The new restaurant in the East Village of Des Moines
Company executive chef Ken VanMilligen drizzles harissa-lime aioli over hot breaded cod, layered over a salad of crispy pickled radishes and cilantro in warm flour tortillas.
Chefs and cooks in training nod and take notes. A few of them take photos for future reference of how a dish is supposed to look before it leaves the kitchen.
“You want our food to taste as good as it tastes,” says VanMilligen, 38, before lifting the plate from the counter to deliver it to a customer at the new restaurant.
St. Kilda Surf & Turf, the highly anticipated culinary addition to Des Moines’ East Village, opens its doors to the public on Wednesday.
Located on the west corner of the first floor of the new building at 111 E. Grand Ave., the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch daily to diners seeking an elevated dining experience. with a modern and healthy atmosphere.
It’s the first of three new restaurants to open in the coming year from owners of St. Kilda, Alexander and Whitney Hall: St. Kilda at Temple for Performing Arts and another location to open in Valley Junction in the spring 2020.
Surf and Turf – with its rustic metal panels, laminated wood beams and sleek black and white wallpaper – pairs perfectly with pendant lights and Edison bulbs. And floor-to-ceiling windows offer sweeping views of the downtown Des Moines skyline.
At 3,170 square feet, the space was perfectly located and appealed to Les Halles as the building was designed to be environmentally friendly.
The streamlined dining area surrounds a central bar and coffee station with an open kitchen just beyond. Seating for 110 people includes options ranging from communal tables to tables for two and four bar tables overlooking the busy street.
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Whatever the seat, the innovative menu is the star of this space – modernizing British fish and chips and Mediterranean souvlaki, or skewered meat and vegetables, through Australia and New York.
“It’s a concept that we have followed and that is done a lot in Australia,” said Alexander Hall, 44. “They modernized fish and chips about 15-20 years ago and they took all the fat out of the batter and they started grilling fish and serving it with salads instead of fries.”
Here are some menu highlights from St. Kilda Surf & Turf:
- Ricotta pancake: Topped with local maple syrup, whipped mascarpone, fresh berries, chia and sunflower seeds, flax and puffed rice ($14; requires 15 minutes to cook)
- Zucchini Fritters: Served with sweet corn relish and smoked yogurt ($12; poached egg, $1.50 extra)
- Fish Tacos: Breaded and fried cod with cilantro coleslaw, pickled radishes, spicy lime mayo and flour tortillas ($12)
- Cereal bowl: Whole oats with white and red sorghum, wild rice, roasted baby carrots, spinach, almonds, cranberries, and green goddess dressing ($13; falafel, $3 more; salmon, $5 more)
- Lamb Souvlaki: Served with fries, mustard aioli, caramelized onions and parsley ($14)
The same menu is available from opening to closing. Baked goods, eggs and sweets are available all day. On the other hand, diners can order souvlaki and fish and chips for breakfast. “We didn’t want restrictions,” Hall said. “We want people to be able to come in anytime and get what they want.”
Most menu items can be accommodated for any dietary restriction, including gluten sensitivities and vegan, vegetarian or keto diets.
Another unique feature of the food menu is the ability to order homemade sauces like ketchup, tartar sauce, smoked yogurt and aioli flavored with harissa, mustard and garlic-lemon. Diners can also request that their fries be dusted with chicken salt – a popular Australian salty seasoning flavored with garlic, onions, paprika and turmeric.
Due to the presence of an actual bar, Surf & Turf’s drink selections will be significantly expanded compared to St. Kilda’s offerings. Hall hired cocktail consultant Karli Sandos of Proof to help create the bar’s program.
- Beet lemonade: Tito’s vodka, sweet botanical white vermouth, freshly squeezed lemon and beet juice.
- Visinada: Tequila Corralejo Reposado, sour cherry syrup, floral liqueur, freshly squeezed pineapple juice and cherry brandy
- Hibiscus and passion fruit: Gin Bombay Sapphire infused with hibiscus, freshly squeezed orange and Kepolo passion wheat beer by Liliko
The wine list is deliberately small, with an emphasis on Australian varieties, of course, but with organic and vegan selections by the glass and bottle ($7-$14; $24-$42).
A full range of Counter Culture coffees are available, as well as fresh hand-pressed juices and granitas – frozen juices served non-alcoholic or fortified.
Corporate executive chef Ken VanMilligan, 38, is a Dubuque native who studied culinary arts at Kendall College in Chicago and has worked in New York, the US Virgin Islands and San Francisco. He started with St. Kilda in June 2018.
“One thing that immediately drew me to Alex was that he worked hard to develop a culture of mentorship and encouragement,” VanMilligan said. VanMilligan lives in Des Moines with his wife and two children. “We value our employees very much and want them to grow with us and believe in what we are trying to accomplish. We are always thinking of ways to improve.”
Hall has already sent three chefs to Australia to study food culture for more authenticity. The chefs visit places recommended by Hall, writing daily reports to help increase their knowledge. Hall plans to send VanMilligan later this year.
“Ken and I have a very similar management style,” Hall said. “We want to teach people. Some of our best people had no experience when they came to work for us, but you have to train, encourage, nurture and lead by example.”
Hall met his wife, Whitney, 34, in New York. Whitney, originally from Urbandale, currently helps run the restaurants and the two live in Des Moines with their 3-year-old daughter. The two ran five restaurants simultaneously in New York City, and Hall vowed never to have multiple locations again.
But now St. Kilda currently employs 40 people and Surf & Turf will double that number. Leadership positions are promoted from within. Once all four restaurants are open and operational, his restaurant group will employ more than 200 people.
“We’ve been very fortunate in Des Moines to meet a great staff that gives 110% every day,” Hall said. “I have great confidence in the possibility of opening more restaurants thanks to the capacity of my employees. At the end of the day, I am only a sum of small parts. I am only good insofar as my employees will allow me.”
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Land and Sea of St Kilda
Location: 111 E. Grand Avenue, Des Moines
Hours: Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Contact: (515) 288-1086; stkildasurfturf.com; Facebook