By Jim Duncan
We look for two things on our beat - really good food, and really good stories. When the leprechauns are smiling on us, we find one or the other. But if the faerie folk are giddy drunk, we discover both in the same place. When Sweet Binney's opened their doors to the general public over Memorial Day weekend, it was the wedding feast of the Leprechaun King's twin daughters. Ryan and Stephanie Binney's bakery shop in Clive has already upgraded dessert courses all over Central Iowa, supplying catered decadence to a score of better restaurants. Now, their bakery is open six days a week dispensing the fruits of an olden, nearly forgotten art. But, we'll eat after telling their story.
Ryan graduated from Johnson & Wales University, the Harvard of culinary colleges. He worked for a couple major hotels in New England before opening the original Armani Cafèè in Boston. There were obvious pressures on that job. The first American restaurant bearing the name of fashion's great god of style demanded cutting edge flair in its kitchen.
"I was working insane hours. I had no life outside the restaurant, except for stealing a few minutes a day on the internet. That's where I met Stephanie, who was still a student at Drake at the time. After awhile, I had to fly to Chicago for some business at Charlie Trotter's. That seemed close to Des Moines so I extended the trip to meet her in person. I've been here five years now," Ryan recalled.
Before buying a catering company, Ryan worked at Sage and Trostel's Greenbriar while teaching at the Iowa Culinary Institute. Stephanie took her degree at Drake in finance and international business. Her management skills have allowed "Chef" to stay in his kitchen, where magical things happen. Ryan keeps everything scratch, literally. No mixes, no short cuts ever. He uses only local, small dairy butter, cream and milk, from free-ranged cows. He is in the second stage of a year long project of putting up all his preserves and compotes with locally grown and naturally raised fruits. The proof is in the pudding, and La Mie no longer has a monopoly on west side pastry orgies.
Lemon-cherry muffins were quite special and they had more fruit than any other muffin in town. Croissants, both plain and chocolate, were dream like, excreting fat and flake in a manner that defied physics. For the sake of research, we also sampled cinnamon rolls, pecan rolls, sesame studded Dutch letters and several kinds of Danish. That was before moving on to the desserts.
Turnovers, several cookies, cookie puzzle pieces, squares, brownies and lemon bars all called our name. So did red velvet cake, tropical carrot cake, a lemon-raspberry torte, chocolate tortes, triple marscapone mousse cake (a house specialty), chocolate bourbon pecan tarts, white chocolate blueberry tarts, èclairs, cream puffs, a dark chocolate mousse cake, chocolate-dipped strawberries and a ricotta caramelia cheese cake.
But the sweet things that branded themselves in our memory were: the rhubarb anise tarts; a pistachio caramelized chocolate mousse cake; balsamic strawberry cheesecake; and the lavender crème brulee. That latter dish was, of course, made by reducing home grown lavender petals for the infusion. Try doing that at home, or finding it at Hy-Vee.
Prices were extraordinary too, considering the extra costs of labor and ingredients. Muffins, pastries, Dutch letters and croissants were $1.50 to $1.85. Cinnamon/pecan rolls, miniature pastries and petit fours were all $2.25 or less. Cheesecake, cake and tarts all ranged $3 - $3.75 a slices, or $27 - $43. Individual desserts were $4.75 - $5.25. Teas are from Gong Fu, coffees from Zanzibar. There is Lorina sparkling lemonade, Cloverleaf dairy milk, Martinelli's apple juice and Gale Gand root beer. Sip on one while perusing the Armani-class original cake catalogue. Where else would a leprechaun king's daughters go?
Mon.- Fri.: 6:30 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Sat.: 7 a.m. - 4 p.m.