A few years ago, when enjoying the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market, I happened upon a bakery and barbecue vendor that had quite the robust line. Since it was nearing lunch time, I joined the hungry horde to see what all the excitement was about.
I quickly learned. It was love at first bite.
Now, going on several years, nearly every visit to the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market includes a stop at Uncle Wendell's for either a brisket or pulled pork sandwich. It's an absolute non-negotiable can't miss stop.
Initially, when the farmers market ended for the year (it runs from the first Saturday in May to the last Saturday in October), I was quite bummed because I thought I would have to go the entire winter without that deliciousness.
But then I had a revelation - Uncle Wendell's has it's own restaurant on Ingersoll Avenue in Des Moines. If you don't know what you are looking for - you might drive by it the first time. It's the furthest east storefront of an older commercial building. It's open 5 days a week (Tuesday - Saturday) and it has a broader menu (including catering) than what is offered at the farmers market.
When you look at a map of the Des Moines metro area, it's pretty close to the middle of things. Ingersoll Avenue in Des Moines is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance in recent years - with some new construction but also a lot of rehabilitation of older structures, including the next door apartment building that had been mostly vacant for awhile.
On a recent lunch break from my full-time job, I made a quick stop at Uncle Wendell's. It's always a treat and you never leave hungry.
They have a relatively strong offering of sandwiches, dinners, and rib options - but I nearly always get the meal deal because it comes with a sandwich and a couple of sides. Realistically, it's more food than I need - but it's so delicious. I think my lunch was around $11 but, as the upper left of the menu says, "Prices subject to change according to customer's attitude". I'm not sure whether my attitude would help or hurt? Hopefully help!
My meal deal included the quarter-pound brisket sandwich as well as a side of potato salad and baked beans. The potato salad is, without a doubt, the best I've ever had. The beans are like a meal in themselves as they seem to load them up with a fair amount of barbecued meat.
The brisket? Where to start? It's cut thick, with great bark, and it is so tender. I would almost say it's more like a roast beef than any other kind of brisket I've had. It's just different - and in a good way. Their pulled pork is always very well seasoned. They are never "chintzy" with their serving size - it's all very generous. Technically, these masses of meat and bread are considered sandwiches, but I always just eat them from a knife and fork because it's about impossible to keep things under control otherwise - especially when doused in sauce.
Uncle Wendell's is also a bakery but they do not sale baked goods, other than some desserts, out of their restaurant on Ingersoll. However, for their weekly farmers markets, they have a large selection that is quite popular. They do, however, also utilize their own homemade bread for their sandwiches. It's cut fresh (and thick) and it has a certain density which is perfect for soaking up their delicious sauces.
Speaking of sauces, they have several to choose from - from sissy to tweener to shocker. I always go with the tweener sauce. It's got a little bit of kick but it's not overly hot. Recently, I noticed they had a mustard sauce on the counter. I did not try it. Maybe next time. These sauces are also have a thick consistency. If you want some of that runny sauce for your meat, you would probably not like Uncle Wendell's.
This is not a big restaurant - it's long and narrow with minimal seating options. There's nothing fancy about it but that's also part of the charm of the place. They let the food speak for itself. I always love the flamed interior - it's unique.
Obviously, I am not the only fan - lots of people have voted Uncle Wendell's, year after year, as one of the best (if not THE best bbq) in the Des Moines metro.
They have some other fun decoration pieces elsewhere in the restaurant, too.
You can even buy some merchandise.
While I'm no expert on barbecue, I do love it and I can say quite confidently that Uncle Wendell's is the best I've had in Des Moines to date. If Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives ever comes back to Des Moines, Uncle Wendell's is the kind of place they should be visiting.
In the meantime, give Uncle Wendell's a "like" on Facebook and be sure to stop in to their restaurant on Ingersoll or visit them at the Des Moines Farmers Market this spring, summer, or fall.
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Polk County or one of our other beautiful 98 counties. If you would wish to host the Iowa Adventurer or have have a suggestion, please drop me a note through my website.