IOWA CITY — At the Dandy Lion, a new cafe in the space that was formerly Forbidden Planet Pizzeria & Video Arcade, Pac-Man and pinball machines have been swapped for booths and a granite bar, and the pizza has been replaced by a lineup of omelets, sandwiches, small plates and cocktails.
Co-owners Tommy Connolly and Lindsay Chastain opened the Ped Mall cafe Saturday, five months after Connolly closed Forbidden Planet. That closure came after two of his arcade business partners departed, and he decided it was time for a revamp.
“We have a great space here; it’s a great location, a great building,” Connolly said. “I felt there was a lot of room in this market for a place that does breakfast.”
The location has a long history in downtown Iowa City; before it was Forbidden Planet, it was Tobacco Bowl, a coffee shop and smoking bar with a loyal following. For this new iteration, the owners hope to build that kind of community.
“I really like the idea of cafes that are nice places for all kinds of people,” Chastain said. “I like getting to meet people and establish your community. I love having regulars, learning more about their lives, and knowing where they regularly go. Restaurants can become a linchpin for their lives.”
That could mean watching first dates, engagements and rehearsal dinners or watching kids grow up, she said. “I like knowing what a place means to someone.”
The restaurant will serve breakfast and lunch, then transition to a coffee shop and cocktail bar in the afternoons and evenings.
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“I just thought there were some things I wanted to see in the food scene in Iowa City,” said Chastain, who has worked at Bluebird Cafe and Clinton Street Social Club. “There is stuff I would like to introduce to people here and see more of here in Iowa City.
Specifically, she wanted to see a menu with Southern-influenced cuisine; she is originally from South Carolina.
“We’re picking up certain things that are signature or everyday dishes in the South,” she said.
One example — a chicken biscuit, breaded chicken thigh on a buttermilk biscuit with hot sauce maple syrup, available even at gas stations, which often have full restaurants inside.
The rest of the menu is a mix of traditional breakfast offerings like pancakes and lunch options like Reubens and turkey melts along with lighter options like a chickpea wrap or charcuterie sandwich.
“It’s fresh food and comfort food, mixed with items that aren’t so heavy,” Chastain said. “We have vegetarian options, and we make tomato gravy, so you don’t have to avoid the biscuits and gravy if you’re vegetarian.”
Thought the breakfast and lunch menu ends at 2 p.m., evening customers can still order from a small plate menu featuring things like hummus, spring rolls and pasties — hand pies typically filled with meat and vegetables — along with baked goods from their baker Emily Mueller to supplement the espresso and cocktail offerings.
Chastain tapped into her background at Clinton Street Social Club for the cocktail menu.
“Cocktails are their own art form. There are lots of ways to play with a classic cocktail and adapt it to the place it’s in.”
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She points to their play on milk punch, a traditional New Orleans brunch drink. The Dandy Lion’s version uses both bourbon and brandy, plus a housemade chicory syrup, cream and vanilla, served over ice.
Chastain drew the cafe’s logo, a foppish lion complete with top hat and monocle.
“Dandelions are my favorite flower, but I wanted something more evocative, and I like the notion of a very well dressed lion,” Connolly said. “I think it inspires confidence in good food.”
If you go
• What: The Dandy Lion
• Where: 111 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City
• When: 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Breakfast and lunch served 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. Hours subject to change.
• Details: (319) 358-6400, thedandylionic.com
l Comments: (319) 398-8339; firstname.lastname@example.org