I was in Ankeny last month to meet the newest member of the police force, but the highlight of my itinerary that day was making my way to Naughtea’s soft opening in Ankeny, 1810 SW White Birch Circle, which promised a full selection of bubbly tea. I haven’t had much since my long gone days at Bubbleology in Iowa City, may she rest in peace. Naughtea also offers an extravagant take on the corn dog popularized as street food in South Korea, which I’ve never eaten on the subway or anywhere else.
For owner Valery Tongol, that was the goal. Tongol moved to Iowa from Los Angeles in 2013, and the first thing he sought out was boba, the bubble tea drink that continues to spread in popularity around the world. She wanted to open a shop that offered more variety—one that would bring all her favorites together in one place—and one of Tongol’s obsessions was the Korean corn dog, which is usually deep-fried and sugar-coated with rich flavor combinations.
“I said since we don’t have it here in Iowa, I have to bring it here to my store,” Tongol told me.
Opening Naughtea represents a career change for Tongol, after her time at Pella Corp., for a dream that was in the making.
“Seeing the vision come to life was fantastic,” said manager Anthony McClendon, whom Tongol invited to join Naughtea after they worked together at Pella.
On opening day, I planned to be the first customer in the store, but I was beaten by a few who were braver than me and ended up being customer number 7 or so. I stood in line behind an expert on the local bubble tea scene and a family trying it for the first time as I scanned the menu for what I wanted to try.
A who’s who of Ankeny politics and business made their way to check it out as I settled on my choice: a corn dog breaded with fries and one encrusted with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, both stuffed with mozzarella. I’d wash them down with my favorite boba, a purple and nutty taro bubble tea that’s reminiscent of Blue Moon ice cream or the milk left in a bowl of Lucky Charms.
While I waited, I impressed myself by being able to name (charitable) half of the K-Pop artists and groups in music videos that play on TV, years after my own K-Pop-on-repeat phase. Naughtea continues to center K-Pop fans with events and merchandise.
The corn dogs were delicious by the way.
Tongol said the response from the community has been great as she settles into the flow of her first business.
I made a commitment in the new year to make a concerted effort to try new food and advertising spots, like the new Mayalu Cafe on the south side, 4226 Fleur Drive, with a beautiful mural inside by a local student that combines references to Nepal and Des Moines, and the Waveland Cafe, 4708 University Ave., which is officially the 10/10 brunch I was looking for.
I also had my eye on a pie shop in downtown Bondurant, Home Slice Homemade Pies, 106 Main St. SE that several people liked me for. Feel free to tell me where else to go in 2023.
Chris Higgins covers the eastern suburbs for the Register can’t resist a hot new dish. Contact him at [email protected] or 515-423-5146 and follow him on Twitter @chris_higgins_.
Our Des Moines
Our Des Moines is a weekly feature on an interesting person, place or event in metro Des Moines, the kind of gems that make central Iowa a special place. Have an idea for this series? Contact [email protected]