Last weekend, Bich and I drove to Des Moines to spend a couple days promoting my short film premiere this Saturday, Movie On A Stick.
As we hung our posters and chatted up hipsters in the trendy East Village area, we stumbled upon one of the greatest restaurants I have ever beheld. I believe, in fact, it was built just for me.
Zombie Burger + Drink Lab is a one-of-a-kind joint that has been open for a couple years. As we passed by multiple times on a Saturday afternoon, I marveled at how the crowd never seemed to let up. The lines snaked out the door and the patio was packed.
The manager told me they opened at 11am, and by 11:30 were on an hour-long wait.
Admittedly, I'm a sucker for theme restaurants. But when a little place like this demands this much attention, you know it's gotta be more than just a gimmick.
It's not the largest restaurant in the world, but there's a fair amount of seating packed into a smallish space. The rear of the restaurant houses the bar and mostly some long wood tables. The bar alone seats 20.
If you're not comfortable sitting elbow-to-elbow with strangers, you're better off in one of the spots on the patio or in the front of the restaurant, where you can line up to place your order at the counter, wait for your name to be called, and walk away with a sack.
It's all table-service in the back, which is themed like a fortified refuge from zombie-infested Des Moines streets. Chain link fence figures prominently in the decor, as do some funny yet tasteful drawings hanging on the walls, embrace an artsy graphic novel style to keep things from getting corny.
I especially enjoyed the shotguns chained to the wall and an "In Case of Zombies, Break Glass" feature - glass already broken, axe already taken. Then I noticed the fake movie posters.
Our menu was written on the back of a mock-newspaper with stories about zombie rights, zombies running for city council, etc. And wow - is that menu extensive.
A place like this runs the risk of being all-hype, but I'm proud to report it delivers 100% in the flavor department. There's hardly an item on the zombie-themed menu that doesn't sound inventive and delicious. Here are a few burger standouts:
Fulci - Prosciutto, brie, carmelized + raw onion, truffle mayo
Trailer Trash Zombie - American cheese, fried pickle, chicken fried bacon, cheese curds, ranch
Envy Corpse - Pepper jack cheese, pulled pork, ham, salsa, fried jalapeños, red onion, chipotle mayo
I buried my plant-based diet at the feet of George Romero for the occasion and ordered The Walking Ched - a burger with bacon, cheddar cheese, caramelized + raw onion, macaroni + cheese, mayo, and a bun made of breaded and deep-fried mac and cheese.
Only much later did I realize I could've ordered this with one of three different veggie patties.
I realize my pics make this look like a big pile of garbage, but the presentation was actually really attractive. The mac and cheese evoked the inevitable messiness of putrefying brains spilled across my dinner plate. It was a nice touch.
This is a burger you must murder with knife and fork. There's no way to heft this monstrosity to your mouth and hope to hold it together after your first bite, wherein the mac-and-cheese patties would collapse into a delicious cheesy mess.
I wish I had gotten a pic of my basket of fries, which for $3.79 could have fed the village children for a week.
Bich ordered They're Coming To Get You Barbara, which comes topped with American cheese, caramelized onion, bacon and Zombie sauce, all between two buns made of grilled cheese sandwiches. There's also an Undead Elvis burger with peanut butter and fried bananas. It's hard to believe his place has salads.
We struck up a conversation with the man and his son seated to our right. Turns out he was taking a break from a movie shoot - a zombie movie shoot. No kidding. They've been working on it for 4 years in the Des Moines airea and it's premiering at the Varsity Theater downtown later this summer. Did someone arrange all this just for me?
I'm dying to return and try their awesome-sounding shakes and maybe take down a couple deep-fried hot dogs.
There are many more puns about death and murder I have yet to tap, but it's probably time to just give the place my hearty two bloody stumps-up recommendation. If you're ever in Des Moines, you'd be hard-pressed to stumble into a more fun and satisfying culinary experience. The food is simply REALLY GOOD. I only suggest you pack a shotgun and/or machete to cut through the crowds.