La Quercia prosciutto and homemade focaccia ($12).
Look for a classic old-world Italian panzanella salad with whipped burrata, focaccia croutons, tomato red onion, basil, balsamic and olive oil ($11) and a cold smoked salmon rillette (similar to a pâté) with mascarpone, capers, cornichons and focaccia ($12).
Also on the new menu is the Vino BLT with bacon, petite lettuces, tomato and a black pepper-Parmesan aioli ($10.50). Desserts are also a focal point for Phelps, as he's a big fan of marrying dark chocolate with cabernet sauvignon with the flourless chocolate cake ($8).
With help from the staff, you'll be able to pair all of these dishes with wine by the glass or bottle from a list of about 50 wines, ranging in price from a $5 mimosa to a $100 bottle of Robert Keenan "Reserve" cabernet sauvignon from Spring Mountain, Napa Valley.
Wines by the glass average $10. Bottles are available for purchase and Vino209 will re-cork bottles for free. Not a wine fan? Bottled local, domestic and import beers are available along with non-alcoholic beverages and coffees.
Kelly and Denny Sharp are not new to owning and operating a business. Denny Sharp is the President of FEH Design, a local architecture, structural engineering and interior design firm with offices in Des Moines, Dubuque, Sioux City and Wisconsin while Kelly has owned and operated Heart of Iowa Market Place in Historic Valley Junction for over 5 years.
"People often ask if the wine bar turned out the way I wanted and to that, I would emphatically say, 'yes,'" Sharp said. "It has the look, feel and customer experience that I had envisioned. I am very excited for the next year and seeing it continue to grow."
And grow, it will. Vino209 will be adding a new patio that will seat up to 25 guests in 2019.
Location: 209 5th St., West Des Moines
Hours: Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Sundays.