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Review: Think Iowa City Restaurant Week 2023
See inventive new street food, gourmet plates in Johnson County
For a curation of reviews on this year’s menu, scroll down.
After pandemic changes over the last few years, 2023 Restaurant Week in Coralville, Iowa City, North Liberty and Solon is returning to its roots with a weeklong celebration plus a new philanthropic element.
From Feb. 18 to 27, diners can track their participation with the “IC Foodie Passport” by collecting stamps after prix fixe menu orders at participating restaurants. Those who collect three or more stamps will be entered in a grand prize drawing for gift cards from local restaurants to continue exploring.
Diners can give back while eating out by participating in the new Foodie Fillanthropy food drive. Simply drop off non-perishable food donations through the end of February at Think Iowa City’s office, 900 First Ave. in Coralville. Donations will be distributed to the Coralville Community Food Pantry, North Liberty Community Pantry and CommUnity Crisis Services.
This year, 25 restaurants are participating with prix fixe lunch and dinner menus to recalibrate the life of Johnson County’s foodie scene. See full menus here.
- 30hop (900 E. Second Ave., Coralville)
- Big Grove Iowa City (1225 S. Gilbert St., Iowa City)
- Big Grove Brewpub (101 W. Main St., Solon)
- Brix Cheese Shop & Wine Bar (209 N. Linn St., Iowa City)
- Double Tap (121 E. College St., Iowa City)
- Edgewater Grille (300 E. Ninth St., Coralville)
- Get Fresh Cafe (109 Iowa Ave., Iowa City)
- Goosetown Cafe (203 N. Linn St., Iowa City)
- Graduate Food Hall (210 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City)
- Iowa Athletic Club (200 E. Ninth St. Suite 205, Coralville)
- Mosley’s Backyard Grill (125 E. Zeller St., North Liberty)
- Oasis Falafel (206 N. Linn St., Iowa City)
- Pat and Fran’s Irish Pub (808 Fifth St. Suite 8, Coralville)
- Pullman Bar & Diner (17 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City)
- Roxxy (127 E. College St., Iowa City)
- Reds Alehouse (405 N. Dubuque St., North Liberty)
- Reunion Brewery Iowa City (516 Second St., Coralville)
- Shakespeare’s Pub and Grill (819 S. First Ave., Iowa City)
- SpareMe (404 E. College St., Suite 101, Iowa City)
- Stuffed Olive (121 E. College St., Iowa City)
- Sugapeach Chicken & Fish Fry (650 Pacha Pkwy. Suite 1, North Liberty)
- The Green House (505 E. Washington St., Iowa City)
- Tribute Eatery & Bar (901 E. Second Ave. Suite 100, Coralville)
- Vue Rooftop (328 S. Clinton St. Suite A, Iowa City)
- Wilson’s Ciderhouse & Venue (4823 Dingleberry Rd. NE #2, Iowa City)
Need help narrowing it down? Read on to see what caught our eye this year.
1. Bulgogi steak nachos from 30hop (900 E. Second Ave., Coralville)
With food truck inspiration, this is one of three specials for Restaurant Week at 30hop chosen to get people talking, said Chef Gabriel Caballero.
And let me tell you, I have a lot to say.
On a bed of fried wontons — not tortilla chips — these nachos were set up with a foundation of success. From the first crunchy bite, they set the scene for sweet steak to come in.
A lot of restaurants know how to fry crunchy things in oil, but the key they often miss is dusting it with salt immediately after taking it out of the fryer. The fine salt on these wonton chips is what keeps you coming back for more.
Each bite was so juicy that I felt like I was gossiping with an old friend. There’s a certain level of familiarity with this meat, even though I rarely eat bulgogi. Melted pepper jack sriracha cheese queso brings a melding flavor that blends well without feeling gloppy.
Similar to the dynamic between caramel corn and buttered popcorn, the layers work together in an unexpected way. While every note worked together, each note in each chord was pronounced — one did not outshine the other as they worked in harmony.
2. Crispy Avocado Cups from 30hop (900 E. Second Ave., Coralville)
The first bites of sauteed shrimp deliver bright, tangy sauce from cilantro crema. But then I cut into the panko-breaded avocado.
Lately I’ve been watching baking competitions that implore me to constantly question whether something is cake. It could realistically look like anything you might imagine. Then they sink the knife into it and, each time, you are left in shock as the texture of cake is revealed, proving that you aren’t as smart as you think you are.
As I cut into the fried avocado, the texture revealed gave me the same feeling — that’s the best way I can describe it. A pleasant surprise of thick, bright green avocado shows that it’s what on the inside that really matters.
Each velvety bite is punctuated by a surprisingly sweet jalapeno corn salsa. It gives me quintessential Tex-Mex vibes with sweet and spicy that’s palatable to those with shy taste buds.
