IOWA CITY — Chef Clinton Dunn presents his signature dessert, a take on s’mores, with a flourish. A wooden plate, carved by his father, holds a flourless chocolate torte with graham cracker crumble next to a glass jar over two toasted, golden-brown marshmallows. When he lifts the glass, a twist of smoke wafts out, evoking a camp fire. The marshmallows can be toasted to customer preference — from barely brown to burned.
“Eating uses all five senses,” he said.
Dunn is the chef at Linn Street Dive, the restaurant Jade and Mark Paterno opened Jan. 23 in the space that formerly housed Devotay.
The Paternos bought Devotay just over a year ago from longtime owners Kurt and Kim Friese when the couple was ready to retire from the restaurant business. Kurt Friese died Oct. 26.
Jade Paterno said she and Mark made the difficult choice to close Devotay after months of slow business. In December, with Kim Friese’s blessing, they announced the decision to take the restaurant in a new direction.
“We’ve been in this space already for a year. We loved it. It was the place where we spent a lot of time,” Paterno said. “Unfortunately, the business just couldn’t keep up with the overhead.”
She said they decided they needed to try their own vision instead of continuing to try to keep the Friese’s restaurant going without the couple who defined it.
“We have a lot of friends in the industry. Everyone was encouraging us to go our own way and make it our own,” she said. “With Devotay, we maybe felt like visitors or caretakers. Whereas with this, this is our baby.”
The name Linn Street Dive is a bit tongue-in-cheek, she said. The goal is for a restaurant that will serve good food while not being too fancy, where people will feel comfortable in either jeans or dresses.
“We didn’t want to stray from the fine dining aspect of the food, but we didn’t want it to be unapproachable.”
She plans to start hosting events on Saturdays, such as whiskey and beer tastings and euchre nights. They want to entice both the town and university communities, she said, with a selection of “throwback” beers like PBR and Hamm’s alongside craft beer, wine and classic and signature cocktails.
The food menu is eclectic and will change seasonally, with soups, salads and starters alongside entrees like braised short ribs, bucatini al’amatriciana pasta and chicken piccata.
“It’s food, it’s such a pleasure, it’s the best part of my day,” Paterno said. “For us, it’s about having a really delicious meal, but maybe adding a little bit of pageantry.”
Dunn, who is from North Liberty, spent the last 14 years working with chefs in Los Angeles. He moved back to Iowa to be closer to family and because he thought this would be a good place to raise his own family.
He approaches cooking with a creative eye. His avocado ravioli is not pasta wrapped around avocado but a round ball of carefully sliced avocado enveloping cured salmon and sits atop marinated cucumbers and dill creme fraiche.
He said paying attention to details is important. The tomato sauce served with the meatball dish, for example, is made without any tomato seeds, to reduce tannins in the dish. The vegetables and ancient grains entree features popped quinoa, which is cooked, then dehydrated and fried for a crunch similar to puffed rice.
“Obviously the first impression is important — very colorful, vibrant and fresh is what I’m going for,” he said.
If you go
• What: Linn Street Dive
• Where: 117 N. Linn St., Iowa City
• Hours: 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday; 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
• Details: (319) 354-1001, facebook.com/linnstreetdive
Comments: (319) 398-8339; firstname.lastname@example.org
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