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Food fight: Iowa City chefs and mixologists compete, guests win

The Dandy Lion restaurant's Pistachio Cream Puffs line a table during Top Chef Iowa City 2020 at the Graduate Hotel in I
The Dandy Lion restaurant’s Pistachio Cream Puffs line a table during Top Chef Iowa City 2020 at the Graduate Hotel in Iowa City, IA on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. (David Harmantas/Freelance)
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IOWA CITY — For Iowa City’s chefs and mixologists, Monday night was about getting out of the kitchen, out from behind the bar and testing their creative mettle against one another.

Peter Mickelson, head chef of Goosetown Cafe, one of Iowa City’s newer restaurants having opened on the north side about a year and half ago, plated well over 500 samples of Korean pork belly bo-ssam with sweet corn kimchi and Vietnamese pickles. The dish was Goosetown’s entry into Top Chef Iowa City on Monday night.

“I enjoy the competitive nature and to get together with so many other people in the industry,” said Mickelson, 26, who’s been working local in restaurants since he was 15. “We are normally working in our own kitchens, so we don’t often get to.”

The dish was good enough to earn first place from the judges for entree and second place in the people’s choice award for the same category, Mickelson said while not on the regular menu, they plan to feature the dish through this weekend.

The 10th installment of Top Chef — a sell out event put on by Iowa City Downtown District at Graduate hotel Iowa City — featured 29 contestants and more than 500 foodies eager to go off menu at some of their favorite places. Prizes for entrees, mixology and dessert were awarded by a panel of judges mostly from outside Iowa City and also a people’s choice voted on through a phone app rolled out this year.

“If you live in Iowa City and you like food, this is a chance for all the people who make food all day to do something different and we want to support that,” said Mark Long, 67, who’s become a regular at the event.

He attended with his wife, Rebecca Stamy, 71. They complimented the “depth in flavor” of a braised short rib over a squash puree by St. Burch Tavern. St. Burch took home first place for the people’s choice entree award.

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Nancy Bird and Christopher Hunter, of the Downtown District, said the event is intended to celebrate local culinary offerings, establishments, and highlight new dishes and drinks to an audience who cares.

“There’s a foodie craze right now, and this is a great way for new restaurants to introduce themselves to the community,” said Hunter, who as director of special events was largely responsible for coordinating Top Chef.

The entries ran the gamut from simple to elaborate.

Gabe’s, the longtime Iowa City bar and music venue, brought a straight forward entry: a bottle of Budweiser and a shot they called “dead gummy bear.”

Justin Burnell, bar manager of Clinton Street Social Club, brought science into his drink called the Garden Party at the Trenchtown featuring four kinds of rum, pineapple juice clarified through a centrifuge process and a fizzy effect.

Rich LeMay, 30, and Brittany Bettag, 26, of The Mill Restaurant, mixed a drink concoction they called “The Nature Boy” in honor of professional wrestler Ric Flair. The drink blended mint, blueberries, ginger, fresh squeezed lemon juice and Woodford Rye.

“We have had a hard time keeping up,” LeMay said, shaking a tumbler of ice and the different liquids. “It’s been non-stop since the beginning.”

A normal night behind the bar mainly involves pulling draws of draft beer and shots of whiskey. For this, they can get creative and see people’s immediate reaction, they said. The Mill took home second place in the people’s choice for mixology.

“This is a chance to branch out,” Bettag said. “This inspires us and pushes us to try new things.”

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Top Chef Iowa City Winners

Entree

• First place: Goosetown Cafe, 203 N. Linn St.

• Second place: El Banditos, 327 E. Market St.

• Third Place: Pullman Bar & Diner, 17 S. Dubuque St.

Dessert

• First place: The Dandy Lion, 111 S. Dubuque St.

Mixology

• First place: Clinton Street Social Club, 18 1/2 S. Clinton St.

• Second place: Joseph’s Steakhouse, 212 S. Clinton St.

People’s Choice Entree

• First place: St. Burch Tavern, 127 Iowa Ave.

• Second place: Goosetown Cafe, 203 N. Linn St.

• Third place: Pullman Bar & Diner, 17 S. Dubuque St.

People’s Choice Dessert

• First place: The Dandy Lion, 111 S. Dubuque St.

People’s Choice Mixology

• First place: Saloon, 112 E. College St.

• Second place: The Mill, 120 E. Burlington St.

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