Anyone still equating Iowa cuisine with ham, corn and butter (as in the annual state fair’s award-winning butter sculptures) hasn’t experienced the dazzling food renaissance happening in Des Moines. Iowa’s capital and largest city—already a draw for meetings and conferences thanks to venues like Iowa Events Center and the 415-room Des Moines Marriott Downtown—has lately evolved into a Midwest mecca for food lovers. No doubt, pork, corn and dairy can still be found on tables around the city’s most stylish eateries. The difference now is in the locally produced, farm-to-table mindset of Des Moines’ savvy young chefs, who can turn any group dinner or dine-around into a dynamic culinary experience.
Downtown in particular is chock-full of restaurants within walking distance of each other to suit any palate and budget, with menus covering French (Django), seafood (Splash Seafood Bar & Grill), Latin (Malo), Italian (Centro) and American contemporary (RoCA). Tying nicely into Des Moines’ dining revival is the city’s farmers market, ranked as one of the country’s best and thus a favorite free-time browse for attendees. Guests can also hop on a motor coach for a day-trip tour of some of Iowa’s working farms and agriculture communities. At Living History Farms, about 15 minutes from downtown in Urbandale, groups can attend seminars, revel in Iowa’s rich farming history and enjoy a catered meal indoors or in the picnic pavilion.