Things got spiced up in Des Moines when “allspice” moved into the vintage storefront district in the city’s East Village.
Located at 400 East Locust Street, “allspice” brings much more than herbs and spices to a bustling clientele the owner describes as “everyone from the curious cook to the experienced chef”.
(NOTE: The ever-opinionated Phyne Dyner believes “spice shop” to be an unfortunate understatement and that “olive oil and balsamic vinegar boutique” more accurately and dramatically describes the real “allspice” experience.)
My pixels in praise of Penzey’s Spice Company had barely dimmed from the screen when I literally stumbled onto “allspice” on a Sunday two weeks ago. Unfortunately, the shop was not yet open and has no Sunday hours, but I was determined to visit with them during business hours.
It seems a lot of people had the same plan last Saturday. For, as we walked along in the East Village, at least three others asked us about the location of “that new spice store”. Within a few minutes we grew to a modest throng of spice-seekers. The Village makes for a pleasant stroll on a sunny day.
Soon, the aroma of exotic herbs and spices announced we had arrived.
The shop is European elegant and brightly lit. This is not some dingy cooking apothecary.
There are, of course, the obligatory rows of shelves laden with herbs and spices of every variety. But the real stars of the “allspice” show are its gleaming vats of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Each vat contains a couple of gallons of what can best be described as “chef’s ambrosia”. About ten varieties of olive oil and olive oil infusions are offered alongside a slightly larger number of balsamic infusions. Tasting cups stand ready next to each small vat.
Tasting olive oil?
Absolutely! These oils are not supermarket jug oils. Each shining container is labeled with a (very accurate) taste description of the oil or balsamic within. I spent well over an hour wandering among the shops wares; tasting sniffing, sampling.
Equally intriguing as the oils, balsamics, herbs, and spices…are the shop staffers. The owner, a former local attorney, modestly describes himself as an amateur foodie. An English-trained former nanny rounds out the staff with her to-the-mark assessments of flavors and a delightful repertoire of herb and spice-related world travels she enjoyed as a side-benefit of her former professional life. The entire “allspice” staff exudes knowledge and expertise.
Move over, Penzey’s, “allspice” will be a contender. Phyne Dyners who are deprived of an ability to visit the brick and mortar version of “allspice” will soon be able to enjoy virtual visits at their still in development website (www.allspiceonline.com).
Prices for “allspice” herbs and spices are highly competitive with Penzey’s, with a generous jarful selling for around five dollars. Its oils and balsamics retail for under twenty dollars per 375ml and the owner is promising curious, but frugal, customers smaller bottles that will facilitate experimentation without emptying one’s purse.
Time will tell if Des Moines is ready to spend about $15-18 on bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and the East Village is the best local venue to test that market. The Phyne Dyner (vigorously) applauds “allspice’s” decision to locate in the East Village, rather than becoming another (easily overlooked) “trendy posh-shoppe” adorning a strip mall in the western suburbs of Des Moines.
The “allspice experience” is irresistible and it will become a regular stop on the Phyne Dyner’s supply excursions and I have already begun building my own collection of fine olive oils and balsamic vinegars bearing the “allspice” label.
I walked out of the shop with a pomegranate balsamic that will be one of the brightest stars in one of my upcoming Phyne Dyning cooking events featuring tapas. After over an hour of ecstatic hovering over dabs of oils, I had to literally force myself to leave.
This is clearly something much more than a “spice shop” and, despite the advantages of e-commerce, “allspice” is something best savored in person.
The “allspice” shop is open M-F 10-6 and Saturdays from 10-4.