3. Hot chili chicken fries from Pullman Bar & Diner (17 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City)
Even though my glass was full, Chef Matthew Prince offered to bring me more water as he dropped this off at my table.
“I don’t want to scare you,” he said.
Coming in hot, the sweet heat feels like a game of “good cop, bad cop.” The chicken’s softened breading and flavor is chased around by Szechuan peppercorn, enthralling me the entire time as my tongue sizzles. A little bit of aioli with each bite helps quell the heat.
While this is the spiciest thing I ate all week, it is tame by national and international standards with a medium to medium-low spice level. If you have any tolerance for something more than mild salsa, I’d encourage you to try it.
The spice here isn’t just for the sake of being spicy. It wakes up your taste buds and brings out subtleties in the chili sauce, lemon and vinegar-marinated red cabbage, and Thai chiles that you wouldn’t taste on your own.
I ordered a Cherry Pepsi, which is my recommended beverage pairing for this dish, because it deserved to be savored with something more than water.
The only thing I wanted more of was the aioli to cut the heat and cover the fries under the layer of chicken. On the plus side, though, the fries underneath weren’t left soggy.
4. Ricotta gnocchi at Wilson’s Ciderhouse & Venue (4823 Dingleberry Rd. NE #2, Iowa City)
With a pillowy texture, your fork sinks into the gnocchi with a pleasing density.
Bacon is crisp and brings a hint of maple, foreshadowing the pumpkin and dots of black garlic and maple puree to come. A slight crunch from the collard greens — a rare treat in Iowa from this North Carolina-raised Chef Matt Steigerwald — adds more structure.
The tetsuboko pumpkin is smooth with a flavor that, while not strong, still brings something to the table. Throughout the high-quality ingredients in this $25 dish, there’s a subdued sweetness that shows an appreciation for slowing down and appreciating milder profiles.
It personifies the old saying “money talks, wealth whispers.” Not everything has to scream to get its point across.
The slightest tingle from tiny pieces of jalapeno waves at you on your way out after you start your “Midwestern goodbye” with the pumpkin — the lingering taste indulges in the pleasantries no matter how long it takes to get out the door.
5. Orange Olive Oil Cake at Big Grove Iowa City (1225 S. Gilbert St., Iowa City)
If you want to jump straight to summer, this will help.
With a well-oiled appearance, the cake entices me with an expected moisture, while orange curd dabbed on the side and candied citrus peel garnish glows like a fresh tan.
The first bites remind me of a luscious butter cake or pound cake. Orange comes through immediately with complementary notes of lemon. The orange curd is mellow, not zippy.
The homemade ice cream delivers a surge of fresh vanilla bean, offering an ice cream cone to go with your summer feeling. The vanilla is so rich I almost mistake it for a good white chocolate.
Alternating textures between the dense, soft cake and the slight crunch of the streusel on top serve as a portal between the crunch of winter snow I walked through that day and hope for a brighter tomorrow. The edge of the cake is chewy like brownies.
Many of us go to soups or stews for comfort food in the dead of winter. This cake makes a compelling case for leaning into a more metaphorical warmth, instead.
6. The Garden Fairy and The Frozen Smokey Negroni from The Green House (505 E. Washington St., Iowa City)
Everyone, it seems, was longing for warmer weather as yet another winter storm blew through Eastern Iowa.
Two slushy drinks, while having the texture of the fresh snow outside, offer a change in scenery as we await spring.
The Garden Fairy, a neon yellow sprite, hits the nose with an absinthe-based licorice, which starts to concern me.
But after a sip, I’m pleasantly surprised. It’s hard to mix absinthe with anything, but they manage to pull it off here.
This drink retains the wild character of the absinthe without plunging you into chaos. Instead of feeling like you’re in a hurricane, the lavender and pineapple flavors sway back and forth in a light breeze.
It’s smokey Negroni companion, on the other hand, is much more potent with mezcal, Campari and Dolin Blanc sweet vermouth.
Smokey is an understatement here — it’s closer to ashy. Orange juice and rose simple syrup give the drink a nice, bright color, but those sweet notes are obscured by the other elements.
7. The Scully from The Green House (505 E. Washington St., Iowa City)
With Empress gin and raspberry liqueur, the drink’s surface shimmers with a sugary look. But this raspberry drink, sweetened with a little agave and lemon, will not put you into a sugar coma.
A bright lemon palate opens into a mellow flavor. The raspberry is more tart than sweet, which is because they smartly used a liqueur instead of raspberry puree.
Hints of Baron de Brebon sparkling wine give an effervescent feeling on the tongue, and muddled blackberries provide a nice color.
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