Off Hours: A smashing way to start 2022, Ethiopian dishes and bubble tea
Hello, citizens of the year 2022, I'm local arts and entertainment reporter Isaac Hamlet and in high school, I both won a talent show and lost a statewide Poetry Out Loud competition within 24 hours.
Welcome to Off Hours, a free weekly newsletter on all things entertainment from the Des Moines Register. Let's smash some things.
Here's the deal, it's 2022 now, the start of which offers hope for the future. So, to celebrate a new year and bid adieu to the old one, I decided to break some things.
Smash Room Iowa, located in Merle Hay Mall, is the place to be if you feel the need to achieve catharsis via the manual destruction of objects. Throw glass bottles against a wall, hit a boxing dummy or take a printer from your office into the middle of a field with two co-workers and a baseball bat while blasting "Still" by Geto Boys as we demolish the device. (OK, maybe not that last one, but you can get pretty close if you don't mind standing in an enclosed space rather than a field.)
Now, I'm not the kind of person who breaks stuff. I happen to like stuff quite a bit and since I grew up with siblings, I tended to dread that my stuff would be broken. Going to Smash Room, however, I discovered that breaking other people's stuff feels much better than having my stuff smashed.
Since opening in May, Smash Room Iowa expanded to include ax throwing and splatter rooms, the latter of which lets people throw paint against the walls (and the former of which is even more self-explanatory).
After a year of a pandemic — preceded by another year of a pandemic — on top of all the normal turmoil of life, it is admittedly very cathartic to smash and bash random objects. Also, maybe the biggest highlight for me, Smash Room gave me an excuse to skip arm day at the gym.
If there's one thing I could have spent all day smashing, it was the car windshield. The feeling of the glass cracking — but not shattering completely — and getting to watch the point of impact web out in fractures is surprisingly satisfying. Similarly, it really was a thrill to take a printer to task for the myriad wrongdoings committed by printers against sanity and humankind.
Smash Room Iowa offers its eponymous smash rooms starting at $80, which includes 25 minutes of breaking and smashing. There is also an open rage room option that goes for $15 for a smash session without breakables. Ax throwing is also offered for $40-$120 depending on the amount of time and number of people. There are also splatter rooms, in which you're free to paint chaotically, for $15-$25.
While I'm far too sentimental to bring any of my own objects to smash, reader, what sorts of things would you bring into the smash room if you decided to go? Send me your ideas at email@example.com.
My top three songs to smash to
Though owner Chad Lambert has his own playlist going and said he doesn't generally get song requests from customers, these would be my top three songs to smash things to:
1. "Start a Riot," Shaboozey and Duckwrth: Obviously, "Still" by Geto Boys is going to be a great go-to option and while "Start a Riot" is a very different song, it gives me the power-fueled vibes of "Still," just more intense. And more intense is better if you're breaking things.
2. "Iowa," Slipknot: If you're really looking to have a narrative arc to your Smash Room experience, "Iowa" and its 15-minute run time supply that for you without an issue. The banging of drums and the shredding of guitars pair well with the general sounds of destruction.
3. "This Year," The Mountain Goats: Any given Mountain Goats song either makes you feel like you should be breaking things or planting things. I could argue that "This Year" evokes both, but notions of kicking and screaming and making it through a given year "if it kills me" make it easy to imagine destroying menial items with a group of friends, too.
Eat This, Drink That
All meat combo plate — $15. While there are vegetarian options at Gursha Ethiopian Grill, I decided I wanted to get a meal with all of their meaty menu items, which mainly consists of beef and chicken prepared in different ways. This included beef alicha, which is made with potatoes and carrots, and doro wot, a chicken-based stew served with a hard-boiled egg. My personal favorite was the chicken tibs, a sauteed dish with jalapeños and tomatoes.
I recommend getting the spicy version of any given item as most of the sauces are creamy enough that the extra kick is very welcome.
Get it: Gursha Ethiopian Grill near Drake University serves its Ethiopian fare every Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., on Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Or order takeout at 515-630-1077.
Passion fruit bubble tea smoothie — $4.67. It's exactly what it sounds like and it's delicious, assuming you're into sweet and cold drinks like I am. While I tend to enjoy the tapioca bubbles that burst when you bite into them, the solid tapioca boba in these nicely complemented the shake-like texture and offered a more neutral flavor, which helped emphasize the flavors in the rest of the drink.
Get it: Vietnam Cafe, located inside the food court at Merle Hay Mall, serves more than just bubble tea from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Give the restaurant a call at 515-252-8713 for takeout.
What are some can't miss spots for African cuisine or boba tea in the area that I should try? Shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
48 Hours Off
Friday evening: Each month, Mainframe Studios holds a First Friday event where people can explore the space and talk with the 135 artists who work in studios in what is billed as the largest nonprofit arts space in the country. Grab a snack and a glass of wine during the free event, which runs from 5 to 8 p.m. at 900 Keo Way.
Saturday morning: Now that snow returned to Iowa, winter activities can resume, too. Skiing is one of those activities that tend to work best with snow and Seven Oaks Recreation — 1086 222nd Drive, Boone — offers varied ski/snowboarding slopes as well as two terrain parks and a snow tubing park. Cowabunga!
Sunday afternoon: Botanical Blues, the Des Moines Botanical Garden's family-friendly showcase of blues music, returns every Sunday through March 27, with Major Blues and the Mugshots playing this weekend. This year's series is dedicated to the late, great blues musician Taz Grant. The event starts at 1 p.m. with tickets starting at $10 for adults.
Someone to Know
Salah Salah opened Gursha Ethiopian Grill in January 2020 at 2316 University Ave. and owns Hilal Groceries roughly a block away as well. His family moved to the area from Egypt 23 years ago and originally opened the grocery store two decades ago.
"This is actually the first Ethiopian fast food place in existence," claims Salah, who says the restaurant can prepare a meal in less than five minutes. "(It usually) takes 30 to 45 minutes if you go to any Ethiopian restaurant... It took (the chef) a while to get dialed in, to get to this system with the food still being fresh."
Going into 2022, Salah introduces coffee and tea on his menu as well as group platters. He says Gursha gets good traffic during dinner time, but he hopes to attract more people to the restaurant during the lunch hour.
Who are other area business owners working to evolve their local businesses? E-mail me some people who come to mind at email@example.com.
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My Day Job
Over the holiday season, I wrote pieces on the origins of Iowa's state song and the musical being workshopped based on its creation and a bit about how Ballet Des Moines reimagined act two of "The Nutcracker."
Now, with the start of the new year comes a new batch of stories. It might not be on the immediate horizon, but look out for at least one story from me about art grants distributed over this past year. Feel free to follow my arts and entertainment reporting here.
Next week, come back to see how the new year is treating shopping reporter Hannah Rodriguez as she stocks up a bar cart to celebrate her birthday! Forwarded this by a friend? Be sure to subscribe. It's free!